Antoine Griezmann: The engine room of the French midfield
Most of the attention for the French national team has been focused on Kylian Mbappé. The 23-year-old superstar from Paris Saint Germain is currently the joint top-scorer at the World Cup in Qatar (5, with Lionel Messi), and can become the World Champions for the second time in his – still quite early – career. However, Mbappé is definitely not the only Frenchman who’s having a great World Cup campaign. Time to put the spotlights on one of his countrymen, who’s also very important for Les Bleus: Antoine Griezmann.
What makes Griezmann so important for France?
After Tchouaméni (501) and Mbappé (478), Antoine Griezmann has played the most minutes in Qatar (467). In the five games he started, he was only substituted in the Denmark game, in the 93rd minute. Against Tunisia, the last match in the group stage where France played a B team, Griezmann entered the field in the 73rd minute.
Griezmann is an undisputed starter in this amazingly talented France squad, and he’s difficult to replace for Deschamps. He hasn’t scored in this World Cup campaign (yet), but with three assists he has significantly contributed to France’s success in Qatar. Time to find out why he’s so important to this France team, using individual tactical analysis.
Defense: Everywhere, all the time
Griezmann’s contributions are definitely not limited to the attacking part of France’s game. Especially in defense, he has turned out to be essential for Les Bleus. In every match where Griezmann started, he’s recorded impressive statistics that showcase his amazing work rate.
The French midfielder has already run over 1.3 marathons in the heat of the Qatari desert, and a lot of those kilometers have been at high speed. Griezmann is also very important in France’s pressing. Together with striker Olivier Giroud (who is ranked number one on Pressing indirect when Griezmann is number two), he forces the opponent backwards or towards the side, which often leads to a French press (sorry, had to do it).
Griezmann rarely presses to win the ball directly. He presses to create the right conditions for his teammates to win the ball. In the video above you can see a few examples of this pressure in the semi-final against Morocco.
The Atletico Madrid midfielder makes *a lot* of these unselfish, indirect pressing runs. And while Griezmann doesn’t get credited with winning the ball, these runs are very important for the team’s defensive performance. And he does them at very high intensity, every time. Even in the 95th minute.
He executes these runs really well, too. Because not only the intensity, but also the direction of the run is vital to the success of the press. Griezmann approaches his opponent slightly from the inside, which blocks the opponents passing lines towards the most valuable space (highlighted in red). This forces his opponent to pass the ball towards less valuable spaces: backwards or towards the side.
It’s obvious that Griezmann is very important for France’s initial press, but he has also been important in defending in their own half, and even in their own box. In the semi-final alone, Griezmann recorded five interceptions or clearances in France’s 18-yard box. Only central defender Konaté recorded more.
Attack: The Griezmann-territory
Griezmann is also vital to France’s attacking play. Of all the players who’ve featured at this World Cup, Griezmann delivered the most key-passes (20), most assists (3), and has recorded the most expected assists (3.5).
After Mbappé, he’s also the main receiver of progressive passes in the French squad this World Cup. Griezmann is an important link between the France’s build-up, and France’s finishing. If we look at his heat-map in the semi-final, we see an interesting pattern.
Griezmann is almost exclusively found in right-midfield, and the focal point of his actions is in the right halfspace: the space between the wing and the middle of the pitch. He’s been operating out of this territory the whole tournament, with great success.
The French attacking midfielder positions himself in this pocket of space between the left central defender, the left full-back, the left winger, and the left central midfielder. Every time. Usually, he takes up position just closer to the full-back than to the central defender. This creates a dilemma for the opponents surrounding him:
– If the central defender steps out to guard him, the other central defender will be in a 1v1 in the middle against Giroud. Not optimal.
– If the central defender doesn’t step out to guard him, the full-back will be in a 1v2 with Griezmann and Dembélé. Also not optimal.
– If one of the midfielder drops back to guard him, there will be more space for France to play through the midfield. Also not optimal.
Griezmann is often open to receive the ball directly from Varane, Koundé or Tchouaméni in this space. But even if the ball doesn’t go to him in the first place, he has the perfect conditions in that pocket to make a run in behind, or receive as the third man. And even if he doesn’t get the ball at all, he’s still creating space for his teammates by occupying opponents around him.
Will Griezmann lift the trophy?
In defense and attack, Griezmann is absolutely vital to this France team. While Didier Deschamps has basically engineered his team around Kylian Mbappé’s qualities on the break, Griezmann’s tactical intelligence allows France to press efficiently, and create chances though controlled possession.
Coupled with the fact that the Atletico Madrid midfielder is literally everywhere on the pitch to fill the holes in France’s shape and recover possession, even in their own box, and it becomes obvious that Griezmann is at least as important to this France team as superstar Mbappé is.
Do you think Griezmann and France can prolong their title als World Champions? Or will it be Messi who guides his Argentina towards the trophy? Let us know what you think with the poll below!