Predicting France's World Cup Squad Following Latest Internationals
Following France’s encouraging 2-0 win over the Netherlands at the Stade de France on Wednesday, les Bleus' coach Didier Deschamps will be closer to knowing the majority of the 23-man squad that he will be taking to FIFA World Cup in Brazil this summer.
The all-round solid performance will also have shaped the 45-year-old’s thoughts regarding his initial 30-man pre-tournament squad.
4 - France have won 4 home games in a row for the 1st time since May-November 2006 (6 home wins in a row). Landlord.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 5, 2014
Although there is still time for that to change, the former World Cup and UEFA European championship-winning player’s recent selections suggest that he is already making some tough decisions. The omission of Samir Nasri, for one, is thought not to be for football reasons alone.
Deschamps’ group chosen for the Dutch clash hinted at squad building with important figures such as Franck Ribery and Mamadou Sakho included, despite recent injuries. But while some talented players were left out, the depth available to the former Olympique de Marseille coach is impressive.
Based on the latest squad for the Netherlands friendly, here is a prediction for France's World Cup squad.
On the Edge
Although they may have been involved in recent French squads, or even in Wednesday's encounter with the Netherlands, there are a few players who are on the fringes of Deschamps' World Cup plans at present.
Stephane Ruffier is fourth choice in goal, but realistically has little hope of going to Brazil. The AS Saint-Etienne man’s inclusion against the Dutch was thanks to an injury to perennial third-choice net minder Mickael Landreau of SC Bastia. After the veteran's retirement this summer, that spot is his.
In defence, Gael Clichy was left out of the squad for Wednesday's friendly but has still featured enough since the 2012 European Championship in Poland and Ukraine to be considered the second choice left-back at present. His fate may well be decided by Lucas Digne's end-of-season form.
Paris Saint-Germain star Digne will be desperate to oust Brazilian international Maxwell between now and the end of the season in the French capital after his first taste of international action. If he does not go to Brazil, then it will be a choice made solely on his relative lack of appearances.
Moving into midfield and Clichy's Manchester City teammate Samir Nasri was the most obvious omission from the group to face the Netherlands. His potential inclusion might not hinge on ability alone, though, considering his chequered history in bleu.
AS Monaco's Geoffrey Kondogbia is a bright prospect in the French midfield, but following a difficult first season in the principality, this summer's World Cup might come too soon for the 21-year-old. Instead, Euro 2016 on home soil is a more realistic objective for the former Sevilla man.
Olympique Lyonnais captain Maxime Gonalons is a far more realistic and experienced alternative, despite being just three years older than Kondogbia. Unfortunately for the six-times capped OL man, his mixed club form has impaired his chances of impressing consistently enough to make it to Brazil.
Atletico Madrid’s Josuha Guilavogui, currently on loan at Saint-Etienne, is another option available to Deschamps. However, in hindsight an ill-timed move to Spain has stalled his progress and only a stellar finish to the season is surely enough to make sure that he will be on the plane.
Up top, France have very few options past Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud and Loic Remy. Olympique de Marseille’s Andre-Pierre Gignac is one of the most prolific forwards available domestically, but his bumpy history with Deschamps from their OM days might ultimately prohibit his inclusion.
Of all of the positions in the France squad ahead of this summer's World Cup, the three goalkeepers are almost certainly decided already. Only injury or a horrific dive in form could prevent any one of Dechamps' three most trusted netminders from going to South America ahead of ASSE's Ruffier.
Those three are:
Tottenham Hotspur's Hugo Lloris is Les Tricolores' undisputed No. 1 and rightly so. The 27-year-old is also the captain of the side at present and almost certainly will be in Brazil, despite Deschamps' desire to hand the armband to an outfield player prior to Euro 2016. On the plane.
Marseille's Steve Mandanda is the perennial French No. 2, but considering that he is actually one year older than Lloris, he is facing up to the fact that his international career will pass him by as his junior's ability shows no signs of diminishing at present. Will be there as Lloris' backup.
Third choice and there more for influence than actually to play a serious part on the pitch is Mickael Landreau of Bastia. Barring injury, which is why he did not feature in the squad for the Netherlands clash, he will be there as Brazil provides the swansong to his career with retirement looming.
Selection Status: Complete
With Deschamps sure of his goalkeeper selections ahead of the World Cup, his defensive unit is taking shape, too, with a back four almost complete thanks to the qualifying play-offs against Ukraine and Wednesday's friendly against the Netherlands.
