Stopping Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe is only one battle in Sunday’s World Cup final clash. Argentina and France can generate danger all across the pitch, so stopping the superstars is only one battle. Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele operated as old-fashioned wingers in early group games. It has to be with Olivier Giroud as a classic center-forward and Antoine Griezmann free to roam.
In the knockout stages, better defenses were able to bind the wide men. pushing them to hunt inside and deeper for possession. Argentine coach Lionel Scaloni will likely stick with a flat back four on Sunday. Argentina’s Nahuel Molina and Rodrigo De Paul will likely double-team Mbappe like England did. Putting resources in one area opens space elsewhere, as England and Croatia learned, and Griezmann has been the best at discovering and utilising it.
Sunday’s World Cup final isn’t only about stopping Messi and Mbappe
Drifting wide but deeper than Giroud, he asks central defenders whether to meet him or wait. The difficulty with the latter option is that he rarely advances, either pinging in crosses and long passes or bringing an advancing midfielder into play. Aurelien Tchouameni vs. England. Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot have both been excellent in Doha. Rabiot will return after missing the semi-final due to sickness. They allow those in front to roam, knowing there will be a protective screen behind them if the opposition breaks.
France’s defense looked wobbly at times against England, but they settled in and did not give up too many clear chances, typically sitting deep and letting their rivals play in front of them, but seldom allowing them to pull ahead. In the knockout stages, they’ve only surrendered two penalties. On Sunday, they must stop Messi. There’s no way to keep him silent, as hundreds of opponents have found.
Teams can only limit his passes and be laser-focused when he explodes. Messi frustrates opponents by playing at a stroll, even while his team is advancing, and swapping flanks when teammates form around him. Then he pounces, zigzagging through defenses or dragging opponents around him before passing to a teammate. Theo Hernandez worked hard against Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka in the quarterfinals, and Messi will likely do the same on Sunday.
Molina, Marcos Acuna, or Nicolas Tagliafico will be tasked with keeping Mbappe quiet and fronting Griezmann as he fades. Molina returns from suspension, but Scaloni may decide he’s not the best player to face Mbappe and turn to Romero, like he did against the Netherlands. Julian Alvarez has added a new dimension to Argentina’s offense, despite Messi’s exceptional control and rapid movement.
With his bullocking runs, especially against Croatia, he proved there’s more than one way to skin a cat. The two offenses look stronger than the two defenses, which is good in a World Cup final.