France took one step closer to the FIFA World Cup 2014 knockout stages on Friday evening by slaughtering Switzerland 5-2.
A towering header from Olivier Giroud set them on their way before Blaise Matuidi doubled the lead 12 seconds later. Karim Benzema missed a penalty, Mathieu Valbuena tapped home, Benzema recovered to score a swiveled finish and Moussa Sissoko made it five.
Switzerland bit back late on with a long-range Blerim Dzemaili free-kick and a sweet Granit Xhaka volley.
Formations and XIs
France played their usual 4-3-3, but changed the XI to fit Olivier Giroud in up front and Moussa Sissoko in on the right of the midfield triangle. Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann dropped out.
Switzerland retained their 4-2-3-1 formation but brought Admir Mehmedi (left wing) and Haris Seferovic (striker) in for Valentin Stocker and Josip Drmic.
In their first match against Honduras, we praised France for their incredible display.
The football was sumptuous; playmakers spraying it round, athletes driving forward and clever technicians dropping into pockets of space and working chances.
After the game, the question became whether or not Les Bleus could replicate such a display—and such an approach—against a sterner side. With Switzerland coming up, it was the perfect test.
Ottmar Hitzfeld's sides are historically superbly drilled in the defensive phases of the game, so to see them pulled apart in such fashion may well dispel doubts about France's strength.
Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez—two marauding, attacking full-backs—are key weapons in this Switzerland side. They're both physical, fast, technical and aggressive while going forward and Hitzfeld uses them to hold the width high up.
But for all their attacking virtue, they leave sizable holes when traveling forward that demand good games from the Swiss defensive midfielders in coverage.
Valon Behrami and Gokhan Inler are required to span the width of the pitch and drop into the gaps their full-backs leave, but Benzema had a field day getting in behind Lichsteiner on the left side.
France knew to pass out to their striker quickly and where he'd be, so every time the Juventus right-back cantered forward they were punished. He received 31 passes in total, most of them in pockets of space on the left, and proceeded to create a multitude of chances.
Behrami, the man responsible for that side, was hauled off at half-time after an awful 45 minutes tracking, marking, passing and tackling.
Hitzfield brought Blerim Dzemaili on at half-time and slotted him into Behrami's role, but barring a fluke free-kick goal late on from 35-plus yards, his impact was limited.
Xherdan Shaqiri was also brought inside to the No. 10 role as he was against Ecuador, and while he was better turning into space and between the lines, he lacks the finesse to excel in that position.
France continued to power forward, using their substitutes to shift Sissoko out onto the right and restore Benzema to the centre-forward's role. The goals kept coming; what an astonishingly deep squad Les Bleus have.
The most impressive thing about Les Bleus' performance was their ability to score goals from any situation. Imagine game-planning for that?