Ranking the France Players on Their World Cup Group-Stage Form
With their first objective of finishing top of FIFA World Cup Group E now accomplished, France are looking towards the latter stages with optimism. Next up, in the last 16, are Group F runners-up Nigeria.
Before taking a look ahead to how Les Bleus will approach their clash with the Super Eagles, it is time to reflect on how each player in Didier Deschamps’ 23-man squad fared in Group E.
This is a ranking of the entire squad, based on their performances against Honduras in Porto Alegre, Switzerland in Salvador and Ecuador in Rio de Janeiro.
Unused Players so Far
23. Mickael Landreau
22. Stephane Ruffier
21. Eliaquim Mangala
20. Remy Cabella
Four players out of the 23 have not been used so far in Brazil and, with the group stages now over, it seems unlikely that they will be getting a chance in any of the remaining games. Deschamps has started 17 of the 19 players he has used in South America.
Two of those four that are yet to feature are goalkeepers—Mickael Landreau and Stephane Ruffier—who have little hope of playing, unless No. 1 Hugo Lloris picks up an injury or gets suspended. Eliaquim Mangala and Remy Cabella might still get small cameo roles as substitutes against Nigeria and possibly later on in the tournament as well.
19. Loic Remy
Loic Remy was given the last 11 minutes of the 0-0 draw against Ecuador in the final Group E match.
It was barely enough time for the Queens Park Rangers man to make a real impression and, of all of the used members of Deschamps’ 23-man group, the 27-year-old has been used the least so far.
18. Rio Mavuba
In the opening match against Honduras, Rio Mavuba was sent on in place of the injured Yohan Cabaye for the remaining 25 minutes of the 3-0 victory in Porto Alegre.
Since then, the Lille OSC captain has not featured, with Moussa Sissoko and Morgan Schneiderlin ahead of him in the pecking order when it comes to squad rotation.
17. Lucas Digne
Handed his first senior start in the 0-0 draw with Ecuador, Lucas Digne proved in his 90-minute display that Deschamps has a realistic alternative to Patrice Evra during this World Cup.
The Paris Saint-Germain starlet hardly put a foot wrong at Estadio do Maracana and has made a promising start to his career with Les Bleus. This World Cup will prepare the 20-year-old for taking over from Evra ahead of the 2016 UEFA European Championship held on home soil.
16. Bacary Sagna
Although Mathieu Debuchy is not necessarily considered an automatic starter for France, he has gotten the nod from Deschamps twice over Bacary Sagna.
The newly signed Manchester City man was given 90 minutes against Ecuador to stake his claim for increased involvement in the latter stages and did not do his chances any harm. Although more responsible than Debuchy defensively, the Newcastle United man still arguably has the edge over the 31-year-old going forward.
Sagna will likely remain first choice in the last 16 clash with Nigeria.
15. Morgan Schneiderlin
Prior to his 90-minute performance against Ecuador on Wednesday, Morgan Schneiderlin had played a grand total of four minutes for France at the end of their 8-0 rout of Jamaica in preparation for the World Cup.
The Southampton midfielder put in a good showing in the absence of PSG’s Yohan Cabaye and will have done his chances of future involvement some good. Expecting Schneiderlin to start a game in the latter stages is perhaps optimistic, but Deschamps now knows that he can count on the 24-year-old to come in and do a job in the midfield if needed.
14. Laurent Koscielny
Despite being a regular in Deschamps’ teams throughout qualifying, Laurent Koscielny started France’s first two Group E games on the bench.
The Arsenal defender came on for the final 24 minutes against Switzerland—coinciding with the Swiss scoring twice—but then put in a faultless 90-minute display against Ecuador. The 28-year-old’s performance in Rio de Janeiro gives Deschamps food for thought ahead of the Nigeria clash, with Mamadou Sakho visibly struggling with injury against both Switzerland and Ecuador.
Koscielny could find himself restored to the starting XI alongside Raphael Varane against the Super Eagles.
13. Antoine Griezmann
A starter in two of France’s three Group E fixtures, Antoine Griezmann’s rapid progress with France has calmed down somewhat since he scored three times in Les Bleus’ three warm-up matches prior to the tournament.
The Real Sociedad star has continued to look good in Deschamps’ side, but his contributions have been less than those of teammates Mathieu Valbuena, Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema for the moment. The 23-year-old will continue to be given chances to impress and could prove to be an extremely valuable option from the bench in the latter stages.
12. Mamadou Sakho
Now the vice-captain of this France side, Mamadou Sakho is as good as indispensable to Deschamps and started all three of the Group E fixtures. After excellent performances against Honduras and Switzerland, the Liverpool man was risked against Ecuador after limping off during the victory over the Swiss.
It proved to be a rare bad call in the group stages from Deschamps.
Sakho struggled in the Ecuador clash, visibly not 100 per cent fit and lucky not to receive a red card for a blatant elbow in the face of Oswaldo Minda. His participation against Nigeria in the last 16 could now be compromised as a result of that.
11. Mathieu Debuchy
As mentioned earlier, Mathieu Debuchy looks to have just shaded the battle with Bacary Sagna for the starting right-back role.
