10 Things You Need to Know About Didier Deschamps' France
In the pantheons of World Cup legacy, France must be one of the most talked-about nations in the tournament's history. Whether it’s success on the pitch, fighting in the camp or the breath-taking performances from some of the game’s greatest players, France is always up there taking top billing.
From winning the 1998 tournament in their own backyard to losing that opening game against Senegal four years later, life is never boring around the France national team.
This current side is no different. There are stories of redemption, promising youngsters, questions over selection and the overall hope of a nation.
Here are 10 things you need to know about Didier Deschamps’ France.
For Once, France Is Happy
For the first time in what seems like a very long time, the France squad is happy. At the moment, going into an international tournament, there is no in-fighting, no players having a strop and no tension bubbling under the surface.
It seems that ever since France lost to Senegal in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup, the national team has had problems. Going into the last two weeks before the opening game against Honduras for this summer's World Cup, this is the most harmonious camp that France has created in 12 years.
This is why Didier Deschamps was right to leave Samir Nasri out of the 23-man squad. He admitted it may not be the best 23 players available to him, but in order to keep everything smiles and lollipops during the course of the tournament, it was a necessary move from Deschamps.
Starting XI the Most Settled in Years
One interesting feature of this current France team is the lack of speculation over who might start come the opening game against Honduras on June 15.
At a stretch you can make a case for competition in four of the starting positions, but realistically there are only two positions that Deschamps won’t already be fairly sure of who to start.
At right-back there is a genuine fight between Mathieu Debuchy and Bacary Sagna for the first game. Debuchy is ahead at the moment, and he did his case no harm with a good performance against Norway.
Sagna will get his chance against Paraguay or Jamaica, and it is up to him to put in an excellent performance. It's Debuchy’s to lose right now, but it could go either way.
The other position is in the centre of defence, and Deschamps will need to decide to pick two out of Laurent Koscielny, Raphael Varane and Mamadou Sakho. Injury worries of Sakho and Varane will be tested during the friendlies, and Koscielny looks set to start.
Outside of those two roles, Deschamps will have his starting XI fairly certain in his head. It has been a long time since France had such a settled side going into a tournament.
Lucas Digne Is Not Just for the Future
Not every France fan is pleased with Patrice Evra’s place in the starting line-up, but most can accept his level of experience and leadership within the team. One huge positive for the Evra doubters is the play of Paris Saint-Germain left-back Lucas Digne.
The 20-year-old defender came on at half-time against Norway on Tuesday night, and he showed the sold-out Stade de France that he is very capable of taking Evra’s place not just in the future—he is ready now.
He comfortably slotted into the left of the defensive line, his touch was perfect throughout the 45-minute performance and gave France an attacking impetus down the left-flank.
Defensively he is solid and intelligent; going forward he is vibrant and exciting. If Didier Deschamps had to make a decision and play Digne at any point during the World Cup, there is little doubt he is ready to take on Evra’s mantle.
Problems at the Right-Side of the Attack Solved by Mathieu Valbuena
Before the start of Euro 2012, the position on the right of the France attack has been somewhat of a problem. Laurent Blanc struggled then, and even Didier Deschamps has tried and failed with a few different options in the last two years.
However, now all those problems are over as Mathieu Valbuena has made the position his own and is finally convincing the critics that he is one of the most important elements of this France side.
Valbuena may not have enjoyed the best season with Marseille, but when he pulls on the famous blue jersey he becomes almost unstoppable. Norway got to see the best of him on Tuesday night as he was involved in three of the four goals. At times it felt like there were two or three Valbuena’s on the pitch as he was everywhere.
He doesn’t just stick to the right flank, he floats and finds space, looking for the gaps in-between the midfield and defence; for France there is no one in the squad who can do it better than “Le Petit Velo.”
When outsiders try to pick a France XI, they often leave out Valbuena’s name, mostly because they don’t understand his importance to the way they play. Once you watch him weave his magic in Deschamps’ side, you see just how wonderful a player he is.
Healthy Competition of Centre-Backs
Throughout the France national-team set-up there is a plethora of centre-backs pushing for a place in the senior side. Outside of the four players that Didier Deschamps named in his squad you can call on the talents of Aymeric Laporte, Samuel Umtiti, Loic Perrin and Kurt Zouma.
There are also a few others coming through in the under-21, under-20 and younger age groups, it’s a very encouraging problem for France to have. What this does for the senior side is help the current first-team players play to a very high level.
