Didier Deschamps, meet Sean Dyche, because France Burnley’d their way to World Cup victory.
This, the World Cup final, was a nonsense game. You can set your team up however you like, but there are some things you can’t legislate much for: own goals, dubious VAR-assisted calls, goalkeepers getting caught at the back, two snap-shots going in.
Usually, goals happen infrequently in football. One team scores and, even if that goal was a freak one, the two sides have some time to adjust. This game didn’t have that.
It wasn’t a story of how one tactical set-up beat another, or how one set of players beat another, or even how one side’s set-up enabled them to get the breaks more often.
It was just… a game. Sometimes games just happen.
Les Clarets et Kylie
This was certainly not a match that would convince many doubters of Didier Deschamps.
The French didn’t break through the Croatia press, didn’t counter-attack successfully (until Croatia were tiring and desperate, two goals down). For the first hour of the match – before they were two ahead, changing the face of the game – 65 of their 114 passes were in their own half (57 percent). They created 0.3 expected goals all match.
xG map for the World Cup Final. Very hard to say this was an impressive team performance by #FRA, but Umtiti and Varane prevented #CRO from creating clear chances and Mbappe and Pogba made the needed plays in attack. Individual talent won out. pic.twitter.com/oMfePQ6V1R
— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) July 15, 2018
In Premier League circles, ‘to Burnley’ has become a verb. ‘To Burnley’ means getting the rub of the green in attack, and then bunkering down to defend in a deep block.
Whether you ‘deserved’ to win is debatable. A team who ‘Burnleys’ can’t be criticised for taking their chances when they came, and then managing the game from there. But a team who ‘Burnleys’ also tends not to have created many chances by themselves.
‘To Burnley’ is similar to ‘to Kylie Jenner’ in the business world – to be born into a large amount of wealth and privilege but work from there to make it into a success. Both stumble into fortune, and then make it better from there.
(For those who don’t know, Jenner, reportedly worth $900million, was proclaimed as ‘set to become the youngest-ever self-made billionaire’ by Forbes’ front cover.)
Did France deserve it?
In one sense, the set-up that Didier Deschamps has cooked up is perfectly sensible (and sensible is often boring). Keeping a deep defensive block, as they have done all tournament, allows space for Kylian Mbappé to run into.
This isn’t just used to create chances directly – traditional counter-attacks where he either gets a shot or shot assist – but can also be used simply to move an attack far up the pitch.
France’s third goal came from this latter, ‘not-quite-a-counter-attack’ kind of move. Paul Pogba played a fantastic pass out to the right-wing, for the teenager to run onto. He wasn’t able to drive directly at goal, and Croatia began to get men back. By the time the ball was played back to Pogba, it looked as if they’d recovered well.
But in this sort of second phase of the counter, Croatia were still vulnerable. There were bodies back, but they weren’t organised, and there weren’t as many bodies back as there would have been if the ball had gone up the pitch more slowly.
The panic that a counter-attack brings on in the mind of the opposing defenders can’t be underestimated, and it’s what France have built their World Cup on.
After getting through their group (without ever really impressing) they beat Argentina, Uruguay, Belgium and Croatia on their way to winning the gleaming, beautiful golden trophy. As a collection of teams to leave in their wake, it’s an impressive one. Argentina are the big names, but the other three were some of the best-performing teams of the summer.
France showed what they could be against Argentina, showed their sheer talent against Uruguay, their nous and game-management against Belgium. In the final, the viewing public all wanted them to repeat the first; the second would do, if nothing else; but it was the third that was on show in Moscow.
When we look back on the history books, it’s the result that matters – the star above the shirt, the seventh place, the billionaire status. At best, you can say it was a well thought-through utilisation of their talents; at worst, you can say ‘well, they didn’t not deserve to win’.
France Burnley’d, they Kylie Jenner’d, their way to World Cup victory. Deschamps, Dyche, and Jenner – what a club.