So at the end France against England world Cup The quarter-final did not end with putative Golden Boot winner Kylian Mbappé tearing Kyle Walker and the England defense to shreds, or Manchester City full-back stopping a player who had been the best in the game. tournament so far. Instead, the spotlight has once again been shone on a player whose role for France has continued to evolve.
Antoine Griezmann has had, to be charitable, a difficult journey at club level since leaving Atlético Madrid for Barcelona in 2019 with Barca hampered by heavy financial restrictions and the departure of Lionel Messi. Even his return to Mattresses and managing Diego Simeone has hardly been a pleasant experience with the Blaugrana and Atlético squabbling over the finances of his return as he didn’t start regular matches for his club until after the international break at the end of September.
For France, however, his level in this tournament has done little to reduce the idea that however brilliantly Mbappé may shine, it is Griezmann’s spirit, drive and ingenuity – more than the Paris Saint-Germain man’s bag of tricks – which may be even more key if France are to win a second consecutive title. It doesn’t take anything away from Mbappé – he was decent on the evening, although he didn’t find the net, but that was Griezmann’s industry who made the difference against England.
This should continue to be the case for France, even though Didier Deschamps’ team took advantage of their chance thanks to a lead defense and a missed penalty from Harry Kane. With Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté all absent for this tournament, Deschamps was forced to rebuild his midfield almost on the fly. A former number 6 himself, he was always going to take a prosaic approach but it was no small shock when he announced before the tournament that rather than continuing with the same 3-4-1-2 that France had played at the last European Championship. in the summer, with Griezmann in a free role behind Mbappé and Karim Benzema, he would play four in defense.
Aurélien Tchouaméni was a natural choice as a midfielder, with the former Monaco player sucking loose balls at an impressive clip. The role of a commuting, box-to-box midfielder was up for debate – Youssouf Fofana and Mattéo Guendouzi had both made good starts to the season in France, but Adrien Rabiot’s experience finally got him swept away with the Juventus midfielder’s solid play for his club, meaning he had found his manager’s good graces and his diligence and energy allowed him to take on the hybrid role on the left that Matuidi had filled with such aplomb in Russia four years ago.
But while Rabiot and Tchouameni were solid options and gave the rest of the team a lot more freedom with their efforts, France would seem to be missing out on what Pogba gave them. Despite being much maligned by Manchester United fans, Pogba has been, overall, excellent for his country, contributing with goals and assists as well as being able to add some steel if necessary.
Without Pogba in midfield, and none of Deschamps’ other options (Jordan Veretout and Eduardo Camavinga are also with the squad) really convincing, he asked Griezmann to play a deeper role, a trend that has continued since his debut about eight years ago. Initially a wide player or second striker, alongside Olivier Giroud, Griezmann was deployed as an orthodox No.10 last summer, playing a creative role behind Mbappé and Benzema, although much freer of defensive responsibility than he is currently not.
Now, although he is often the most forward of the midfield trio, he plays a fuller role, not only supporting the front three but also adding attacking momentum on the right side of the pitch, with Jules Koundé a less forward. go presence at right-back, adding an extra dimension to his game to help limit the influence of Phil Foden and Luke Shaw. Of course, Griezmann’s creativity is intact – his two assists, the second of a perfect ball for Giroud, were both smart and well-worked, but he also played a more defensive role when France weren’t. in possession of the ball, making on average as many tackles as Tchouaméni.
This misunderstanding can set Griezmann back at times – a booking late in the first half meant he was on edge for much of the start of the second, cautious of potentially receiving another one. It is no coincidence that this is the period during which England seemed most likely to take control, but in the final stanza of the game is when he shone brightest, seemingly appearing everywhere both to break England’s rhythm and to facilitate the use of the ball by his team, pairing the game with a cunning that was essential to threatening the pace offered by Ousmane Dembélé and Mbappé.
Now France’s all-time leader in assists, he is also sixth in appearances and third in goals scored. Given Bluesillustrious history, these are no small feats, and are a fine testament to Griezmann’s talent, even though he ceded the limelight for great periods of his career to the likes of Pogba, Mbappé, and for fleeting moments like Dimitri Payet and Benzéma. He can still fly under the radar at times, but after winning the Silver Ball in the last tournament, Griezmann looks set to perhaps add to his collection of silverware, at least on a collective level.
Other challenges loom for France – Hugo Lloris’ string of fine saves earned him an eight out of 10 from L’Équipe and he had almost as much to do with the result as Griezmann – and the starters haven’t yet kept a clean sheet in the tournament. Their inexperience at the back was also instrumental in the two penalties they conceded. But on Saturday night, Griezmann’s display will have been a welcome rejoinder for French fans stubborn by claims that they are Mbappé and nothing else.
At 31, the native of Mâcon shows today that his wine, more than sparkling like Champagne, is perhaps more similar to the famous wines of Pouilly-Fuissé, his native region – well balanced with equal parts acidity and softness, refined but imposing. , and this is perhaps the best vintage to date.
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