Defending world champion France has named its provisional 25-man squad for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and Didier Deschamps has caught eyeballs with some bold decisions. Despite the absence of N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba, two of France’s biggest midfield catalysts, due to injury, the Les Blues are still one of the favourites for the tournament, even if not by an overwhelming margin.
How will Deschamps set his team?
Didier Deschamps has the luxury of having a team with immense squad depth. While there are some obvious starters, France has multiple players in every position- something that bodes well in a competition like the World Cup where fixtures come thick and fast.
Given the absence of Kante and Pogba, it is likely that Deschamps will not opt for a double pivot in midfield but instead resort to a 4-3-3 formation.
The goalkeeping position will probably be Deschamp’s most straightforward selection unless the arrival of unforeseen circumstances. Hugo Lloris, who captained France to its second World Cup title in 2018, will start between the sticks. The goalkeeper, who plays with Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League, has six clean sheets in 20 appearances for Spurs this season.
The defence will be a cause of worry for Deschamps with one of his main centre-back Raphael Varane recovering from injury. While it was initially thought Varane will miss the flight to Qatar, tests showed that his injury isn’t that serious and he will be available for selection even if he misses the tournament opener.
For Varane’s centre-back partner, Deschamps’ most likely choice would have been Presnel Kimpembe. The centre-back who plays for Paris Saint-Germain is as solid as they come with a very strong aerial presence. However, with Kimpembe failing to recover in time from his hamstring injury, he is ruled out of the World Cup and Deschamps will have to think of an alternative. He has talented centre-backs to choose from like Dayot Upamecano and Jules Kounde.
With both having a fair shot at the starting XI, it is likely Deschamps goes with Upamecano due to his aerial advantage and skill on the ball. Apart from having a sturdy presence in the backline, Upamecano, on his day, is immune to the press, which makes him a likely candidate to start.
Coming to fullbacks, Deschamps has shocked most with the exclusion of left-back Ferland Mendy. Mendy has not been at his best for Real Madrid, and his poor positional sense has put the Madrid team in dire straits this season. However, his complete exclusion wasn’t something many had predicted.
Among the ones available, Deschamps has the option of choosing between Lucas Hernandez and Theo Hernandez, with both having good attacking capabilities and will be useful on the overlap. However, if France wants an attacking option, then AC Milan’s Theo will be the preferred option.
Apart from his defensive capabilities, Hernandez has scored two goals and bagged four assists for Milan this season. In modern football, a fullback is expected to contribute to the attack and that is something Hernandez is adept in. For the right, Benjamin Pavard will be the most obvious choice. Pavard’s defensive ability coupled with his knack for finding himself in good scoring positions is the perfect asset to have.
The French midfield will have the biggest revamp in this World Cup. Kante and Pogba, two of France’s biggest midfield presences are out with injuries, and the Les Bleus does not have an engine like Blaise Matuidi this time. The solution? Time for the young guns to step up.
Deschamps might have to field a very young midfield this World Cup. Controlling the middle of the park is one of the game’s most important aspects and the responsibility is huge but the Les Blues have talented players to take up the responsibility.
There is a high chance Deschamps goes with a three-man midfield of Youssouf Fofana, Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni. Both Camavinga and Tchouameni have shown that apart from their defensive contributions, they are also good going up the field as well.
Deschamps could also opt for a double-pivot of Rabiot and Tchouameni and allows Camavinga to operate in a free role. Also, Cammavinga and Tchouameni both play for Real Madrid, so there is the added advantage of understanding due to playing in the same club side- something Spain’s ‘Golden Generation’ (2008-2012) thrived on.
Now, this is where France really flexes its muscles. Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Olivier Giroud, Christopher Nkunku- these are some of the players available for Deschamps. This is the department that is bound to keep the France manager stuck to the drawing board.
If Deschamps goes with a 4-3-3 formation, then he will have the ideal combination of two pacy wingers and an excellent finisher in the middle up front.
When it comes to the flanks, it is tough to see beyond Mbappe and Dembele. Speed, ability to take defenders on, one-v-one situations and the ability to find a good pass - both players possess the skillset required to terrorise the opponent’s defence.
As far as the No. 9 position is concerned, Benzema will stroll inside the starting XI. Despite suffering from muscle problems, there haven’t been any clear indications that the 2022 Ballon d’Or winner won’t be at his best in Qatar. Last season, he finished as the top=scorer in both, La Liga and the Champions League. This season, he has six goals and one assist in 12 appearances for Madrid. Also, Benzema’s ability to drop down and create chances will be beneficial for Mbappe and Dembele in the flanks as they can make runs behind the defence for scoring opportunities - something Giroud did with great effect in 2018.
Also, the presence of Benzema should not take attention away from Nkunku, who has 16 goals this season for RB Leipzig and is a great option to have upfront. Giroud also has nine goals for Milan this season and was an important player in the 2018 winning squad, despite not scoring a single goal.