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Griezmann is hosting a great World Cup. Pulls on both halves, while the magic of Messi and Mbappe is built on the refusal of defense

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We choose the best player of the tournament.

Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe are the main stars of the 2022 World Cup and the main contenders for the prize of the best player of the tournament. It makes sense to talk about why each one is the best and explain the varying degrees of impact on the game.

Messi and Mbappe are the geniuses of the episodes. Both are the most influential in the other half. Leo and Kylian together lead in chances created from the game and in scoring, but are relieved of defensive duties, which is why Didier Deschamps and Lionel Scaloni are asked to train other players.

Griezmann is France’s tactical glue on both halves. Antoine creates at the level of Messi and Mbappe, ahead of them in assists and invented explicit moments. He combines creativity with the defensive roles of six and eight – the structure of France is incredibly dependent on Antoine’s pressure and safety nets, thanks to which Kylian can be more sharpened on counterattacks.

Who will be chosen as the best player of the World Cup in the end?

Argentina has learned to insure Messi in defense, and he compensates for defensive passivity with an attacking contribution

In Qatar, Messi broke many personal and world records: he became the first player to score a goal + pass in three matches in one tournament (statistics are available since 1966), after defeating Croatia – the leader in goal + pass in the history of the World Cup (11 + 9 ), updated his own record for assists in the playoffs (was 5, became 6), caught up with Ronaldo in matches with goals or assists (13), and in the final will surpass Matthäus in games at the World Cup (becomes 26).

Messi’s style of play was best described by Virgil van Dijk: “During our attacks, he will cool down somewhere in the corner of the field. This is the hardest thing about playing against him. The Argentine national team are constantly looking for him to try and organize a counterattack.”

Sports.ru has already spoken at length about the Messi phenomenon at this World Cup. Leo does not speed up so often, looks for the ball for a long time and turns on only in episodes (at the same time, in the top 3 of Argentina in ball handling in matches with the Netherlands and Croatia), but these flashes are the most dangerous and determine the result:

• Against Mexico, Argentina attacked horribly, but then Leo approached Di Maria, drew attention to the space in front of the penalty area due to the deep position of the defenders, and asked to look for him there – just a minute later, Messi scored the decisive goal with a first field goal (2:0) ;

• in the game with Poland, Messi screwed up a penalty, but made a great creative assault – his shots totally tore the left flank (2:0);

• Argentina looked unattractive against Australia, but Leo scored after the first try and on the counter-attack did everything for Lautaro’s pair of goals. Interestingly, the first goal began with Messi’s rare defensive acceleration: he put pressure on Behic (ended in an out), and after Argentina earned a scoring free kick (2:1);

• The first half played against the Netherlands in a similar fashion. Messi took advantage of Ake’s slightest mistake (one of the first quick breaks), converted a penalty in the game and shot first in the series (2:2, 4:3 on penalties);

• In the semi-final, Alvarez became the protagonist (pressing, earning a penalty and scoring a brace), but Messi compensated for the activity with a confident penalty and Guardiol’s fantastic promotion (3:0).

Messi influences the structure from behind – Scaloni came up with different combinations to free him from defensive work. Argentina defended 4-4-2 against Saudi Arabia, but against Mexico, Leo became the only attacker in the rollback. Scaloni, in 4-3-3 and 5-3-2, rebuilt partners to compensate for Messi’s passivity: Alvarez played Brozovic with Croatia and did a huge part of the work against the Netherlands, and Mac Allister and de Paul pressed instead of Messi. Argentina wants to work for Leo and calmly endures his passivity in defense.

It is also necessary to take into account the specifics of the opponents, since none of the six teams in the tournament was distinguished by a high-quality game in someone else’s third, but the Scaloni team is the best in terms of admitted danger (only 1 moment at the gate of Martinez) and in the top 3 of the World Cup in terms of the difference between created and expected xG in terms of 90 minutes (better only departed Brazil and Germany).

Mbappe decides after the 60th minute. His defensive gap was used by England and Morocco (that’s where Messi attacks)

Deschamps also deliberately released Mbappe from work in his own half. From time to time, Kilian still came to his flank, but rather interfered – often after a couple of seconds he turned off and let the player go. Although once he supported the pressure of Rabiot and Griezmann against Australia (this is how they scored the winning goal). In the vast majority of episodes, Mbappe waited for the national team to return the ball and launch it into a counterattack.

France used several tweaks for Kilian:

• like a rhombus, when Griezmann remained in the position of ten (usually with the task of blocking the defensive midfielder), Rabiot moved to the left, Tchuameni remained six, and Dembele went down to the half-flank;

• Against Morocco, Deschamps asked Giroud to defend as well – he personalized Amrabat;

• linear 4-4-2, where Rabiot became a left midfielder, and Griezmann moved into the support zone and even worked up to the goalkeeper.

In the playoffs, England and Morocco pressed through Mbappe’s flank. Opponents took into account that Theo Hernandez was located there, who openly said that he was not the strongest defender. England deliberately traded Mbappe for Walker (Kyle hardly attacked) and played wide combinations: Henderson and Saka were consistently looking for the ball between the lines, and the mobility of Foden, Bellingham and Kane radicalized the situation on the right in attack. It was from there that Kane’s top moment came and the penalty that Saka earned.

Morocco also attacked through the right flank. During the tournament, Unai, Ziyech and Hakimi found a great understanding for fast breaks, and for France, Walid Regragi also came up with the shift of the left winger Bufal to the right. The Moroccans forced the French to fight back, and Deschamps changed from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 in defense (Mbappe went to the center of attack, Thuram practiced on the left) to calm the game.

