Any team that can afford to leave out the likes of Karim Benzema, Alexandre Lacazette and Anthony Martial by choice must be brimming with talent. That is exactly the case with the squad Didier Deschamps will take to Russia. That still leaves France with enviable firepower upfront with Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe to choose from.
At the 2016 Euros played on home soil, France were the beaten finalists and banked on the strike partnership between Giroud and Griezmann to good effect. The big-and-small combination involved the tall Giroud playing as the target man, with the Atletico Madrid star playing off him. In that system, a pass from midfield and sometimes even out of defence is aimed at the Chelsea forward, who holds the ball or knocks it down for Griezmenn to take it in his stride.
The latter then uses his skill, trickery and eye for goal – evident in his brace in the Europa League final – to challenge the defence.
But over the last two years, Mbappe has emerged on the scene with a stellar season for Monaco culminating in the second-most expensive transfer in football history to Paris Saint-Germain. His explosive pace, which prompted Arsene Wenger to see similarities with Thierry Henry, may be too much for Deschamps to ignore as the team’s structure and playing style may need to be modified to accommodate the 19-year-old. The 4-4-2 system that has served France well may have to be changed to a 4-3-3 with Mbappe on the left wing, taking on defenders with his raw pace.
Talent in the middle
Paul Pogba was a precocious and much-hyped youngster at the 2014 World Cup, but in Russia he would be expected to run the midfield with his pace, power and vision.
He and N’Golo Kante should be fixtures in the French starting line-up along with Blaise Matuidi. The Juventus midfielder is a fierce tackler and ball winner, and also considered a box-to-box player. But if Pogba is given the freedom to bomb forward and orchestrate attacks, Matuidi and Kante may have to play the role of holding midfielders. If Deschamps goes for a four-man midfield, names that can come into the mix are those of Corentin Tolisso and Sevilla’s Steven N’Zonzi. The latter can be used against stronger opposition to keep the opposition’s playmakers in check.
Bare at the back
The only area that could possibly concern Deschamps is the defence-defensive linchpin Laurent Koscielny is ruled out till December. Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) and Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona) are fierce rivals at club level, but will be expected to form a robust central defensive pairing in Russia.
The ultra- talented forward line and a relatively fallible defenseline might prompt him to play to his strengths and employ Giroud, Griezmann and Mbappe together. With a paucity of quality defenders, one option may be to play three at the back. With four men in midfield, it could create an offensive-minded diamond formation. But it will require one or more midfielders to fall back and help the defence when the opposition has the ball. Matuidi and Kante have good engines and can do the needful. However, against teams which are adept at using width, 4-3-3 could be the preferred formation, giving a bit more cover to the defence. Sidibe can be an option here.