Out of the 24 teams participating in this summer’s European Championship, none stand out quite like the French national team. Every box required for success is ticked, and any weakness is well hidden under the surface, away from the public eye. The current World Cup holders boast a squad rich in talent and in Didier Deschamps, have a manager who is well renowned with his success as both player and coach.
Sitting in second place in the FIFA rankings behind Belgium, France should have been heading into the tournament looking to emulate Spain’s feat of winning three major titles in a row but having fallen short in the final of Euro 2016 to Portugal, Les Bleus will be out to rectify that shortcoming and add to their 2018 World Cup success.
France have previously won the European Championship twice in 1984 and 2000 and come into the tournament with an incredible record over the past 22 years, having participated in 5 of the last 11 major international competitions.
Their recent success can be put down to the man in charge, Didier Deschamps, who took over the side in 2012. Deschamps has created a winning mentality in the dressing room but has kept the group a close-knit one, a family to be exact, which is an underlying factor to their success and a factor the Frenchman does not want to be disturbed. One could put this under scrutiny given Karim Benzema’s call-up, but it seems the squad, and especially Olivier Giroud, is unfazed with his inclusion.
In 2018 Deschamps joined an exclusive club as a result of France’s World Cup success. The Marseille legend became only the third person in FIFA World Cup history to win the competition as both a player (1998) and a manager (2018), following in the footsteps of Brazilian Mario Zagallo & German Franz Beckenbauer.
Should France take home the Euro 2020 trophy, Deschamps will be the only manager in the sport’s history to win both the World Cup and European Championships as both a manager and player, elevating his legendary status within the game even higher.
France’s route to EURO 2020 gold will not be easy. They are part of the “group of death” consisting of themselves, Portugal, Germany, and Hungary. Should they win the group their potential opponents could be Turkey, Croatia, Belgium, and Portugal in the final, the perfect path for revenge some might say.
With a monstrous squad, a legendary manager and plenty of motivation, France will certainly be able to navigate their way through all this and should be considered the favourites for the Euros. There is no reason why they should not go all the way and cement themselves as a legendary international team.
A five-layer dessert-esque squad
The squad, the manager and motivation; are three pillars that success in a tournament like the Euros is built on. Unfortunately for their competitors, France tops them all – making them clear favourites.
On the surface, France’s strength lies with the depth of their squad. They essentially have three teams, and even the players left out would possibly start for their rivals – such as Ferland Mendy, Dayot Upamecano, and Houssem Aouar.
To look at on paper, the French pool of talent is something to marvel over, but more importantly, it will be the first 11 that brings home the trophy.
The defensive line is France’s weakest but is in no way poor. The worry for Didier Deschamps will be the pace of his fullbacks, Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez. Both had a terrible time with Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final clash, dealing with the pace at which Paris Saint-Germain’s front three attacked. With Raphaël Varane and Presnel Kimpembe beside them, they should be ok, but it is a factor that should be watched.
However, with Leo Dubois and Lucas Digne on the bench, it is hardly worrying. Jules Kounde, too, boasts of incredible pace and can be used to deal with teams quick on the counter, like England.
In the past, the double-pivot of France has been occupied by N’golo Kante and Paul Pogba, two players with contrasting styles. Kante is a notorious workhorse and possesses many attributes for both the defensive and attacking sides of the game.
Pogba is somewhat of a flair player, a brilliant passer both long and short, a goal scorer from range and has a few tricks in the bag when push comes to shove. The duo is still vital for France both defensively and offensively, and an off day in this area could mean elimination.
However, there have been reports, and evidence of those reports where Deschamps has shifted the set-up from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-1-2. If their game against Wales is anything to go by, Rabiot could be the third player in that setup.
Moussa Sissoko adds grit to the set-up and can be called up to replace either of the three. Similarly, Corentin Tolisso can slot in across the midfield trident and adds considerable experience.
The front line of France is something extraordinary. Kylian Mbappé, Karim Benzema, and Antoine Griezmann are a nightmare for defensive lines because all three are unique in their own way. This is what will fire France to a third European Championship, as the potential of them all turning up on the one day is metaphorically a footballing nuke that will destroy everything in its path.
On bench they will have the pace and wrath of players like Kinglsey Coman, Marcus Thuram, and Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele. Not to forget, Wissam Ben Yedder and Olivier Giroud as striking options.
Off the field, this group is a very close one has shared many ups and downs over the last five years. This is down to Didier Deschamps, and his role is another factor in why France are favourites for the tournament.
He knows this team inside out and has even settled his issues with Benzema for the greater good of the team ahead of the tourney. Deschamps, while not especially tactically astute, is a real leader, and with chasing some personal history as motivation, we may see some of France’s best performances to date.
It must not be forgotten that France are the current holders of the World Cup. They have been through all this before, which should give them a considerable advantage over most of the field.
Here are some key facts associated with France and the European Championship:
- France have won the competitioin two times before in 1984 and 2000.
- Since the 1998 World Cup, France have played in 5 out of the last 11 major international finals.
- Barcelona’s Antoine Griezmann has scored ten goals in the last two major international events for France. A notable stat to consider heading into the tournament despite a tough two years at his current club.
- Didier Deschamps is looking to become the first manager ever to win both the World Cup and European Championships as both a manager and a player.
- This Euros will be the first time Karim Benzema has played for France since October 2015.
- Michel Platini holds the record for the most goals scored in a UEFA EURO finals competition, helping France to the 1984 title with nine goals.
