Euro 2016: France top group but Didier Deschamps’ starting XI changes haven’t clicked
In this edition of Euro, France simply haven’t clicked on the field, which is worrying for Deschamps who has tinkered with his side.
Mission accomplished for France? On paper, yes. In practice, no.
With two late wins and an underwhelming goalless draw versus Switzerland on Sunday, the hosts finished top of Group A. In the context of this tournament, which has 24 teams instead of the usual 16, this was an important achievement. Even more so for a side that has struggled to hit its stride.
By finishing top, the French have ensured that they will not face another group winner till at least the semi-finals (assuming they reach the semis) and are likely to face much weaker opponents in the next two rounds. As winners of their group, the hosts will take on a third-placed team in the round of 16 and if they progress, the quarter-final stage will pit them against a runner-up.
Had the Swiss nicked a goal last night to win the group – and indeed they could have easily been awarded a stoppage-time penalty for a tug of the shirt – coach Didier Deschamps’ men would’ve faced the prospect of dealing with either Poland or Germany in the next round followed by a potential clash with holders Spain in the quarter-final – a significantly tougher run of matches and one that the French do not appear to be ready for just yet.
In this edition of Euro, France simply haven’t clicked on the field. There have been glimpses of the team’s potential and enough evidence of the individual prowess in a hugely talented squad, but the pieces of the puzzle haven’t come together as expected. This is worrying for Deschamps who has tinkered with his side, made some bold decisions and still hasn’t been able to achieve the desired results. Now, heading into the knockout rounds, the coach has no room for errors.
Deschamps’ chopping and changing has certainly backfired. He is now likely to revert to his original starting XI. France’s most formidable line-up includes Paul Pogba in a midfield trio, Olivier Giroud as the centre forward and Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann as the two wide forwards roaming inside from the flanks. This combination, however, hasn’t even seen 90 minutes in this tournament.
That is because the Romanians ruffled French feathers in the opening match and Payet’s late match-winning moment of brilliance convinced Deschamps that his changes – taking Pogba and Griezmann off – had worked. Against Albania, both Pogba and Griezmann started on the bench and saw their team struggle against the minnows. Both of them came on as second-half substitutes, triggered a change in momentum and subsequently propelled the hosts to another late victory. Once again, though, Deschamps was left unsure of his best XI.
By the time the Swiss came along, he couldn’t afford to put all of them on the pitch together. Giroud and N’Golo Kante had to sit out since they were on a yellow card and fielding them would’ve risked a one-match suspension. Payet and Blaise Matuidi, meanwhile, were rested after having played two full games. France had three matches to hit their stride before the knockout rounds. They’ll sit and look back at all three as missed opportunities.
Perhaps the most damaging consequence of Deschamps’ tinkering has been on Pogba, who has been thrusted into the media limelight for all the wrong reasons. With Payet emerging as France’s new hero, Pogba, who was expected to be the team’s main man, has taken a back seat and faced a lot of criticism in the French media over his performances. He has been shown little patience.
Pogba was visibly unhappy on being substituted in the first match. He wasn’t best pleased to start from the bench in the second. After he played a significant hand in turning things around versus Albania, Pogba was accused of showing an insulting gesture towards the press box, which is believed to be directed towards journalists of French newspaper L’Equipe – who have been the most critical of the midfielder.
Pogba, though, started last night’s game like a man on a personal mission to prove doubters wrong. For a while, we saw the vintage Pogba: taking charge of proceedings and raining in shots from all angles. First came a right-footed curler from the edge of the box that was tipped onto the crossbar by Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
Then a magnificently struck half-volley from a tight angle which Sommer again tipped wide. And a minute later, a rasping left-footed drive from 30 yards out that crashed into the crossbar with the ‘keeper well beaten. Luck hasn’t been with him in this tournament.
At least the home team can take solace from the fact that most other top contenders haven’t put on a show either. World champions Germany are struggling for rhythm. England are lacking a cutting edge. Belgium are blowing hot and cold. And Italy are grinding out victories that on another day may not fetch them more than a draw.
Spain, however, look dominant again. Just like the French, the Spaniards left it late to pick up a win in their opening fixture against the Czech Republic and then returned to their very best with an impressive 3-0 thrashing of Turkey. It must be noted that Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque stuck to the same line-up in the two fixtures. He showed patience with his preferred starting XI.
Come the knockout rounds, Deschamps may be made to regret that he did not do the same.
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