In the run up to the World Cup there’s been plenty of young playmakers touted to take the tournament by storm, and, outside of Lionel Messi’s class of his own, Yoann Gourcuff and Mesut Ozil are the two highest profile names to be mentioned. Their careers have hit the right tracks with their respective moves to Bordeaux and Werder Bremen and South Africa is ready to give them a huge stage to display their quality. After their debuts, the results have been contrasting.
With much of the talk surrounding France in the run up to the World Cup focusing on a switch to a new 4-3-3 shape, the immediate restoration of the 4-2-3-1 shows how Domenech’s failings in his man-management could mess with France’s chances – assuming it was his bust-up with Malouda and his subsequent axing from the side that is responsible for the change in shape.
In theory, the formation should have suited France against Uruguay’s 3-5-2, with Ribery and Govou stretching the back three. This is what happened in the opening stages of the game, before Uruguay brought their wing-backs deeper, effectively creating a back 5, settling to stifle France. Much of the discussion of Uruguay before the game also focused on their shape: this now unusual formation and front two of Forlan and Suarez seem to have clouded judgement on what is a fairly poor team that struggled to qualify for the tournament.
Gourcuff was in direct competition with Penarol’s Egidio Arevalo, but he gave the impression he’d have played just as badly without the Uruguayan there. He regularly bungled attempts at controlling the ball and misplaced passes when not under much pressure. His pass completion rate of 58% and just one of his four shots hitting the target paints a picture of someone not at his best. While Uruguay did an excellent job of stifling France, part of Gourcuff’s problems could be the switch back to the 4-2-3-1 as he appeared to enjoy the 4-3-3: “In our play, it was much better. There was much more movement around the ball carrier, which hasn’t been the case in recent France matches. Now, whoever had the ball had two or three options.”
Two days later, Germany had none of the problems of France and, while Gourcuff was arguably one of France’s biggest disappointments, Ozil was the star of the show in their thrashing of Australia. It was the perfect example of how a 5 man midfield can easily overcome a 4-4-2.
While Grella and Valeri were busy dealing with Khedira and Schweinsteiger, Ozil was given time and space behind them to do as he liked. Coupled with Australia’s high line that allowed him to knock balls in behind the slow defence onto Klose, Podolski and Muller, Ozil had the freedom to create. Once Australia changed to a system that allowed Valeri to pick up Ozil, his influence diminished but he’d already made his mark on the tournament: playing a large part in the build-up for two of Germany’s goals.