Rivals Switzerland and France will play each other for the top spot in Group E on Friday, with the winners most likely avoiding a date with Argentina in the next round of the 2014 World Cup.
Les Bleus looked absolutely dominant during their 3-0 win over Honduras, while the Swiss needed a last-minute strike to overcome a feisty Ecuador team. The French squad will be favourites coming into the match, but they haven't been able to defeat their neighbours since 2004, per footballzz.
Switzerland boast a lot more pure talent than people give them credit for, and they'll be eager to show their struggles against Ecuador were a fluke. Friday's meeting of European Group E heavyweights should be a good one, and here are a few last-minute predictions.
Valon Behrami, Gokhan Inler Will Take Advantage Of Paul Pogba's Absence
As reported by Le Parisien's Julien Laurens, manager Didier Deschamps has decided not to start young superstar Pogba in central midfield:
Interesting from Deschamps to start with Sissoko and Giroud instead of Pogba and Griezmann tonight vs Switzerland. More cautious approach.— Julien Laurens (@LaurensJulien) June 20, 2014
The Juventus midfielder was involved in an altercation with Honduras' Wilson Palacios, reacting to the Honduran's continued physical play.
Whether Deschamps pulled Pogba from the starting XI as punishment or to protect him against Switzerland's physical central duo is unknown, but the fact remains France will miss his calm and versatility in the centre of the pitch.
Inler and Behrami work as Switzerland's first line of defense, physically dominating proceedings in the middle and making sure opposing teams don't find a lot of space to infiltrate near the box.
Behrami played arguably his worst match in a Swiss jersey against Ecuador, but he made up for it with a fantastic last-ditch tackle that ultimately led to his team's winning goal.
A chance to make up for his subpar performance against a French midfield devoid of Pogba sounds almost too good to be true, but that's exactly what he'll get. Without their usual midfield superiority, France will find it difficult to work the ball out wide, something that worked very well for them against Honduras.
Karim Benzema Will Look Out Of His Depth On The Wing
Per the tweet from Laurens, Antoine Griezmann will be dropped from the squad in favour of Olivier Giroud, pushing Benzema out to the left wing. The Real Madrid forward has enjoyed a very productive season as a central striker in 2013-14, and playing him wide is a mistake.
There's a chance Deschamps will use some kind of hybrid 4-4-2 formation that sees Benzema and Giroud move centrally together, but without Griezmann, such a formation would give up far too much of the wide spaces to the Swiss team.
Benzema's relation with the national team has always been a fragile one, and with the talented striker finally hitting his groove, making changes to something that seemed to be working could be dangerous.
The forward spoke out on his time as a substitute recently, as reported by The New York Times' Christopher Clarey, and his emphasis on the mental challenges spoke volumes as to how important it is for him to feel good about his game:
What’s certain is that I was in a bad phase. That had to change. I had played quite a few matches. There was internal competition. At that moment, there were other forwards who were good, who were scoring. Me, I just kept working, talked with the manager. And I was the first to admit that I was not at my best.
Giroud is a very useful option up front, and the chance to bring on a fresh Griezmann later in the match against some tired Swiss legs likely played into the decision.
But toying with Benzema's confidence is a dangerous move, and with Franck Ribery already out of the World Cup due to injury, France simply can't afford to do anything that could potentially endanger the form of their best remaining scorer.