No manager would ever wish for a Ballon d’Or nominee to pull out of a World Cup squad injured. However Didier Deschamps may have inadvertently found the opportunity that Les Bleus and the French public having been waiting for since the infamous implosion of 2010.
After the dramatic 3-0 win against Ukraine to secure their spot in Brazil Deschamps stuck with the 4-3-3 he debuted in the Stade de France. He built a solid midfield platform of Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba and Yohan Cabaye to support an attacking trio that will be an intriguing prospect come June 15th.
The loss of Ribéry has had a domino effect, the single opening on the left creating an opportunity for several players across the front to seize their chance to shine at the tournament. In Ribéry’s place on the left Antoine Greizmann has been replicating his eye catching Real Sociedad form, Moussa Sissoko offers a more physical, defensive option without sacrificing pace. On the right it appears that Matieu Valbuena has locked down the starting role but Loic Remy is also capable on the right, harassing defenses with his direct runs and threat if not offering as much crossing or passing.
The two players looking likely to benefit most from the shuffle up front are Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud. Benzema ran the show in the recent 8 – 0 dismantling of (an admittedly sub-par) Jamaica, ending the game with 2 goals and 3 assists Benzema was dominate. At Real Madrid and with the national team Benzema usually plays centrally but clearly relished the space on the left, unleashing a stream of deadly crosses and cutbacks, taking on defenders and displaying his excellent shooting.
Then there’s Olivier Giroud. The still-divisive Arsenal forward has shone for Les Bleus since the win over Ukraine, though in a different way. Giroud excels at playing a deeply out of fashion game as a classic “big man”. In the age of diminutive playmakers and tricky inverted wingers Giroud is the physical presence in the box, knocking crosses down or in, holding up the ball and dragging center backs out of position. Giroud’s ability to drag a defender, hold the ball and lay it off for a late midfield run has proven extremely fruitful for Aaron Ramsey, both Matuidi and Pogba have the athleticism for such runs and will undoubtedly take advantage.
Franck Ribéry’s absence leaves Patrice Evra as lone representative of the core group hauled up before the FFF in the wake of the 2010 debacle. That event still casts a long shadow but this current French side will fortunately be leaving most of its volatile historical baggage in Manchester and Munich. In the potential starting XI there are representatives of back-to-back Ligue 1 Champions, winners of the most recent Champions League, and 2014 FA Cup winners. This squad has youth, confidence, and experience winning. A deep run in Brazil would be both unsurprising and bode very well for the Euros in two years time.