France vs. Georgia: 6 Things We Learned
France’s 3-1 win over Georgia at the Stade de France on Friday night was a massive result given the world and European champions’ draw with Finland.
The result sets up Tuesday’s clash with the Spaniards as a key encounter and puts Les Bleus in pole position in Group I.
Marseille’s Mathieu Valbuena was in inspired form for Didier Deschamps’ side with a goal and an assist as well as a hand in the third goal. Olivier Giroud and Franck Ribery also found the net.
Hugo Lloris was also in fine form as France weathered a difficult early period, but eventually their superior quality told.
The hosts were wasteful in front of goal having opted for a 4-4-2 formation, but they created plenty of chances.
The coming Tuesday night clash with Spain now takes on added significance for the French.
Here are six things we learned from the victory over Georgia.
Mathieu Valbuena Is Les Bleus' Key Player Under Deschamps
Valbuena currently appears to be France’s key player. Under former Marseille coach Deschamps, the diminutive midfielder has been transformed from an on-and-off performer to a consistent first-team presence.
Previously he was ideal for coming off the bench to try to turn a clash around; now he is an integral part of Les Bleus' first team and highly influential. His performance against Georgia has followed a number of other strong performances in qualifying.
His role as a No. 10 has empowered Ribery once more and gives Giroud the type of service that he needs to thrive on the front line. The only question mark surrounding his inclusion is the doubts it casts over Karim Benzema’s role in the team when Deschamps doesn’t opt for 4-4-2.
Spain Clash Will Go a Long Way Towards Deciding Group Winner
The result moves France two points clear of Spain heading into next week’s showdown clash with Vicente del Bosque’s side at the Stade de France.
Les Bleus had looked like they were heading towards the crunch clash in second place, but now they know that avoiding defeat will put them in the box seat for first place.
It certainly makes the match an appetising prospect.
With Deschamps’ side left with only Finland, Belarus and Georgia to play, France could feasibly make it through those matches without dropping a point.
The chances of the French winning the group are now a lot brighter than they were at the start of the week.
Karim Benzema Is No Closer to Ending His International Goal Drought
France were wasteful in front of goal against Georgia, and Benzema and Giroud in particular were the main culprits.
However, at least Giroud scored, bagging the crucial opening goal on the stroke of half time. Benzema did not and his ineffectual performance puts more pressure on Deschamps to bench him against Spain.
The problem with playing Benzema is that now he clashes with Valbuena as he likes to drop back into a No. 10 role at times to pick up the ball.
That tendency steps on Valbuena’s toes and, in current form, the OM man needs to be left to pull the strings.
Benzema’s form in front of goal has been poor since Euro 2012 when he failed to live up to his free-scoring pre-tournament form by not even registering a solitary goal in Poland and Ukraine.
With Giroud, Ribery and Valbuena in form, Deschamps should consider benching Benzema.
France Actually Stand a Chance of Finishing Top of Group I
The Finland, Belarus and Georgia matches are all winnable for Deschamps’ side. Avoid defeat against Spain on Tuesday and the group is arguably theirs for the taking.
Easier said than done, I know, but a few weeks ago Les Bleus were facing the possibility of having to go through a playoff to reach Brazil. Now, the world and European champions could find themselves in that position.
If they get a draw on Tuesday, all they need to do is grind out three victories. Not straightforward, but at the same time, not that difficult either.
A win, which is not an impossibility given their 1-1 draw in Madrid last year, would be a massive result. Two points clear of Spain with three games left to play gives Les Bleus plenty of wiggle room atop the Group I table.
Raphael Varane Has the Maturity to Play for France
Raphael Varane’s debut for France alongside Paris Saint-Germain’s Mamadou Sakho was an assured one that showed no hint of coming from a 19-year-old.
Although they shipped a late goal to the Georgians, the Real Madrid defender proved that he has the strength of mind to handle being a starter for Les Bleus.
The decision from Deschamps to field him against Georgia was a decision taken largely because there was little risk attached. Varane rewarded him with an impressive showing.
Though it remains to be seen if he will start against Spain, and a number of the players he plays alongside at club level, it is clear that the France coach already has another reliable defensive presence.
Paul Pogba Also a Contender for Regular Minutes
The same goes for Paul Pogba in midfield. The Juventus man and the midfield struggled for a period as Georgia threatened to punish France for their missed opportunities and take the lead. But overall, his performance was extremely encouraging.
The former Manchester United man looked composed and again showed impressive maturity.
Less likely to start against Spain than Varane, Pogba’s international develop could well be slower than the Varane's because of his superior experience despite being younger. The 19-year-old Varane has played a season more of first-team football, as this is Pogba’s maiden campaign.
Deschamps will likely continue to select Pogba as the 20-year-old grows into a natural central midfield berth in the future. Blaise Matuidi and Pogba is a potentially superb midfield partnership based on this one match.
On the evidence of the performance, where he ran Valbuena close for man of the match, Pogba’s international career promises much alongside Varane.