The Newcastle United star is a slightly better attacking option than the new Manchester City arrival and, therefore, suits Deschamps’ formation well. However, at 31, Sagna is the more experienced option and could get the nod over Debuchy in clashes with bigger sides, as he will offer greater defensive guarantees.
10. Paul Pogba
With so much hype surrounding Paul Pogba heading into this summer’s World Cup, it was always going to be difficult for the Juventus man to immediately live up to his billing as one of the potential stars of the tournament. That said, he has also not been a disappointment.
After starting the opener against Honduras in Porto Alegre—where he tangled with Wilson Palacios and was lucky not to be dismissed for his petulant behaviour—the 21-year-old was benched for the rout of Switzerland. Pogba impressed sufficiently at the end of that game to earn a recall for the Ecuador game.
Expect him to feature heavily in the latter stages.
9. Moussa Sissoko
Deschamps’ alternative to Pogba, Moussa Sissoko, has actually proven to be more than just a versatile substitute.
After starting the Honduras clash on the bench, the Newcastle man was put into the starting XI in place of Pogba against Switzerland and put in an excellent performance. As well as scoring once, the 24-year-old earned a second consecutive start against Ecuador and could be in line for a third in the last 16 against Nigeria.
8. Patrice Evra
Identified as one of the weaker players in this France side before the World Cup, Patrice Evra has actually performed surprisingly well in the two games he has featured in so far.
Starting against Honduras and Switzerland, he has been assured at left-back, but a yellow card picked up in an ill-tempered opening game means that he is one caution away from a suspension.
Because of that, Deschamps rested him against Ecuador and gave Digne his chance.
7. Raphael Varane
Along with Sakho, Raphael Varane is another of Deschamps’ indispensable defensive players in this France side.
The 21-year-old’s maturity means that the Sakho-Varane pairing has worked well so far and—aside from the two late lapses at the back against the Swiss after Sakho was substituted—the Real Madrid star has proven unbeatable.
Rested against Ecuador because of illness, he was given 29 minutes in place of the injured Sakho and once again looked commanding. Regardless of whether or not Sakho is fit to face Nigeria, Varane will be one of the two starting central defenders.
6. Hugo Lloris
A virtual spectator during the opening game against Honduras, Hugo Lloris was required to make a number of important saves during the 5-2 victory over Switzerland—including a crucial one with the score poised at 2-0 to Les Bleus—and also made a handful of stops against Ecuador.
When called upon, France’s No. 1 and captain stepped up, and there was not much more that he could have done about either of Switzerland’s two goals. Questions still remain over his ability to truly influence the side as captain from his positions in goal though, but that will not change in Brazil.
5. Yohan Cabaye
Perhaps the most understated of all of France’s top performers so far in this World Cup, the importance of Yohan Cabaye to Deschamps’ side was underlined by the 0-0 draw with Ecuador.
The PSG man was suspended for the final group game after accumulating too many yellow cards, after impressing in Les Bleus’ two opening games with his range of passing and defensive responsibility.
Going into the latter stages, Cabaye’s return will be a big boost for the team. However, the 28-year-old needs to be careful that he does not pick up any other reckless bookings.
He also won’t want any reminding of his point-blank miss following up on Karim Benzema’s saved penalty against Switzerland.
4. Olivier Giroud
After starting the 3-0 win over Honduras on the bench, Olivier Giroud was sensational against the Swiss, scoring one and setting up another as Les Bleus ran out 5-2 winners.
The Arsenal star only played 63 minutes of the game, but in that time proved having him as a focal point for the team’s attack works extremely well in combination with Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena.
Although he was once again on the bench for the Ecuador clash, expect to see Giroud reinstated in Deschamps’ starting XI vs. Nigeria.
3. Blaise Matuidi
One of France’s players that has done the most to enhance his reputation in the three Group E games was PSG’s Blaise Matuidi. The 27-year-old midfielder has been at his irrepressible best so far in Brazil, and the French No. 14 already has a goal to his name.
As evidenced by his selection in all three games, even against Ecuador when he—like Mamadou Sakho—could have been rested, Matuidi is one of Deschamps’ most indispensable players.
Expect that form to continue against Nigeria in the last 16.
2. Mathieu Valbuena
The 0-0 draw with Ecuador on Wednesday illustrated just how integral Mathieu Valbuena is to this France side.
Without the talented Olympique de Marseille creator, Les Bleus were lacking the same penetration that we saw against Honduras and Switzerland. The 29-year-old has scored one goal and laid on another so far, but he has been one of the team’s main instigators when on the attack.
Having missed out for the first time in any game since Deschamps took over as coach, Valbuena is almost certain to be restored to the starting XI against Nigeria.
1. Karim Benzema
The only player more decisive for France than Mathieu Valbuena and Olivier Giroud has been Karim Benzema.
Before the World Cup, plenty was being made of his need to step up and finally deliver for his country, and the Real Madrid man is doing just that.
Scorer of three goals and provider of an additional three in as many appearances, Benzema has been one of the standout players of the tournament so far. Not bad, considering that this is the 26-year-old’s first ever World Cup appearance.
The question is, can he keep this pace up?