Didier Deschamps named his squad for France’s World Cup 2014 qualifying play-offs with Ukraine on Thursday, and there were no surprises, as reported by ESPN FC. Given the importance of the double header, it was expected that very few changes would be made to the squad.
Indeed the key point of debate was whether or not Patrice Evra would be selected after his recent controversial comments toward certain members of the French media (h/t ESPN FC). After meeting with the French Football Federation and coach Deschamps, the decision was made that no punishment would be meted out.
With the issue dealt with, Evra was once again selected despite calls for him to be dropped. For now the Manchester United man is in the French squad, but it is not impossible to see him still miss out on the trip to Brazil if Les Bleus actually make it.
Left-back is not the only position that Deschamps has options in looking past the Ukraine matches. However, the decision to retain Evra, for now, avoids any unnecessary controversy. But question marks still remain over his contribution on the pitch as well as off it.
At the back
Paris Saint-Germain’s Lucas Digne is the obvious choice to replace Evra in the side if the 32-year-old is eventually dispensed with. The problem for the PSG man though is that he is not yet playing regular football in the French capital and arguably cannot expect to at least until next season.
Gael Clichy might not be in the best form for Manchester City at present, but he is four years younger than Evra and arguably more effective. If Digne can make the most of the chances that PSG, coach Laurent Blanc’s fair squad rotation policy at the Parc des Princes affords him, there is no reason that the under-20 World Cup winner cannot make the squad on merit.
Right-back is also a problematic position for France, but there are very few realistic options.
That perhaps explains the continued selection of Newcastle United’s Mathieu Debuchy who, to his credit, was impressive against Australia and Finland last time out despite mixed form at club level. Bacary Sagna is also viewed as a less than satisfactory first choice in that position.
FC Sochaux’s Sebastien Corchia is the best of the current options in Ligue 1 but is untested at international level outside of the under-21 setup that he has now outgrown. The 23-year-old needed a move away from perennial strugglers Sochaux this summer to stand any real chance of making it.
Outside of the full-backs, there is also a possible opening in central defence, with only four players selected in that position for the Ukraine clashes.
AS Saint-Etienne’s Kurt Zouma and Olympique Lyonnais’ Samuel Umtiti are pehaps the best placed of those based in Ligue 1, with Zouma having already been called into the senior setup. However, his recent 10-match ban for a tackle on Sochaux’s Thomas Guerbert that broke his ankle, as revealed by ESPN FC, might seriously damage his hopes of staying in contention for a place.
In the middle
It is in midfield where Deschamps faces his biggest dilemma, should France qualify.
Currently Geoffrey Kondogbia has lost his place in the senior setup because of his difficulty in establishing himself in Claudio Ranieri’s AS Monaco starting XI. However, the former RC Lens and Sevilla man is not the only midfielder possible in contention for a place on the plane to Brazil.
Monegasque teammate Jeremy Toulalan could be a contender if he can rid himself of the demons from Knysna during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, his last international involvement, and make himself available.
FC Nantes’ Jordan Veretout has enjoyed an outstanding season so far with Les Canaris and could be an outsider for the squad if his impressive form with France’s under-21 side continues. Olympique de Marseille’s Giannelli Imbula is another who is enjoying an impressive campaign, despite his club’s struggles, and could move into contention.
Brazil will almost certainly come too early for PSG’s Adrien Rabiot and Marseille’s Mario Lemina who are not yet even established in France’s under-21 setup.
However, OGC Nice’s Valentin Eysseric could be an outside bet. He will need to replicate the same sort of form we saw him in last season before a lengthy ban for a horror tackle on Saint-Etienne’s Jeremy Clement ended his season prematurely to stand a chance.
Lyon’s Yoann Gourcuff is another name to keep an eye on. His quality is well known and Deschamps showed early in his tenure that his is prepared to consider the enigmatic playmaker. But in order to move into contention, the 27-year-old will need to stay injury free and lead 12th-placed OL out of their recent malaise.
Lack of width
Out wide there are fewer options for Deschamps, perhaps explaining the continued selection of Dimitri Payet. The inclusions of Newcastle’s Moussa Sissoko and Lyon’s Clement Grenier are also questionable with both struggling for their best form.
Payet’s Marseille teammate Florian Thauvin is perhaps Deschamps best alternative to Payet. But with OM floundering under Elie Baup, Payet is likely to continue getting selected by default. PSG’s Jeremy Menez is the only other likely option, but he is still continuing his recovery from a length injury lay-off. A goal last week against FC Lorient will have helped his cause, though.
Filling in the holes
PSG’s Alphonse Areola has kept five clean sheets in Ligue 2 on loan at promotion-chasing RC Lens so far this season. If there was a goalkeeping crisis next summer, it would not be unrealistic to think that the French under-21 international could be called up as third choice.
Considering the questionable recent form of AS Saint-Etienne’s Stephane Ruffier and SC Bastia’s Mickael Landreau, the under-20 World Cup winner would be an attractive alternative. Outside of the third spot though, there is little chance that either first choice Hugo Lloris or backup Steve Mandanda will be dislodged.
Up front there are few viable alternatives to the current crop of attacking players that have been selected by Deschamps for the Ukraine match. Certainly in France there are few players who will be pushing for a call up anytime soon.
Outside of Ligue 1
Perhaps the biggest area of intrigue for Deschamps is outside of Ligue 1 and France.
Southampton’s underrated midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin could be an outsider for a place on the plane to Brazil, but first he needs to at least be called up for Les Bleus. The same goes for West Bromwich Albion’s Morgan Amalfitano, who is on loan from Marseille and enjoying his start to life in the English Premier League.
Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann is almost certain to receive a call-up once his international ban expires at the end of this year. His inclusion would solve some of Deschamps’s width issues. Rubin Kazan’s Yann M’Vila could also make a late dash with his suspension finishing just in time for the World Cup.