France will be looking to go back-to-back at Euro 2020 | FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images
Frustrated that your national team manager is leaving mercurial talents out of the side at the expense of a functional, slightly boring player? Fed up of certain players getting a nailed-on place in the side because of a tournament several years ago? For a bit of perspective, turns out that even fans of the world champions have this problem.
Former ‘water-carrier’ Didier Deschamps is a simple man and his top priority as France manager has been to keep a stable, fiercely loyal group of national players together after their dominant victory in the 2018 World Cup.
France were shaken by an unexpected loss to Finland | Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images
But the two-time World Cup winner has been accused of keeping the band together at the expense of an exciting batch of fresh faces, and holding back one of the most unprecedented youth revolutions in European football so that he can persist with players who have more than a few miles in their legs.
It’s certainly a thankless task being Deschamps at the moment with Euro 2021 and the prospect of back-to-back tournament wins (unless you count the Nations League) looming.
So with this in mind, let’s have a look at how the team is shaping up ahed of the rescheduled tournament, with those in contention ranked by their security in the squad…
Maignan has been a near-mainstay for Lille | Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images
Deschamps seems to quite like goalkeepers – in fact, he went as far as to pick four of them (which just seems indulgent) for the latest round of internationals.
That being said, the life of a substitute substitute goalkeeper tends to be a precarious gig, and with the likes of Benoît Costil and Alphonse Areola knocking around, Maignan’s place will be very hotly contested.
You’ve got to be pretty good to play in France’s defence | DeFodi Images/Getty Images
‘Hang about’, I hear you cry.
‘THE Upamecano, one of the best young players in the world, a man who every single elite club is queueing up to sign, can barely get in his national side?’
Well, if you hadn’t noticed, France have rather a lot of centre-backs – in fact, Aymeric Laporte, Jules Kounde and Wesley Fofana are all some ways away from a France call-up, despite barely putting a foot wrong at club level.
The fact that Upamecano is even in with a shout is high praise indeed.
Dubois came through the academy at Nantes | Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
Benjamin Pavard’s love affair with Deschamps is such that any right back would have a hard time contending with him, but with Djibril Sidibe not getting regular minutes for Everton now that Seamus Coleman is back, Lyon’s Dubois has emerged as the next best guy by default.
Digne is fast emerging as one of the league’s best left backs | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Digne has been excellent for Everton this season. He is one of the most creative full backs in the Premier League, and with Coleman providing balance on the opposite flank has been able to show off just how good he is at delivering a football.
Unfortunately, his competition for France is Lucas Hernandez, who Deschamps also adores. So… similar situation to Dubois really.
Rabiot and Deschamps have succesfully squashed their beef | Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images
Here, on the other hand, is a player who hasn’t always seen eye to eye with Deschamps, especially after Rabiot simply declined to be on the reserve list for the 2018 World Cup.
Luckily, Deschamps can only stay mad at an unflashy, versatile midfielder for so long, and an entente was reached this August, with Rabiot called back into the squad.
Could we see the return of ice-cold Martial for France? | FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images
Yes, yes, we’ve all seen the memes, Martial hasn’t had a single shot on target this season, and to tell the truth ever since his fantastic display against Crystal Palace last season he hasn’t looked quite right domestically.
Deschamps, however, claims to have been impressed with a shift in Martial’s attitude, and it could be a classic case of the Danny Welbecks where he’s valuable for his country during a difficult period with his club.
The man who put United to the sword all those years ago | Xavier Laine/Getty Images
Ben Yedder seems to be preferred to Lacazette as a supplementary striker at the moment (perhaps Deschamps has seen how overpowered his FIFA Ultimate Team card is?)
Although Ben Yedder has just two France goals (both against Andorra), in complete contrast to England, France have a lot of depth in the centre-back department but not so much in terms of forwards.
Sissoko was incredible in the final of Euro 2016 | VI-Images/Getty Images
Sissoko is an extremely useful player who is used to patching up crises in midfield, not to mention the fact that he has been extremely good under Deschamps on multiple occasions.
He is also getting on a bit in an era where Tanguy Ndombele, Houssem Aouar and Eduardo Camavinga are all looking to be introduced to the side.
A decent bet for now, but just how long can he survive?
Lenglet in, Umtiti out? | FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images
As with Upamecano, there’s only so much security you have as a centre-back in this France set-up, but Lenglet is fast establishing himself as a favourite of Deschamps’, who seems to have made an effort to rapidly assimilate the defender into his side, quite possibly at the expense of Samuel Umtiti.
Two years ago, Kimpembe was most renowned outside of France for a viral video of him doing maths extremely well.
Now, his rise has been nothing short of meteoric. He’s a starter in one of the best sides in Europe and didn’t look remotely out of place in his first ever Champions League final.
A long-term favourite of Deschamps’ with a bright future.
