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France struggle to adapt to new shape

France have warmed up for the World Cup with two friendlies over the past week. They took on Costa Rica on Wednesday night and Tunisia on Saturday night. This gave coach Raymond Domenech a chance to show off les Bleus new shape. France lined up in a 4-3-3 instead of their usual 4-2-3-1 with two midfield destroyers.

New shape: 4-3-3 vs Costa Rica and Tunisia

New shape: 4-3-3 vs Costa Rica and Tunisia

After Wednesday’s win over Costa Rica the press and fans went wild for this new formation. The players even pressured their coach to pursue the formation in the match with Tunisia.

Trouble up-top

The initial success of the formation hid frailties that will stop the French progressing when they face a side of any real quality. The first area of concern for the french is the lack of presence in the penalty area, in the two friendlies Nicolas Anelka played as the target man. It was a role which Anelka should not have been alien to, having played as a lone front man for a good portion of this season at Chelsea while strike partner Didier Drogba was at the African Cup of Nations.

Anelka was dropping deep to link up with Govou, Gourcouff and Malouda leaving the penalty area devoid of a French striker to convert any crosses. The only alternatives to Anelka up front are the out of favour and out of form Thierry Henry, and Djibril Cisse who has come from a double winning Panathanikos side.

Full backs blocked

Ribery and Govou played as close to the touch line as possible in the friendlies, while this stretched defences to allow Malouda and Gorcouff to join the front line it blocked Evra and Sagna from pushing forward to overlap. Evra is renowned for being one of the best attacking full backs in the world at the moment, certainly a contender to be the best left back, but without space to operate in he had two very quiet games. The French full backs are great assets to have and to stop them operating in their natural habitat is a misuse of Evra and Sagna.

Ribery was deployed as an inside-out winger, playing on the left wing despite being right footed, and Govou is a player who is no stranger to the 18 yard box. The only way I can see the full backs becoming involved in French attacking play is if the wingers were to drive inward more often.

Mistaken identity

The selection of Florent Malouda in the middle of the pitch has to be questioned. Malouda is very much an out and out winger and has commented that he finds this new position slightly uncomfortable and it is one which will take time to get used to. He showed great tendency to drift out wide to the left and toward Frank Ribery, but when France didn’t have the ball he showed little desire to win it back high up the pitch.

While both Malouda and Gourcouff provided good thrust going forward they didn’t put pressure on the ball when defending, particularly against Tunisia. This left Toulalon with huge spaces to cover on his own and with France playing a very high offside line against the North Africans. Tunisia were able to put their strikers in by playing simple balls over the top and were it not for an overcooked square pass Tunisia would have gone 2-0 up in the first half.


It is encouraging that Domenech has at least made an attempt to look at a possible plan B, but it all seems to be too little too late. With 10 days still to go before their first match it will be interesting to see how they react if they do need to revert to this plan. Domenech’s past record suggests that he will persist with the rigid 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 but who knows, perhaps his horoscope will persuade him otherwise.

  • Ramay Nunes(Brazil)

    I agree about Malouda. I don't think he is the best player for that midfield.
    I think that, for this system to play well and win, they'll need another central or defensive midfield alongside Toulalan. Maybe Diarra, but it would be best with a player with better pass accuracy and they should replace Govou for Malouda on the wing pressuring the full backs.
    Where do you think, though, Henry will play? Is he set to be really a reserve?
    PS: I'm writing on my blog already. Check it out sometime:
    I made a blog to speak mainly about interesting subjects that are hard for people from other countries, like UK, to get information of. Maybe we can share lots of information, actually.

  • Adam Bate

    Good point about Evra and Sagna.. I think sometimes teams fall into the trap of thinking an extra attacking player makes you more attacking full stop.. two holding midfielders could actually free up the full-backs so maybe thats still the way to go.
    That said, Uruguay will play 3-5-2 and the 4-3-3 is the standard way to pin the wing-backs so might be an option in that match. Mexico too? No gimme games in France's group so they need to get it right anyway.

  • Rocco

    I'm not sure what to expect from Mexico, they did field a 3-4-3 against England as Zonal Marking pointed out but lots of sides have been experimenting with different formations during these friendlies.

    Any side playing 3 at the back will be vulnerable to sides playing 1 or 3 pronged attacks, so this leaves Domenech the option to use either of his trialled formations.

    I think the real worry will be trying to accomodate Malouda and Ribery. Need someone in the middle who can make some token effort to help out defensively, Toulalon had so much space to look after it was silly.

  • Defensive Minded

    This new system seems to become a 442 when in attack, with Malouda moving wide and Ribery cutting in. Malouda and Ribery play the same position so this is an obvious attempt to accommodate them both. Its not working so far but we will see.

    What I don't see is the value of Govou against weaker opposition. He is not involved in the build up play and he is not a goal threat either.

  • Rocco

    Thanks for the comment!

    Govou's use in the system does seem to be the biggest question mark. I think we might've learnt more if they played some better quality opposition.

    There are also reports that there is unrest in the team over Gourcouff's inclusion. Without Gourcouff though there is nothing in the middle of the pitch beyond Toulalon who often drops in to the defensive line.

    Zonal Marking also covered this new formation quite well here –

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