Barring injury or a loss in form, les Bleus will be taking the following players to South America:
Real Madrid's Raphael Varane has enjoyed a meteoric rise since joining the Spanish giants from Ligue 2 side RC Lens back in 2011. Having only made his debut for the senior French side last year, that he is already arguably Deschamps’ first-choice central defender reflects that rapid ascent.
Assuming that both maintain their current form, Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny will be partnering Varane in France's opening match against Honduras in Porto Alegre on June 15. That is after the 28-year-old's ban for his red card in the first leg of their clash with Ukraine was overturned by FIFA.
100% - Patrice Evra has completed all 23 of his passes against Netherlands in the 1st half. Accurate.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 5, 2014
Having ridden the waves created by his tirade directed towards certain members of the French football media, Manchester United's Patrice Evra remains key for les Bleus. Despite his widespread unpopularity with the French public, the 33-year-old left-back’s influence will be invaluable in Brazil.
On the opposite side of the back four, Newcastle United's Mathieu Debuchy looks to have nailed down the starting role ahead of Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna. The marauding full-back offers plenty going forward, even if he leaves a bit to be desired defensively. Deschamps will take him this summer.
1 - Mathieu Debuchy won the most duels (11) and completed the most interceptions (8) at the Stade de France last night. Active.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 6, 2014
Despite only recently recovering from injury, Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho was the two-goal hero for France against Ukraine in their vital 3-0 play-off victory last November and was selected against the Dutch. Despite not featuring on Wednesday, his inclusion reflects his importance to the group.
Although he is now firmly second fiddle to Debuchy, Arsenal's Bacary Sagna is the undisputed backup and will surely go to Brazil. With few credible alternative options ahead of this summer, Euro 2016 will potentially be the time for any new right-backs to state their case.
FC Porto's Eliaquim Mangala started the Netherlands' clash alongside Varane thanks to a slight knock to Koscielny. The physically imposing central defender was composed alongside the Real Madrid youngster and offers great potential. He has a good chance of going to the World Cup.
9 - Mangala-Varane will be the 9th pair of central defenders to start for France under Didier Deschamps. Rotation.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 5, 2014
With no obvious alternative to Evra at left-back, AS Monaco's Eric Abidal might still get the nod this summer, despite a loss of form at club level. The 34-year-old’s influence and ability to play in the middle and on the left makes him a valuable squad player.
Selection Status: 70 per cent complete.
Against both Ukraine and the Netherlands, France boasted impressive strength in the midfield that could become one of the team's main strengths under Deschamps' leadership. Of all the positions, les Bleus' tactician has the most talent available to him in the middle of the park.
Here are the likely candidates for inclusion in the final 23-man squad:
If one player in the French team guaranteed their place in the group against the Netherlands, then it was PSG’s Blaise Matuidi. One outrageous acrobatic goal and a sublime assist for Karim Benzema’s opener, the irrepressible 26-year-old is key to Deschamps’ plans. Matuidi is on the plane right now.
1 - Blaise Matuidi is the 1st PSG player to score for les Bleus since Christophe Jallet on September 2012 (v Belarus). Capital.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 5, 2014
Capital club teammate Yohan Cabaye is not too far behind; he is another player who has become integral to this new-look Tricolores side in recent years. His impressive form against Ukraine and the Netherlands edges him closer to confirming his selection. Cabaye is likely to make it to Brazil.
Like Varane, Juventus' Paul Pogba has enjoyed a startling quick rise to the top for club and country. Should he maintain his impressive form for the Italian champions, he will certainly go to the World Cup. The only worry over the 20-year-old is the fact that he looks hugely fatigued at present.
Only one player has featured in all 19 of Deschamps' games as France national team coach and that is Marseille’s Mathieu Valbuena. The 29-year-old, who was not always in favour under the same man when in charge of OM, has become integral to les Bleus' setup over the past year or so.
18 - Mathieu Valbuena is the only player to have taken part in all 18 of France's games under Didier Deschamps. Favourite.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) February 27, 2014
Despite missing out injured against the Netherlands, Lille OSC's Rio Mavuba is like third-choice goalkeeper Landreau: He is there for his experience, more than what he can bring on the pitch. The 29-year-old may yet miss out through poor form or injury, but Deschamps values his character.
Similarly to Abidal, France will need utility men in Brazil and in midfield, Newcastle's Moussa Sissoko looks to be that player. Solid but unspectacular, the former Toulouse man might not feature in any of the games this summer, but his versatility will be an asset to Deschamps if he takes him.
