Are pre-tournament friendlies more of a final warm-up or the ultimate occasion to test new formations and tactics? Granted, Deschamps’ discovery of the 4-4-1-1 with Griezmann playing behind Giroud as a second striker arrived right in the middle of Euro 2016, but was he right in testing a diamond-shaped 4-4-2 against Ireland (for argument’s sake let’s say it worked in that game as we beat an uncharacteristically poor side 2-0) and last night against the United States (it most certainly did not)?
Truth be told, the midfield did seem more agile and flexible than in a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 (especially Pogba) but the end product was so poor that the American goalkeeper Steffen didn’t have a proper save to make until Mbappé’s equaliser.
Should Deschamps go back to a more secure formation? It seems late in the day to try something as risky as the shape tried last night. 8 of the 11 players need to be on song (I’m not counting the goalkeepers and the 2 centre-backs as their job does not change dramatically): wing-backs need to constantly offer solutions on the sides, the midfield needs to run twice as much as there is less personnel holding back, the attacking midfielder needs to be constantly on the move while the forwards transform themselves in wingers when you France are without the ball (we don’t really know if they’ll perform as France had loads of possession against Ireland and the US but I don’t see Giroud doing the job of a left-winger). England’s manager tried that formation during Euro 2016 and it was clear for all to see that he didn’t know how to use it. Does Deschamps? He’s never done it before for club or country so why take the risk. Stick to a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1, Didier. You’ll get more work done that way.
Yesterday had a horrible Luxembourg feel. We were seeing plenty of the ball but confirmed that we are absolutely helpless against a solid defensive unit. While the Americans defended admirably, there was always a white shirt to deflect/block a shot. Frustration settled in early for our star man Antoine Griezmann, who should have been taken off earlier. Bringing Fékir on changed our shape and we were much more threatening. It stands to reason: Fékir plays in the hole in a diamond 4-4-2 with his club so is naturally more comfortable in that position.
Hugo Lloris – 3
He had one save to make which he didn’t do. Harsh to judge a keeper on one action but a player of his experience knows the risks.
Djibril Sidibé – 4
Didn’t bring much width going forward and was at fault on the American goal. He confirms that he is a liability.
Raphael Varane – 6
An ordinary, unspectacular but largely faultless game.
Samuel Umtiti – 4
Still as scary as ever. You’re never quite sure if he’s going to cost your side the game with a poor pass or a bad clearance.
Benjamin Mendy – 5
His match fitness is still a worry given that he was subbed after 65 minutes. We still don’t know if he can last 90 minutes and whether he’ll start against Australia.
Paul Pogba – 6
Much more en vogue than in a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1. He expressed himself more aptly than against Italy. One of the rare bright spots of yesterday’s performers.
N’Golo Kanté – 5
His ball-shielding qualities remain and he was able to bring the ball forward on many occasions, but lacked the quality of pass on too many occasions last night.
Blaise Matuidi – 3
Surprisingly absent in every compartment of the game.
Antoine Griezmann – 4
Miserable game. He was well positioned between the American lines of midfield and defence but was not found often enough and didn’t have decent movement around him.
Kylian Mbappé – 6
Gets that grade thanks to his goal. He still is able to score even when he’s anonymous which is promising, still constantly animated and displaying exemplary work ethic.
Olivier Giroud – 3
This formation really isn’t for him. Needs to play up top alone on his own.
Ousmane Dembélé – 5
Not seen enough to make an impression.
Corentin Tolisso – 4
Same as the above.
Lucas Hernandez – 6
Looked more mobile and decisive than Mendy, adding necessary width down his flank.
Nabil Fékir – 7
Proved how comfortable he was in the hole. Instrumental in the build-up of the equaliser and forced Steffen to make a good save on a free-kick.
Benjamin Pavard – 7
Proving everyone that he should be starting ahead of Sidibé. Will he? I don’t think so.
Thomas Lemar – N/A
Came on too late. His place is in serious jeopardy for Australia.