France at present are looking like they will make it into the play-offs for a spot at next year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil by the skin of their teeth.
It is something of a surprise then that coach Didier Deschamps has selected a rather unimaginative squad for Friday’s friendly against Australia and next week Tuesday’s final qualifier against Finland.
While there are enough players on the team to make a number of sufficiently different combinations, the crux of the team is still very unimaginative. So far in this qualification campaign, the same players appear to produce the same results no matter how many changes Deschamps makes to their style and deployment.
In the 23-man squad that has since been altered, there are some positive inclusions. Loic Remy returning after a lengthy international absence is encouraging, as is Paul Pogba’s continued selection.
Raphael Varane’s immediate return after injury is another boost, as is the acknowledgement of Ligue 1-based Saint-Etienne duo Kurt Zouma and Stephane Ruffier’s who have joined up with the squad as replacement.
Mamadou Sakho’s recall was also necessary to demonstrate that his move to Liverpool from Paris Saint-Germain was the correct decision, in Deschamps’ opinion.
However, outside of that, there are few new faces or players who have been on the fringes that perhaps deserve a chance to stake their claims for a place in Les Bleus’ plans for Brazil and beyond.
Friday’s friendly against Australia in particular, is a match that presents an opportunity to try out new players. Giving further time to the likes of some of the current crop who are contributing towards France’s continued stagnation is a mistake, especially with a play-off berth guaranteed.
Newcastle trio Mathieu Debuchy, Moussa Sissoko and Yohan Cabaye’s inclusions are particularly tenuous. Considering the form of other players in similar positions and, in some cases teammates outperforming them, it is disheartening to see such unwillingness to bring in some new faces.
Hatem Ben Arfa, troublesome as he may be, has scored two goals in seven games and perhaps deserved a call ahead of Sissoko. Montpellier’s Remy Cabella once again demonstrated his immense potential in Montpellier’s 5-1 thrashing of Lyon.
Geoffrey Kondogbia and Giannelli Imbula find themselves in Willy Sagnol’s under-21s side this international break, Kondogbia’s development could have continued at the expense of Cabaye this time.
Emmanuel Riviere has been in exceptional goal scoring form for Monaco this season—he could have been selected ahead of Karim Benzema whose very inclusion in the squad is bemusing. In fact, there is a whole list of candidates for the Real Madrid man’s position, including Sevilla’s Kevin Gamerio and Hoffenheim’s Anthony Modeste.
Lucas Digne’s lack of game time at Paris Saint-Germain so far this season is perhaps the biggest disappointment, as he is the next member of the under-20 World Cup-winning side that might potentially make the step up. He could have taken Evra’s place in the squad with the Manchester United man’s role in the team still questionable.
Sebastien Corchia’s collapsed move to Olympique Lyonnais this summer, as reported by L’Equipe (h/t ESPN FC), is another source of frustration. The FC Sochaux-Montbeliard man is now suffering from playing in an underachieving side and arguably won’t even be considered for the step up until he moves clubs.
Experimentation with formation is also something that could have been tested, but is impaired by this selection.
The inclusion of Benzema suggests that the 25-year-old will be given another scarcely deserved chance to prove himself despite not having found the net in over 1000 minutes of football and Olivier Giroud’s form justifying that he should be France’s undisputed starting striker.
Deschamps has the players available to him in order to try a new approach, one that does not even feature a recognised striker if he chose to adopt the “false nine” (something I suggested a few months ago).
Even if the World Cup and European Championship winner elected to do this though, he’d be experimenting with some players who will be of little benefit in the play-offs in current form.
Les Bleus’ tactician is likely to only make a light number of changes, when these next two matches were an ideal chance to react to the poor performances against Georgia and for 45 minutes against Belarus last time out.
Lloris, for one, was particularly poor against Belarus and perhaps deserves to be dropped against Australia, despite his otherwise unquestioned reliability. Given Steve Mandanda’s questionable recent form, particularly in light of his performance against PSG on Sunday, it is the ideal chance to give the deserving Ruffier the rarest of chances to impress.
With time running out to get it right before the World Cup qualifying play-offs and Brazil itself, Deschamps is also running the risk of not making the necessary changes ahead of Euro 2016 on home soil.
This was another missed opportunity for a coach who is currently failing to make the most of the abundance of talent available to him, if he is prepared to start taking some risks.
Original squad for Australia and Finland games
Mickael Landreau (Bastia), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Steve Mandanda (Olympique de Marseille), Eric Abidal (AS Monaco), Gael Clichy (Manchester City), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle United), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Blaise Matuidi (PSG), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle), Clement Grenier (Olympique Lyonnais), Samir Nasri (Manchester City), Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Dimitri Payet (Marseille), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille), Loic Remy (Newcastle).