Injuries and other crises may cost France title defence in Qatar

A lot to worry about for the French National team

Injuries and other crises may cost France title defence in Qatar

On October 10, 2021, France won the UEFA Nations League at the San Siro against Spain. Les Bleus were back on their feet after the disaster of the 2020 European Championship, where Switzerland knocked them out in the round of 16. 

However, the joy was short-lived and the shadow of doubt once again fell over coach Didier Deschamps, who is under scrutiny for his team's recent results.

While it is true that France completed the qualifiers for Qatar as expected, with a convincing performance and 8-0 thrashing of Kazakhstan, and achieved good results in the following friendlies, the problems reappeared in the Nations League. 

Defeats against Denmark and Croatia were followed by a win against Austria which prevented relegation to League B for France, who recorded one win, two draws and three defeats. But, what is happening to Les Blues? 

"There are teams that win and others that lose, but there are also great teams that lose," said Deschamps.

"So we don't think we are better than the others, but we must fight."

Kylian Mbappe the Paris Saint-Germain forward is being asked to carry the French national team on his shoulders.

Mbappe didn't start in the 1-1 draw against Croatia in Zagreb, but he has played the full 90 minutes in the other three games.

"I know [PSG coach Christophe Galtier] still wants Kylian to play," added Deschamps.

"But every now and then, he needs to be able to breathe a little bit.

"He needs to play less minutes. It won't hurt him, quite the opposite."

Against Austria, Mbappe came to the rescue and scored the equaliser in Vienna. He also netted against them in Saint-Denis last Thursday but he didn't score against Denmark or Croatia and France haven't won a game in which Mbappe didn't find the back of the net.

In Deschamps' current 3-4-1-2 formation, Mbappe's role seems clear, as he enjoys absolute freedom upfront alongside Benzema, who missed out on this break through injury.

While France seemed to have 'woken up' from their lethargy in the first game of this break against Austria, the match in Copenhagen brought the ghosts back. 

The trident of Antoine Griezmann, Mbappe and Olivier Giroud worked against Austria, but Benzema's absence was notable in Denmark.

"Tonight we had a taste of the reality that awaits us in two months' time," Deschamps noted.

"We shouldn't worry, as we will manage to get back all or most of the players with a lot of international experience."

The Real Madrid striker is not France's only absentee, with the list including Hugo Lloris, N'Golo Kante, Theo Hernandez, Presnel Kimpembe, Lucas Hernandez, Adrien Rabiot, Kinsley Coman and Lucas Digne as well as, Jules Kounde and Mike Maignan who suffered from injuries this past weekend.

In search of a new midfield

The absences of Kante and Paul Pogba have reshaped France's midfield, with Real Madrid duo Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga taking over the reins during the break.

Although they gave a positive impression against Austria, they were unable to impose themselves at the Parken.

"He did some things that I don't want to see again, he knows that," Deschamps said of Camavinga's performance against Denmark.

Deschamps' 3-4-1-2 formation gives prominence to the wingers, but without Theo Hernandez, Les Bleus have a problem. 

The AC Milan player is by far the most attacking fullback France have, as Benjamin Pavard and Ferland Mendy struggled in possession.

Then there is the heart of the backline. While it is true that France have produced top level centre-backs, Deschamps can't find the right starting trident.

A total of eight different centre-backs have played for France in 2022 including Raphael Varane, William Saliba, Kounde, Kimpembe, Ibrahima Konate, Lucas Hernandez, Benoit Badiashile and Dayot Upamecano. Of these eight players, Varane and Saliba have played the most with four games each, followed by Kounde and Kimpbembe (three apiece). 

Meanwhile, fitness will be a key factor in deciding who gets the nod in defence, but for the time being rotation had led to inconsistency, as France have conceded seven goals in six Nations League games.