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A decade on from the 2006 World Cup defeat to Italy.

France once again walked away empty handed after the final of a major tournament.

Didier Deschamps' starring role in France's failureIn the immediate aftermath of Les Bleus shock loss to Portugal, many critics lambasted the French manager, Didier Deschamps, for playing too safe and misusing key midfielder Paul Pogba, who was largely anonymous throughout.

However, with France once again returning to the summit of European football with a 2-0 semi final win over reigning world champions Germany as a particular highlight, one must beg the question – did Deschamps get the best out of his talented and versatile squad?

France walked out onto the Stade de France pitch employing the same 4-2-3-1 formation used since the second half of their round of 16 clash against Ireland, progressing thanks to Antoine Griezmann’s quick-fire double.

The 4-2-3-1 formation worked wonders for Deschamps’ men in the knockout stages, with a system designed to ramp up pressure on the opposition players while also allowing the French to retain possession. However, the final saw a notable change in the way Deschamps utilised the system, which featured Pogba in a withdrawn role – a pragmatic change by definition.

This was a ‘safe’ move on the part of Les Bleus manager Deschamps. By forcing Pogba back into a more defensive role, it hugely minimised his ability to influence attacking plays, and the 23-year-old only began to get increasingly involved in attacks as Portugal’s defensive system were in a position to firstly contain the French, and then counter with growing effectiveness.

A more aggressive approach might have better suited the French. A willingness to distribute the ball along the back four before sending it to one of the attacking midfielders in a simple and quick change often caught the Portuguese off-guard, however with Pogba and Blaise Matuidi sitting deep, the underdogs were well equipped to deal with the hosts’ half-baked approach.

To the average viewer, it appears that Deschamps played it safe so as not to be immediately on the back-foot. However, with the French dispatching Germany with relative ease as well as spending the majority of the first 60 minutes enjoying the bulk of possession.

Deschamps eventually allowed Pogba to push up in favour of getting a goal. But by the time he did, it was too late. Portugal had already stabilised, and their attacking intent grew as the game wore on. The catalyst for their stability being the substitution off of Cristiano Ronaldo, which saw 18-year-old Renato Sanches switched to a central role.

Thereafter, the French fell into an all too familiar trap. Having played through the opening act of the match so safely, their best attempt at scoring and putting the pressure onto the opposition failed. One only needs to look at the matches against Italy in the 2006 World Cup final and against Cameroon in the 2003 Confederations Cup final to see similar downfalls.

That is not to say Deschamps’ tactics were an absolute failure. The 4-2-3-1 system he used for the bulk of the knockout stages worked to devastating effect, with the French netting nine goals in three matches because of the flexibility and strength of his attack-minded system.

In matches where there was less pressure on the French side – such as their quarter final game against Iceland – their best football was often on show, Deschamps’ men utilising the attacking movements and desire to move the ball around and provide options.

Deschamps should be credited for taking this French side to the final, living up to the pre-tournament tag as favourites, but there will no doubt be disappointment stemming from losing a game from an imperious position.

Like many managers before him, Deschamps opted to play it safe, a strategy that ultimately came back to bite him. But with a few small changes to his system, Deschamps had the core of a side that can head to Russia in 2018 as one of the favourites, a tag not many would have considered France worthy of holding just five years ago.

Originally published at outside90.com

Post written by Cal Behrendt for Outside 90
Blog: outside90.com, Twitter: @Outside90

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