Why France’s awesome attack is also their weakness and how Lionel Messi can wreak havoc for Argentina in World Cup final

THE World Cup final will be contested by two giants of the game, both searching for a slice of history.

Argentina cruised past Croatia in the semi-finals with a comfortable 3-0 win as Lionel Messi rolled back the years with a vintage performance.

How the two compare over their World Cup careers

The 35-year-old will likely play his final match in the competition and now has one last try to bring the crown back home for the first time since 1986 when Argentine legend Diego Maradona dominated the international stage.

There is just one more obstacle for Messi and Argentina to face in the form of the reigning champions France.

With massive names missing from the squad including Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, not many expected Les Bleus to reclaim their title.

In fact, no side has won consecutive World Cups since the great Brazil squad from 1958 to 1962 which had Pele leading the line.

France can break this streak on Sunday evening.

A win for the current champions would also further cement Didier Deschamps in the history books.

The 54-year-old could become just the second manager in World Cup history to win multiple titles after Vittorio Pozzo won twice with Italy in 1934 and 1938.

But Lionel Scaloni stands in his way.

Here are three key tactical areas where the World Cup final can be won or lost.

Lapse in France’s frontline

France’s attacking quartet of Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann have been scintillating so far in Qatar.

Giroud managed to break Thierry Henry’s record to become the country’s all-time top goalscorer while Mbappe is currently tied with Messi on five goals in the race for the Golden Boot.

Griezmann has also had an unbelievable tournament from an individualistic standpoint in his newfound creative role behind the front three.

The 2018 winners are not short of creativity nor goals and so it will be a daunting task for Argentina to keep them out at the other end.

Antoine Griezmann has been France’s creative force

Regardless, while France’s attack has proved menacing going forward, the frontline has been prone to causing lapses in the team’s block out of possession.

So far, France have kept just one clean sheet at the tournament which came in the latest match versus Morocco, although the African side did threaten Hugo Lloris’ goal on more than one occasion.

France’s forward line has been lackadaisical out of possession.

Mbappe hasn’t been overly keen to defend while Giroud’s ripe age means constantly chasing the ball isn’t possible.

This has made it quite easy for opponents to bypass the frontmen to reach attacking players between the lines.

Out of possession, Deschamps has set his players up in a 4-3-3 with Mbappe, Giroud and Griezmann forming a very narrow tip.

Dembele is given further defensive responsibilities than his attacking counterparts and drops back to become a third central midfielder.

The front three in the 4-3-3 stay really narrow and compact when France are defending in a low defensive block.

Morocco pushed Tchouameni deep into his own half during the semi-final

However, Les Bleus have found it difficult to keep their opponents at bay because the attackers do not close spaces well and have failed time and time again to block off passing lanes in behind them.

This has made it extremely easy at times for centre-backs to play the ball in behind the front three to find attacking players in between the lines of the French setup.

At times, it looks as though France are only defending with seven outfield players because the forward line are not doing their jobs correctly.

John Stones slipped the ball behind France’s front three into Buyako Saka who had plenty of space to receive the ball, turn and then drive forward at the French backline.

Lionel Messi had a decisive impact against Croatia

The first line of any defensive block needs to shepherd the ball out wide, angling their pressing to force the player in possession to make the first pass to the flanks.

The objective of any team when defending in a settled block is to ensure that the opposition cannot penetrate the structure which can cause it to collapse.

While France have gotten away with this poor defending from the front three thus far in Qatar, if Argentina can find Messi in pockets of space behind the French forwards with room to turn and drive forward, the little Argentine could wreak havoc further up the pitch.

There is no doubt that Scaloni will use this to Argentina’s advantage during the final to break through France’s defensive block.

Mbappe and Messi both have five goals at Qatar

Argentina’s formation changes

Only once in Qatar did Argentina end the game using the formation that they started with.

This was against Saudi Arabia in the first round of matches.

There is no coincidence that this was the only game that Scaloni’s side were defeated throughout the tournament.

While Messi has dominated headlines for his mind-boggling performances on the pitch, perhaps not enough credit is being given to Scaloni himself.

Where managers in the past have looked to rely on Messi’s talents, often to the detriment of the team as a whole, Scaloni has shown an impressive tactical flexibility to ensure that his side are more than just a one-man team.

