The 2018 World Cup was easily the most memorable of my life. It came with an entertaining mix of triumphant upsets and unexpected heartbreak. Confident Germans tearfully watched their team switch from world champions to first round knockouts. The small nation of Croatia finished the Cup with their heads held high. The dark horse candidate had an unforeseen second place finish on the back of multiple golden performances from Golden Ball winner and Ballon D’Or candidate Luka Modric.
But of course, France reclaimed World Cup Glory after 20 years thanks to an impressive young team that will be a strong force in international football for years to come. The face of their campaign was World Cup Best Young Player winner Kylian Mbappe. Mbappe first broke onto the scene in the 2016/17 season when at age 18, he propelled A.S Monaco to a semi-final finish in the Champions League and their first Ligue 1title in 17 years. He also won the European U19s that year. The young star then took his talents to Paris, winning his second Ligue 1 title with PSG and adding a fresh League Cup to his cabinet.
I could gush more about a player who has scored more goals and won more silverware at age 19 than Ronaldo and Messi combined but to truly highlight his brilliance, a deeper tactical analysis is required.
Manager Didier Deschamps ran a 4-2-3-1 formation for much of France’s World Cup Campaign with Mbappe attacking on the right.
Mbappe pairs well with Blaise Matuidi on the left due to the Juve midfielder’s tendencyto drop back and play a more defensive/supporting role. If Mbappe dropped back in the same manner, Oliver Giroud would find himself somewhat isolated on the sides, making him easy to defend. Mbappe’s ability to stretch the field solves this and gives Giroud needed support.
Mbappe’s partnership with Paul Pogba has been vital to France’s attack. Pogba’s runs from his normal central position draw defenders up the field, closer to him, creating space for Mbappe to make runs into the box and be greeted by an incisive pass from Pogba. Mbappe’s speed allows him to tear through most defensive lines when given space and he is capable of beating defenders in 1v1 and 2v1 situations. These runs by Pogba don’t compromise France’s central defense at all either, as N’Golo Kante is a world class defensive talent who can protect his region of the field with ease, individually or with Pogba. Giroud provides similar support for Mbappe as he is a physical presence and a usual goal threat (except this World Cup apparently) that draws defenders from Mbappe.
France has also made good use of coordinated attacking between Mbappe and another young Frenchman who broke out at this World Cup, right back Benjamin Pavard. Mbappe could drop back, drawing the defense forward, and freeing up space for Pavard to attack on the flanks and Mbappe to cut in. Mbappe and Pavard would push the attack on the right, posing a major tactical issue for the defense. The backline would have to decide between staying on Mbappe and preventing him from making full runs to the goal or covering Pavard and preventing him from crossing it to Mbappe or shooting it himself.
France plays at its best vertically when Pogba is driving forward with support from Kante or Matuidi. Antoine Griezmann acts as an effective link between the midfield and the attack while Oliver Giroud acts as the focal point, occupying defenders. Deschamps’ system allows Mbappe to thrive as he is given space on the right to accelerate the attack downfield on the wings or directly cut into the box.
Although only 19 years old, Mbappe has already established himself as a proven goalscorer. Although he didn’t reach the same scoring levels last club season as he did during his breakout year with Monaco, this is most likely due to Neymar’s demand to be PSG’s main superstar. Mbappe flourished this World Cup thanks to a far more selfless France team and a system that gives him the freedom to thrive. He was still able to contribute 13 goals this Ligue 1 season and 4 in the UCL, impressive in the context of competing with Neymar and Edinson Cavani. Mbappe’s presence has a strong impact on an offense due to his ability to create space for teammates with his eye-catching runs. Mbappe’s game isn’t exclusively space though, as he has had as strong success rate with his dribbles, completing 3.4 per 90 minutes.
Kylian Mbappe has proved over the past two years that he has the potential of a future Ballon D’Or winner. Along with tremendous physical skills, he possesses the footballing intelligence and mentality of a seasoned veteran. After he announced himself on the world’s biggest stage this summer, the sky’s the limit for this wunderkind and all football fans can do is wait.