Predicting Who Will Be France's Defensive Starters at the World Cup
Predicting who will be France's defensive starters at the World Cup is not an easy task. Didier Deschamps will likely name eight defenders in his 23-man squad come the Jun. 2 deadline, and all eight of them could easily state their own case for starting in the opening game against Honduras.
France’s defence has historically been one of their strong points in recent years: Names such as Laurent Blanc, Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu, Lilian Thuram and Patrick Battiston are just some of the legendary players that have patrolled the back line for les Bleus since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
Now a new line of defenders are set to take on the responsibilities this summer, with only two of the players that were called up to South Africa in 2010 set to be included for this summer’s tournament in Brazil. The new line-up definitely has a younger look to it than in previous years, and this will have an effect on the defence that Deschamps picks to start the competition in South America.
Let’s take a look at the defence that Deschamps will likely start with in the opening game against Honduras.
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris
The Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper is easily one of the first names on Didier Deschamps' teamsheet. Hugo Lloris will also likely be named France’s captain this summer, and although he is a quiet figure, his experience and confidence will be a huge attribute to the defence.
Lloris will be hoping to pass the 60-cap mark for France this summer, but that will only happen if the 27-year-old helps guide France past the group stage. That is something that isn’t always guaranteed with France’s recent tournament performances. The former Lyon ‘keeper was part of the squad in 2010 that was disappointingly eliminated before the knockout stage. It became a disastrous four weeks for the French national team, and Lloris will be hoping for some sort of redemption in Brazil.
At Brazil his back-ups will be Marseille’s Steve Mandanda and either Saint-Etienne’s Stephane Ruffier or Mickael Landreau of Bastia. All three are excellent goalkeepers in their own right, but there is no doubt that the Spurs stopper is the undisputed No. 1, and he will be the goalie wearing the gloves this summer.
Right-Back: Mathieu Debuchy
On the right of the back four, Didier Deschamps will have a tough decision to make between Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna and Newcastle United’s Mathieu Debuchy. There isn’t a lot to choose between the two players, and the decision could come down to how they both perform in the pre-tournament friendlies.
Sagna was injured for the recent friendly against Netherlands, and it was Debuchy who was as impressive as always wearing les Bleus at the Stade de France.
The former Lille player has adapted well to life in the Premier League since his move in January 2013. His performances left a lot to be desired in the early months of his move, but after a full pre-season he has vastly improved and got himself up to speed, the opinion of the Newcastle fans has changed dramatically as Debuchy’s performances improved this campaign.
What Debuchy brings to the French defence is a constant desire to get forward down the wing, and if Deschamps is going to play with a narrow midfield, the width provided by the full-backs will be crucial in the attacking third. Now that Debuchy has sorted out the defensive aspect of his game and definitely looks a lot stronger playing in his own half, he just edges out Sagna from the starting right-back role.
Centre-Back: Laurent Koscielny
This 28-year-old defender will have played around 120 games for Arsenal once the season ends in May, and he will be hoping that his club experience will help him add to the 15 France caps he has already earned since 2011.
Two years before his 30th birthday, the centre-back should be in prime form for this summer’s tournament, but a late-season injury that saw him miss part of March and April will be Didier Deschamps main cause for concern.
The fortunate thing for Koscielny is that some of his defensive competition have also been suffering and recovering from injuries, and the Arsenal defender could be the one closest to full match fitness getting on the plane to Brazil.
The French coaching staff still has to decide which duo would be the best to play together at the heart of the France defence, but Koscielny brings experience, pace and good control on the ball. He would be the best partner to play beside the youth of either Raphael Varane and Eliaquim Mangala or the physical style of Mamadou Sakho.
Koscielny provides the perfect complement to all three potential team-mates, so it would make perfect sense to give the former Lorient man the starting spot.
Centre-Back: Raphael Varane
When picking between France’s central defenders, you have to look at a number of factors. You have to decide between youth and experience, brawn and control and the mentality for the big occasion. In all instances Raphael Varane ticks all of the boxes.
The 20-year-old certainly has youth on his side, but his breakthrough at Real Madrid has also given him valuable experience at one of Europe’s top teams. Some of that experience has come at the highest level, as he has impressed in both the Champions League and in the big games against Barcelona.
Also at 6'3" he is an impressive physical specimen—his frame has filled out since his move from RC Lens in France when he was just 18 years old. Varane has all the elements that a modern-day centre-back needs, and beside Koscielny the partnership has the potential to become a wonderful unit for les Bleus and Didier Deschamps to build the team around.
Mamadou Sakho showed against Ukraine that he brings heart, desire and full-blooded determination to the team, but his lack of playing time for Liverpool and his rash nature makes him a little bit too unpredictable for Deschamps and France.
For Eliaquim Mangala it is purely down to lacking the experience at the top level, but he will learn so much at the World Cup that he can take into the European Championships in 2016.
Left-Back: Patrice Evra
The left of the defence is probably one of the most contentious positions in the French squad. Patrice Evra has all the experience at both club and international level, but he carries with him a huge amount of baggage. His name is still talked about in very derogatory terms when the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is mentioned, many fans still believe his role in the Knysna incident was crucial to the France team going on strike and shame being brought on their country.
The problem for France and both Laurent Blanc and Didier Deschamps has been the lack of a suitable replacement to push Evra back onto the bench. Along with Hugo Lloris, no other player will have as many French caps going into the Brazil World Cup, and with over 260 games for Manchester United, it is hard to argue that Evra’s experience won’t be crucial to helping out with younger teammates.
Deschamps’ alternative is to pick Paris Saint-Germain defender Lucas Digne to start against Honduras. While there is no doubt that Digne would do a great job, the 20-year-old has only one cap for the senior team and less than 10 for the Under-21 side—he’s not quite ready for the rigours of what will be his first World Cup.
Evra may have a controversial past, but he is still a top-class left-back and one who has learned the lessons of his past. If anyone is set to put in a performance to banish the memories of four years ago, be sure that Evra is ready to bow out of international football at the top.