France vs. Honduras: Key Selection Decisions for Didier Deschamps
Going into the three World Cup friendly matches against Norway, Paraguay and Jamaica, Didier Deschamps only had one or two selection headaches for the opening game against Honduras on Sunday.
Now, a few excellent performances, plus injuries to key players, have opened up a few places for discussion and given Deschamps food for thought going into France's opening game of Group E.
At least seven out of the 11 places have already been decided, and this is still one of the most settled French sides in the last few years. Hugo Lloris is France's captain and goalkeeper, with fellow veteran Patrice Evra still commanding the left-back role.
In the centre of defence, vice-captain Mamadou Sakho has been rewarded with a starting role after his heroics against Ukraine at the Stade de France. Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye make up the midfield trio, and few teams can boost as impressive a unit.
Up front, perhaps only Mathieu Valbuena is guaranteed a place in the starting XI after his wonderful performances in qualifying and in the recent friendlies. The Marseille man is one of the first names on Deschamps' team-sheet and is vital to their 4-3-3 formation.
Here are some of the key selection decisions that Deschamps faces this Sunday.
Mathieu Debuchy vs. Bacary Sagna
Before the friendlies, Mathieu Debuchy was just slightly ahead of Bacary Sagna in the race to start at right-back against Honduras, but now the gap is almost non-existent.
Both performed very well against Norway and Paraguay respectively, and Debuchy's start against Jamaica had him in pole position. However, an injury against the Caribbean side has cast a doubt over his fitness.
The Newcastle United full-back was able to train late this week and should be fit enough to start, but if he is not at 100 percent, then he could become a target for the Honduran side.
Against England in Miami, Honduras looked to attack down the left flank and caused Glen Johnson a whole host of problems in the first half.
Any doubts over whether Debuchy can quickly get up and down the pitch could lead to Manchester City new boy, Sagna, come into the side on the right of the defence.
Raphael Varane vs. Laurent Koscielny
During the games against Norway and Paraguay, Laurent Koscielny was given the starting role, but there was always the caveat that Deschamps was waiting for Raphael Varane's return to fitness.
The Real Madrid defender picked up a knock during the Champions League final and wasn't able to play again until the final friendly against Jamaica.
Deschamps still hasn't fully forgiven Koscielny for his performance in the first-leg play-off against Ukraine. The Arsenal defender conceded a penalty and was also sent off. That put France in an awful position, and the former FC Lorient man was luckily saved by his team-mates.
The partnership of Varane and Sakho is one that also looks towards the future. With the 2016 European Championships in mind, the younger duo looks set to get the go-ahead for Sunday.
Karim Benzema vs. Olivier Giroud vs. Antoine Griezmann
Unfortunately for Didier Deschamps, four players can't fit into three positions. With injury to Franck Ribery ruling him out of the squad and the form of Mathieu Valbuena, the France coach can only pick two other players to lead the attack against Honduras.
Antoine Griezmann has been superb since he made his debut in March. The performances in all three of the friendly matches have given him a superb chance to start on Sunday.
His place in the starting line-up was almost guaranteed—at least until Karim Benzema's performance against Jamaica.
In previous years, Benzema's performances as the central striker have left a lot to the imagination. He had been far from impressive, even going 1,224 minutes without scoring for his country.
On Sunday Olivier Giroud started as the target man with Benzema playing the more versatile role off the Arsenal striker.
The Real Madrid striker was superb, scoring twice in the 8-0 victory, and with a new licence to roam, find space and combine with the other forwards, he was a constant threat.
Deschamps would be more than justified if he started the same attack that started against Jamaica. Although the strength of the opposition has come under scrutiny, the performance was still impressive. It seemed to get the best out of both Giroud and Benzema, and it would be understandable to give it another outing.
However, the performances of Griezmann have given the young Real Sociedad striker a really good chance at pushing into the starting XI. Benzema could move back into the centre, with Griezmann playing on the left.
It is a good headache for Deschamps to have, but if France don't win on Sunday, he will be criticised again whatever decision he makes. That is the pitfalls of being the coach of Les Bleus.
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