Did we all overhype France? Questions mount for Didier Deschamps after Hungary draw at Euro 2020
In what is the shock of Euro 2020, Hungary secured a historic 1-1 draw against world champions France. Pete Sharland looks at what this means for the French and their manager Didier Deschamps. Is it time to hit the panic button? Plus a word on a very impressive Hungary team who were perhaps a touch unlucky during their first match against Portugal.
Deschamps: Hungary had a 'formidable advantage' against France
Were we too quick to anoint France as pre-destined winners of Euro 2020?
There are certainly questions to be asked of Didier Deschamps after a disappointing 1-1 draw against an extremely plucky Hungary team.
This was a different match to the Germany game. Against the 2014 world champions France sat deep deliberately, it was a clear tactic they wanted to use to draw the Germans out, not too dissimilar to how PSG beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League this season.
The Hungary game was different. France had to come out to play, otherwise their opponents would have very happily settled for what would have been a historic 0-0 draw. That left them vulnerable in a way we haven’t always seen, particularly as N’Golo Kante pushed higher up the pitch at times and the front three not always tracking back to help.
Laszlo Kleinheisler (right) - Hungary
Image credit: Getty Images
There were gaps that Hungary could exploit on multiple occasions and they eventually took the lead through Attila Fiola down France’s right flank. If you are going to get at France in this tournament that is the area to do it.
Benjamin Pavard has had his struggles since playing a starring role during the World Cup win and they were exposed again on Saturday afternoon. The ease with which the 31-year-old Fiola outpaced him was absolutely alarming and he seemed to just give up by the end, leaving it to his centre-back, Raphael Varane. The Real Madrid man is another who has really struggled for form in the past couple of seasons. He still has his pace but he is more prone to lapses in concentration and whilst he was dealt a bad hand by Pavard he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory.
The question for Deschamps here is more of a philosophical question. Does he feel so committed to the core that won a World Cup that he won’t make the changes, even when Pavard was clearly suffering after the head collision in the Germany game? He should never have come back onto the pitch and based on Saturday's match he probably shouldn’t have been playing.
These are questions now for Deschamps. Does he turn to someone like Leo Dubois, who is much less experienced on the international stage but had a great club season? What does it say about Dubois that Deschamps still went with Pavard? Or what about the substitutes? Olivier Giroud is an obvious choice but how often can Deschamps persist with the frustrating Ousmane Dembele, surely it is better to give Marcus Thuram a go? Or maybe give Thomas Lemar more than four minutes? At the time of writing we wait for confirmation about why Dembele was taken off for Lemar, but he was grimacing a little when he walked off.
Should he have switched to a 4-2-3-1 earlier or even started with it? Sacrificing Adrien Rabiot for another attacking player? Perhaps that doesn’t solve the defensive issues although it might give more structure to the central midfielders if there are only of them compared to three.
Hungary's defender Attila Fiola (hidden) celebrates scoring the opening goal with his teammates and fans during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group F football match between Hungary and France at Puskas Arena in Budapest on June 19, 2021
Image credit: Getty Images
Then there is the biggest question facing Deschamps right now; What does he do with Karim Benzema? The Real Madrid man has looked lively during the tournament, his first back after international exile, but he isn’t producing in the final third in the way we expected. In reality this will probably be nothing more than him trying to get accustomed to his new team-mates, most of whom he is only playing with for the first time, but it certainly bears watching in the next game. It certainly works in his favour that Giroud didn’t do too much when he was on the pitch.
The Hungarian team certainly have covered themselves in glory on the pitch. Robbed of their star man before the tournament they have made themselves extremely difficult to break down. Of course the end to the Portugal game was disappointing but the last six minutes or so aside they gave the defending champions a real run for their money.
They are extremely well-organised and you imagine will make life very hard for Germany in their final group game. The RB Leipzig duo of Willi Orban and Peter Gulacsi bring the experience of course but every player to man puts in the effort during every game. It’s a real shame we didn’t get a chance to see what they could do with a difference-maker like Dominik Szoboszlai.
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JUNE 19: Roland Sallai, Peter Gulacsi and Andras Schaefer of Hungary applaud the fans following the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group F match between Hungary and France at Puskas Arena on June 19, 2021 in Budapest, Hungary
Image credit: Getty Images
On the goalkeepers, fleetingly, both Gulacsi and his French counter-part Hugo Lloris showed the value of having a star between the sticks. Gulacsi’s reaction were vital for his team as were Lloris’ quick-thinking for his. We have seen countless examples during this tournament of the difference a top stopper can make.
France’s issues have nothing to do with their captain. In many ways they might not be too disappointed given they created plenty of chances and will feel as if they could have had a penalty late on. There were other bright spots as well, Antoine Griezmann in particularly continued to shine for his national team where he has struggled so much for Barcelona domestically. Giving him the free role in a 4-2-3-1 might help unlock Benzema and get even more out of Kylian Mbappe, who played fairly well himself.
It’s always remarkable how much a game can change our perception of a team. Many people had started to etch France’s name in the trophy after the Germany match, if they hadn’t before the tournament, but now there is an element of doubt. It’s tempting to say we overrated France but this isn’t the first time a big team has faltered in the group only to reach the latter stages fairly convincingly.
Ultimately France should still be considered amongst the favourites but teams will have seen a way to get at them, and it will certainly be interesting to see how the Portuguese attack the right with someone like Diogo Jota for example. The first sign of weakness is there, now we wait to see whether the crack deepens or France can find a solution.