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The Road to Russia – Episode 2

In the second piece of 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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Ousmane Dembélé: At first glance, the idea that Ousmane Dembélé, third most expensive player of all time and inheritor of Neymar’s number 11 shirt, and (potentially) place in the team, at Barcelona, would not be part of Didier Deschamps summer plans seems far-fetched. Dembélé’s rise from Rennes’ reserves to a 9 figure transfer is unprecedented, his talent, meanwhile, is beyond question. However, Dembélé’s place in Deschamps squad is not as certain as it once seemed. Firstly, the 20 year old winger’s form in recent months has not been on par with his exuberant best that Dortmund and Rennes fans often enjoyed. The fact that injuries have severely hampered his freshman season in Spain is a sizeable caveat here but doubts still surround his place in the Barça side in both the short and long term.

Philippe Coutinho being unavailable for European games has helped to some extent with game time, but this also masks his real spot in the que to start the bigger games. While Deschamps does often favour youth, Dembélé still feels a little raw and lacks the assuredity of peers Kylian Mbappé and Presnel Kimpembe. Although he has been a regular fixture in France squads over the last two seasons, Dembélé counts just five starts to his name, just one being competitive, twice coming off at half-time.

Again this record is injury affected but, in what is an extremely competitive area of the squad, it can only count against him. Finally, his refusal to train with Dortmund as he forced a move to Barcelona also saw him left out of August’s squad. Although Deschamps admitted he didn’t blame Dembélé, he also stated it was “embarrassing” that he had not trained. For a team with a history of catastrophic fallouts and a manager who holds camp harmony above all else, the episode was an unfortunate one. Dembélé is still likely to be on the plane in June but his place isn’t the safebet it once was. A poor run of form, or lack of game time entirely, between now and the end of the year could foster doubt in Deschamps’ mind.

Anthony Martial: Anthony Martial’s career remains, as it has almost perpetually, in a state of flux. His shock £60m move to Manchester United left Martial in a strange position, although often impressing with Monaco his development was still, at 19, in its infancy and required careful nurturing. However, the numbers and fanfare involved, almost bizarrely, with his move to Manchester demanded success immediately. Martial obliged, with 17 goals in all competitions the following year. Since, however, Martial’s form, game time and position have been wildly inconsistent for both club and country. As a natural striker, following Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku’s arrivals, Martial was forced out wide, a roadblock to the cultivation of his finishing and forward play as a striker. Uncertainty has become the watchword of his career.

Used to varying degrees by Louis Van Gaal and now José Mourinho, despite adtaping admirably, Martial’s strengths and abilities have become less clear cut, his defining characteristics have become muddied, his rhythm and direction unsettled; pivotal for a young, malleable player. Unfortunately this uncertainty has permeated his France career too. Despite being involved in the last four France games, he missed out on selection for the previous 11. Looking further back, he started 4 of the 5 games before the Euro 16 squad was announced then spent much of the tournament sitting on the bench, dragged off at half time against Albania.

To Martial’s credit he has continued to affect games for United but his form has become increasingly sporadic of late, not helped by the fact he’s only played 90 minutes 6 times this season in all competitions. Crucially, uncertainty over his future in Manchester, reportedly asking to leave this summer, has not only contributed to the doubt in his career but likely been a factor in being used less and less of late, harming his already shaky claim to a spot in France’s squad. Where others’ form may be perfectly timed, increased uncertainty over his performances and future could come at the worst of times for Martial.

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Mathieu Debuchy: Discarded at Arsenal and creeping into his thirties, Mathieu Debuchy’s once bright international top tier career seemed to be prematurely winding down. A pair of operations early in his stay with Arsenal appeared to have severely affected his chances of returning to the form that lead to his move to London and kept him as a regular with Les Bleus. Issues with form and fitness were highlighted by an underwhelming loan spell with Bordeaux in 2016. Finally given regular football by St Étienne in January however, Debuchy has not only rediscovered his best displays remincient of spells with Lille, winning the title in 2011, Newcastle, France and even briefly with Arsenal but is now in the best form of his career at 32.

As well as being sound defensively, unlike the rest of a thinning crop of French full-backs, Debuchy has emerged as a leader and a goalscorer for Jean-Louis Gasset’s resurgent St Étienne. In ten games with Les Verts to date, the right back has 4 goals; the crucial debut opener against Amiens when Gasset’s side were still glancing over their shoulders, a injury time equaliser in the derby with Lyon, the opener against top 6 rivals Nantes and another later winner to see of Strasbourg at the weekend. He, surprisingly didn’t make the most recent France squad but with Djibril Sidibé’s injury, teammate Yann M’Vila could be right: “It would not be a surprise to see him at the World Cup. Mathieu is a great professional… He did not come to St Étienne for nothing.”

Wissam Ben Yedder: A lot has happened for Wissam Ben Yedder over the last month. As March began some impressive displays, often as a substitute in Seville this season, fostered rumours that Didier Deschamps was considering him for a place in the latest Les Bleus’ group for the brace of March friendlies. Nevertheless, some eye-catching form aside, the chances of a trip to Russia seemed little more than slim.

Although a hero of the Stade Municipal during his time with Toulouse, Ben Yedder remained well beyond France’s radar and little changed during his first season in Spain as he flitted in and out of Jorge Sampaoli’s eleven occasionally impressing but never holding down a place. After a pair of perfectly timed Champions’ League goals, both for his team and his career, dispatching Manchester United, Ben Yedder emerged as a serious contender for Russia, made his second France debut against Colombia last month. The first being for the Futsal team as a 19 year old.

However, the Tunisian born forward’s erratic displays, an issue at TFC too, doesn’t help his case, neither does his goal record as the brace at Old Trafford was one of only two games featuring a Ben Yedder goal since late January. His ability to impact games off the bench is an aspect of his game that Deschamps will prize however and given a proclivity to pick his ‘favourites’ while a true striker hierarchy remains uncertain, Ben Yedder could again be called upon to provide late impact on the international stage this summer.

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

Goalkeepers:

Hugo Lloris (100%), Steve Mandanda (100%), Alphonse Areola (90%), Benoît Costil (10%), Alban Lafont (5%), Stéphane Ruffier (5%)

Full-backs:

Djibril Sidibé (75%), Benjamin Mendy (50%), Lucas Digne (65%), Layvin Kurzawa (10%), Mathieu Debuchy (50%), Christophe Jallet (10%), Benjamin Pavard (50%), Sébastien Corchia (15%), Lucas Hernandez (50%), Theo Hernandez (5%), Bouna Sarr (5%).

Centre-backs:

Samuel Umtiti (100%), Raphaël Varane (100%), Laurent Koscielny (100%), Presnel Kimpembe (75%), Adil Rami (15%), Aymeric Laporte (10%), Clément Lenglet (5%).

Central Midfielders:

N’Golo Kante (100%), Adrien Rabiot (60%), Corentin Tolisso (80%), Paul Pogba (90%), Blaise Matuidi (85%), Moussa Sissoko (20%), Lassana Diarra (10%), Tiemoué Bakayoko (10%), Steven N’Zonzi (5%), Geoffrey Kondogbia (5%).

Wingers:

Thomas Lemar (85%), Ousmane Dembélé (70%), Kingsley Coman (40%), Florian Thauvin (45%), Anthony Martial (40%), Dimitri Payet (30%), Nabil Fékir (40%).

Strikers:

Antoine Griezmann (100%), Kylian Mbappé (100%), Olivier Giroud (95%), Alexandre Lacazette (30%), Wissam Ben Yedder (15%), Kevin Gameiro (5%), Moussa Dembélé (5%)

 

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