Following last week’s news that Franck Ribery will miss the FIFA World Cup, per ESPN FC, the talk prior to France’s 8-0 mauling of Jamaica was of how coach Didier Deschamps would compensate for the absence of Les Bleus’ talisman.
At Stade Pierre-Mauroy the 45-year-old found what appears to be the perfect formula, starting Karim Benzema in Ribery’s place, alongside Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Valbuena.
However, rising star Antoine Griezmann came off the bench and impressed once again to give Deschamps plenty of food for thought ahead of Les Bleus’ Group E opener against Honduras in Porto Alegre on Sunday.
Each of the four players impressed during the 8-0 savaging of a poor Jamaica side, but as the least experienced of the quartet, Griezmann may well have to settle for a place on the bench at Estadio Beira-Rio.
There is, however, a strong case for the 23-year-old Real Sociedad star to be handed a starting role against Honduras.
His quick-fire double against Jamaica takes his international tally to three goals in four games and an incredible three goals in his last 27 minutes of football for France. Griezmann is one of, if not the most in-form player for Les Bleus at present. Going into that must-win opening fixture, Deschamps needs all of his potential difference-makers on the pitch.
The problem with that is that Valbuena, Giroud and Benzema are all in good form too and, together, they could wreak as much havoc in the Honduran defence as they did in Jamaica’s. Deschamps looks likely to stay faithful to the majority of the team that overcame Ukraine 3-0 at Stade de France back in November, and Griezmann was not part of the senior setup at that point, while Valbuena, Giroud and Benzema were all heavily involved.
None of that key trio can be considered a naturally left-sided player, though, whereas Griezmann can be and is thoroughly familiar with the role.
In terms of a natural replacement for Ribery, the lithe No. 11 is absolutely perfect for the role in every way except for his experience at international level. Compared to Valbuena, Giroud, Benzema—and even the likes of Queens Park Rangers’ Loic Remy—Griezmann is still just a baby.
That relative inexperience is not necessarily a disadvantage, though.
Griezmann offers vibrancy and plays in an uninhibited way—unlike some of his new teammates, who have been ground down by years of under-performing at major international tournaments and the subsequent criticism that brings—and his rawness benefits the team greatly.
While the level of expectation placed on the French national team in the past has weighed down certain members of the side—such as Ribery and Benzema—Griezmann is unburdened in that respect and plays with far less fear at present. This is something that Deschamps should look to capitalise on, because it will not last for long.
The Txuri-Urdin man has had a reinvigorating impact since arriving on the scene, and his teammates are now feeding off of the new energy that this new generation are bringing with them. Griezmann is not the only talented youngster currently being bled into the team—Juventus’ Paul Pogba and Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane are also finding their feet—but he has had by far the most immediate impact of all thus far and that has given Les Bleus a new lease of life.
His potential inclusion in Deschamps’ starting XI—certainly for the first few matches—also adds an element of unpredictability to France’s game.
Les Tricolores’ group-stage opponents had likely prepared to face Ribery on the left and, although not necessarily any easier to handle than Griezmann, they will arguably be less familiar with the latter and—as a result—Deschamps has a major tactical advantage by including him in the side.
Despite all of this suggesting that his inclusion from the start would be of great benefit to France, Deschamps is likely to view him as a super sub—at least for the time being. Griezmann’s job now is to replicate the sort of performances we have seen when he has come off the bench in games such as Paraguay and Jamaica, but against a World Cup opponent.
It is one thing having such a massive impact in a warm-up fixture, but those matches ultimately mean nothing. For Griezmann to make himself truly indispensable to Deschamps, he has to prove that he can have the same impact in a competitive encounter, and that opportunity has not presented itself yet.
However, Deschamps will be confident that when he does call on his young star, he will be hungry to take his chance and continue his astonishing progress.