France take on Jamaica at Stade Pierre Mauroy on Sunday for the last of three FIFA World Cup warm-up matches.
For coach Didier Deschamps, it is a final chance to see his team in action before the tournament opener against Honduras on June 15. However, the encounter will be more notable because Les Bleus have just lost both Franck Ribery and Clement Grenier to injury, per ESPN FC.
The Bayern Munich man’s back problem has been the focus of attention since he missed last Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Paraguay in Nice. However, with time running out to prove his fitness in time for the World Cup, the 31-year-old and coach Deschamps have finally been forced to admit defeat.
It is a bitter blow for the player who had already announced before the tournament that this summer’s World Cup would be his last. Montpellier’s Remy Cabella comes in to replace him, while Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin takes Grenier’s place in the squad, according to Ian Holyman of ESPN FC.
The news means that Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann will almost certainly get the chance to impress once more on the left of the front three, as he now looks to be the outstanding candidate for the role. Loic Remy started there against Paraguay but looked ineffectual, while Griezmann’s stock continues to rise with every game that he plays.
In terms of what it means formation-wise, Deschamps is not likely to change anything or try anything new. The 4-3-3 has been working fine with Ribery and without him, and the 23-year-old’s fearlessness and eagerness to impress might make him more decisive than a half-fit Ribery.
The 31-year-old Ribery aside, the match will be the first opportunity for Real Madrid pair Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane to feature for the team since the 23-man squad was announced. Both enjoyed extended-season success with the Spanish giants in the UEFA Champions League final but missed the first two friendlies.
The pair should figure from the start, but otherwise Deschamps is expected to field more or less the same starting XI that he will take to the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre next week.
That means captain Hugo Lloris will start in goal, despite third-choice goalkeeper Mickael Landreau not having featured in either of the first two preparatory games. Backup netminder Stephane Ruffier played in the victory over Norway, while Lloris played the entirety of the Paraguay match.
In defence, Mathieu Debuchy looks to have just shaded the audition for the right-back role ahead of Bacary Sagna. Both players impressed with their respective performances, but the Newcastle United man contributes more going forward and therefore suits the current 4-3-3 formation better.
On the opposite side, Patrice Evra is almost certain to start ahead of Lucas Digne against Honduras and has featured in both warm-up fixtures so far. Deschamps could rest the 33-year-old, but he is likely to want to play what is almost a first-choice XI for the majority of the game, so Paris Saint-Germain’s Digne could have to once again make do with a place on the bench.
Moving into the middle of defence, Varane will likely come in for Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho—captain against Norway—alongside Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny. Eliaquim Mangala has yet to start one of these pre-tournament friendlies, but Varane is expected to start against Honduras—if fit—and will be given the chance to prove he is in the best condition.
Considering that Deschamps has named the same starting midfield trio against Norway and Paraguay, PSG pair Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi are expected to start alongside Juventus’ Paul Pogba.
Schneiderlin has yet to feature at all for France at senior level and so could appear at some point. That is likely to happen from the bench, though, with the three-man midfield unit arguably the most important trio on the pitch for Les Bleus in their current formation.
That leaves one position in the front three alongside Benzema and Griezmann.
Olympique de Marseille’s Mathieu Valbuena is likely to take it, considering that he is the only player to have featured in every single game under Deschamps so far, but Cabella will need to be introduced at some point.
Ribery’s injury far from weakens France on the pitch, but it is a significant psychological blow for the team off it. Griezmann will be looking to cement his position beyond all doubt against Jamaica, but otherwise little changes for Deschamps and Les Bleus.
The France No. 7 made his name with his performances at the 2006 World Cup, the same year that he made his senior debut. Griezmann now finds himself in a similar situation: Having only made his first appearance against the Netherlands back in March, could the Real Sociedad star be primed to have a similar impact this summer in Brazil?