France v Croatia: four areas where the World Cup final can be won and lost

first_imgFrance Croatia Read more Reuse this content Share on LinkedIn Facebook Twitter Pinterest Facebook Mario Mandzukic, pictured scoring the decisive extra-time goal against England, shows he remains an energetic threat while all around him are tiring. Photograph: Frank Augstein/AP World Cup 2018 features Thomas Hitzlsperger The contrast in styles is less marked for Croatia but just as Matuidi offers balance for Mbappé by tucking in on the French left, so Ante Rebic’s defensive work gives Perisic licence. The wide man is averaging 3.8 fouls per game, more than anybody else at the World Cup, an indication of the enthusiasm with which he presses.Croatia prospered in the second half against England by getting their full-backs forward to support the attack. With Perisic and Rebic forcing Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young back, England struggled for width high up the pitch, which placed an intolerable workload on the three-man midfield – in retrospect, it probably would have made sense for Southgate to have shifted Sterling wide in a 5-4-1 and to have tried to staunch the flow down the flanks.It was, ultimately, Sime Vrsaljko’s cross that brought Perisic’s equaliser. Although Chadli, in the first half at least, found a surprising amount of space getting forward from right-back for Belgium, it seems unlikely Matuidi will be so stretched again, unless Croatia really dominate in central midfield.Clash of midfield giants Kylian Mbappé: the fast learner who takes it all in his rapid stride Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on Pinterest Paul Pogba has had an excellent tournament. He has not been flashy, he has not been sidetracked into needless tricks – he has not even played with the obvious sense of chafing at restraints he did at the Euros two years ago. Mbappé at least plays on the right, which means his speed will not be directed at Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida. Ivan Strinic is far less cumbersome than either central defender, but it is not clear how fit he is having been forced off against England – and to go off in that game, given how fatigued Croatia were, you had to be properly injured or completely exhausted; by the end Zlatko Dalic was in effect operating a triage station from his technical area.The concern for Croatia, though, must be that there have been repeated occasions over the past year or so when Strinic has been isolated, given little defensive support from his left-winger Ivan Perisic. Whatever happens, Croatia cannot allow Mbappé to get a run at Strinic with space behind him. My friend Didier Deschamps has always been a step ahead Ivan Perisic is given licence up front by Ante Rebic’s defensive work behind him. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images The left-right skewcenter_img Football tactics This has been a disciplined Pogba – helped no doubt by N’Golo Kanté’s extraordinary energy all around him and the presence of Matuidi to protect his left flank – and he has been a key factor in an efficiently pragmatic structure. But this is his greatest test as he comes into direct confrontation with Luka Modric, who has been central to everything Croatia have done.At this World Cup, nobody has run further than Modric’s 63km. No Croat has scored more goals than Modric. No Croat has played more passes. No Croat has played more through-balls. He has completed 2.7 key passes per game, almost double the next highest figure for a Croatian. Only Rebic has dribbled more. In the squad, only Marcelo Brozovic has completed more passes of players who have started more than one game. It is not the case that if you stop Modric you stop Croatia, but if you can negate him, you gum up their system.The Mandzukic threat Twitter Twitter Mario Mandzukic is an extraordinary player, embodying the spirit in this Croatia team that makes victory in the final against a side that should be far fresher just about plausible. Against Russia in the quarter-final and against England, he was clearly shattered, but dragged himself to his limits, pressuring the opposing defence and having the alertness to steal behind John Stones to score the winner.The physical threat that has seen him win 4.6 aerial duels per game is not his only asset, but it is his main one. Raphaël Varane has excelled so far; in terms of neutering the threat posed by Croatia, much depends on whether he can maintain his record of winning 72.7% per cent of the aerial duels in which he has been involved so far. Topics Facebook Paul Pogba’s exuberance has been reined in and has contributed to fine, disciplined performances in Russia. Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Reuters The Observer Share on Facebook Pinterest France v Croatia is the final a World Cup full of surprises deserves Share on WhatsApp Pinterest Dealing with MbappéGiven how Croatia struggled to deal with the pace of Raheem Sterling in the first half against England, their biggest problem against France is likely to be handling Kylian Mbappé, who is not merely quicker than Sterling but physically more powerful and far, far more effective in front of goal.The second half of the semi-final offers some encouragement, given how much more compact Croatia became once they stopped chasing an instant equaliser. But France are very unlikely to become as ragged as England did, and they certainly will not keep surrendering possession with a string of aimless long balls. Sometimes asymmetric teams balance out. In France’s semi-final against Belgium, say, the tendency for Mbappé to play much higher on the right than Blaise Matuidi does on the left of France’s 4-2-3-1 meshed with the Belgian structure, in which Jan Vertonghen sat deep at left-back, denying Mbappé space to run into, while Nacer Chadli, a midfielder playing at full-back, pushed high on the Belgian right. That is not the case in the final.Both sides prefer to attack down the same flank: 45% of Croatia’s attacks have come down their left as opposed to 33% on the right; while 42% of French attacks have come down their right as opposed to 37% on the left.It is not just that Strinic could be exposed by Perisic, it’s that the France right-back Benjamin Pavard – who got forward to make it 2-2 against Argentina – can be exposed by Mbappé (albeit in a system that is far more cautious than Croatia’s). World Cup Read more Marcel Desailly Read more Share on Messengerlast_img read more

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