The chosen 11 from a seriously talented team
Didier Deschamps, in the past, had preferred a 4-2-3-1, but that has changed recently.
The front-three is arguably the best way to lineup those three extremely talented individuals. Both Benzema and Griezmann have the ability to spot a pass and Mbappe can use his pace to feed off that in the attacking third.
Behind that, in Rabiot and Kante, France have two very hard-working players. Rabiot, especially, is never reluctant to join the attack and has a mean strike in him. Pogba can pretty much do it all with the ball, including carrying it over long distances, shoot from range, act as the target for a header, or split lines with his passes.
Pavard and Lucas Hernandez are centre-backs by trade but have been used as fullbacks by Deschamps for extra solidity. It may not be the smartest options with a three-man midfield, but it has worked in the past, and any extra experimentation can only go to hurt them.
Kimpembe starts as the left-footed centre-back that Deschamps prefers at the back given their preference to play it out from the back. Before the PSG man, it was Clement Lenglet who held that first-choice role, and Samuel Umtiti did it before Lenglet as part of the World Cup winning team. Varane has been a mainstay in that team and adds a wealth of experience and ability.
Hugo Lloris rounds it off, coming on the back of a sensational individual season as not only one of Tottenham Hotspur’s best players but one of the best goalkeepers of the season.
The ‘all guns blazing’ choice
Although the 11 above is what the coach prefers, there are some changes that can be made to that team, especially since Deschamps used a three-man backline in the previous international break with Antoine Griezmann in the no. 10 role.
Benzema and Mbappe are the best choices ahead of the Barcelona forward, and while they have no played together, their individual talent is enough to get them through games. The latter likes to move wide to collect the ball, and during that time, Griezmann could move into his spot, while Pogba remains on the edge of the box to collect loose balls or crosses.
Pogba and Kante return to the midfield double-pivot that was preferred in 2018. However, with a three-man backline, both of them will have more license to roam. Pogba would, especially, be threatening given the license to join the attack more often. He was played on the left wing a lot this season by Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer and did not fail to impress. Exploiting that left half-spaces, the ex-Juventus sensational will cause serious damage to any opposition midfield.
Pavard and Hernandez are far from the ideal picks to play as wingbacks, and as such, Lucas Digne and Leo Dubois get the nod ahead of them. Benzema likes to play one-twos with the left-wingers in his team, and Digne is an ideal player to do that with, given his attacking prowess. Theo Hernandez could have been an excellent option in this formation, for France, given the brilliant season he has had with AC Milan but remained undrafted.
While Varane, Kimpembe, and Lloris retain their spot in the heart of the defence, Jules Kounde is the obvious pick for that right centre-back role. He’s quick, excellent on the ball, and reads the game too well. In fact, it would not be completely out of order to suggest that he will rival Kimpembe for a spot in the first-choice XI.
Best of the bunch
Even though France’s squad is full of world-class talent, there is still only one man that can be considered their marquee player. That is Kylian Mbappé, who is arguably the most sought-after player in the game at present.
Mbappé has enjoyed a phenomenal season with both Paris Saint Germain and France, winning the Coupe de France and the Trophée des Champions with the capital outfit, whilst also qualifying for the semi-finals of the UEFA Nations League with the national team.
On a personal level, he finished the season with a total of 48 goals and 11 assists in 58 games for club and country. In addition to that, the 22-year-old has notably scored 12 of those goals in the last ten games of the season and therefore is heading into the tournament in fantastic form.
The 2018 World Cup was Mbappé first major international championship and the youngster no doubt impressed the masses. The 22-year-old played all seven games in Russia, scoring four goals from seven shots on target.
With Karim Benzema now added to this French juggernaut, Mbappé will certainly benefit from the Real Madrid stars creativity. In addition to the main crown, the youngster will also be looking to take home the tournament’s golden boot, strengthening his claim for a maiden Ballon D’or.
Although not expected to start, Jules Kounde will certainly be next in line should one of the starting centre back pair run into any problems. With Raphaël Varane tending to pick up injuries, Kounde’s role in the tournament could be more than expected making the 22-year-old one to watch.
Kounde has enjoyed a brilliant season with his club Sevilla, and throughout the first half of the season, you would not have been laughed at for thinking the centre-back was among the best in the world in his position. His performances have put him on the radar of many of the “super” clubs including Barcelona, and the youngster will also be hoping that they have been good enough to earn ample game-time in the tournament.
Kounde is a modern centre back with excellent passing and dribbling abilities. The 22-year-old is pretty fast for a centre-back. He also boasts of a tremendous leap and is reliable with heading the ball.
Kounde is the only one in a very well drilled Sevilla unit that is allowed to roam with the ball, taking the ball out of defence and go on marauding runs. This is a skill Sevilla utilised a lot this season, and it resulted in Kounde grabbing four goals for the Andalusian side, one of them coming against Barcelona.
Many will be eager to see what role Kounde will have throughout the Euros, and those who do not watch La Liga will be just as eager to see what all the fuss surrounding the young centre back is about. If Kounde gets game time, he will shine, so let us all hope Deschamps provides it for all our entertainment.
Considering all the above, from the squad to the manager and both collective and individual motivations, it is hard not to see France as the winners of Euro 2020.
They should have won the tournament in 2016, and having tasted triumph at the World Cup in 2018, they will be highly motivated to rectify the mistakes of the final in France.