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As France face Germany in the quarter-finals, Goal's Brendon Netto discusses the strengths of each side's midfield and their differences...


     BY BRENDON NETTO     Follow @BrendonNetto


France’s form in this World Cup has comes as a welcome surprise. The squad’s been plagued with clashes of egos and general disruption over the last few years but gelled well this time around and that’s been translated into a more cohesive display on the pitch.

They boast arguably the most complete midfield in the tournament which has had a large part to play in their impressive campaign so far. On Friday night though, they will face a midfield of equal stature albeit with different dimensions as they take on Germany.

For the neutral, it’s a salivating tie as the two midfields are pretty evenly matched and it will be enthralling to see which approach comes out on top.


"France have become a top level side again. Tomorrow will be decided in the midfield."

- Toni Kroos

At the moment, Germany are renowned for assuming full control of the game by dominating possession. They dictate the pace, take their time and more often than not, they eventually find their way through. However, the problem arises when they lose the ball for their defense has proven to be vulnerable to swift counter-attacks.

On the other hand, France’s midfield have a bit more versatility in their skill set. They can be sublime on the ball without being as commanding in possession. However, they’re capable of redeeming themselves with their ball-winning qualities.

While Germany have tidy passers all over the pitch, France’s strength lies in their variety which essentially brings balance to their play. In their three-man midfield, Yohan Cabaye, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi are all competent with their distribution but they have contrasting individual roles as well which compliments each other.

Cabaye is the side’s playmaker and conducts their build-up play while Pogba offers drive and dynamism and Matuidi operates as the anchorman. Together, the three of them form a well-rounded and efficient midfield unit.

Germany on the other hand have their midfielders focus on short passing, keeping possession and carving open the opposition. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos are all primarily focused on doing just that.

 

Only occasional runs from Schweinsteiger or Kroos break the pattern. When Sami Khedira is included though, his industry sees him make more frequent runs forward, thereby offering a different option.

The most glaring difference between the two midfields however lies in the options available ahead of them. Here’s where Germany’s progress as an attacking force can stagnate. Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze drift into central areas or drop deep too often.

They certainly contribute to the intricacy of Germany’s passing and both are capable of finding the back of the net but as playmakers and not natural wingers, they rarely make runs beyond their respective full-backs.

Thomas Muller is the only one trying to get in behind the opposition’s back-line but as a false nine, he too has the tendency to drop into midfield. This collectively helps the Germans dominate possession no doubt but can also serve to mitigate their threat in the final third.

France however, have pacey wide men in Antoine Griezmann and Mathieu Valbuena who regularly dart forward or look to take on full-backs. In Karim Benzema, they have a quick striker who works the line well and is a handful for the center-backs.

The French midfielders are offered further options with attack-minded full-backs Patrice Evra and Mathieu Debuchy bombing forward at every opportunity. Germany’s Shkodran Mustafi and Benedikt Howedes pale in comparison.

Algeria regularly exposed the German defense with their pace and athleticism, especially on the break. With Per Mertesacker, Mustafi and Howedes lacking in pace, that’s another area of concern for Joachim Low. It will be interesting to see if Phillip Lahm is slotted into the right-back position.

If you compare the two sides, man for man, you could make a strong case for Germany’s superiority but France may hold a slight advantage on the whole because of the balance they possess. In fact, it’s difficult to pick out a glaring area of weakness for the Les Bleus.

There’s certainly no way Germany can be ruled out though. If they play to their strengths and are on top of their passing game, they could dominate proceedings. France have the tools to dismantle them but have not been tested against a side of such quality in the tournament yet. Either way, it should be a fascinating encounter.


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Who do you think have the better midfield? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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