How France’s Tac­ti­cal Mas­ter­class Defeat­ed a Sta­tis­ti­cal­ly Dom­i­nant Croa­t­ia Team

How France’s Tac­ti­cal Mas­ter­class Defeat­ed a Sta­tis­ti­cal­ly Dom­i­nant Croa­t­ia Team

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It was a tac­ti­cal mas­ter­class from France who defeat­ed a Croa­t­ia team who held a range of sta­tis­ti­cal advan­tages in the World Cup Final. Our guest ana­lyst from the EFL takes a look into where Croa­t­ia dom­i­nat­ed, and how the French respond­ed in turn.

Croa­t­ian strate­gic approach: Dom­i­nate the ball

Croa­t­ia were will­ing to claim own­er­ship of pos­ses­sion and play pos­i­tive­ly, our Sports­code out­put win­dow below shows the Croa­t­ians held 58.3% of pos­ses­sion and com­plet­ed a huge 250 more pass­es than the French.

Croa­t­ia also held the ball on aver­age 3.2 sec­onds longer over the same amount of total pos­ses­sions as the French. In the first half alone, Croa­t­ia had 45 final third entries, com­pared to just sev­en for France in first half.

Marce­lo Bro­zovic played a key role in pres­sur­ing the French for­ward line to regain pos­ses­sion. His 14 defen­sive duels were a match high, with 10 of these being con­test­ed with Giroud.

Our Sportscode output window shows Croatia dominated several statistics in the match, including possession, total passes, and final third entries.
No player contested more duels against each other than Brozovic and Giroud.

French strate­gic approach: Feed the front line

France’s now famil­iar 4 – 2-3 – 1 fea­tured Griez­mann, Mbappe and Matu­i­di feed­ing off Giroud’s knock­downs and hold up play.

While it was a three man attack behind the Chelsea for­ward, it was a lop sided tri­dent with Mbappe con­sid­er­ably high­er up the pitch on the right com­pared to Matu­i­di on the oppo­site flank.

The major­i­ty of French attacks/​counter attacks came down Mbappe’s side, with Matu­i­di play­ing a deep­er role on the left. 

50% of France’s attack­ing 1v1 duels came down Frances right side, com­pared to just 26.7% down the left side. 

Com­pare this to 42.3% of Frances ball recov­er­ies com­ing down their Matuidi’s side against just 23.1% of their ball recov­er­ies com­ing down Mbappe’s side and it was obvi­ous where Les Blues pri­ori­tised attack and defence.

France's player positions across the match show Mbappe is on average higher than even Giroud on the pitch, while Matuidi spent more time in his own half than not.
Mbappe led the match in 1v1 duels, winning more than half of them.
France's 4-2-3-1 with Mbappe the most advanced player in the front three matched up to Croatia's five man midfield with one deep holding midfielder.

Where did Croa­t­ia hold sta­tis­ti­cal advantages?

1) Attack­ing actions

Croa­t­ia led the match in attack­ing stats, with six more shots, sev­en more cross­es, and 20 more total attack­ing actions. 

Croatia's were dominant in the majority of attacking stats, especially in the first half.

2) Press­ing

Croa­t­ia pressed France very high, espe­cial­ly in the first half. This caused 14 turnovers of pos­ses­sion in the French defen­sive half by the Croa­t­ian front three com­pared to just 7 turnovers of pos­ses­sion for France in the Croa­t­ian defen­sive half. 

The front three for Croa­t­ia worked very hard with the knowl­edge that the mid­field three behind were press­ing along with them. 

The front three for Croa­t­ia worked hard to press France down one side, leav­ing the far French full­back as a free man, which led to turnovers in the French defen­sive half.

Croatia's high press in the first half here shows pressure on centre back Umititi, forcing a difficult pass to Pavard on the far flank.

3) Cross­es

Croa­t­ia attempt­ed 25 cross­es, France just 2. This high­lights the dif­fer­ence in both teams styles in the final third. 

Croatia completed far more crosses than the French, highlighting their approach to attack from wide.

