You would think, after all this time, we would get used to Didier Deschamps’ team selections for Les Bleus.
Turns out that’s not so true.
Although there were more acceptances of the more positive choices last time around, there should be no holding back when he’s reverting back to type. Some have just about warranted their place, because of current form or injuries, but one man that he actually ostracised initially and had to scrap for his place is now simply handed it, regardless of form.
That man? Dimitri Payet.
Rewind back a few years ago, before the European Championships in 2016, everyone was clamouring for the man from Reunion to be back in the squad. He was in the form of his life, catching glimpses from clubs across Europe for two fabulous seasons in two different leagues.
Then he made it. Saw the sights, grabbed the headlines, got the t-shirt and then came the dip.
His form at West Ham United stuttered as his desire to rejoin Marseille grew. That half a season back in France was by no means a rip-roaring success either, with just four goals and three assists to his name.
To start this season, he’s been injured so it has been steady progress. Now five games in, he has two assists while being used both on the left and in the middle of the park, yet has never seemed to take any game by the scruff of the neck like he had previously.
The man many are disappointed to see miss out in his stead is Anthony Martial. Although his own appearances have been limited so far, this season, he beat Payet’s assist total for the season in 26 minutes in the Champions League on Wednesday.
His five goals and four assists in 263 minutes of football across the Premier League and in Europe also already better than the Marseille man managed in the entirety of his half-season back at the club.
Maybe you feel that argument is mismanaged. Managers want players that are starting games but surely any manager worth his salt should be looking at players that affect matches.
Take for example, France’s 0-0 draw against Luxembourg during the last international break. They needed someone to make something happen, a bolt from the blue, a little bit of ingenuity to unlock a stubborn back line.
On that evidence presented above, out of Payet and Martial, who is the most likely to produce that?
That’s also because the real argument is that it’s likely neither will start. Thomas Lemar has started the season well and has already shown that he’s ready to start for Les Bleus on the left and unless they change things, it’s also unlikely that Payet will fill the role behind the striker.
Why choose someone who’s not quite in tip top shape over someone who has literally proved this season how much of an impact he can make coming off the bench?
The final point of discussion should be simple, who will make the greatest impact at the World Cup, assuming that France get there. Payet has shown ability in the past but in an uncertain Marseille side and hitting 31 in March, will he be able to recreate those high standards we saw before?
Martial might lack experience but his style gives France another option in attacking areas, his form for his club will surely see him break through back into the first team regularly this season and should be facing greater competition should Manchester United make it to the knockout stages of the Champions’ League.
France seem to be in too much of a win-now mentality. Deschamps believes that having experienced heads will do that, at the exact same time that the most promising generation of French talent since 1998 are coming through the ranks.
There are so many that he shouldn’t be able to go wrong, yet it feels like he is.
In the end, on Deschamps’s head be it. France need two wins to guarantee qualification and another slip-up will send them into the playoffs, which will only increase the calls to rethink who should lead such a talented group forward.
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