Tactical Battles That Will Shape France's Clash with Netherlands

Jonathan JohnsonFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2014

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 19:  France manager Didier Deschamps looks on prior to the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier 2nd Leg Playoff between France and Ukraine at the Stade de France on November 19, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Harry Engels/Getty Images)
Harry Engels/Getty Images

France’s friendly clash with the Netherlands at the Stade de France on Wednesday is one of this midweek’s more interesting warm-up matches. Both Didier Deschamps and Louis van Gaal have made a number of surprising call-ups and experimentation is expected on both sides.

For the hosts, it is a chance to see the likes of Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann in action with Les Bleus for the first time, while Josuha Guilavogui, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Eliaquim Mangala and Lucas Digne were some of the more surprising selections.

Van Gaal has picked three players for the first time in Jean-Paul Boetius, Davy Klaassen and Quincy Promes, while Karim Rekik has only ever featured in one squad and had to withdraw from it through injury. All four could make their Oranje debuts at some point.

4 - Arjen Robben has scored in his last four appearances for Oranje (4 goals). Key.

— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) March 5, 2014

The Netherlands were dealt a blow with the news that Bayern Munich star Arjen Robben will miss the match because of a thigh problem. However, the squad still boasts the likes of Robin van Persie, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Wesley Sneijder and Kevin Strootman.

France’s big guns will be there too, with Franck Ribery included in the squad, although his involvement is questionable considering that he only recently recovered from surgery on a burst blood vessel. The 30-year-old is more likely there to provide continuity as Deschamps’ World Cup squad takes shape.

59% - Franck Ribéry has scored/assisted 16 of France's 27 goals under Didier Deschamps. Leader.

— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 5, 2014

The often-maligned Karim Benzema is included, as is Olivier Giroud, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Raphael Varane and Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho, despite his recent injury problems.

It is shaping up to be an intriguing encounter and here are some of the tactical battles that will shape France vs. the Netherlands.

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - OCTOBER 27:  Antoine Griezmann (R) of Real Sociedad de Futbol celebrates with his teammate Xabier Prieto Argarate after scoring his team's second goalduring the La Liga match between Real Sociedad de Futbol and UD Almeria at Estadio
David Ramos/Getty Images

 

Antoine Griezmann vs. Gregory van der Wiel

The battle on the left-hand side of the pitch for France is an enticing one, with Griezmann likely to occupy that role in the absence of Ribery. His opponent on the night could be Paris Saint-Germain’s in-form right-back Gregory van der Wiel, who has played his way back into the Dutch setup.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 19:  James Rodriguez of Colombia is challenged by Gregory van der Wiel of Netherlands during the International Friendly match between Netherlands and Colombia at Amsterdam ArenA on November 19, 2013 in Amsterdam, Netherla
Lars Baron/Getty Images

The marauding full-back likes to get forward at club level and has provided three direct league assists so far this season, the latest of which was a fine volleyed cross for Edinson Cavani’s header against bitter rivals Olympique de Marseille on Sunday.

Van der Wiel’s attacking style suits PSG coach Laurent Blanc’s possession-based system, but questions have been raised over the 26-year-old’s defensive responsibility. Griezmann, who is in superlative form in La Liga with Sociedad at present, is someone who will exploit that.

Should Ribery feature instead, then Griezmann could be pushed to the right, but Deschamps is unlikely to risk the Bayern Munich man.

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 19:  Karim Benzema of France celebrates scoring during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Play-off second leg match between France and Ukraine at the Stade de France on November 19, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Get
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

 

Karim Benzema vs. Ron Vlaar

Aston Villa’s strong central defender Ron Vlaar will likely be charged with the task of shackling the mercurial talent of Benzema on Wednesday night in the French capital. Deschamps could opt for Giroud, or possibly play one behind the other as has been called for since Euro 2012, but will probably remain faithful to Benzema to start with.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 19:  Falcao of Colombia is challenged by Kevin Strootman and Ron Vlaar of Netherlands during the International Friendly match between Netherlands and Colombia at Amsterdam ArenA on November 19, 2013 in Amsterdam, Netherla
Lars Baron/Getty Images

The Real Madrid man’s recent goal drought was mercifully ended with a goal against Australia in a friendly at the Parc des Princes back in October, but despite following it up with qualifying strikes against Finland and Ukraine, is still not entirely convincing when leading the line.

