It’s astonishing that with a squad worth over $AUD1b, France aren’t considered heavy favourites to win the World Cup.
Preparations for the current World Cup champions has been blitzed by injuries, with a very much renewed squad, hoping to achieve what has not been attained in 60 years – back-to-back World Cup glory.
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There are many doubts around France’s squad in terms of injuries but also many questions over leadership and unity amongst the group.
And according to Bernard Lions, the senior football writer for renowned French outlet L’Equipe, the team has a worrying amount of gaping holes.
“The irony is that compared to 2018, when we played Australia for the match, we were a young team that was capable of everything and nothing,” Lions told foxsports.com.au.
“Now, we have never had so many experienced and big players, Mbappé, Griezmann, Varane, Lloris … but we have never had a team so weak in certain parts of the pitch, especially the midfield.”
One reason for that is the unprecedented injury pileup in the midfield stocks.
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It’s no secret just how crucial Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté were for Les Bleus in 2018, as the latter provided a security blanket while Pogba provided creativity and drive going forward.
The duo’s absence has caused grave concerns as to who will step up and dictate the midfield for the French in Qatar.
Although there may be fears as to what France has lost, they could also gain a great deal given the young talent set to emerge in the midfield, namely the 22-year-old Real Madrid star Aurélien Tchouaméni.
And the humble youngster is feeling especially relaxed ahead of the biggest stage in football.
“We know pressure since we were young,” Tchouaméni said.
“I see it (the World Cup) with desire and enthusiasm.”
But for all of Tchouaméni’s technical brilliance as well as his likely midfield partner in Adrien Rabiot, Lions believes the lack of experience and leadership could be a major hindrance.
“Tchouaméni and Rabiot are two very good players, but are not leaders,” Lions said.
“Tchouaméni has not yet imposed himself within the French team, so it is very much the unknown.
“Will they be at the level of Pogba and Kanté like in 2018 we don’t know.
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“Tchouaméni is a young player and we need to make him a leader. Can he do it? We do not know.”
While the midfield might not carry the same strength it had in 2018, the attacking stocks are once again dripping with talent.
The likes of Antoine Griezmann, Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele, to name three, are enough to strike fear in the hearts of opposing defenders.
But there is a gaping hole the size of a Ballon d’Or winner in France’s attack with the recent bombshell that Karim Benzema will miss the entire tournament with a quad injury.
Benzema had missed a number of Real Madrid’s games in the lead-up and was already under an injury cloud going into the first game against the Socceroos.
It’s yet another devastating blow as France’s casualty ward grows larger.
What makes it even crueller is the fact Benzema had his eyes fixated on World Cup glory to cement his legacy, having already conquered the one award he craved as an individual.
“His lifelong dream was not to be a World Cup winner, it was to be Ballon d’Or,” Lions said.
“He is now Ballon d’Or. Very late in his career … At 35 years of age. This World Cup was the big spectacle of his career.”
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While Benzema will be absent, it doesn’t detract from the fact Mbappé is set to explode on the world stage once again.
The 23-year-old became a household name for his exploits at the 2018 World Cup and will look to do the same yet again.
“We have a team with the future Ballon d’Or (Mbappé),” Lions said.
“Mbappé is a player who wants to break records, to win everything, so he will be motivated.”
For all of the attacking surplus France possesses, the backline is critical in knockout tournaments like the World Cup.
A steely backline in Russia was the backbone behind France’s triumph.
Deschamps’ tactics reflect just as much, moulding his tactics around a backline including the likes of Lucas Hernandez, William Saliba, Benjamin Pavard and Raphael Varane, although questions remain surrounding the Manchester United star’s fitness.
And, as Lions noted, France has always succeeded when things are settled at the back more than anywhere else on the park.
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“Historically Les Bleus have never won without having a strong central defence,” Lions said.
“In the 1998 we had Marcel Desailly … Laurent Blanc … in 2018 we had Umtiti and Varane.
“In Qatar, we don’t know who will play, with doubts over Varane being 100% fit.”
As for Deschamps himself, his contract as the manager of Les Bleus expires at the end of the tournament.
A disappointing Euro 2020 campaign in which the French crashed out in the Round of 16 to Switzerland on penalties did little to keep the critics at bay, even after he had led the side to a World Cup only three years earlier.
It remains to be seen what the future holds with Deschamps and the French national team, no matter how deep he leads the team into the tournament.
Yet it’s likely to count for little as Lions notes it “doesn’t end well” when a French boss arrives at the end of their deal.
Ultimately, Lions just hopes Deschamps has “taken lessons” after the early departure from the European Championships last year.
“We have to hope that what happened in the 2020 Euro’s, where the accommodation was not good, players were not getting along, families were too present around the team,” Lions said.
“We have to hope that Didier Deschamps has taken lessons from that into this World Cup.”
France play their opening match against Australia on Wednesday, November 23, 6am AEDT – Al Janoub Stadium