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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Blaise Matuidi vs. Kevin Strootman
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.