Juventus and Napoli aces have mixed World Cup runs with France and Belgium


France’s World Cup in Russia ended in a blaze of glory with a dazzling performance in the final that coronated an impressive run, where Les Bleus displayed great pragmatism, sturdiness and tactical astuteness. Combine that with the talent of Kylian Mbappè, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba and you have a winning recipe.

Blaise Matuidi was initially behind Corentin Tolisso in the hierarchy, but after being inserted late in the first game, Didier Deschamps could not get him off the pitch and as a matter of fact he started all the key games but the Uruguay one, where he was suspended.

Similar to what he often did at Juventus, he was utilized as shadow left winger/third midfielder, generally covering that side of the field, taking some of the defensive duties off Paul Pogba and whoever played upfront, and rarely attacking. A great equalizer that frees up the more offensive players and provides an enormous amount of dynamism and savviness. He is far from a glitzy player, but he is often key.

The campaign of Dries Mertens was kind of the opposite, because he kicked off as the starting right winger in Roberto Martinez’s 3-4-3 and netted one of the prettiest goals of the competition against Panama, a lethal half volley. However, he was underwhelming in the Japan game and basically Maroune Fellaini supplanted him. The insertion of the Manchester United midfielder allowed Kevin De Bruyne to move to a more attacking position.

So, as the games became increasingly demanding from the defensive standpoint, he was sacrificed for tactical reasons in favour of a more muscular midfield against Brazil and France. He was subbed in with half an hour to go against Les Bleus and provided a spark, but it was not enough to lift the Red Devils, who were unable to find the target. He made a cameo in the third-place playoff, where Belgium clearly wanted it more than England and it showed.

Going this deep in the tournament is obviously a positive, also how greatly other top teams struggled, but this golden generation would have had a massive chance of bringing home the trophy had they gotten past France, but they lacked just a little bit of concreteness in the semi-final, which was also the lone defeat since Martinez was appointed.

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