FIFA World Cup: What France can learn from Algeria to beat Germany
Algeria exposed a few chinks in the German armour for France to capitalise on in the quarters.
When vengeance is on the cards for an opposing team, things don't turn out to be as expected. Algeria had suffered an exit in the 1982 World Cup because Germany and Austria played out a drab match which many thought was fixed so that both teams would go through from the group — and while they gave a tremendous fight to the three-time World Champions in 2014, their heroics were not enough to avenge that ignominy.
However, they have exposed a few chinks in the German armour for France to capitalise on in the quarters. That, coupled with the French having to tweak a few things against Nigeria too, could result in the perfect template to beat the tournament favourites.
Attack the German full-backs, they're basically harmless: The way Algeria attacked down the flanks, especially in the first 45 minutes, was splendid. But this was partly down to the German full-backs being unable to do anything to stop Sofiane Feghouli, Faouzi Ghoulam and Islam Slimani gunning through the channels. Left-back Benedict Howedes made only one tackle in defence — slightly better than right-back Shkodran Mustafi who didn't make a single one. Howedes also managed only one interception, one block and just three clearances. Mustafi also cleared thrice but didn't block anything.
Even Phillip Lahm was disappointing. He shifted to right-back when Sami Khedira came on and he managed just one clearance and his only attempted tackle resulted in him pulling down an Algerian attacker's shorts, giving away a freekick in the process. Three of Algeria's six created chances came from the flanks and two of them came from deeper, but again from wide areas.
France must start with Griezmann and Valbuena to expose the above flaw: The only positives for Mustafi and Lahm against Algeria were that they created four chances upfield — which means that they're attacking full-backs who leave the slow Per Mertesacker exposed in the middle. If you see the heatmap below, you will get an idea as to how much space they leave in the channels where Mathieu Valbuena and Antoine Griezmann thrive.
Bonus stat: Griezmann impact on France in just 30 minutes - France before/after Griezmann: 6/7 shots, 81/88 percent passing accuracy , 6/5 chances created (four through middle which means space was created with Griezmann out wide), 10/9 take-ons, 18/12 crosses.
Germany got away against Algeria but if that defence comes up against the pacey Valbuena and Griezmann, they will struggle. Valbuena in particular has been in impressive form — against Nigeria he recorded a 94% passing accuracy, created five chances and pinged in 15 crosses. He is also a foul-magnet and draws defenders leaving space for the likes of Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi to stream forward. If that happens, Germany's midfield, which lacked any bite against Algeria, will have a nightmare.
Benzema has to play striker: Didier Deschamps has to give up on the idea of Benzema starting down the left and Olivier Giroud playing striker. For one, Benzema is a centre forward and playing him on the left means Griezmann has to be left out. But statistics clearly point out that the Real Madrid striker is most effective through the middle. He is clinical, fast and is scoring goals so there is no point in sticking him out wide.
Benzema before 60 minutes when he was out wide: one chance created, zero shots, one cross, zero take-ons and not a single aerial duel, 71% passing.
After Griezmann came on and Benzema shifted to ST: three shots, three take-ons, one cross, 80% passing.
It's simple, play your best players in their best positions. If Joachim Loew persists with Lahm in the middle, Germany will have one of their best passers in the centre of the park -- but as Algeria showed, he can be stifled. Also, his experience on the flanks against an incredible quick French team will be vital. French fans will hope Deschamps does not experiment and plays to his strengths.
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