Euro 2016 Preview – France: Can Les Bleus’ youngsters inspire them to victory on home soil?
International friendlies are being wrapped up with. Results of experiments on tactics with the 23-men squads in these friendlies are being pondered over by managers, as they look to find the best system for their particular crop of players in time for the start of Euro 2016, which is less than a week away.
The major focal point of the tournament will obviously be France’s explosion of youth talent which has surfaced over the past couple of seasons. The squad which Didier Deschamps has at his disposal is arguably amongst the most exciting that French football has seen over the past decade.
If Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman provide the creativity and pace on the wing, then the likes of N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba certainly possess the tireless intensity in midfield. Laurent Koscielny and Patrice Evra’s experience at the back will be critical as they look to improve the organisation of a weakened French defence.
Can Deschamps and his troops they deliver the goods in front of their own fans to win a third international tournament (Euro 1984, World Cup 1998) at home?
Centre-halves Raphael Varane, Jeremy Mathieu and Kurt Zouma are all injury victims for this tournament, while Mamadou Sakho has not been included in the squad despite being cleared of doping allegations.
Striker Karim Benzema has been suspended by France following a blackmail attempt to extort his French teammate Mathieu Valbuena – also left out of the squad - in a sex tape scandal.
How they qualified: By default, as hosts
Previous Championship wins: 1984(France), 2000(Belgium and Netherlands)
1. Romania, 10th June
2. Albania, 15th June
3. Switzerland, 19th June
1. N’Golo Kante’s work-ethic in midfield : In what turned out to be one of the signings of the season, N’Golo Kante’s engine never seemed to look like it was about to falter at any stage during Leicester City’s stunning Premier League campaign.
The commitment shown by him to win the ball back from opponents in the middle of the pitch is commendable. His timely interceptions and robust tackling ensured that the opposition were constantly foiled in their attempt to create a goal-scoring opportunity. He seems the perfect shield for a comparatively light defence as far as the hosts are concerned.
2. Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman’s exploits on the wing: The two youngsters have had outstanding first seasons at their respective clubs and France’s fans will be waiting with bated breath to see whether the duo can replicate their form on the international stage.
Both of them have the ability to approach the by-line by skipping past opponents with their lightning-quick dribbling and pace on the ball. One suspects that most of France’s chances will be created from the quality possessed by Martial and Coman on the wings.
3. Dimitri Payet’s expertise on the dead ball: Like Kante, attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet has been another player who has had a productive season with his club. He brings the much-needed creativity in the attacking third to break open even the most stubborn of defences. In addition to his vision behind the striker, the West Ham player is also amongst the best in the business when it comes to set-pieces.
He has scored innumerable times from direct free-kicks this season, including a physics-defying one against Crystal Palace in the Premier League - which seemed to be going over, before magically descending enough to creep under the crossbar. Can Payet build on his breakthrough season with an equally impressive Euro 2016 campaign?
1. A much-weakened defence: One worrying aspect of an otherwise balanced French squad is the lack of quality centre-backs. Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and Barcelona’s Jeremy Mathieu have been withdrawn due to injury, while Kurt Zouma has been on the sidelines since February after suffering a career-threatening knee injury in a Premier League game against Manchester United.
Mamadou Sakho has been cleared of doping charges that had him suspended for 30 days, but Deschamps has decided not to include him in the 23. Laurent Koscielny, Eliaquim Mangala, Adil Rami and Samuel Umtiti are the four central defenders selected by Deschamps for the Championships.
While Koscielny has had a consistent campaign for Arsenal, Eliaquim Mangala’s inconsistent performances for Manchester City are a definite vulnerability in the backline. 22-year old Umtiti is yet to make his international debut, while Adil Rami has been critical of Deschamps in the past.
Can Koscielny inspire his defensive colleagues to a string of solid displays to frustrate their opponents?
2. Lack of competitive action: France qualified for the competition by default as the host nation, meaning that they were exempted from the qualifiers. They haven’t played a competitive fixture since losing to Germany in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 2014.
After nearly two years playing international friendlies, the switch of mindset to competitive action will not be the easiest of tasks. They also need to deal with the pressure to perform in front of home support. Quite a few members of the squad have not featured in a competitive international yet. How will they cope with the challenge of playing with something at stake?
Probable Starting Line-Up
Lloris – Sagna, Koscielny, Mangala, Evra – Kante, Pogba – Coman, Payet, Martial – Griezmann
X-Factor: Antoine Griezmann
With Karim Benzema out of the squad, the onus is now on Antoine Griezmann to lead the line and rack up the goals for the French. He has had an outstanding second half of the season for Atletico Madrid, helping them reach the final of the Champions League, which they lost on penalties.
He is set to get the nod ahead of Olivier Giroud in the lone striker’s role thanks to his pace on the counter-attack and impressive goals per shots ratio.
Despite a little light in central defence, France has strong squad-depth in all other areas of the pitch. With their young players set to fire on all cylinders and the vociferous home crowd behind them, one expects Didier Deschamps to guide his side all the way to the summit clash at Stade de France in Saint-Denis.