Would Switching to a 'False 9' Make France Contenders for the 2014 World Cup?
Following the disappointing 1-0 defeat to Uruguay in Montevideo on Wednesday, France coach Didier Deschamps was left with plenty to consider.
Once again, his side failed to demonstrate the necessary cutting edge in front of goal expected of an international side of Les Bleus’ calibre.
With Olivier Giroud and Bafetimbi Gomis failing to impress in defeat, and Karim Benzema on a 1, 011-minute goal drought in national colours, it is beginning to look like the current crop of French strikers are not of consistent international calibre.
Benzema particularly, as a Real Madrid player, has to shoulder a lot of the side’s current problems in front of goal. The 25-year-old has failed to arrest an alarming slide in for over the past season and has hardly hit the heights on a regular basis in the Spanish capital.
Giroud and Gomis should also be faring better although, in their defence, they do not get the same number of chances that Benzema has enjoyed under Laurent Blanc and now Deschamps.
But outside of those three, there is very little for the former Marseille coach to choose from.
Andre-Pierre Gignac is perennially ruled out because of his previously strained relationship with Deschamps, as reported by The Score. Paris Saint-Germain’s criminal under-use of Kevin Gameiro has cost him his place in the squad for now, and uncapped Jeremie Aliadiere’s injuries with only one season of stellar form to justify an inclusion make him unreliable.
So there are very few options left to investigate for Les Bleus’ top dog, aside from a radical change of tactics of course.
While France is currently suffering from a dearth of truly gifted international-level forwards, they are excelling at producing attack-minded, technical midfielders with excellent passing ability and pace to burn.
Take Lille’s Dimitri Payet for instance; Deschamps has recently welcomed him into the team after bagging 12 league goals and assists for Les Dogues this season.
Not only is Payet the only player in Ligue 1 to have scored and provided over 10 goals this campaign, he is also more prolific than both Giroud and Benzema on league form and only four goals behind Gomis, despite playing out wide.
Marseille’s Mathieu Valbuena is another creative attacking midfielder who has come to the fore under Deschamps’ guidance of the national side. Despite only finding the net three times this season, he has laid on 12 goals in an OM side that only managed to score 42 in total.
Factor in the proposed inclusion of Rennes’ sensational breakthrough talent Romain Alessandrini, who bagged 10 goals and five assists before his season was cut short through mid-February.
Not to mention the emergence of Lyon’s Clement Grenier who sparkled on Les Gones’ end of season run-in to secure Champions League football with seven goals and five assists this campaign. Or the re-emergence of teammate Yoann Gourcuff as a professional football player let alone an international standard one.
Then you have the temperamental, but sometimes-inspirational talents of the moody trio comprising Jeremy Menez, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa, not forgetting Lille’s Marvin Martin. All of who are capable of creating and scoring goals from advanced midfield roles.
All of that without even mentioning Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery.
The 30-year-old has been in sensational form for the German giants on an incredible treble-winning adventure, but the former Marseille man continues to be an enigma on the international stage.
Given the amount of attacking talent in the midfield ranks, added to the solidity of the defensive options, Deschamps would do no harm in experimenting a little.
Spain’s ''tiki-taka' style of football that has been perfected by Barcelona and is now championed by La Furia Roja’s coach Vicente del Bosque is a technique almost impossible to replicate.
However, France and Deschamps do not need to change their entire footballing identity to emulate the Spaniards.
They could simply just steal their "false nine" philosophy and concentrate on playing a more possession-based game, creating chances through their numerous midfield maestros and having a multi-talented player such as Payet leading the line by default.
Les Bleus undoubtedly have the talent to be able to pull of such a manoeuvre and, if anything, it could even benefit the likes of Benzema.
A so-called striker, the former Lyon man spends so much of his time in national team colours dropping back into midfield, perhaps being asked to play in a rotating line of attackers with no defined focal point would empower him.
The friendly with Brazil this Sunday would be a perfect chance for Deschamps to test such a strategy.
Payet, Gourcuff, Valbuena and Grenier could all quite easily function together without disturbing the midfield anchor pairing of Blaise Matuidi and Etienne Capoue—or Yohan Cabaye and Josuha Guilavogui, should Deschamps see fit to change it around.
Without trying something drastic though, Deschamps’ and France’s hopes heading into World Cup 2014 are bleak. Not because they don’t have the talent to go far in Brazil, but because they just don’t score enough goals.
Qualifying through a playoff now looks likely for Les Bleus after home defeat to Spain earlier in the year in a crucial qualifier.
What better way to start addressing the group stage’s major flaw of goal-getting than by going all out to try a new style against a very likely final opponent in next year’s tournament.
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