Tolisso can provide cover and competition for the likes of Paul Pogba | Pool/Getty Images
The first of the heroes of 2018, and a player who Deschamps finds very useful within his set-up.
The Bayern man’s job is simple, and largely the same as what he’d do in Germany – he has to function as a high-quality squad player who can play a number of roles in midfield where required.
A substitution which defied belief, but also kind of worked! | CHRISTOPHE SIMON/Getty Images
From Blackburn and Big Sam to being subbed on at half-time for N’golo Kante in a World Cup final. Premier League fans were rubbing their eyes a bit during the 2018 World Cup, but just like Sissoko and Tolisso, Nzonzi is another player who Deschamps finds incredibly handy when he needs to stabilise his midfield.
Coman settled the game against PSG | Pool/Getty Images
Eyebrows were often raised at Coman’s impressive trophy cabinet, given that all you need to have done to win the league at Juventus, PSG and Bayern Munich over the last few seasons is kind of just be there.
Though Coman hardly operates on Mbappe levels of productivity, he did, however, show why Deschamps values him so highly, coming in as a rotation option for the Champions League final, and scoring the competition’s deciding goal – just his eighth of the season.
The type of player you need around if you want to win.
Remember Mandanda’s nine appearances for Crystal Palace? | FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images
Mandanda is a tricky one – while he’s theoretically just a disposable sub goalkeeper, he’s one that France absolutely love, having been selected for Les Bleus in each of the last thirteen years.
He doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, having started his first World Cup game at the age of 33, but waiting for Hugo Lloris to get dropped must be a thankless task.
What an unbreakable duo these two were in 2018 | FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images
The only reason Varane is not in the top five is because he’s had a pretty major wobble over the past few months.
He is 200% getting picked, although it won’t be the same without his mate Umtiti.
Benzema who? | Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images
He’s a loyal servant to his country, still in great shape for his age and a potent weapon off the bench.
However, more importantly Giroud is somehow seven goals away from matching Thierry Henry as France’s top scorer, so he has to stay.
Alphonso Davies has made this man’s job ten times more difficult | Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images
Bayern were a bit put out when Deschamps asked for an injured Hernandez to ‘play with one leg’ this time last year, but that in itself is proof of how much the French manager is happy to lean on his trusty left back.
Though he might previously have been inseparable from Pavard, has lack of playing time in Munich in the wake of Alphonso Davies’ unstoppable rise has to be a concern.
Pavard is fiercely loyal to this France side | FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images
“I would give my life for the coach. I would die on the pitch for him,” said Pavard of Deschamps according to Canal+.
I reckon you’d be more useful getting up and down the wing and sticking some tidy crosses in to be honest mate.
An oasis of calm in Pogba’s current career | Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images
So I don’t know if you’ve heard but apparently this guy isn’t having a very good season? Was news to me!
Perhaps the only time that the media circus which surrounds Pogba is quelled a little is when he can get away to international duty in the care of a staunchly protective coach.
While United probably aren’t best pleased with Deschamps aiming pointed barbs their way every time the midfielder lands in Clairefontaine, maybe don’t lose to Istanbul Basaksehir if you don’t want that dilemma!
Collector’s Item alert! | PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/Getty Images
The matchwinner against Portugal, and a man who France will struggle so much to replace.
Kante is undoubtedly beginning to decline, having lost the intensity which kept him at the top of his game, but he can still pull an elite performance out of the bag, more often than not. A near cert for 2021.
Griezmann is still in the process of finding his feet at Barca | Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images
It’s great that Deschamps is so loyal to the Class of 2018, but my word it would make it slightly easier for him if they could pay it back in form at club level.
Between Hernandez being ousted by a teenager, Kante’s ankle starting to go, Pogba being dropped for Scott McTominay and Griezmann being signed for a club where his favourite position is occupied by the greatest player of all time, the lads who brought it home in Moscow have struggled since.
He’s shown signs that he’s ready to stick it out in the new-look Barcelona side, though, and he’s unlikely to be removed from a France side where he’s been so talismanic for so many years.
Lloris has been in scintillating form for Spurs of late | FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images
He is the captain, so he’s basically undroppable, despite choosing the World Cup Final to make the sort of error you see when your Xbox controllers run out of battery.
But Lloris has been genuinely excellent since returning from the dislocated elbow which he picked up in October 2019, and (partially in the absence of any credible opposition) will rightly take his place as France’s nombre un.
Euro 2021 isn’t ready… | Pool/Getty Images
Put the house, your life savings, and your future childrens’ life savings on this one, I reckon.
Mbappe is now firmly in the conversation for the world’s best player, and it continually amazes how the 21-year-old’s game seems to be evolving every match – he’s so multifaceted now that he’s much more than a winger who runs in behind.
Barring injuries, or the comeback of the century from Ousmane Dembele / Alexandre Lacazette / Andre-Pierre Gignac, it’s safe to call him the safest bet in France for a starting spot.