Without the virus, Paul Pogba would have played against Sweden last weekend and possibly in the final World Cup rematch on Tuesday, bringing much-needed creativity and momentum that France lacked in both matches.
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Without the virus, Eduardo Camavinga would not have been called by Didier Deschamps. He was chosen to replace Pogba and Tanguy Ndombele, who also tested positive. Camavinga remained on the bench in Scandinavia but showed his incredible potential in the final 30 minutes against Croatia. At 17, 303 days old, the Rennes prodigy became the youngest player since February 1914 to make his debut for the national team.
Camavinga is an incredible talent, and when he arrived he was a game-changer. He brought so much to the team with his dynamism, his impact in midfield, his technical ability. He is not yet 18, but already so mature and so complete.
Without the virus, it could have been a very different picture right now for France. But it’s not.
This is because, despite the virus, some things are not changing for France.
As Deschamps said after the match, his team must still be “in a difficult period” before reacting. They were beaten early in head-to-head duels by Sweden before finding a way to win. On Tuesday they finished second for 40 minutes against Croatia before responding with physique and moments of brilliance to take the lead twice to ensure the victory is theirs.
All was not perfect, of course, especially not the new formation. For the third game in a row (it started with a 2-0 victory in Albania in November), Deschamps put his squad in a 3-4-1-2 system – and the head coach knows there is still has a lot to work on.
“The system is far from perfect and we will go through difficult times. We will need rehearsal to get used to playing like this. The team spirit is there, ”said Deschamps. “Like any training, it has its advantages and disadvantages… We will not give up.
“But I’m not saying that’s it either. It was a good time to try it. Better to have struggles now than during the Euros. ”
The problem with the new roster is that it’s hard to see the pros. Deschamps says it’s about putting Antoine Griezmann in the best possible playmaker position behind two forwards (Mbappe and Olivier Giroud in Sweden, Wissam Ben Yedder and Anthony Martial against Croatia). Still, it’s not clear that Griezmann is fit to play as a No.10 – far from it. Sure, he scored against the Croats, but he struggles to create and be as efficient as he is in a 4-4-2 formation as a second striker.
For the other forwards it has been a positive week. Martial did well against Croatia back in the national setup after a two-year absence, and he scored some points in Deschamps’ mind. Ben Yedder is sometimes a pleasure to watch in small spaces and was also decisive. Giroud, for his part, scored his 40th goal in 99 caps. Mbappe is, of course, Mbappe.
It is not exactly the same defensively. In order for the back three / five to work, you need proper positioning of your rear fenders. This was not the case for France. Leo Dubois and Lucas Digne were disappointing against Sweden. The same was true for Moussa Sissoko and Ferland Mendy on Tuesday. If your wide players are not providing enough and not having enough impact, your 3-4-1-2 system is pretty useless, which it was for Blues this week.
Deschamps also made his debut for Dayot Upamecano, the center-back who was so impressive with RB Leipzig after the pandemic restarted. He had some good times but also made mistakes in both games and will come back to play more, but at 21 he is the future at the back, just like Camavinga in midfield.
Despite the impact of the 17-year-old phenomenon, France massively missed Pogba in both matches. He will come back and find his place in the team. We still wonder what Steven Nzonzi is doing in this team when Deschamps has so much potential at his disposal. But at least he recalled Adrien Rabiot, who was average in Sweden. Blaise Matuidi is not so much on the radar after his move to Inter Miami, and Blues will find it difficult to replace him and find the same balance in midfield.
Deschamps thought September was a good time to try things out. That’s exactly what the world champions did, and with experimental training, lots of player changes, absentees, newcomers and all, they still won twice.
Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the French Euro 2021 mission is well underway.