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The Road to Russia – Episode 1

In a brand new series on Football News, we take a look at the chances of France’s World Cup hopefuls in terms of making that plane to Russia in summer. This format highlights four case studies during each episode, two individuals whose chances have diminished and two whose chances have augmented, whilst producing analysis by percentage of the likelihood of tens of hopefuls in making the final squad.

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Layvin Kurzawa: Full-back is possibly the only position where Didier Deschamps lacks depth and PSG’s former Monaco left back has only managed to increase uncertainty in these areas over recent months. Questions have long been raised over Kurzawa’s defensive abilities but these have been largely overlooked due some intense attacking displays in Paris, a Champions League hat-trick in the 5-0 win over Anderlecht underlining his qualities.

However Kurzawa’s lack of positional understanding and jitteriness in possession have been exposed in the bigger games allowing summer signing from Sociedad Yuri Berchiche to surpassed him as Unai Emery’s go-to left back. Kurzawa failed to even make the bench for the Paris leg of the Real Madrid tie and reports emerged that he did not hide his irritation as this decision which has in turn affected his attitude in training much to the displeasure of the PSG staff.

Benjamin Mendy’s long injury helps Kurzawa’s case as does the fact that Deschamps has started him all but twice since Euro 2016, injury allowing. Nevertheless, considering his coach prizes squad harmony, his new found cantankerous demeanour plus increasingly shaky defending may put his place in Russia under duress.

Alexandre Lacazette: Distilling the optimum arrangement for Les Bleus unwieldy array of attacking talent has been the main talking point for the national side for some seasons. Nevertheless, if it’s 4-2-4, 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, Alexandre Lacazette has rarely been included. Deschamps famously has his favourites, Moussa Sissoko being the main beneficiary, and Lacazette seems to have regularly been on the wrong end of this decision making process even when form seemed to dictate otherwise.

A standout year for Lyon last season however finally forced the now 26 year old into genuine reckoning but his lack of sustained impact at Arsenal as yet, along with Deschamps sheer volume of in-form options in this area has begun to push him back down the coach’s list over the winter period.

9 league goals in 26 games added to his omission from some of Arsenal more important encounters coupled with Deschamps long standing appreciation of Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé’s virtually guaranteed places not to mention that space will be reserved within the 23 for more versatile forwards (Lacazette is not a left winger, no matter how much Wenger wishes he was) could mean the £50m man is left out as his ability to maintain form at the highest level remains in doubt.

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Presnel Kimpembe: PSG’s lack of a home grown core or faith in their youth system has long been an issue that rumbles under the surface at the Parc des Princes during the QSI era, Adrien Rabiot was until recently the only graduate to have any real recent impact on the first team. Unai Emery however has started to change that attitude, albeit rather glacially. Alphonse Areola’s form has been undulating but is now set as first choice while 20 year old midfielder Christopher Nkunku continues to impress when given the chance but centre back Presnel Kimpembe has been a revelation in the last 18 months.

After PSG rejected the advances of Monaco, Kimpembe has blossomed into arguably Unai Emery’s best and most reliable defender. While Thiago Silva’s age is catching up with him and Marquinhos perhaps looking unsure in bigger games, Kimpembe is proving to be a confident, pacey and technically gifted defender who makes fewer mistakes than his more experienced partners.

Kimpembe’s rise has caught the eye of the national team coach and, although youngster has yet to make a senior appearance, he has been part of every squad but one since September 2016. With the final centre back spot wide open, Koscielny, Varane and Umtiti assured of their places, the 22 year old Parisien could be perfectly placed to join them on the plane to Russia.

Kingsley Coman: Having broken into the Les Bleus squad prior to Euro 2016, Kingsley Coman’s career at Bayern Munich had failed to settle into a genuine rhythm. Despite the obstacles of fierce competition for places at both domestic and international levels plus some ill-timed injuries following the Euros, Coman had fallen short of the potential he promised, not able to consistently produce the form that edged him into the Les Bleus camp for the European Championships, his omission from Deschamps plans in the first half of this campaign underlining his slump.

The reintroduction of Jupp Heynckes in Bavaria however has halted his downward trajectory. Coman has clearly been told to simplify his game and although he is by no means first choice he has yet been afforded a great deal of game time partly due to the faith place in him by Heynckes and partly due to regular injuries to the ageing Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery while, with his coaches aid, he has managed to maintain his level of impact across the winter months.

Notably, it’s in the Champions’ League where Coman has proven most effective; helping to tear Besiktas apart in the knockout stages and terrorising Dani Alves in the 3-1 group stage win over PSG. An ankle injury which could leave his fitness in doubt going into the final few weeks of the campaign remains a major caveat but, given his form, Deschamps could yet gamble on Coman.

Chances of Being Selected for France’s Russia World Cup Squad:

Goalkeepers:

Hugo Lloris (100%), Steve Mandanda (95%), Alphonse Areola (80%), Benoît Costil (20%), Alban Lafont (5%)

Full-backs:

Djibril Sidibé (90%), Benjamin Mendy (55%), Lucas Digne (50%), Layvin Kurzawa (50%), Mathieu Debuchy (35%), Christophe Jallet (30%), Benjamin Pavard (30%), Sébastien Corchia (25%), Theo Hernandez (15%), Bouna Sarr (5%).

Centre-backs:

Samuel Umtiti (100%), Raphaël Varane (100%), Laurent Koscielny (90%), Presnel Kimpembe (60%), Adil Rami (35%), Aymeric Laporte (25%), Clément Lenglet (5%).

Central Midfielders:

N’Golo Kante (100%), Adrien Rabiot (90%), Corentin Tolisso (80%), Paul Pogba (80%), Blaise Matuidi (70%), Moussa Sissoko (40%), Lassana Diarra (20%), Tiemoué Bakayoko (15%), Steven N’Zonzi (10%).

Wingers:

Thomas Lemar (85%), Ousmane Dembélé (80%), Kingsley Coman (50%), Florian Thauvin (50%), Anthony Martial (45%), Dimitri Payet (40%), Nabil Fékir (40%).

Strikers:

Antoine Griezmann (100%), Kylian Mbappé (100%), Olivier Giroud (90%), Alexandre Lacazette (30%), Wissam Ben Yedder (10%), Kevin Gameiro (5%), Moussa Dembélé (5%)



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