Will France go back-to-back, or will Messi finish his international career standing in the confetti?
After all the upsets and drama of the Group Stage and the first 3 rounds of the Knockout Stage, we are left with the pre-tournament second and third favorites to play for the most expensive trophy in all sports.
Let’s now look at all the different aspects of this matchup and see which team has the advantage and a better shot at lifting some gold on Sunday.
Prediction at the end of the preview.
Sunday, December, 18th, 2022 – 10:00 am E / 7:00 am P
Stadium: Lusail Stadium
Television: TSN / CTV in Canada, FOX in the USA
Radio: IHeart Radio, TSN Radio, Sirius XM Radio
Odds: Argentina 2.80 / Draw 3.00 / France 2.80
Head-to-Head Record at the FWC: 3 matchups, Argentina 2 wins, France 1 win
Comparing the Attacks
Two of the most prolific attacks will face each other in the final. Argentina and France scored respectively 12 and 13 goals in 6 matches during the tournament, with virtually identical expected goals values of 11.8 and 11.6. To differentiate the two, we have to dig a little deeper.
Are the goals replicable?
Are the goals coming from the run of play?
There it is, that is the difference.
Argentina has benefitted from 3 goals from the penalty spot, the highest in the competition, while France has scored 0 goals from the spot. If we look at the Non-Penalty expected goals values (NPxG), we can see a small advantage for the Frenchmen. The defending champions were able to generate more shot-creating actions during the competition and with a higher NPxG, I can see them take advantage of one of the few goal-scoring opportunities in this game. The similarities in offensive capabilities between the two teams might be so close that they nullify each other. If so, I expect the World-Class forwards to influence the result of this game.
Messi and Mbappé, the two best forwards maybe in the history of the game, teammates at Paris Saint-Germain, have a shot at immortality. Mbappé can become an all-time French legend by winning back-to-back World Cups, an accomplishment not seen in over five decades. Messi can win the only major trophy missing from his cabinet, and the last piece missing to anoint him the ultimate greatest soccer player of all time. They have captured the headlines in Qatar with their impressive performances, but let’s look a little deeper and determine who is having a better tournament.
Both top of the Golden boot race with 5 goals scored, Messi has the tie-breaker with 3 assists and would win the golden boot if things remain the same. While impressive with 4.7 expected goals, the Argentinian has scored 3 of his 5 goals from the penalty spot, for an NPxG of 1.6. Mbappé has scored all his goals from open play and has an identical xG and NPxG of 3.4. That leads me to believe that his goal-scoring is replicable, predictable, and more probable than Messi’s. If I had to choose a goal-scorer between the two, I would choose Kylian, if he can dominate his channel again.
57% of France’s offensive breakthrough in the final third against Morocco came from the left or left inside channels, mostly because of Mbappé’s great play, and his ability to suck in defenders while creating more space for his teammates.
That is exactly where Argentina has decided not to play against Croatia, favoring their left side, meaning France’s right when it comes to attacking, trying different ways to free up Messi from his usual defender. Again, like against Croatia, the winner might be determined by who gets to play with the ball in their preferred spot on the field where their offense can break through the defense.
I believe this time they will try to stuff the right lane defensively and try to attack in those same channels trying to catch France on the counterattack.
Comparing the Defenses
When I look at the defenses, it is obvious that Argentina has an advantage. It has only conceded 4 goals in 6 games with a very impressive 2.4 expected goals against. That boils down to an amazing 0.38 expected goals-against average per game during the tournament. They have allowed only 1.26 shots on target on average per game, impressive.
However, in a battle of teams who perform better with less than 55% of possession, being able to dictate when you have the ball, and where, could be the key. France has been one of the best teams in the World Cup when it comes to ball recovery. They have recovered possession of the ball 293 times. If you have been following my work over the last few weeks, you are still awesome if you haven’t, you will remember my favorite equation of the last few weeks. Tackles + Recoveries + Interceptions = Indicator of possession recovery/pressure/turnover.
Argentina: 100 tackles + 278 recoveries + 42 interceptions = 420
France: 119 tackles + 293 recoveries + 67 interceptions = 479
That indicates to me an advantage for France when dictating where the influential plays come from, and if we go by the theory of that being the key to victory, France has the advantage.
Under M for Miscellaneous
A troubling fact if you favor the defending champions, they have conceded 3 penalties. Argentina has won 4 penalties in Qatar. France will need to show discipline in the box to avoid sending Messi to the penalty spot. When it comes to discipline, Argentina has also some work to do, having a whopping 12 yellow cards during the tournament, and 74 fouls committed. In a close game where all the emotions are amplified, the team who keeps its cool might be the winning team, and even though they have conceded 3 penalties already, statistically there is a higher probability of Argentina conceding a penalty due to their higher foul rate than France.
I also see a statistical advantage for France when it comes to goalkeeping. Looking at the advanced metrics measuring the direct influence of a goalkeeper, post-shot expected goals differential, we can quantify the size of that advantage. France has a +0.5 PSxG differential, meaning their goalkeeper has saved the team .5 expected goals with his performances during the tournament. Argentina on the other hand, has a -1.4 PSxG differential, meaning their GK has allowed 1.4 goals more than expected. Let’s remember this during set pieces, as France could find ways to put the ball on target during set plays, and test the reflexes of Martinez. Advantage France between the sticks.
Argentina has a defensive advantage, but their offense has been overinflated with their performances from the penalty spot. France has a higher proficiency in generating shot-creating actions from open play than Argentina. It will be a very close game, but Mbappé will be too much on the left channels, France will take advantage of that to cross the ball in the box profusely, and use the height advantage some of their players, Rabiot especially, to score from a header and win 1-0. I can see this game go to extra time, even penalties if the score stays 0-0. I expect a very closely fought match, as finals tend to be, and in the end, France stands in the confetti again.
You can reach Kevin at KevinOnSoccer@gmail.com
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