Of all the four quarter-final clashes, the one steeped in tradition, history, rivalry and star players, is the one taking place at the historical Maracana. Two of the traditional European power houses, France & Germany clash, in what will prove to be an enthralling encounter. In Joachim Low & Didier Deschamps we also have two of the brightest young mind in International football, who possess at their disposal some of the most exciting pools of talent. In fact, both France & Germany are fairly similar in terms of personnel, with a balanced blend of players at their peak and upcoming talents close to reaching that stage.
Both have come through from their groups unscathed with only a solitary draw the real blimp in their run so far. Both these sides were made to struggle against African opposition but left it late, some more so than others, and now face the possibility of a semi-final spot. Reaching the last four will be considered at the very least a success by both sides, though the Germans might feel they need to progress a step further after reaching this stage in each of the last four major tournaments.
While the similarities in circumstances exist, tactically they do differ to quite some extent. The most notable difference is in attack even though they both utilise a three-man system.
The French have alternated this three-man attacking system into what sometimes grows into a typical two-man strike force. This most notably occurs when Olivier Giroud is in the eleven. But against Germany, the chances of Giroud being dropped are quite large, with the plausibility that Benzema returns to a more favourable central position. All stats below are provided by Opta to WhoScored.com
Giroud’s potential dropping can occur due to his lack of consistent performances and failing to maintain the level of the rest of the squad. Giroud in the centre of attack severely reduces France’s attacking threat as it moves Benzema into a more wide position. Comparing the two, Benzema is averaging 6 shots per game, this being from both central & wide positions, Giroud on the other hand is averaging between 1-2 shots per game. For a striker leading the line of his nation at the World Cup, that is an awfully poor return.
Karim Benzema also has this immense ability of creating opportunities for his team-mates which primarily occur when he drifts into a central position. Benzema has managed to create on an average, 3.3 chances per game. Giroud on the other hand created half a chance per game; or to put it differently 1 chance every two games meaning he’d take four games to create the number of chances Benzema does in a single game. Although one may argue that Benzema has had more playing time and thus has turned up better numbers, it’s no secret that Giroud has struggled to formulate the same impact as the Real Madrid striker. So a primary reason for dropping Giroud would be the superiority of Benzema in the central position.
But the more telling factor for Deschamps to consider when deciding his squad and possibly opting to not go with Giroud is with regards to the opposition. Joachim Low has already confirmed that captain Philipp Lahm will not be playing at right-back against the French, but instead will retain his spot in central midfield. This essentially should leave Deschamps grinning with joy. It’s no secret that the Germans have struggled without a proper full-back either at left or the right hand side. Shkodran Mustafi most recently proved to be the biggest weakness but Jerome Boateng & Benedikt Howedes too don’t inspire confidence in that position.
Though the Germans have been impressive there was a common theme in the two games they significantly struggled in, one was that both the opposition were African as Ghana pulled off a draw and Algeria so nearly did the unthinkable. But more practically speaking, both those sides employed a winger infused system with their primary threat coming from the width created. Both Ghana & Algeria took full-advantage of the German weakness in the full-back zone with the efficient use of their wingers. Andre Ayew, Christian Atsu, Sofiane Feghouli & El Arabi Soudani had possibly their best performances in this World Cup against the mighty Germans.
If Giroud were to start, and Benzema were pushed wide, the obvious advantage from the wings would be lost as the ex-Lyon striker is someone who will always drift inside no matter how wide the system requires. If Karim Benzema did take the central position, Antoine Griezmann could come in in place of Giroud on the left while Mathieu Valbuena would retain his spot on the right. In them, France would have two natural wingers who can combine with their full-backs, Debuchy & Evra, as they did vs Nigeria, and replicate the African’s success. Just the sheer quality of the French wingers would prevent their full-backs from widening the German attack, and a narrow one can be comfortably dealt with by their strong defence & incredible midfield.
Thus Giroud’s own shortcomings and those of the Germans will combine to influence Deschamps decision as he sets his tactics & chooses his line-up in what might just be the biggest match in his International football career. They’ve already surpassed their goal of reaching the quarter-finals, their form and personnel can certainly pull off a semi-final as well. The solution to that end, is not Giroud.