Giroud return brings structure to France, but again they disappoint
Often underappreciated and sometimes written off, there's little doubt France play better with Olivier Giroud, as demonstrated on Thursday as Les Bleus stuttered to a 1-0 win over Peru.
Didier Deschamps sprung a surprise against Australia in France's World Cup opener when naming a front three of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele, leaving Giroud on the bench after suffering a head injury in a pre-tournament friendly.
Although they ran out 2-1 winners in Kazan, they were by no means convincing and their disappointing front three were a major reason for that. For that reason, it was anything but a shock to see Dembele dropped and Giroud restored to the starting XI to face Peru.
No one will claim the resulting performance was vintage in Ekaterinburg, but the improvement was certainly notable.
With Giroud on the field, France had a focal point, someone to knit everything together in attack. The prime example being his nodding down of a lofted pass for Griezmann to go close in the 16th minute.
The Chelsea forward's presence – combined with the structural improvement he offers - helped his attacking colleagues no end, including inspiring the opening goal as he latched on to Paul Pogba's pass to get away a shot that deflected kindly to Mbappe for an easy finish.
And then Mbappe darted up the right on the break just before half-time, playing the ball inside to Griezmann, who's clever pass came so close to picking out Giroud. While it failed to produce a goal, each player was exactly where they needed to be, something that could rarely be said against Australia on Saturday.
Griezmann was effective enough against the Socceroos to win – and score – a penalty, but in the face of a compact defence he was never afforded the space to create. Against Peru, his influence was far greater because Giroud occupied the opposing centre-backs.
France were rather quieter in attack upon the restart – Peru doing more to test their inexperienced defence.
Still, Giroud played the role of enforcer, willing runner and target man, doing all he possibly could as most of his team-mates began to falter.
While it's all well and good aiming to go out to entertain, as Deschamps appeared to do by naming the trio of Dembele, Mbappe and Griezmann against Australia, there was little doubt that in a fixture where France were expected to take the initiative, the attack produced little of note.
If France are to go far in the World Cup, Giroud surely represents their best option leading the line. He offers a threat in different ways to his colleagues, while also helps eliminate the issue of three forwards getting in the way of each other, a problem Deschamps mentioned after the opening outing.
While not the most glamorous or exciting of options, Giroud will be pivotal to any success France have in Russia, provided Deschamps makes the right call with the rest of his selections.