In this series, we are looking at getting the best out of the players we hope will light up the Russia 2018 World Cup. Here, we look at France and their midfield maestro Paul Pogba.

Using custom date DB to start the game in April 2018, we see France have been rated by the bookies as 5-1 potential outsiders, the French FA want a semi-final place and we’ve been drawn in Group D with South Africa, Switzerland, and the USA.

Much has been made of where Pogba plays best since his move to Manchester United. Many say he can’t play in a midfield duo, others say he would be better behind a striker. The player himself thinks in a midfield three is his best role. But let’s leave the real world behind and see what’s best for France in Football Manager 18.

Pogba Player Scout in FM18

The first thing I notice at a glance of Pogba’s attributes are his physicals. Only Acceleration and Agility below 16! Combined with his 6’3” height and the game confirms what we know in real life – Pogba is an athlete.

His highest rating is 19 for Flair – yep, I can see that. We can expect the unexpected from the player and he backs up this with 18s in key technicals Passing, Technique, First Touch followed closely with 17s for Dribbling and Long Shots.

I love a bit of Determination and 17 will do for me.

The only weaknesses are shown with the Key Attributes highlighted for APS. These show that his Composure and Teamwork – whilst still good – are a bit below elite level.

His Player Traits are an interesting mix – I like a midfielder who gets into the box and I don’t mind shots from distance if you have 17 for Long Shots. Dwells on Ball can be seen as a negative – slows down play, lose attacking momentum, loses the ball – but with Pogba’s skillset, I believe I can use this to France’s benefit.

The best role for Pogba

The game believes Pogba is best as an Advanced Playmaker on the Midfield Strata with a support duty. However, I don’t see Pogba as the Xavi/Iniesta type. He has the technique (I’d like to see vision higher for an elite playmaker) but his physical attributes give Pogba a different dimension to his game.

I look at Pogba’s attributes and I think he’d do a lot of damage in the space between midfield and strikers. For me, the target here is getting Pogba space with the ball in that central zone around the arc of the penalty box.

I can see him on that AMC slot but wait – no man is an island – we surely need more context.

France Team Context

My international ass-man has kindly provided me with a beautiful graphic of where France Squad Depth lies and it paints quite a picture. Usually, I use this screen in FM to begin the process of building up my tactic. If you have a tactic in mind, typically you would recruit to fill the gaps but this being international management forces our hand somewhat. Not an issue I cant afford to buy Pogba for Carluke Rovers anyway.

Goalies

Lloris is head and shoulders above any other French keeper. End of.

Defence

We have 3 Great Central Defenders and 0 Great Full/Wingbacks. Back 3 it is then.

Midfield

We have 1 great Defensive Midfielder but that’s Kante who is also one of our 3 great CMs. Out wide our great ML/R are Coman and Dembele whilst Mbappe is our Great AMR. I’m slabbering already.

Attack

We have 2 great SCs in Griezeman and, the newly recalled, Benzema.

Here’s the whole squad.

So what can I do with that?

Set up in FM Tactics

As you may have guessed, the squad depth report clearly points to using a 3-5-2 base shape to utilise all our best players. But as stated before I want to get Pogba into that hole behind where I think he can cause the most damage.

So here is my strategy for France.

    1. Win games – well duh, obvious! Well not really – I want to state at the very beginning of building my tactic that I want to be pro-active in winning games. This is my foundation.
    2. Building up play. I want the players to position themselves in staggered lines vertically up the pitch. For example my three midfielders I want one DM strata, one on Mid Strata and the third on the AM strata to create a passing triangle. Similarly, I want one of my 3 CBs to drop deeper to offer another passing option. The two wide CMs will naturally look to partner with their nearest CB and Wingers thus a CB-CM-W triangle is created on the left and right flanks. These passing lanes offer a variety of build-up play. A Deep Lying Forward dropping deep will offer a longer ball out for defence. He, in turn, would look to lay off for midfield runner or wingers.
  • How we will score goals.
  1. Against teams without a DMC. We will look to open up space in the AMC zone by stretching the opposition backline vertically back towards their own goal. Two strikers occupy central defenders whilst threat of fast, attacking wingers will force full backs to drop back further. I will be looking for Pogba to push into this area and exploit the space. He can either receive the ball from CMs or layoffs directly or look to mop up cleared crosses from wings.
  2. Against teams with a DMC. With the AMC slot occupied, we go wide. France blessed with three of the most exciting young wingers in the world – Dembele, Coman and Mbappe. All are lightning quick with great dribbling to get past a fullback. All have Player Traits for coming inside off their wing making them comfortable at arriving at the back post. Therefore I will look to manipulate the opposition to get a winger in space or 1-v-1 with a defender, get the cross in for strikers or far side winger coming onto it.
  3. Against very deep, packed defence. I have elite attackers with great technique who will be asked to run at the defence. Using their skill and flair to commit defenders and force open gaps or at least draw fouls in dangerous positions.
  • How we will defend.
  1. The 3 man defence will outnumber most modern opposition formations. I have three very mobile and very capable central defenders so I am comfortable leaving them to deal with the width of the pitch. The gaps behind wingers – especially against a counter-attack  – must be protected by the closest CM and CB with the rest of the back line moving across towards ball side. For example, if Opp. WR is advancing with the ball, I want my CBL or my CML to engage, whilst my remaining CBs move towards the left.
  2. Block passing lanes into dangerous areas. With 5 men staggered, we will look to use these numbers to crowd the midfield with the aim to intercept passes aimed at breaking our midfield line or to simply block the way and force the opposition to try a different way.
  • With Mbappe/without Mbappe. He’s one of the world’s brightest young stars so I am very keen to get him involved in this tournament. The problem is that his strengths are as a striker or AMR and he is less suited to playing as an MR. Therefore I need a variation of the 3-5-2 shape with the MR moved forward to be an AMR – the result will be an asymmetrical 3-4-3.

