Key Selection Dilemmas for France in World Cup Clash with Ecuador
Only a complete collapse from France will now stop them advancing into the round of 16 of the 2014 World Cup and it is with this knowledge that Didier Deschamps has some interesting team selection decisions to make before Wednesday’s final group game against Ecuador.
After the 3-0 win over Honduras, Deschamps had very little issues to mull over, in the end he made two changes to the starting XI—both of which came off perfectly—now he has some definite concerns to mull over before facing Ecuador.
Yohan Cabaye smartly picked up his second yellow of the group stage and will miss the game. There are injury concerns over centre-back pairing Mamadou Sakho and Raphael Varane, plus Deschamps would like to rest a couple of players before the round of 16.
Barring a disaster in Rio de Janeiro, France will qualify as winners of Group E and will go on to face either Nigeria or Iran in the first of the knockout games. Deschamps will want to have some of his key players rested and fresh if he wants to guide France far in this competition.
Here are some of the key decisions that Deschamps faces this Wednesday.
Changing of the Defensive Guard
Mamadou Sakho had to exit the game against Switzerland after 66 minutes, but with his side 4-0 up at the time, it looked mainly a precautionary move from Deschamps.
It was revealed that the player was suffering from a thigh problem, but to stop from making things worse he would likely miss the game against Ecuador.
Then the news broke that Raphael Varane had been suffering from a stomach bug linked to something he ate and not a potential virus. This gives Deschamps a huge dilemma for Wednesday’s game.
France could start with second-string duo Laurent Koscielny and Eliaquim Mangala in the centre of defence, which could lead to a completely new back four taking part in the last group game.
There are no doubts over the ability of Koscielny, but Deschamps was looking to rest Patrice Evra and play Lucas Digne at left-back. Picking Mangala would leave the left-side of the defence looking very inexperienced.
If he has recovered in time, Deschamps may take a chance on the fitness of Sakho and pair him with Koscielny, waiting to see how the game pans out before removing the Liverpool player from the match.
Ideally Deschamps would have liked one of his starting centre-backs to begin the game but injury and illness may leave the back line a little light on first-team experience.
Solving the Midfield Dilemma
Before the Switzerland game, very few people predicted that Moussa Sissoko would get the nod from the start. However, Deschamps took the chance, looking to give the defensive line extra protection against the threat of left-back Ricardo Rodriguez.
It worked to perfection and Sissoko was absolutely superb throughout the game. He was able to protect Mathieu Debuchy down the right-flank, but he also pushed forward and gave France an attacking impetus, scoring France’s fourth goal.
Sissoko’s place came at the expense of Paul Pogba, after the young midfielder reacted badly to a tackle from Wilson Palacios in the first game. There is no doubting Pogba’s ability as a footballer; the concerns regard his attitude and temperament.
With Yohan Cabaye suspended, there is space for Deschamps to play both Pogba and Sissoko in the same midfield. It would be harsh on the Newcastle United midfielder to be dropped after his performance against Switzerland, but Deschamps also wants Pogba to gain experience at this competition.
Pogba has that X-factor to provide something special, not all players have this ability, and his second-half assist for Karim Benzema showed what he is capable of.
One option that has been discussed this week is a slight change to the attacking line-up to help protect the midfield and give both Pogba and Sissoko a start.
Sissoko could move forward to playing on the right of the attack, this would let Pogba slot into that role on the right of the midfield and leave space for a natural central midfielder to come in place of Cabaye.
Two options would be Lille captain Rio Mavuba or Morgan Schneiderlin of Southampton. The latter of the two would provide not only a strong defensive presence but he can also push forward—like Cabaye—and link up the midfield and attack.
Mavuba would give France maturity and big game experience in the centre of the park, but Schneiderlin is definitely more dynamic and offers more both on and off the ball.
Three into Four Doesn't Go
It’s hard to remember a time in his career when Karim Benzema was so potent for the French national team. He has scored three goals so far at the World Cup, but he could possibly be on five goals if things had gone his way.
Factor in the two assists during the Switzerland game and you have a striker at the top of his game. If you are Deschamps, there is no way you are dropping him for the Ecuador game.
A striker like Benzema plays on confidence, and when they hit form like he has, you can do nothing but continue to pick him and let him play.
Deschamps then needs to decide who plays alongside him. Giroud was superb against Switzerland, and with Ecuador not looking very strong in the aerial part of the game, Giroud would be a great option in the attack.
The aforementioned option of playing Sissoko on the right would give Mathieu Valbuena a rest and would help the flow of the attack, but it would stop the impressive Antoine Griezmann gaining a starting spot.
Deschamps would ideally like to give Griezmann more minutes in this World Cup and playing him beside Benzema and Valbuena worked very well against Honduras. Giroud’s performance makes it difficult to pick just three out of the four options.
The France coach won’t want to make too many changes and lose any momentum going into the knockout stage. So far Deschamps has made some big calls in this tournament, and he has been right every time.
France has to trust in their manager and the previous performances will give the nation full confidence in Deschamps to make the right decisions.