Three things learnt as France struggle to 0-0 draw against the Netherlands

France took to the field for the second time at EURO 2024 as they ground out a disappointing 0-0 draw with the Netherlands. The tournament favourites would be without their captain after Kylian Mbappé was left on the bench following the broken nose he sustained in the opening night victory against Austria. His presence or lack thereof was felt strongly as he watched his teammates play out the only goalless game so far at the tournament. 

Antoine Griezmann fills in for Kylian Mbappé 

Kylian Mbappé had been given the keys to Les Bleus by Didier Deschamps in the buildup to the tournament. The France captain would be provided a free role in the attack where he could drift around the final third looking for spaces where he could impose his mesmeric influence on matters. A plan that would last for only one match in the group stages before he would have to find a solution to his missing captain. 

The solution would come in the form of Antoine Griezmann. The Swiss army knife would take the shape of the absent forward, who like his captain was allowed to explore a fluid understanding of his position. In the early stages of the game, it created a fluency about the attack. The team connected with these sleek movements through the Netherlands’ low block. 

However, there were clear issues, most notably the sense that France became too reliant on Griezmann. If the midfield struggled to progress the ball up the pitch, it would be up to the Atlético de Madrid forward to drop back towards the centre-backs to kickstart the attack, while if Mbappé was on the field some of the creativity responsibility would likely have been shared out between the two stars. 

Théo Hernandez struggles with formation change

There were shades of the 2018 World Cup to Deschamps’ decision to change the shape of his formation away from a 4-3-3 after the first game to a 4-4-1-1 with a central midfielder playing on the left flank. The Frenchman had done the same during that competition in Russia, where Ousmane Dembélé was replaced by Blaise Matuidi, and he would repeat history again with Adrien Rabiot transplanted as a left midfielder. 

Rabiot’s positioning was about adding a sense of balance to the team, as he would often tuck in during attacks, while in defence he would shift wide to help deploy two banks of four. This had moments where it worked as the midfielder would help to create central overloads that led to a handful of chances in the first half. However, it had a knock-on effect on Théo Hernandez. 

The fullback had been one of the best performers during the game against Austria but he looked exceptionally isolated throughout the 0-0 draw. Rabiot’s movement inside meant that there was no one looking to dovetail with the fullback and bring him into the game. Hernandez would sit high up the pitch unable to overlap or underlap, and frequently overlooked by his teammates. 

Worrying lack of goals for France?

After 180 minutes of football at this tournament, a France player has yet to put the ball into the opposition’s net. At the moment, Austria’s Maximilian Wöber stands as the nation’s top and only goal scorer. This is probably not yet a point of concern for the team, but it does suggest that something is not quite working as it should be for the pre-tournament favourites. 

Ultimately they will not be worried if they can keep finding results and a draw against the Netherlands is hardly something to be sniffed at. And yet, on the other hand, they had played the Dutch twice during their qualification campaign defeating them on both occasions and scoring six goals across the two legs. 

Mbappé’s absence will surely account for some of the struggles in the most recent game, but the squad is full of talented attacking players, and they are yet to cover themselves in much glory. 

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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