Before departing for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, France welcome Norway to the Stade de France for the first of three warm-up matches on Tuesday. Didier Deschamps’ side will also face Paraguay and Jamaica in preparation for their June 15 opener against Honduras in Porto Alegre.
For Tuesday’s game against Per-Mathias Hogmo’s Norwegian side, Les Bleus are expected to make a number of changes, and some of those will be enforced. UEFA Champions League winners Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane of Real Madrid will link up with the squad at their Clairefontaine base on Wednesday, therefore depriving Deschamps of two starting options for the first game.
With that in mind, the French tactician will likely keep the same 4-3-3 formation that has served the team so well over the past two matches and opt to test out some of his fringe players.
Since switching to the new system, Les Tricolores have produced fluent performances against Ukraine—the famous 3-2 aggregate win that qualified France for this summer’s tournament—and the Netherlands. Deschamps will certainly want to keep that momentum going, as it is likely that this will now be the formation his side line up in come June 15 at Estadio Beira-Rio.
The first probable change to the side should come in goal, with Norway the perfect chance to test newly elected second-choice goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier of AS Saint-Etienne against. Hugo Lloris’ position in the team is untouchable, so the only problem created by the Tottenham Hotspur man’s absence is who replaces him as captain.
With Manchester United’s Patrice Evra having been told in no uncertain terms back in March of last year that he will never captain Les Bleus under Deschamps’ leadership, per ESPN FC, that is one option ruled out. The other candidates for the role realistically include Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny, Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho and Paris Saint-Germain duo Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye.
Olympique de Marseille’s Mathieu Valbuena has been an ever-present for Deschamps since he took the reins as France coach, yet it remains to be seen whether the former OM tactician could trust the 29-year-old to lead this team.
With Varane missing in defence, it means that Sakho will likely come in alongside Koscielny—although Eliaquim Mangala did start against the Netherlands and could continue—Evra and Mathieu Debuchy will likely reprise their roles from that meeting with the Dutch.
Like with French champions PSG at club level, the three-man midfield now appears integral for Les Bleus at international level. Deschamps will be relying on Les Parisiens’ Matuidi and Cabaye along with Juventus’ Paul Pogba in Brazil; so he will probably play them as often as possible during these friendlies to ensure maximum familiarity with the system.
That leaves the front three to take care of, and with Benzema missing, Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud will likely come in to replace him. Assuming that Deschamps rests Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery for the game, Valbuena and Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann will feature on either side.
However, if the 31-year-old plays, then Griezmann could find himself on the right as the French try to find the perfect wide pairing to provide Benzema or Giroud with the ammunition to damage teams in Brazil.
Deschamps is more likely to go with what he sees to be his strongest XI once everybody is in camp on Wednesday, but for now, it is a chance for the fringe players to impress and the 45-year-old will likely opt to make a number of changes during the match.
With the likes of Loic Remy, Alexandre Lacazette and Lucas Digne also worthy of being given a start against Norway, there are plenty of options available to the coach. The match will also be a good opportunity for Deschamps to gauge the fitness of Olympique Lyonnais’ Clement Grenier, who was struggling with injury at the end of last season.
Should the talented 23-year-old not be in good enough shape to make the final squad, there are a number of quality players on the reserve list who could be called in to replace him. The Norway match is also a chance for those players to start staking their claims for consideration ahead of the UEFA European Championship on home soil in 2016.
France have two other matches to use to prepare for this summer’s tournament, so the Norway encounter will not give an indication as to Deschamps’ final choice just yet. However, it is a good chance for Les Bleus to continue the strong momentum that has been carrying them since they beat Ukraine convincingly at the end of last year.