Messi usually sharpens from this zone: he receives the ball from the right, from where he enters the middle. Against the Netherlands, Leo showed that he can see the right zone perfectly, and in the 1/4 figured out Guardiol on the flank. Given Leo’s diversity and Theo’s weakness in defense (plus Mbappe doesn’t work from behind), Deschamps needs adjustments to neutralize the Argentine right flank.

Map of the passes of France and Morocco in the final third from the 45th to the 60th minute. Data – StatsBomb 

Mbappe’s superpower is speed. Messi compared Kylian to a beast due to his strength, explosive run and 1-on-1 play. France seeks to maximize the qualities of Mbappe: he saves strength when defending, and thanks to the saved energy, he attacks everywhere and breaks in the endings.

Mbappe was bright against Australia throughout the game (4:1), but against Denmark the distribution of influence changed – Mbappe dominated the second half (2:1). With Poland, he decided the episode before the break, and then nailed the opponents in a fast attack after Griezmann’s clearance (3:1). Walker restrained Kilian – there was practically no danger from him (2: 1), but in the next game the French scored twice against Morocco after blocked shots from the winger.

Mbappé was directly involved in France’s 10 goals (5+2, 2 finishes from Morocco, pre-goals against Australia), but the main shooting involvement is related to the activity in the last half hour – in this segment, Mbappe landed 11 shots and scored 4 goals.

Griezmann is the most diverse. He starts attacks, ties up the attack three (equally good on the left and right) and manages to work out from behind

“Antoine is very good. He is one of those players who are able to change the face of the team. He gives a lot of volume and influences the game with his technique. The new role suits him very well. Griezmann is equally pleased to make a selection and give the transfer. He has the character of a great player: he is always there when he is needed,” Deschamps said ahead of the semi-final against Morocco.

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Griezmann is the main tactical engine of the French team. After injuries to Pogba, Kante and Benzema, Deschamps needed a smart and experienced player who could make up for the lack of leaders. Most likely, with Kante and Pogba, Griezmann would have got a different role: Ngolo would have burned out the middle, and Paul for the national team is always motivated and excellent in creation.

As a result, Griezmann took on a lot: he attacks to make Mbappe, Giroud and Dembele comfortable (although Ousmane also sacrifices a lot), and then rolls back so that Olivier and Kylian save energy. When defending, actions depend on Deschamps’ task: Griezmann can put pressure, personalize an opponent, help Dembele, or even sit down as a defensive midfielder. Griezmann is in perfect order and in transitional phases: he perfectly reads situations for counterpressing and, if necessary, readily rushes back – he is among the leaders in mileage and does not rest at all.

“I ask Griezmann for different things. He will score fewer goals, but Antoine is so useful and smart that he will balance our attacking group. I could put him on the right flank instead of Dembele, but this is not the place where he will be most useful, ”Deschamps explained after the victory over Denmark.

Griezmann is the leader of the French team in created chances, the main one in sheer chances, broke the national record for key passes in the 21st century and the best World Cup assistant. He takes into account the peculiarities of the left flank (greatly includes Theo, wins back with Mbappe) and uses isolations to the right of Dembele (a clear example is the first goal against the Moroccans). Antoine controls the ball a lot in the support zone, and the uniqueness of the performance is that the Frenchman, along with Brozovic, leads in the beginning of attacks that ended with a kick (8), and is second only to Messi and Mbappe in terms of involvement in striking combinations from the field.

Productivity ahead does not interfere with defensive tasks in any way: Griezmann is third in the French team in tackles, fourth in interceptions, the best in the return of possession in someone else’s third (second in the entire tournament in this indicator).

Griezmann is so hardworking that he reaches his own box and even the goalkeeper (he can insure the central defenders and take their place), and this helps France in a compact block, since Dembele can turn into a lateral without displacements, and Rabiot and Fofana can go to the left side to close the flank of the city. Without Griezmann, Tchuameni would have remained alone in the support zone, then the defenders would have been pulled into the middle for the sake of insurance, thereby destroying the defensive structure.

Distribution of defensive actions of Griezmann, Mbappe and Messi (opponents’ gates – on the right)

In fact, Griezmann has completed much more than 0 + 3:

• began pressing against the Australian team in a winning goal attack (4:1);

• interrupted Eriksen’s run down the left flank and challenged for a dropped ball before the breakaway where Mbappe and Theo scored the first goal against the Danes (2-1);

• assisted Mbappé on the winning goal against Denmark (2:1);

• carried out on Giroud in the winning scoring attack against Poland (3:1);

• scored 0+2 against England (2:1);

• opened under Varane in the match against Morocco (driving on Mbappe, after a blocked shot by Kylian scored Theo, 2:0).

***

Much depends on the logic of FIFA. If you focus only on brightness, Messi and Mbappe are the best candidates. Leo defines Argentina’s entire game and so far Scaloni’s defensive adjustments seem very reasonable. Kilian also burns out in his episodes, but Morocco and England used his flank for dangerous attacks. Both times the pressure could turn into goals, and Argentina has a top resource for cracking this zone – that is, at the distance of the tournament, the algorithm is more vulnerable than that of the South Americans.

Griezmann is very unlucky that Messi and Mbappe are so flamboyant, but he is running a great tournament. If we take into account the absolute impact on the game, then Antoine should be the best. At this tournament, he is perfect in any role: he helps Theo, Mbappe and Giroud shine in front, gives the most important assists (an assist against Denmark took him out of the group, and a cross with England provided the semi-finals), plows in the middle, works in his support zone and even a penalty area – he is a system player in France in every third of the field and deserves recognition.