Didier Deschamps might just be the luckiest manager in the world. Time and time again the France boss has gotten his team selection wrong from the outset, but the quality throughout the squad coupled with an uncanny knack of recognizing his tactical mistakes halfway through matches has carried Les Bleus through to the final.
The theme for France all of Euro 2016 has been the search for balance. Deschamps left all his specialist defensive midfielders at home, instead typically preferring to use a rolling mix from the trio of Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and N'Golo Kante. Despite their obvious qualities, none of the midfield combinations Deschamps has started with have truly worked this tournament, and the France manager has resorted to halftime or second half changes to fix his initial mistakes in each game.
At their cores, Pogba, Matuidi and Kante aren't similar players. Each of them boast a different and incredibly useful skillset, but when it truly comes down to it, they're all box-to-box midfielders who thrive in a system that doesn't restrict them to sitting in front of the back line and cleaning up opposition attacks. Pogba and Matuidi have shown some of their best form at the club level on the left side of a midfield three, while Kante has demonstrated a preference for playing in fluid tandem in the center, or even on the right side of a triangle. This tournament though, Deschamps has tried to shoehorn his three dynamic midfielders into the same team to no avail, initially pushing Antoine Griezmann out wide to accommodate the trio before realizing his mistake, and moving the brilliant little Atletico man behind Olivier Giroud to devastating effect.
Despite trying multiple combinations, changing his first XI nearly every match, Deschamps has seemingly gotten his team selection wrong from the outset of each game this tournament. Whether it was starting all three together, dropping Pogba or dropping Kante, Deschamps has found himself making the wrong choice time and time again. However, thanks to a combination of his magnificent players bailing him out, and his late recognition of the correct changes to make, France are through to the final.
Against Germany, Deschamps opted for a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Payet, Matuidi Pogba and Sissoko across the park. It backfired immediately, and the Germans ran rampant through their flat midfield for nearly the entire first half, while France simply couldn't find their rhythm. If not for some atrocious misses by Germany's attackers and heroics from Hugo Lloris to save certain goals from both Emre Can and Joshua Kimmich, Deschamps' tactical mistakes would've doomed the French. Instead, incredible, repeated interventions from Samuel Umtiti, the leopard-like reflexes of Lloris, and a dubious penalty call saved Les Bleus blushes and allowed him the leeway to do what he's done all tournament: make a crucial second-half adjustment.
It took until the 71st minute, but N'Golo Kante came on for the atypically struggling Dimitri Payet, and the move immediately paid dividends. With the naturally left-footed Matuidi pushed to the left side of midfield alongside Pogba, the two midfielders had more leeway to push forward, supported by Kante's more conservative presence and Momo Sissoko's tireless work on the right side. Subsequently, intense pressure from the two left-sided players and a careless German giveaway left Juventus' in-demand midfielder one-on-one with Shkodran Mustafi.
Pogba thrives in these situations, and he shimmied past the German defender with all the ease of a wild rabbit evading a hapless toddler's clumsy grasp. Pogba's high cross was dealt with poorly by Manuel Neuer, who wildly palmed it directly into the path of the onrushing Griezmann, and there was no doubt the tournament's top scorer would secure victory for the hosts. It took yet another tweak from Deschamps, but the match was all but done, save for a few late gasps as Germany pushed forward looking for a goal.
Germany are the best team France will have to face all tournament. Portugal, their final hurdle, are quality opponents, but there's no acceptable argument that rates them higher than the world champs. Cristiano Ronaldo is a goalscoring leviathan, and young midfielder Renato Sanches has been a revelation, but France is the better team and they showed that quality to weather the first-half storm and come out victors against Germany. Now, they've got one match in order to prove that they're the ones who truly deserve to hoist the Henri Delauney Cup.
They say it's better to be lucky than good, and Deschamps' management in Euro 2016 has proved that, getting his side into the final largely by simply not completely screwing it up on his end. He still hasn't sorted out his selection issues, but that hasn't seemed to matter so far. With the quality in this France team, Deschamps doesn't have to be great. He just has to get out of their way and react to what's given to him.
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