Does defensive dearth mean France are false favourites for Euros?
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | May 30, 2016
Since the betting on Euro 2016 opened, tournament hosts France have been favourites. Not necessarily firm ones, but fancied all the same to do the business for a third time in their own backyard.
Les Bleus are the last European team to win a major international competition on home soil back in 1998. In the eight tournaments since, no host countries of the Euros or World Cups have done better than finishing third.
How will France get on at Euro 2016? Here are the thoughts of Coral football ambassador Alan Shearer:
Injuries among the French connection mean Didier Deschamps is definitely without four central defenders, with Barcelona’s Jeremy Mathieu the latest at the back to miss out.
Add in the absences of the classy Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), cultured Aymeric Laporte (Athletic Bilbao and Spain still have a claim on him) and physically-imposing Kurt Zouma (Chelsea), and Les Bleus are left with the best of the rest in their rearguard.
Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal and the recently recalled Adil Rami were paired for France’s Euro 2012 quarter-final clash with eventual winners Spain four years ago. Because of the above, they look likely to start together again as the hosts open the tournament against Romania on Friday, June 10th.
Deschamps’ alternatives to pairing this 30-year-old duo are threefold. He can call upon Eliaquim Mangala, less than convincing at Manchester City; as yet uncapped Lyon left-footer Samuel Umtiti; or make a U-turn and give Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho a reprieve following UEFA’s decision not to extend his ban incurred for a failed drugs test.
Understudies must step up
Each of these players has something to prove. Mangala must be far better for country than club if he is to get into Les Bleus’ XI, or Cameroon-born Umtiti needs to take to international football very quickly.
And as for Sakho, he has to kick the habit of a lifetime and stop being so rash in the tackle.
Rami, meanwhile, has earned just two caps for France in friendlies since Euro 2012, but did earn Europa League glory in his maiden season with Sevilla this term.
Age before beauty
Although moves to big foreign clubs likes Valencia and AC Milan haven’t worked out for Rami, this club continental honour means his international return does not necessarily need to be couched in terms of desperation on Deschamps’ part.
The French first-choice back four for Euro 2016 – adding in Bacary Sagna and Patrice Evra on the flanks of defence – has an average age of 32.
While this mature rearguard may not be troubled by the likes of Albania and Romania during a seemingly straightforward Group A for Les Bleus to negotiate, what will happen when ageing legs come up against fellow footballing heavyweights?
French frontline is fine
France have a fantastic crop of forwards, and in midfield Paul Pogba is pretty much poster boy material for Euro 2016. Will they simply outscore opposition courtesy of awesome attacking options like Kingsley Coman, Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial and Dimitri Payet?
Deschamps also has less dynamic strikers at his disposal, with Les Bleus target man duo Andre-Pierre Gignac and Olivier Giroud possessing the same qualities as the absent Karim Benzema.
When considering siding with France in the outright betting on Euro 2016 at 11/4 with Coral, it is neither the forwards where strength in depth is obvious, nor a solid looking engine room that is the worry.
How much work will that 30-something defence give goalie and national captain Hugo Lloris to do?
As great as the Spurs stopper is, he is arguably better serviced by the Belgian centre backs in front of him for club than country because of the French withdrawals.
To lift a trophy when four defenders do not make a major tournament is a tall order. No amount of home advantage can alter that fact.
If punters have already sided with France, then hope comes from the midfield. Head coach Deschamps was infamously called the water-carrier of the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winning vintage.
Midfield made to measure
Almost in their manager’s image, the engine room options reflect their manager’s industry. Top Premier League tackler N’Golo Kante proved a revelation and bargain buy for surprise champions Leicester City, and he just needs to keep doing what he does best at the Euros.
It is odd, meanwhile, to think of ex-Arsenal, Chelsea and Portsmouth man Lassana Diarra as an elder statesman, but at 31 he is the oldest midfielder in Les Bleus ranks.
Playmaking duties from deep, if Deschamps so desires, fall to Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace, who is the most-capped engine room operator on show for France.
Supporting Pogba with all-round attributes will alternatively be the responsibility for one of Blaise Matuidi, a serial winner in domestic French football with PSG, or Moussa Sissoko, who like Cabaye has not become a bad player just because his club endured a difficult season.
Departure from past glory to bring future success?
What strikes you about these midfield options is there is no number 10 of old; no natural heir to Les Blues legends Zinedine Zidane or Michel Platini in this team.
Perhaps Deschamps feels there have been too many false dawns since and, attack apart where there is an obvious need to be indulgent with talent, there are no real luxury players.
So, the evidence is laid out before you. France have been fantastic when previously hosting major football tournaments, triumphing at Euro ’84 and scooping the World Cup 18 years ago.
Les Bleus will use a workmanlike midfield to shield a defence damaged by injury absences. Deschamps will also allow attacking flair to have its day, but does so in the engine room through Pogba, a modern twist on that link to the final third, supporting a frontline that offers a bit of everything.
Whether France remain as Euro 2016 favourites depends on results. If punters feel they’re false fancies, then there’s plenty of other teams to back at this tournament. Either way, why not do it with Coral?
You’ll find comprehensive coverage of Euro 2016 on our dedicated section.