How Paul Pogba has been unlocked and why Belgium's tactics against Brazil can't bring down France

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World Cup winner: France and Manchester United star Paul Pogba.

No disrespect to the other semi-finals clash but if it’s a generous sprinkling of stardust you’re after, then this is the encounter you’re waiting for.

The world-class players from both Belgium and France will do battle on Tuesday for a place in the World Cup final.

But what good are top quality players if they aren’t deployed in the right way?

Here’s the tactical breakdown.


Roberto Martinez will dine out on his systematic dismantling of Brazil in the semi-finals for some time to come. It was a tactical masterclass from the Catalan which left pundits trying to decipher the formation he used. Was it a 3-4-3, 4-3-3, 4-3-2-1 or something entirely different?

The general bewilderment is testament to the fluidity of his team, something which shone through for their second goal as Romelu Lukaku’s brilliant play on the counter set up Kevin De Bruyne’s finish. In its simplest form though, it was both a 4-3-3 and a 3-4-3 with the Belgians switching seamlessly between both formations.

They defended with a back four, denying Brazil’s dangerous wingers freedom of space, but with possession, they shifted to a three-man defence with Jan Vertonghen holding back while Nacer Chadli shuttled out from central midfield to the left flank.

Not only did this allow the West Brom player to use his pace out wide, but ensured De Bruyne had enough space through the middle in his false nine role. Meanwhile, Lukaku was deployed on the right of a front three to take advantage of Marcelo’s tendency to go forward.

However, this ploy may not work as well against France as Lucas Hernandez is more disciplined in defence while Blaise Matuidi will patrol that side as well. With Thomas Meunier suspended the use of wingbacks seems unfeasible.

A more orthodox 4-3-3 may instead be the order of the day with Chadli stepping in at right-back. De Bruyne will still retain an advanced role though, and Belgium can rely on his link-up play with Eden Hazard and Lukaku to create chances.


Despite the wealth of attacking players at his disposal and the immense technical ability they possess, Didier Deschamps has been determined to keep things simple. France are bound to set up in their usual 4-2-3-1 system.

The use of a central midfielder on the left has been his most innovative ploy and he deserves credit for it but his subtle tweak which unlocked Paul Pogba is also worthy of praise. The left of a three-man central midfield has widely been accepted as the Manchester United star’s best position, one he flourished in at Juventus.

However, Deschamps has moved him to the right to good effect. Matuidi taking up the left flank means the penetration down that side is limited. If Pogba were to play on the left of a three, he’d naturally try to compensate for that by attempting to dribble the ball forward himself or look for a diagonal switch to the right, which can become predictable.

His role on the right side – while rendering France a little lopsided – sees his vision, flair and quick passing complimented by the trickery and pace of Kylian Mbappe.

This also serves to free-up Antoine Griezmann as he can come short and exchange passes in a triangle also involving Mbappe and Pogba or pull wide into space, which is how France’s second goal against Uruguay was scored. Pogba drove forward into the space vacated by Griezmann before laying it off for Corentin Tolisso who in turn assisted the Atletico Madrid forward after he drifted into a wide position on the left.

With a helping hand from Fernando Muslera, he fired France into the semi-finals. This ploy may be key against Belgium depending on who replaces Meunier at right-back.

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