where to find France’s only weakness – and why it might not matter – –

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where to find France’s only weakness – and why it might not matter – –


World champions, a team depth to rival anything international football has seen before, many of Europe’s best young talents and a head coach who has won it all, as a player and as a boss.
It is no wonder that France is considered the favorite of Euro 2020.

The squad is packed with star names from the biggest clubs, many of whom have had truly exceptional campaigns in 2020/21, on a personal or club collective level.

READ MORE: Each Euro 2020 team and player selected for the 2021 tournament

A whole eleven of players they chose against the summons – Areola, Ferland Mendy, Upamecano, Laporte, Theo Hernandez, Ndombele, Aouar, Camavinga, Nkunku, Fekir and Gouiri – could easily have troubled a crowd of the 23 other participating nations this summer.

Nonetheless, every country they come across will be looking for the one weakness they can exploit, the one area where France might not be at the top level today – and this summer, for this tournament, perhaps their most. great weakness lies in defense.

That’s not to say they’re terrible, or anything near poor. Far from it, a priori: among their nine defenders this season alone, there is technically one Champions League winner and two title winners. But even so, they haven’t reached the heights they are all capable of and, with Euro 2020 approaching, this may be where the teams will look to hurt Didier Deschamps’ side.

Kurt Zouma was not involved for Chelsea in the Champions League final, nor at all towards the end of the season. He is the replacement, with Clément Lenglet who has had a year full of errors with Barcelona.

Regular left-back Lucas Hernandez has played throughout the season in Bayern’s Bundesliga campaign. And trophy-less center-back Raphael Varane has experienced what can best be described as a mixed season, at the heart of Real’s backline which has been regularly changed out of necessity, but has seen its fair share of mistakes on the part of the player. 28 years old.

Additionally, a late-season injury and a short Covid-related absence meant he finished 20/21 with just three 90-minute outings from mid-March, with the performance that lingers in mind being the one where he received a real first-half turn by a Chelsea inspired by Christian Pulisic. Varane is one of those who have been able to combine consistency and quality over the years, but he is not entering this tournament near its peak.

At his side, it will be Presnel Kimpembe as another holder of Deschamps in the center.

The 25-year-old is PSG’s defense leader in the post-Thiago Silva era, but has yet to reach the level of calm authority and elite decision-making of the Brazilian. There remain reckless moments, incidents of uncertainty – rare compared to Lenglet’s season, of course, but still there.

Jules Koundé is the other central option, also capable of filling on the right. He’s excellent, a real option to replace Varane in time, but he only has one cap so far. It is unlikely, except for injuries or absences, that he will be requested initially.

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Thus, a quartet of unmissable center-backs from Deschamps, although each having proven themselves time and time again for the club and the country, are not quite in the best possible shape.

Behind them, the same could be said of Captain Hugo Lloris; he’s lifted the World Cup and is one of the most experienced players in the entire tournament this summer in terms of caps, but like the rest of his team Tottenham hasn’t been foolproof this season.

On either side, while Bayern’s Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard are established and capable of achieving elite-level performances, the full-back alternatives are Leo Dubois and Lucas Digne. They are solid, reasonably reliable, have real class games – but their status as players at Lyon and Everton reveals the truth that they are nowhere near the world class level that France has in depth further.

Make no mistake about it, a defensive selection – Koundé excluded – based on familiarity, manager confidence and knowledge of the system.

(AFP via Getty Images)

There is, as any coach knows, a lot to be said about these traits. The greatest players in world football can be ineffective and downright harmful if they destabilize the team as a whole; see the arguments for not playing Trent Alexander-Arnold with England, or Spain boss Luis Enrique not naming a 26 for fun.

Beyond the team cohesion and familiarity the defensive line will have once on the pitch – Pavard, Varane, Kimpembe and Hernandez have been the four full-backs in six of the last eight, one of the other two being a friendly – is the fact that to get the potential reward, the risk increases exponentially.

In essence, to really expose an area perceived as weaker in the France team, the opposition must attack.

Sending more players forward leaves less to take care of Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema. Or, later in the games, with Ousmane Dembele, Kingsley Coman, Olivier Giroud.

(AFP via Getty Images)

There is such tremendous quality and depth in these positions around the last third that trying to face France, even in shorter periods during the game, is risking everything… the fittest midfielder. Europe towards the end of the season, N’Golo Kante.

A fleeting glance at France’s last games doesn’t suggest defense is an issue – four straight clean sheets. But only one from Bulgaria, Wales, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kazakhstan proved good enough to reach Euro 2020, and they – Wales – played over an hour with 10 men.

There hasn’t really been a worthy test since the Nations League games almost a year ago against Portugal and Sweden, the latter scoring twice.

More relevant for this summer, these two meetings still ended in a victory for the Blues.

Maybe defense is France’s weak point right now, as they have, and maybe it doesn’t matter when their overall level is as high as it is.

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