Australian Four Four Two - - RIVALS -


While France have at­tack­ing power that most teams at in Rus­sia can only dream of, Les Bleus have is­sues in mid­field. Their tal­is­man An­toine Griez­mann prefers to play in the hole be­hind their main striker in ei­ther a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 for­ma­tion. But find­ing a mid­field three be­hind Griez­mann that bal­ances at­tack and de­fence has be­come a dilemma. You’d think a mid­field trio of Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, Man­ches­ter United’s Paul Pogba and Ju­ven­tus’s Blaise Ma­tu­idi would be sorted but French boss Di­dier De­schamps has con­cerns. When Paul Pogba or N’Golo Kante are miss­ing, France strug­gle to play well as a team. Par­tic­u­larly when Kante goes quiet, the at­tack can be­come quite pre­dictable and the team strug­gle to at­tack and de­fend as a unit. To solve this co­nun­drum De­schamps dropped Pogba in a re­cent friendly against Colom­bia and in­stead used Kante and Ma­tu­idi as the hold­ing mid­field­ers in a 4-4-2 for­ma­tion. How­ever, both were more like stat­ues than cover for the de­fence as Colom­bia’s counter at­tack­ing play over ran them and France ended up los­ing 3-2 af­ter lead­ing 2-0. In the fol­low­ing friendly against Rus­sia, De­schamps made seven changes and re­in­stated Pogba. He showed rem­nants of his old self with a beau­ti­ful through ball to set up Mbappe who scored. Pogba then showed why he should be start­ing with a fan­tas­ti­cally curled free kick that went into the bot­tom corner in a 3-1 win. It sounds like elite foot­ball team prob­lems but against the big teams France could find the bal­ance of their mid­field a ma­jor is­sue.


Too many DJs and not enough bounc­ers as Fox Sports’ Si­mon Hill once said – and it de­scribes France per­fectly. Many French fans (and me­dia pun­dits) feel France play pretty foot­ball and have an abun­dance of tal­ent – but Les Bleus don’t al­ways have enough mon­grel in the side. France lack a player like Pa­trick Vieira in mid­field or a dev­il­ish de­fender in the mould of Spain’s Ser­gio Ramos or even Eng­land’s John Terry.


While France is renowned for their at­tack­ing strength, their de­fence (even though De­schamps is known as a de­fen­sive minded coach) is a prob­lem. With Les Bleus hav­ing a cen­tre back pair­ing who play for Barcelona and Real Madrid you’d think the de­fence would pick it­self. But it doesn’t. Pun­dits and fans see France’s de­fence as one of the cru­cial team se­lec­tion is­sues of Les Bleus World Cup cam­paign. At the core of the prob­lem is that De­schamps still hasn’t fig­ured out who his best cen­tre back pair­ing is. His choice is whether to go with Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane along­side one of Barcelona’s Sa­muel Umtiti or Arse­nal veteran Lau­rent Ko­scielny. But as Arse­nal fans know, Ko­scielny is not the most re­li­able de­fender. In the game against Colom­bia he went with Varane and Umtiti and it was com­pletely unim­pres­sive, ul­ti­mately cost­ing them a penalty. The Soc­ceroos fans will hope con­fu­sion reigns amongst Les Bleus de­fend­ers in Rus­sia.


While the cen­tre back pair­ing is an is­sue, an­other prob­lem France have in de­fence are the full­backs. If Man­ches­ter City’s left back Ben­jamin Mendy does not re­cover from his knee in­jury in time, Les Bleus will be strug­gling to find a re­place­ment that matches the 23-year-old’s qual­ity. Barcelona’s back up left back Lu­cas Digne has yet to show his best play­ing for Les Bleus, while Paris Saint-Ger­main’s Layvin Kurzawa has lost the form he once dis­played. He also jeop­ar­dised his fu­ture in the side by be­ing caught on tape sledg­ing French boss Di­dier De­schamps in a Paris bar last year. Is­sues abound when it comes to France’s right back op­tions as well. Monaco’s Djib­ril Sidibe and Stuttgart’s Ben­jamin Pavard aren’t known for their de­fen­sive qual­i­ties. France’s full­back prob­lems were on dis­play in the re­cent friendly against Colom­bia when both Sidibe and Digne reg­u­larly left gaps in be­hind and the South Amer­i­cans took ad­van­tage in the 3-2 loss.


Since France failed to get past the group stage at the 2002 World Cup and the squad re­volted at the 2010 South African World Cup, ques­tions will con­tinue to be asked of Les Bleus’ team men­tal­ity at big tour­na­ments. These psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues sur­faced dur­ing the World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign when, af­ter beat­ing the Nether­lands, they drew 0-0 against Lux­em­bourg. Les Bleus copped heaps of crit­i­cism for that re­sult as they had never drawn against Lux­em­bourg in 100 years. Af­ter blow­ing a two-goal lead and then los­ing 3-2 against Colom­bia in a re­cent friendly, French boss Di­dier De­schamps high­lighted France’s frag­ile men­tal­ity. “When things are go­ing well, we’re ca­pa­ble of do­ing very good things. When things get tense, we’re a lot more vul­ner­a­ble,’’ De­schamps said. “It’s also a ques­tion of char­ac­ter – per­haps we are too self-sat­is­fied, and the high­est level doesn’t for­give that.’’

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