How France Will Line Up Against Finland
France’s 6-0 win over Australia at the Parc des Princes on Friday was perfect preparation for a final FIFA World Cup qualifier against Finland on Tuesday.
Didier Deschamps' side, after scoring just four goals in seven games all year, has now scored 10 in their last two.
This sudden glut of goals gives the 44-year-old some selection dilemmas, not least going forward, as Les Bleus seek to secure themselves the best possible position going into the World Cup qualifying play-offs.
Admittedly, France do find themselves at a disadvantage around the play-off seedings given that they were drawn in Group I, which only boasts five teams.
The French Football Federation have indicated via President Noel Le Graet to RMC Radio (ESPN FC) that they will contest the decision over seedings.
However, Deschamps’ side has failed to score in two of their seven qualification matches (against Spain and Georgia) since he took over from Laurent Blanc. They have also played in seven other friendly matches during that time, including five where they have failed to score a single goal.
If it did not look so bleak in qualification terms, friendlies against the likes of Brazil, Uruguay and Japan have exposed the weaknesses of the current generation.
Add that to playing two fewer qualification games in Group I than the rest of their likely play-off opponents and you can understand why France will almost certainly go into the draw unseeded.
Scoring six goals against a weak Australia side may be morale boosting, but those goals need to be translated on to the competitive stage for it to indicate any real progress.
Ahead of the clash with Finland, Deschamps has a number of considerations.
Firstly, Karim Benzema, as well as Olivier Giroud, found the net against the Socceroos.
Although that is a big boost for the team, it is also what Deschamps has been desperate to see happen since Benzema embarked on a hideous run of 1,222 minutes without a single international strike.
The French tactician came in for some fierce criticism at times for putting his faith in the Real Madrid man instead of Giroud.
Friday’s goal at the Parc des Princes may well feel like vindication in a way for Deschamps.
There is a chance that, despite his two goals, the Arsenal man might have to make way for Benzema given that his coach has demonstrated that he considers the 25-year-old part of his strongest XI.
Although it was a major boost to see Benzema find the net, Les Bleus’ first-half showing without him on the field suggested that they would be just as dangerous sticking with Giroud.
Benzema was not the only player to have answered his critics against Australia.
Samir Nasri’s return to grace was completed by his first starting appearance for France since the ill-fated 2012 European Championship in Poland and Ukraine, as reported by ESPN FC.
The Manchester City man made his international comeback earlier this year in the friendly against Belgium, as reported by ESPN FC. But he put in a strong performance when given the chance on Friday and could now usurp Mathieu Valbuena for the Finland clash.
However, Valbuena has been a stalwart for Deschamps since the former Olympique de Marseille coach took over from Blanc. Dropping him would mean losing one of his key components on this France team.
15 - Mathieu Valbuena is the only player to have played in each of the 15 France games under Didier Deschamps era. Prestige.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) October 12, 2013
While loyalty is no doubt a factor in the potential decision, Nasri’s excellent domestic form with Manchester City at present may well swing the vote his way.
The Nasri-Valbuena conundrum won’t like be the only midfield headache that Deschamps is contending with.
Blaise Matuidi was rested for the majority of the Australia clash and will almost certainly walk straight back into the starting XI.
Irrepressible for club and country, the Paris Saint-Germain star is one ofthe few players in the current France setup who can be legitimately considered indispensable.
That means, short of an overhaul in terms of playing style, there will be a fight between Paul Pogba and Yohan Cabaye for the midfield berth alongside Matuidi.
The Newcastle United man is the more familiar and has greater international experience, and he also scored against Australia last week.
But Pogba’s rise to prominence has been so meteoric that, by the time the World Cup arrives, he will be indispensable.
His early performances for Les Bleus have more than demonstrated that he is already capable at senior international level and maturing all the time after his red card against Spain earlier this year.
Matuidi-Pogba is almost certainly the central midfield partnership of the future for France, so why not continue the Juventus man’s development by cementing his partnership with Matuidi?
The final debate in Deschamps’ mind ahead of the game will be whether to go with youth or experience in the centre of defence.
Both Raphael Varane and Eric Abidal featured against Australia, and Mamadou Sakho was also given valuable game time in the second half.
Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny appears to be the most indispensable of Deschamps’ defenders, though, so it is assumed that he will return against Finland.
Given Varane’s lack of match practice, it looks more likely to be the Real Madrid youngster who makes way for Koscielny.
Abidal is no spring chicken, though.
Despite the importance of his positive influence within the current group, there can be no doubt who is the better partner ability-wise for the Arsenal man now and in the future.
If fit enough to start, Varane’s development will be aided by further competitive international minutes.
The player recently told Ligue1.com how flattered he was to be compared to Brazilian international Thiago Silva.
However, given the importance of this match, experience may well prove the safest and most appealing option for Deschamps.
The result will likely have little bearing on France’s hopes of avoiding the play-offs, though. Les Bleus still need to hope that Spain are beaten at home by Georgia, who have only won once all campaign.
Instead, France needs Deschamps well and truly to make his mind up about his strongest starting XI and to play them against Finland. A good result will breed continuity ahead of next month’s play-offs.
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