During the World Cup, Argentina have fluctuated between playing with a 4-3-3, a 4-4-2 and a 3-5-2.

Argentina’s shape against Croatia, with No20 Alexis Mac Allister pushing forward and No5 Leandro Paredes dropping deeper

Scaloni has adapted the team’s shape to deal with the demands of the opposition which has allowed the South Americans to answer any difficult questions from their opponents.

For instance, against Australia, Scaloni deployed a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 for most of the match.

However, when faced with The Netherlands in the quarter-finals, the head coach switched to a 3-5-2, dropping a forward for an extra centre-back.

The reason for this was because Scaloni knew the Dutch would try and play centrally between the lines.

By using three centre-backs, it allowed the central defenders to take turns stepping into midfield to close down attacking players when they received in this area while still having two covering behind.

Memphis Depay has received the ball in a dangerous position between the lines. Nicolas Otamendi darted out of the backline which caused his two partners to push closer together, closing the space.

Another reason behind this was because Scaloni knew that the Netherlands would dominate possession, as has been a characteristic of Louis van Gaal’s team throughout his illustrious managerial career.

Nevertheless, in the following match against Croatia, the coach switched back to a 4-4-2 as he knew Argentina would be the ball-dominant team.

By removing a defender, Argentina had an extra midfielder and were able to dominate the midfield in a 4 vs 3 battle.

Messi naturally drops into the midfield too and so it regularly became a 5 vs 3 situation. Croatia couldn’t cope with Argentina’s numbers.

Argentina constantly created overloads against Croatia in the middle of the park, using four midfielders and Messi on occasion.

By the 62nd minute, Argentina were two goals to the good and were cruising.

Scaloni knew there was no point taking any more risks and so brought Lisandro Martinez on in place of Leandro Paredes, swapping back to a 3-5-2 to provide more defensive security.

Scaloni will likely go with the 3-5-2 formation for the final, given the sheer quality of France.

Can Argentina stop Giroud?

Argentina don’t concede many opportunities.

At the World Cup, the side have conceded an xG of merely 0.39 on average per game which is incredible.

While the team’s attacking play has been poetic, their defensive resilience has been one of the main reasons why they are in the final.

However, when opponents do manage to muster up opportunities against the Copa America champions, it is normally by going direct.

When teams play direct against the Argentina backline, it can cause a lot of problems for Scaloni’s men.

This was evident in the quarter-final with a tactical tweak made by van Gaal to get his side back in the game.

The Netherlands were struggling to play through Argentina’s sturdy defensive block and most of the Dutch possession was without purpose.

Olivier Giroud has been a key man for France

Near the end of the match, while the Netherlands were two goals down, van Gaal decided to bring Wout Weghorst on to complement Luuk de Jong who had also been subbed into the match not long before.

The two target men caused Argentina’s defence to collapse as the Dutch began pumping long balls into the box for the duo to win.

The change worked from the former Manchester United boss.

The Netherlands got themselves back into the match when Weghorst towered above Martinez to head the ball into the net.

Weghorst dominated Martinez in the air to pull a goal back for his side. The Manchester United defender couldn’t get near him from the cross out wide.

In a match where Mbappe and Messi are set to lock horns, Giroud could be the key to decide who comes out on top.

At the ripe age of 35, Giroud is still one of the best target men in world football and poses a serious threat from crosses or long balls into the penalty area.

England know this better than any side at the World Cup.

The Three Lions exited the competition in the quarters at the hands of a Giroud header.

Even Harry Maguire couldn’t deal with the Frenchman’s aerial prowess yet winning headers is one of the centre-back’s best qualities.

Giroud leaped above Maguire to head the ball past Jordan Pickford, bagging the goal which sent France into the final four.

Deschamps will be aware of Argentina’s weakness against long balls and crosses and so it’s likely that Les Bleus will look to exploit this which could sway the tie in the reigning champions’ favour.

So what does this all mean?

There are two master tacticians set to play chess this Sunday and two teams filled with obscene talent that some coaches can only dream of possessing.

While the battle between Messi and Mbappe will be what catches the eyes of the world, the tactical scuffle from the sidelines will be the deciding factor for which nation takes home the crown.

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