2328 - Moussa Sissoko is the most used outfield player in the league this season among France's latest squad (2328 minutes). Energy.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) February 27, 2014
Perhaps in greatest danger of being left out right now is Lyon's Clement Grenier. Deschamps has shown faith in the talented 23-year-old, who missed the Dutch game with injury, but the creative talent has been in mixed form with OL this season. His inclusion requires a good end of campaign.
Selection Status: 70 per cent complete.
Along with the goalkeepers, up front is perhaps the other position in which Deschamps is almost certain of the players that he will be counting on this summer. With a lack of genuine options to choose from, the attacking selection will more or less pick itself. Injuries could prove fatal in Brazil.
Here are the France coach's options between now and June:
59% - Franck Ribéry has scored/assisted 16 of France's 27 goals under Didier Deschamps. Leader.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 5, 2014
Along with Lloris, Matuidi and Benzema, Franck Ribery is indispensable for les Bleus right now. Only injury or some sort of major controversy could prevent the Bayern Munich star from not taking part in this campaign. Even a loss of form is not likely to affect the 30-year-old. Ribery is going to Brazil.
Joining him on the plane will be Real Madrid's Karim Benzema. Following his well-taken, half-volleyed opener against the Netherlands, the 26-year-old is brimming with confidence on the international stage once again. Deschamps has been rewarded for his faith in the former Lyon man.
50% - Karim Benzema has scored 4 of France's last 8 goals. Rebirth.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 5, 2014
Second fiddle to Benzema will be Arsenal's Olivier Giroud unless a complete loss of form or an injury means that the inconsistent forward has to be left out. The 27-year-old has endured a mixed campaign for the Gunners so far and it should be enough to ensure that he is selected.
Newcastle's Loic Remy is an excellent option in attack for Deschamps because of his ability to play wide and in the middle. Although primarily used on the right for les Tricolores, the versatile frontman has all the attributes to lead the line, too. Remy is likely to be backup in Brazil.
Marseille's Dimitri Payet was an unused substitute against the Netherlands on Wednesday and his domestic form has been in decline until recently. Despite being a regular under Deschamps, Payet could yet be sacrificed unless his performances reach similar levels to last season's with Lille.
After a solid if unspectacular start to life with France, Real Sociedad's Antoine Griezmann is likely to figure in Deschamps' plans this summer. His immediate inclusion against the Dutch suggests that the talented 22-year-old was part of the coach’s plans all along. Remaining consistent in La Liga is key.
Selection Status: 90 per cent complete.
As with any world Cup squad, there are those who appear to be off the radar, yet surprisingly resurface on the eve of a major tournament. The French national team will be no exception and there are a number of candidates for wildcard places in the final 23-man group.
Here are the main suspects:
One of three Lyon players that will hope to force their way into Deschamps' plans before the end of the Ligue 1 season is often-maligned creative midfielder Yoann Gourcuff. On his day and when fit, the 27-year-old is a sublime talent. However, his last call-up came against Brazil in June last year.
The next OL player who could yet make the final cut is Alexandre Lacazette. Enjoying a break-out season in Le Championnat with 13 goals (all from open play) and two assists, including the 22-year-old at the expense of Payet or Grenier would not be controversial. Leaving him behind might be.
Also from Lyon, Bafetimbi Gomis is an attacking option who has been around the block and, like Gourcuff and Lacazette, was also last involved against Brazil. The 28-year-old has still managed 10 league goals, despite a disrupted season, and his experience of the setup might aid his inclusion.
With a remote chance of being included in Deschamps' plans this summer is Sevilla's Kevin Gameiro. The former PSG forward has scored 10 times in all competitions since joining the Spanish side and could find himself handed a first international call-up since 2012 if he can perform well until May.
In the midfield, Tottenham's Etienne Capoue has been dealt a cruel blow in his World Cup bid thanks to his switch to the English Premier League side. Injured and then out of favour or played out of position, only a major injury crisis is likely to see Capoue included in Deschamps’ squad for Brazil.
Valencia's Adil Rami, currently on loan at AC Milan, is another who is now relying on the misfortune of others. The limited 28-year-old defender missed a large chunk of the first half of the season when out of favour at the Mestalla but was disappointing as a regular for Les Bleus under Laurent Blanc.
Instead, Chelsea's Kurt Zouma, currently on loan at formative club Saint-Etienne, could be Deschamps' wildcard pick. The brute-like 19-year-old was called up to the senior squad last year, although not used, and Deschamps is thought to be of the belief that Zouma is captaincy material.