Deschamps has to pick two between Laurent Koscielny, Raphael Varane and Mamadou Sakho and whoever he picks will be able to fly the flag with no worries in Brazil.
Varane and Sakho bring different styles to the defence, and Koscielny can play beside either of them. Sakho, although he started a little shaky against Norway, is the powerful, pacey, passionate defender that France sometimes need.
Varane is the calm and studious part of the defence. He is an excellent reader of the game and will grow in stature with every minute he plays in the France defence. Whoever Deschamps picks will be a great choice, which in itself is a wonderful problem for France to have.
Mickael Landreau's Grand Goodbye
When it was confirmed that Steve Mandanda would miss the World Cup due to an injury sustained on the final-day match against Guingamp, it was reserve goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier who stepped into the 23-man squad.
Automatically he was pushed up into the spot of France’s No. 2 goalkeeper behind Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris. A few were surprised that he overtook Mickael Landreau to claim second spot, but all it did was confirm what Landreau’s role in the squad will be.
After announcing his retirement from club football at the end of the domestic season, Landreau is set to end his playing career at football’s greatest spectacle. It would take a spate of injuries in the goalkeeping position for Landreau to don his gloves between the posts for France, but that is not why he is there.
Landreau’s place in the France squad is mostly to share his knowledge and experience to the younger players in the squad. He is a man that Deschamps can trust with his life. The manager will have no problems with Landreau, and he is a player and a man who will have an important off-the-field role during the competition.
Landreau is pretty much the opposite of Samir Nasri in this tournament.
Paul Pogba Has the X-Factor
One of the most exciting aspects of Tuesday night’s game against Norway was the growing confidence of Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba in the France midfield.
There was a lovely Zinedine Zidane-esque turn that left a Norwegian midfielder for dead, and at times he looked head and shoulders above most of the players on the pitch, not just because of his height but because of the stature and confidence he exudes while on the field.
Pogba could be the one player inside the France XI who has the X-Factor that would turn France from semi-final contenders into a team that could grow, blossom and look to go all the way.
It is a lot of pressure on his young shoulders, but he is the type of player who would thrive on that responsibility on the biggest stage and could announce himself to the world during football’s biggest tournament.
Midfield Trio Could Be the Best in the World
One of the huge reasons that Didier Deschamps is smiling at the moment is the wonderful play from his triumphant midfield trio.
The combination of Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba and Yohan Cabaye has the potential to be the best midfield at Brazil this summer; it is already clicking into action and could grow further as the tournament reaches the knockout phase.
All three work perfectly together: Cabaye sits and dictates the play from deep, Matuidi is the enforcer, also breaking forward with pace and purpose, and Pogba does a little bit of everything, usually with style, grace and that spark of unpredictability.
This is one of the best midfields France has had since the days of Michel Platini and “Le Carre Magique” and the World Cup-winning side of 1998.
Winning Streak Helping the Feel-Good Factor
The feel-good factor is back in France. After the very dark days after the 2-0 defeat to Ukraine, the clouds have lifted and the nation is fully behind their team. That spark of excitement that the fans need to cheer the team on has definitely been on show during the last few games.
With upcoming friendlies against Paraguay and Jamaica to follow, there is no reason to expect that winning feeling to disappear before the opening game against Honduras.
The friendlies against Norway, Paraguay and Jamaica were not picked to test France against similar opponents to who they will face in Group E. It looks as if the calibre of opposition was picked so that the feel-good feeling will continue into the tournament.
Two more wins before the World Cup and France will enter the tournament with a five-game winning streak, and that is much more important to this nation than friendly draws against the bigger-name countries.
The Expectations of a Nation
The one thing the French public expect from this team during the World Cup is not a victory, but it is to restore pride to a nation.
France’s reputation was pulled apart during the awful scenes in Knysna four years ago. Laurent Blanc started to heal the wounds at Euro 2012, then Didier Deschamps took the baton. Over the past two years Deschamps has put the ship back on course and has helped guide it toward a brighter future.
Tournament expectations are to get through the group stage, qualify for the last 16 and then it becomes a case of “whatever happens from here is a bonus.”
One of the best descriptions of this France team is like that of a bomb. They are very unpredictable. They have the potential to blow everyone away this summer, or they could prematurely explode and destroy themselves from the inside.
It is that unknown quantity that makes them such an intriguing side. The French public are just hoping for redemption, then they can grow further and lift the 2016 European Championships on home soil.