France v Argentina: Last 16
@SivanJohn_ and @Rich_allen85 preview the round of 16 tie ahead between France and Argentina...
Let's start with Sivan and Argentina!
So firstly what are your thoughts on Argentina's journey so far? Despite everything, they are in the last 16!
Sivan: It's like the most dysfunctional rock band that seems to know just when to put on good show. Everything was going from bad to worst in the first two games. Then against Nigeria, the unthinkable happened. That was just one of those games, you knew something was going to happen and whoever you are, you're just not going to miss it.
If anything it at least shows the mental strength of the players to bounce back from the Croatia debacle. How do you rate their chances against France?
Sivan: You've mentioned mental strength, I think now the players have turn it around psychologically. The only question remains is how Sampaoli puts his line up together. Latest report suggest Messi as a false 9 role. Gut feeling it might just work. For me, France biggest kryptonite is their manager Deschamp. If he doesn't utilize the depth of a squad at his disposal, our chances are good.
Messi as a false 9 should certainly be an interesting watch. There has been a lot of criticism on Messi at this World Cup. However at the some of complained at the lack of help Messi has received. Are the team giving their talisman the help he needs?
Sivan: I've said on a few occasions. Messi comes from a school of football that is far more sophisticated than anything that exist in Argentina these days. Having said that, I do feel that the players are trying their best to give what he deserves. It's good see how the players & coaches are working together on this matter. Under normal circumstance, most teams would have been crush. But not this group, there is that motivation for them to prove something after the Croatia game.
How do you see the France game then? You mentioned Deschamps being an issue but is that enough to make Argentina favourites?
Sivan: I think we have a great chance but Argentina isn't the favourite. As long as Messi doesn't need to drop deep, this could spell trouble for France. But with Di Maria starting raises a lot of concern, I'm hoping that he can deliver from the wings. Some did suggest Dybala instead of Angel, but I don't see it that way. Dybala is purely Messi back up otherwise a second striker. One thing that does concern me though is the wing back position. Mercado guarding Mbappe? That's scary.
How do Argentina set-up for this game? You mentioned Messi could be a false 9 but will they take the game to France? Or will they sit back?
Sivan: Based on the latest report, this could be Argentina's line up. Armani; Mercado, Otamendi, Rojo, Tagliafico; Pérez, Masche, Banega; Pavón, Messi, Di María. Sampaoli idea could be taking the game to France though I Do this will happen with some patience build up just as we saw in the early part of the game against Nigeria.
Now over to you Rich!
So what has your thoughts been on France's campaign so far?
Rich: Ultimately they progressed from the group as winners which is what they will have set out to achieve. Yes the performances themselves weren't great but a lot will have been taken from those three games. I think Pavard and Hernandez, two internationally inexperienced defenders, have looked better as each game has gone by. Pogba is looking better in the midfield and Mbappe is looking too fazed at his first tournament. I would express some concern over Griezmann. I think his transfer saga has affected his on field performances as he's looked far, far from his best.
There has been some talk on the performances of some of the key players. You mentioned the transfer saga for Griezmann but is there a sense that Deschamps isn't getting the best out of this side?
Rich: I think Deschamps gets a bit too much criticism than he deserves. I think the performances could have been more impressive of course but Deschamps has always been results driven. If it takes scrappy narrow victories to win the World Cup, he'll take it. For all the talk of this France side being one of the favourites, it seems to have been lost that actually they aren't great defensively. Full backs aren't a strong point and the back up options to Varane and Umtiti don't strike too much fear. Deschamps is fiercely loyal to his players and his job and will go what it takes to succeed. It might not be pretty but its what works for him. I suppose the proof will be how far he takes France here.
On to the Argentina game then, where do you see the game being won?
Rich: On the face of it, both sides look so exciting going forward. It'll come down to the midfield and defences I think. Based on that I'd probably give France the edge. Kante and Pogba will have to be at their best to boss that midfield. If Matuidi plays, as is expected, then he will also need to be at the top of his game. He'll be used to add more control and solidity to that left wing. He tires quickly so it's important that Deschamps uses his substitutions wisely.
How do France approach this game? Much has been made of Argentina's weak defence, will they take the game to Messi and co?
Rich: I think they have to. They aren't a team to sit back and let Argentina have the ball. France have to be positive from the get go. Possession will be key. The likes of Pogba and Griezmann will want to get at Argentina. Giroud will provide a target man to allow Griezmann and Mbappe to run off him. The Chelsea forward will be a nuisance for the Argentinian defence and his physicality will be important to allow someone like Mbappe to use his pace into the spaces that get opened up.
What have you made of the line-ups? No Dembele in the starting XI again
Rich: I've no issue with the line up Deschamps has picked. If he goes with the same XI as the Peru game, which is expected, then it will be a formation Deschamps is probably most associated with. Giroud is the key man up front due to his work rate and ability to hold the ball up and bring others into the attack. I'm a huge fan of Dembele but it's perhaps not the game to start him in. He's still very raw and his lack of game time this season is quite clear. Saying that though I think he could be a good option to bring off the bench to run at a tired Argentinian defence. Fekir as well should be called upon. He looked bright in a brief cameo against Denmark and his vision and dribbling ability could add something different later in the game.
And finally then, can I ask you both for a prediction?
Sivan: I actually predicted that Argentina might just win on penalties but the more I think about It, I just have this feeling of Messi pulling of something and Pavon or Aguero scoring the winner. 1-0 to Argentina!
Rich: I think it will be tense, close fought game. The fact that Messi will be marshalled by a French defence that will be quite familiar with him with 3 of the back 4 playing in La Liga, including his club teammate Umtiti, could be crucial. I think man for man, France just have the edge so I would go for a narrow French 2-1 victory.