Now that the domestic season has drawn to a close across Europe, it’s time to move on to the major international tournament on the horizon –The European Championships. The month-long tournament kicking off on June 10 will take place in France, who last lifted the trophy in 2000.
Didier Deschamps, the French National Coach has announced his 23 man squad well in advance along with 7 standbys. Let’s take a look at the squad selected and what they offer individually.
Lloris, Mandanda and Costil
Hugo Lloris would clearly be Deschamps’first choice keeper with Steve Mandanda a very able backup. The uncapped StadeRennais man Benoit Costil is unlikely to experience any starting XI action barring an injury catastrophe. Lloris is one of the best keepers in the world and a very able shot stopper. He has been a major part of what has been a very good season in the Premier League for Tottenham Hotspur, especially for the defense which has conceded the least goals in the season. Individually he has racked up 13 clean sheets, his only blemish while between the sticks being that nightmarish at the final day against relegated Newcastle Utd at St,James’ Park.Mandanda’s season as Marseille’s shot-stopper in not in any way less impressive. With 9 clean sheets and a plethora of goalpost heroics to show for, he was voted the “Goalkeeper of the Season” by his peers, even though the South Coast Club only managed an underwhelming 13th place finish.
Mangala, Varane, Mathieu, Digne, Koscielny, Sagna, Jallet and Evra
Kurt Zouma and Mathieu Debuchy were ruled out due to their recent long layoffs while Mamadou Sakho ruled himself out with the failed drug test. Patrice Evra comes off the back of yet another successful domestic season with Juventus and is expected to continue the form he has shown with the Turin Giants as the starting left back for Les Bleus while Lucas Digne continues to show a lot of promise. France is equipped with two attacking left backs that are very good going forward. The right back spot should most probably be nailed down by Bacary Sagna, after a string of typically solid displays for Manchester City this season and Lyon’s Christophe Jallet is there as a backup. Moving on to the main men in defence, the Centre-Backs, I expect Laurent Koscielny to be partnered by Raphael Varane at the back, as both come off the back off very productive seasons at Arsenal and Real Madrid respectively. Jeremy Mathieu has an outside shot at starting, but the same may not be said of EliaquimMangala who has had a very average season at Manchester City. The former Porto man got exposed frequently in both domestic and European competition and the bench is where he would most likely be seen for the majority of the Euros.
The biggest weakness in this French squad is arguably in defence and their competence in set pieces leaves a lot to be desired. 50 % of goals conceded during Deschamps’ reign have come from set piece routines. If they can rectify this, this team can surely look forward to a very good tournament.
Cabaye,Matuidi,Sissoko,Pogba,Kanté and Diarra
This current French generation is stacked with quality central midfielders. One gets an indication of how blessed Les Bleus in this part of the pitch when the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin, AdrienRabiot, Mathieu Valbuena, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Francis Coquelin have all missed out on the 23-man cut.
N’Golo Kante was one of the driving forces behind Leicester City’s fairytale season, culminating in them being crowned Premier League Champions and Payet was at his best both at creating chances for his West Ham counterparts while also being prolific in front of goal on his own. Kante and Payet have been named in the Team of the Season deservingly. Yohan Cabaye has had a revival of sorts since returning to the Premier League with Crystal Palace. Although his influence over the Eagles waned during the second half of the season, he has still had a good enough time at South London to warrant a place in the French Squad. Moussa Sissoko completes the midfield quadrant plying their trade in England’s top flight. Although he has had a productive season with the relegated Magpies, his is the surprise inclusion in this department, given one of two of those excluded had a better shout at a place in the final 23 than he does. Blaise Matuidi has virtually been undroppable and one of the first names in Deschamps’ team sheet, and yet another successful season with the French Champions has meant that the manager hardly needs to reconsider that trust.LassanaDiarra, who has been one of the best box-to-box midfielders for several years, brings experience and stability to the table. Quite a few expect him to start but I feel Kante deserves a place there, after his phenomenal season with the Foxes. Paul Pogba is the star turn in this midfield and he just keeps getting better with every passing year. The Juventus supremo can walk into any team in the world and will spearhead this midfield with passion, determination and a good dose of panache. It’s fair to say that this is France’s best midfield in over a decade, and surely one of the best midfield rosters in the tournament.
Giroud, Gignac,Payet, Coman, Martial and Griezmann
The exclusion of KarimBenzema is one of the most talked about topics in world football recently, and I feel it is something which will turn out to be a handicap for this team. Off-field antics aside, he was a sure shot starter for Les Bleus and when you drop him,his replacement has big shoes to fill. With that in mind,Olivier Giroud seems to be most ideal centre-forward for this team but needs to be more clinical than he has been for Arsenal since the turn of the year if France is to go the full distance. I am not a big fan of Andre-Pierre Gignac and Deschamps confounds me with his inclusion in the squad when the likes of AlexandreLacazette and Kevin Gameiro have had equally good seasons in tougher leagues than the Mexican First Division. Gignac strikes me as someone who is too similar to Giroud, and a downgrade too at that. Antoine Griezmann has burst into life since linking up with Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid and Les Bleus will be hoping he can replicate his stellar club form for the national team as well. Dimitri Payet is another who has taken the Premier League by storm this season, deservedly earning a place in the Team of the Season alongside Kante. Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial are two very exciting attacking options the manager has at his disposal. Both of them will probably be used as impact subs and it will be interesting to see how effective they are. Martial might even start on the wings along with Giroud and Griezmann but Payet has been at his destructive best along with those impressive floaters into the box. I feel Giroud would thrive if played with Payet on the flanks.
Areola, Ben Arfa, Gameiro, Lacazette, Rabiot, Schneiderlin, Sidibe, Umtiti
HatemBen Arfa has had a good season and would feel hard done by being left out along with the likes of AdrienRabiot and Morgan Schneiderlin who all have been pipped to the spot by MoussaSissoko. In all honesty, I would have taken either Lacazette or the red hot Gameiro over Gignac but that has not been the case.
Line up :
Deschamps will go with the tried and tested 4-3-3. This is the lineup I feel will draw the best out of the squad selected.
Key Player :
Antoine Griezmann has had yet another phenomenal season with Atletico Madrid taking them to the final of the Champions’ League, which is to be played next weekend. He has scored 32 goals this season for his club with 22 of them coming in the league campaign where they gave both the Classico clubs a real run for their money. They have beaten the likes of Bayern&Barca en route to the final, with him playing a key role in passing these hurdles.
Area of concern :
A Leaky Defence is this team’s biggest weakness and it has to arrested if they are to have any chance of winning this competition for the second time. As already mentioned, dealing with set pieces is a major area of concern that needs immediate attention.
Having been drawn with the likes of Romania, Albania and Switzerland, one can’t ask for an easier group as a Les Bleus supporter. They should finish top of the group with ease if they turn on the style, and that would lead to a Round of 16 game against the 3rd placed team from either Group C,D or E.
Predicted Finish :
I expect them to make it to semis where they might face the Germans once again if my calculations do come true. Anything more is a bonus. A home tournament with the crowd on their side is the best chance for France to win the Euros again, and if the stars align, it might just happen.
Allez Les Bleus !!!