Squad inconsistencies will cost France in the knockout stages
Not only did France manager Didier Deschamps name further changes to his attack and midfield but he also switched the system for a third successive game. France got through this match more on individual talent than cohesive teamwork and those who have backed them to win Euro 2016 should be nervous.
Moussa Sissoko and Yohan Cabaye got their starts this evening but don’t expect them to make another appearance in the tournament. The same can be said for striker Andre-Pierre Gignac. N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Olivier Giroud will all likely return to Deschamps’ first XI for their last-16 clash.
The worry is that, even with the excuse of resting players, Deschamps has not been able to test his side in a competitive match since they crashed out of the 2014 World Cup. And it’s telling. This isn’t tactical squad rotation in the cause of game management, it’s an ad-hoc search to stumble upon the winning formula.
Dimitri Payet came on for Kingsley Coman and got the biggest cheer of the night - something France fans would never have imagined 12 months ago.
Pogba yet to find his place
Paul Pogba has had an interesting tournament so far. The Juventus midfielder was subbed off in France’s first game against Romania after providing ineffectual against the dogged-like harrowing of Romania’s midfield. Against Albania he was benched (or rested as Didier Deschamps would argue) and came on the change the game.
In the first half Pogba enjoyed the freedom of Lille. He was everywhere, picking up balls at the back and wide, carrying attacks forward and waltzing past the Swiss midfield. His first-half performance merited a goal as he hit the bar and shot narrowly wide with two ranged attempts. Switzerland tightened up after the break and Payet’s arrival reduced Pogba’s influence as Les Bleus looked to their playmaker to create chances.
Unfortunately this performance again raises questions about how best to dispatch Pogba. When he first arrived at Juventus four years ago it was assumed he was a defensive-minded midfielder but the 23-year-old has proven to be much more than that. He lunges forward when given the opportunity but often found himself heading straight into a wall of red tonight. If France want to build their play around Pogba, with the forwards mobilising to aid his runs, then they must stick to that effort. Otherwise, like tonight, they’ll end up goalless.
Xhaka saves himself for the last-16
Much has been made of Granit Xhaka since Arsenal paid £30million for his services a few weeks back. '#GunnerGranit' is meant to be the new combative enforcer in the heart of Arsenal’s midfield and he largely impressed in Switzerland’s opening two games of this tournament.
But tonight Xhaka was left with far too much to do on his own against Pogba and Sissoko, while Matuidi’s arrival for Antoine Griezmann didn’t ease Xhaka’s job. Tonight was not the Xhaka that has picked up 36 yellow cards and five reds in three seasons at Bundesliga outfit Borussia Monchengladbach. That is maybe because he could not afford to get booked tonight as he would have been suspended for Switzerland’s last-16 clash.
Previous yellow cards are wiped clean at the quarter-final stage so expect Xhaka to be booked the next time Switzerland play.
First-half goals are hard to come by
They say major tournaments take time to get started but rarely do so many individual games follow the same path. Half (13/26) of the games at Euro 2016 have been goalless at half time. In fact just four goals have come in the first 30 minutes of matches. Yet interestingly 11 have come between 30:00 and 45:00. Clearly teams go for it just before the break so as to avoid the hairdryer treatment.
New balls please!
You can tell it’s Wimbledon season when the rubbish puns come out. Apologies.