Here are both variations:

Team Instructions

  • Control – we want to be a bit more adventurous and creative to achieve our base strategy of winning the game.
  • Fluid – we want to compress the lines when defending to crowd midfield. In attack, fluid keeps players from being isolated to create the supporting partnerships as described above
  • Push Higher Up / Offside Trap – again we’re looking to crowd the midfield. Our defenders are fast and I have confidence that they’ll be hard to beat in a foot race even if the offside trap is broken.
  • Higher Tempo – we have skilful players who will look to ping the ball about to stretch the defence and hopefully create space at AMC or for the wingers.
  • Play Wider – also used for stretching out the opposition to create gaps centrally.
  • Run at Defence – used optionally against inferior defenders or to add variety against a deep and packed defence.

Play the WC/Games Analysis

So how did we do?

Well, we only went and won it! And you can’t accuse us of getting an easy ride as we beat Germany, Spain and Italy (DB peculiarity!) on the way to the trophy.

Let’s look at some highlights of play throughout the tournament.

Opening game 3-3 draw versus Switzerland

The opening game was a big test of the Mbappe lopsided tactic. By playing with the advanced winger we exposed ourselves against Shaqiri and nearly paid for it.

You can see against the 4-1-2-2-1 that we suffered down the flanks. As above I am content to leave some exposure on the wings but Kante really struggled to cover the increased space left by Mbappe being too high up.

We were too good attacking as planned and we had a penalty missed that would have won it for us. But lesson learned against wingers.

Pogba in space 4-1 versus USA

In our second group game we played against a 4-4-2 – a set up that should maximize our strengths due to space between midfield and defensive line. In this game, you can see the dominance in the zone around the AMC slot. Pogba used the space to post a MotM performance and helped himself to a goal.

Goal versus Croatia in first knockout round

I chose Advanced Playmaker role for Pogba rather than CMa or Mezzala not because I want him threading assists through. Instead, I am more interested in the way that this role attracts the ball. In the ME players look to pass to others with a Playmaker role and I want to utilise Pogba’s Dwell on Ball trait and technical skill set to pull the opposing defence out of position.

This goal against Croatia shows how Pogba starts the move on the left wing before moving into the danger zone. His switch of play pulls the defence giving the two players in the box a chance to lose their markers.

You can read about how John Dolan recreates Modric for Croatia here.

You need luck in a tournament

The game against Spain was very evenly matched. Spain had most of the ball but never really troubled us until they were awarded a dodgy penalty in extra-time. Mata missed in a match that displayed some woeful examples of spot kicks. We won 3-2 but 7 penalties were missed on top of Mata’s!

Tactical lessons

When Italy lined up in a 4-4-2, I knew we were in the final.

Germany playing a 4-2-3-1 was much more worrying. Learning lessons against Switzerland in our opening game, Mbappe dropped to the bench in favour of Dembele as an MR winger. The opener came from the Prodigal Son Benzema after a wonderful switched pass from Pogba.

We controlled the game but lost an equaliser from nowhere. Another lesson learnt of the ruthlessness at an elite level. We brought Mbappe on after 70 minutes and he laid on the assist for Benzema to win it.

Conclusion

The first conclusion of this was to get your money on France to win the World Cup because if I can manage them to glory on FM – they must be a dead-cert in real life.

The second conclusion is that I got Pogba to play the role that I was looking for. He got into space, pulled players out of position, got some great goals and produced some world class moments vital to us winning the trophy. Despite this, I do not think I got the best out of Pogba. I didn’t see Pogba as a playmaker in the Riquelme mode threading delicate balls through to rack up assists so I am not too concerned he got zero. Some of the games he drifted out of which meant his overall player rating wasn’t great. However, the team system worked well and more than achieved their objective.