Road to 2014: France – Youth pacifies egos but striker issues continue
From requiring Zizou’s return from exile in 2006, to stuttering through to South Africa in 2010 via a Thierry Henry handball-goal in the last of the qualifiers, this era of French football has visited both the extremities of national pride.
While most of the nation blamed the coach Raymond Domenech for all the upheaval in the build up to Euro 2008, the distress during times in and around the 2010 World Cup have been laid down to monstrous ego issues within the dressing room.
Though the present coach Didier Deschamps did not cover himself in glory during his early days, a quick glance at the current setup of the team during these WC 2014 qualifiers would leave the Le-Bleus in much merrier spirit.
A touch of young blood, PSG based core
Young blood seems to have become the trend in the seven kingdoms these days, as every manger seems to be pressing for it; France find themselves in a similar situation. The lad spotted by Zizou himself has taken Spain by storm this season, and Raphael Varane has rightly earned his place in a defence that was led mercilessly by the likes of Mexes and Gallas in the not so distant past. Another teenage revelation has been the Serie-A based Paul Pogba who, in a world dominated by the likes of Wilshere and Thiaggo, has risen literally from the ashes of Old Trafford. From being earlier used as a defensive midfielder by Conte at Juve, Pogba has raised his claim to a regular spot by showcasing his silky touch, express feet and a thunderous drive for goal.
The French squad is further well laden by some riches from PSG, as the likes of Matuidi, Sakho and Jallet have risen up well to the occasion. Though Koscienly/Rami and Debuchy/Sagna might be the players given preference when fit, the duo of Sakho and Jallet have filed their cases well.
While the midfield looks much more stable with Pogba included and Valbuena gracing Zidane’s No.10, the real worry for Deschamps would be the misfiring attack. On paper, the French attacks looks more than sufficient to do justice to the talent operating behind them, but given the fact that Karim Benzema has gone into one of his ruts again and that Olivier Giroud is not the most natural of goal scorers, Didier has got to dig deep while deciding the tactics upfront.
Samir Nasri might have asserted a case for himself before the 2010 event, but the Manchester City man has proved himself redundant via a poor display on the field and a much worse one off it. Jeremy Menez and Frank Ribey provide more than reliable option on the flanks, but again consistency is a major issue with this duo too.
Question on everyone’s lips: Benzema or Giroud?
So, Deschamps has recently spoken of choosing to utilize both Benzema and Giroud in attack, but playing them side-by side would mean to nullify the sparkling Valbuena’s effect in the No. 10 role. So, the out of form Benzema has been shunted to the right with Giroud leading the attack, and Ribery drifting in from wide-left. This decision by the manager might have worked out against the lowly Georgia, but the former Marseille man will be aware of the contrasting style and results that the 2 strikers can provide.
Giroud might have been criticized in England for his start-stop 1st season at Arsenal, but the Frenchman has scored 15 goals with 9 assists, with quarter of the season remaining. His jumping and heading capabilities will any day override Benzema’s and in that aspect he would be preferred considering the prowess that Ramos and Pique hold while attacking set-pieces.
Giroud’s season has seen him stick on to a centre back when the ball is with his midfield, and then make a darting diagonal run behind the defender. This has often seen the likes of Cazorla and Wilshere play in delightful balls, and could pretty much be provided by Valbuena or Cabaye. But it is the end result in such cases where Giroud lacks. Though his left leg shot is as powerful as they come, it is often misfired wide of the goal, and his right foot is pretty much dead.
Benzema could have proved a pretty useful asset in this game against the Spanish. His movement has often terrorized Pique in recent years and Ramos’s errors will be quite familiar to him. Also, the Madrid man is a high quality finisher when compared to Giroud. But starting from the Laurent Blanc era, Benzema has often been seen playing much deeper than required when played as the lone striker. The entire World Cup he was criticized for falling back into midfield and not causing a presence in the box, and this post 2010 era has been the same. So he might not be the one to dart into the pockets behind the centre back, but is more often the one to provide the space for the likes of Ribery and Menez to cut in.
Different strategy against Espania
Inconclusiveness might lead Deschamps to play both the strikers, adjusting Benzema to the wings again. But here stands the issue of backtracking against quality opposition. Most of Spain’s attacks are via the full-backs and putting Benzema and Ribery on the wings will leave the French midfield terrorized and always on the back foot.
The absence of Jordi Alba might see Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal come into that position, and even though Monreal will be wary of Benzema’s threat on the wing and not attack much, it is not uncommon to see Del Bosque assign the role of defence to Busquets or Martinez, while encouraging Monreal to move forward.
The best bet for Deschamps here would be shift in a midfielder like Valbuena in that flank role, which would allow him to play Ribery on the other flank. The option of Jeremy Menez would be equally redundant due to his lack of tracking back either.
Proposed Lineup for France against Spain: Lloris, Jallet, Varane, Koscienly, Clichy, Pogba, Matuidi, Cabaye, Valbuena, Giroud, Ribery.