How did France counter the strengths in Croatia’s play?

1) Flex­i­bil­i­ty in defen­sive approach

While Croa­t­ia were def­i­nite­ly threat­en­ing, with Rebic and Perisic sec­ond only to Mbappe and Greiz­mann in terms of attack­ing duels, France defend­ed effec­tive­ly in two ways — deep in the first half and high sec­ond half. 

In the first half, France defend­ed deep, spend­ing a lot of time with 11 men behind the ball. 

As Croa­t­ia looked to find space down the wings with Rebic and Perisic, the full­backs Pavard and Her­nan­dez did an out­stand­ing job of mit­i­gat­ing the attack­ing threat. The two full­backs led France in defen­sive duels (10 for Pavard, and 7 for Hernandez).

France came out in the sec­ond half with a more aggres­sive approach and thus a high­er defen­sive line.

This is backed up by the stats that France turned over the ball only 38 times in the first half, but 50 times in the sec­ond half. This lead to all four of France’s counter attacks com­ing in the sec­ond half.

Umititi dropping deep immediately after possession is lost in the first half.
French defending higher up the pitch in the second half.

2) Nul­li­fy­ing the threat of crosses

The back four of France were extreme­ly dili­gent at get­ting tight to Croa­t­ian attack­ers in the box when the ball was wide. The fur­thest French full back always got with­in the width of the goal and any Croa­t­ian in the box was tight­ly and quick­ly marked, mean­ing no time or space for when the ball got into the box. 

It was essen­tial­ly a mas­ter­class on how to defend cross­es as a back four unit.

In the heart of the French defence, there was a real empha­sis on mark­ing the aer­i­al threat of Mandzu­kic. Umi­ti­ti and Varane shared 11 duels between them on the Croa­t­ian tar­get man.

France were impressive in their ability to lock down and minimise threat from high balls into the box.

3) Effi­cien­cy in finishing

While Croa­t­ia probed for open­ings and launched balls from wide areas, their over­all fin­ish­ing didn’t match their build up play.

Croa­t­ia hit the tar­get only three times out of 14 attempts, while France test­ed Daniel Sub­a­sic on all but two of their eight attempts.

Croatia hit the target only three out of 14 attempts.
In comparison, France were much more efficient with their finishing.

Sta­tis­ti­cal star play­er — Kylian Mbappe

Mbappe stuffed the stats box, com­plet­ing the following:

- Two shots (both on target).

- Nine drib­bles (more than any oth­er play­er on pitch). 

- 23 touches.

- 19 attack­ing duels.

- 1 Goal, 

Mbappe had direct involve­ment in all four of France’s goals. His 1v1 drib­ble led to the free kick for first goal, while his pace and pres­sure on Vida for sec­ond goal led to the cor­ner win that even­tu­at­ed in Croatia’s own goal. 

His drib­ble and cut back was the lead up to Pogba’s strike, before he got in on the act him­self and scored the fourth. 

The high­est fre­quen­cy of any two play­ers pass­ing to each oth­er on the pitch were Pog­ba pass­ing to Mbappe – 11 times, three more than any two oth­er play­ers on the pitch.

Our Sports­code head to head out­put win­dow below shows that even the out­stand­ing Ivan Perisic’s was out­played def­i­nite­ly by Mbappe’s world-class showing.

Perisic had a standout match for Croatia, but Mbappe was on another level.

Post match review

While Croa­t­ia were beat­en, they were also great val­ue, hav­ing the qual­i­ty in the mid­field to play pos­i­tive­ly and con­trol possession. 

How­ev­er, France clear­ly iden­ti­fied the areas Croa­t­ia were tar­get­ing on attack and adjust­ed their defen­sive strat­e­gy accordingly.

Even­tu­al­ly it came down to tak­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, and France were much more ruth­less and effi­cient in con­vert­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ties pre­sent­ed to them.

To learn more about how Hudl uses ana­lyt­ics to fuel the mod­ern game, you can sign up to one of our online class­es or check out our pro­fes­sion­al case stud­ies from La Liga club Deporti­vo Alaves here.