France reached the World Cup final after beating Belgium at the Saint-Petersburg Stadium on Tuesday night.
Samuel Umtiti scored the winner after 51 minutes as Belgians failed to make use of constant efforts to break a highly organised French side. Much criticised Didier Deschamps once again deployed a defence-oriented side with two holding midfielders – N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba – playing in rearguard to help the four-man backline.
As Les Bleus progress through to the World Cup final the question of whether the French utilised their impressive attacking potential to its full extent remains.
With a squad bursting with talents such as Kylian Mbappe, who put in yet another top-notch display, the French success rests on the balance and stability.
And while the likes of Mbappe, Pogba, Kante and Antoine Griezmann will go on to grab the spotlight as the tournament in Russia draws to a close, there is a player in the French squad who deserves to be recognised as one of the crucial cogs in the French machine.
And yes, it’s Blaise Matuidi.
Never a fan of the 31-year-old Juventus midfielder myself, I was taken aback with his dominant display against Belgium.
With him occupying the left-hand-side position in the midfield, France have fed on stability and solidity which allowed Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud to break forward and exploit the spaces upfront.
Opta numbers reveal the full extent of his influence on French play last night. Matuidi made six successful tackles against Belgium whereas he also made three ball recoveries in key areas and completed three interceptions to cut Belgium to their root.
6 – Blaise Matuidi 🇫🇷 won six tackles against Belgium, the last French player to have won more in a World Cup match was Didier Deschamps vs Italy in 1998 (9). Warrior. #FRABEL #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/KuCeF1DpBB
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) July 10, 2018
Matuidi complemented Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante in his defensive duties and made a huge impact off ball as well, frustrating Belgium with constant pressing down the touchline.
It might be fair to argue that Blaise Matuidi is the binding matter of the French squad. A missing piece of the puzzle, it would appear, to connect all the dots together and make the whole picture clearer.
His combative nature deserves great praise. He would throw himself into tackles, often to his own detriment. It was late in the second half when Matuidi clattered into Eden Hazard. And there we got the expression that will stick around with everyone who saw it.
Blaise Matuidi does not look OK. pic.twitter.com/19OoD8WY6y
— Jeff Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) July 10, 2018
A haunting image, almost, of pop-eyed Blaise Matuidi clearly not being himself after this duel with teammates and doctors rushing to his aid.
A prompt evaluation – with the concussion issue ever so strong today, following the Champions League final and Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius – was not enough to determine the true extent of his injury and French team should have reacted differently instead of allowing him to carry on playing for three minutes before subbing him off seemingly unaware of what was going on.
The most recent reports claim Blaise Matuidi did not suffer a concussion however, just a trauma to the chest, and should be fit to play in the World Cup final.
France have now emerged as 11/17 betting favourites to lift the coveted trophy and there’s no doubt that Blaise Matuidi would be a key component in any World Cup success.
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