In the third piece of a special 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.
Thomas Lemar: As Thomas Lemar left the Stade Michel d’Ornano following his latest poor display in a Monaco’s narrow 2-1 win over Caen, a group of fans were waiting for him. The ensuing verbal abuse directed at Lemar was born out of an increasing fan frustration over a number of lacklustre outings, not just from Lemar, that has seen Leonardo Jardim’s side descend from what seemed to be a certain second place into struggling to even make the podium.
Lemar’s displays this year, lacking his usual waspish intensity, pace and power, have carried a sense that a move away from the Stade Louis II is not far off and that his motivation has apparently started to wain as a result. Arguably, fitness and a slight positional change have contributed to the 22 year old’s poor year but as Lemar seemed conceded to Téléfoot in March, disappointment at the failure of late Arsenal and Liverpool bids during the climax of the summer transfer window have been on his mind. While oddly seeming to admit he was only playing for a move away.
“I am not going to hide it, I was a bit disappointed,” explained Lemar, “but there is no point fixating on that. I have continued to work so that these clubs might come back for me in the following transfer window.” Instead of following his own advice, Lemar, combined with the form of Dimitri Payet, seems to have played his way down Didier Deschamps forward hierarchy to the point where he seems unlikely to start, with his very place in the squad is even open to question. While it would remain a huge surprise to not see Lemar on the plane to Russia, the fact that his displays have disintegrated to such an extent that his inclusion is under question underlines how steep his downward trajectory has been of late.
Djibril Sidibé: In a squad with such an abundance of talent, France’s full-backs remain the odd ones out. Following the decline of Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna, the ageing pair started every game at Euro 2016 but have barely featured since, Deschamps has handed caps to 9 different full-back options. Meanwhile, late form from the likes of Mathieu Debuchy, Bouna Sarr, Jordan Amavi and even Kévin Malcuit, all unused by France in that time, has further confused the situation.
Proficient on either side but being deployed on the right by Deschamps, as he is usually is for Monaco, Djibril Sidibé is the only man to achieve any sort of consistency at full-back in the last two years. Unfortunately for Les Bleus, this only serves to underline the issue.
While Sidibé is an outstanding attacking full-back, along with Benjamin Mendy, he proved central to Monaco’s title success last season and often proving usual as more of a winger, his defensive displays often range from rickety to shambolic. A particularly chaotic outing in September’s 4-0 drubbing in the Côte d’Azur derby at Nice being a low point. Such frailty has repeatedly been exposed this campaign now that Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco are unable to exert themselves so forcefully on the opposition since Mbappé and co’s departures.
A meniscus injury picked up during the 7-1 loss to PSG in April will see him miss the remainder of the domestic campaign while his summer availability remains in doubt. This combined with form that has seen him drop back into the chasing pack could end his hopes.
Dimitri Payet: As 2017 became 2018, Dimitri Payet seemed lost in the international wilderness as his career, the move back to Marseille have yet to prove fruitful, seemed to be winding down. The contrast between the Payet that tore Romania asunder in the Euro 2016 opener and the Payet overshadowed by Florian Thauvin at the Vélodrome in 2017 was stark.
Such was his downturn, Payet failed to make Didier Deschamps’ squad in March for the first time, injuries aside, since November 2015. However, 2018 has been Payet’s year. In the 27 OM fixtures that have featured Payet this calendar year, the Marseille captain has amassed 7 goals and 16 assists, finally becoming the talismanic presence that Marseille fans thought they had signed from West Ham in last January.
As well as gloriously guiding OM to the Europa League final, Payet now leads Ligue 1 in assists but, although his displays had seen an uptick over the winter, it is in the last month to so that he has truly proved unplayable. Perhaps frustratingly, it seems was his removal from Deschamps’ squad, and the accompanying doubt over his place in France 23, that has spurred Payet on to prove Deschamps wrong. “He’s been better for a few games compared to what he was doing, he can still do better.”
Deschamps affirmed after OM’s last 16 Europa League defeat of Bilbao, “the train has not left for Payet, there’s still a month and a half of competition, his absence is a one-off choice, not definitive.” Pivotally for Payet, the poor form of his rivals for a place in the side, most notably Thomas Lemar, has only strengthened his position. With Payet in such devastating form of his own, it will be difficult to overlook him.
Rémy Cabella: “I did not think about the team of France, well, I thought it was far off, but after the season I just put in, I have good statistics,” explained Rémy Cabella on Monday, “I’m not saying that I’m going to be in the France squad, but you still have to have this ambition, to believe it and to be able to come back one day as a French team. I tell myself that I am capable.”
Perhaps unthinkable even six months ago, the former Newcastle and Montpellier forward was right to optimistic. Now one of Ligue 1 outstanding performers, Cabella’s loan move to St Étienne at the start of season pressed pause on a largely underwhelming 18 months with Marseille.
It has taken a while for the now 28 year old to find some sort of rhythm after an intermittent career following his breakout year in Montpellier’s 2012 Ligue 1 title, having failed to hold down a regular place under Alan Pardew at St James’s Park and upon his return to Ligue 1 with OM.
With St Étienne it is clear that Cabella is the focal point. Usually deployed as a number 10 Cabella has flourished into a leader and a genuine creative and attacking threat, a superb display in the 3-0 demolition on Nantes last month a true highlight.
Much like Payet, his performances have improved markedly in the new year with the influence of new coach Jean-Louis Gasset proving crucial. So much so that Cabella stated the chances of him remaining with Les Verts are greatly improved by the extension of Gasset’s stay, “Jean-Louis would be a real plus for sure,” he said in an interview with BeIN Sports. While Cabella remains an outside bet for Deschamps’ squad, few players in Ligue 1 are in better form.
Chances of Being Selected for France’s Russia World Cup Squad:
Hugo Lloris (100%), Steve Mandanda (100%), Alphonse Areola (90%), Benoît Costil (10%), Alban Lafont (5%), Stéphane Ruffier (5%)
Lucas Digne (65%), Djibril Sidibé (60%), Benjamin Mendy (60%), Mathieu Debuchy (50%), Benjamin Pavard (50%), Lucas Hernandez (50%), Sébastien Corchia (15%), Theo Hernández (10%), Bouna Sarr (10%), Layvin Kurzawa (5%), Jordan Amavi (5%), Kevin Malcuit (5%), Christophe Jallet (5%).
Samuel Umtiti (100%), Raphaël Varane (100%), Presnel Kimpembe (90%), Adil Rami (55%), Aymeric Laporte (40%), Clément Lenglet (15%), Laurent Koscielny (0%)
N’Golo Kante (100%), Paul Pogba (100%), Corentin Tolisso (85%), Blaise Matuidi (80%), Adrien Rabiot (60%), Moussa Sissoko (20%), Tiemoué Bakayoko (15%), Lassana Diarra (5%), Steven N’Zonzi (5%), Geoffrey Kondogbia (5%), Rémy Cabella (5%).
Thomas Lemar (65%), Ousmane Dembélé (65%), Dimitri Payet (65%), Kingsley Coman (50%), Florian Thauvin (50%), Nabil Fékir (50%), Anthony Martial (40%).
Antoine Griezmann (100%), Kylian Mbappé (100%), Olivier Giroud (100%), Alexandre Lacazette (40%), Wissam Ben Yedder (10%), Kevin Gameiro (5%), Moussa Dembélé (5%)