16 - France have won all 16 of the games in which Karim Benzema has scored. Talisman.

— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 5, 2014

Benzema would arguably benefit from playing in a more withdrawn role behind Giroud, but Deschamps has so far proven unreceptive to the idea. Vlaar will need to take a typically physical approach into Wednesday’s clash at the Stade de France to make sure Benzema is silenced.

KIEV, UKRAINE - NOVEMBER 15: Blaise Matuidi of France controls the ball during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Play-off First Leg soccer match between Ukraine and France at the Olympic Stadium on November 15, 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine.  (Photo by Adam Nurki
Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images

 

Blaise Matuidi vs. Kevin Strootman

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 19:  Kevin Strootman of Netherlands runs with the ball during the International Friendly match between Netherlands and Colombia at Amsterdam ArenA on November 19, 2013 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Gett
Lars Baron/Getty Images

AS Roma’s Kevin Strootman has been a revelation in Serie A this season as Rudi Garcia’s men challenged Juventus early on for the title. Although the capital outfit have faded somewhat, Strootman has remained relatively consistent and has caught the eye with some superb goals.

The Dutch midfielder’s battle with the likes of PSG’s Blaise Matuidi in the middle of the park this week will be one of the key battles in France and the Netherlands’ clash. The Frenchman, along with one of Pogba, Kondogbia and Guilavogui will be looking to disrupt the Oranje midfield three.

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 19:  Raphael Varane of France battles with Edmar De Lacerda of the Ukraine during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Play-off second leg match between France and Ukraine at the Stade de France on November 19, 2013 in Paris, France.
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

 

Raphael Varane vs. Wesley Sneijder

Sneijder will also be a threat in the Dutch midfield that France have to deal with on Wednesday. The Galatasaray schemer will likely occupy a more advanced role, in order to bring his creativity to the fore, but marshalling the defence is likely to be Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane.

BEIJING, CHINA - JUNE 11:  Wesley Sneijder #20 of Netherlands in action during the international friendly soccer match at Beijing Workers' Stadium on June 11, 2013 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

The classy 20-year-old central defender will be required to step out of defence, not only in building from the back for the hosts, but also to intercept Sneijder when he received the ball in dangerous positions in and around the area.

Pogba and Matuidi will also need to step in to keep an eye on the Dutchman, but Varane’s composure should allow him to deal adequately with the threats that he poses, while also striking up a rapport with Mangala who is likely to start alongside him.

PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 04:  Eliaquim Mangala of Porto in action during the Group A UEFA Champions League match between Paris Saint-Germain FC and FC Porto at Parc des Princes on December 4, 2012 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Ima
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

 

Eliaquim Mangala vs. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

FC Porto defender Mangala is likely to be tasked with the challenge of keeping Schalke 04's Huntelaar quiet at the Stade de France. Called up at the expense of the declining force that is Eric Abidal, the 23-year-old is expected to form a solid defensive pairing with Varane between now and Euro 2016.

Peter Dejong/Associated Press

The athletic 23-year-old central defender is the brawn to the Real Madrid star’s brains and their complementary characteristics should, in theory, turn them into a formidable partnership. However, the Dutch will be hoping that France's collective inexperience and unfamiliarity will allow them to create plenty of chances of Wednesday.

Van Persie is a doubt for the game through illness, but is struggling for form with Manchester United lately. Huntelaar is expected to lead the line for the Oranje, although Dirk Kuyt and Quincy Promes are other options available to van Gaal in what is expected to be a front three.

 

*Based on the following predicted XI's: 

France: Lloris - Sagna/Debuchy, Koscielny, Varane, Evra - Pogba, Cabaye, Matuidi - Valbuena, Benzema, Griezmann.

Netherlands: Cillessen - Van Der Wiel, Martins Indi, Vlaar, Blind - Sneijder, Strootman, Clasie - Depay, Huntelaar, Boetius.