The most in form team heading into the tournament with 20 games without defeat, but can they translate that form into a EURO 2012 title?
The memories of their World Cup failure seem to have completely vanished under new coach Laurent Blanc, and they are proving to be true contenders for the title come next month. I’ll go through the main backbone and the tactics that they’ll be deploying over the duration of the EURO 2012 tournament.
A Lone Striker
Previous friendlies have showed that Laurent Blanc favours playing Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema as a lone striker up front for Les Bleus, and he has been scoring goals for fun in his recent appearances. The Frenchman of Algerian descent was rumoured to have been out with a knock – hence missing a recent training session – but is set to return for France’s opening Group D game against England.
In Oliver Giroud, France have an adequate substitute who is more than capable of playing up front whether alone as a classic number 9 forward, or quite simply playing alongside Karim Benzema.
Two Wide Men
From day one, Blanc experimented with his side, and he tried to find some consistency in his squad selection. Over the past few friendlies, he has showed that he has pretty much a clear idea of what he wants his side to do over the EUROs.
His set-up usually has 2 wingers in Frank Ribery and Samir Nasri, both cutting in along with providing crosses from the flanks whenever they can. Ribery’s spot is secured for the competition, but Nasri faces competition from the likes of Valbuena and Jeremy Menez.
Expect crosses, along with the two wingers cutting in and scoring a couple themselves over the duration of the tournament.
A Flexible Midfield
There will be two formations that will suit the different approaches that Blanc can go for in the competition. He does have that flexibility of changing around his midfield and making it more offensive minded.
On one hand, he could move Menez to the wings, then put Nasri in between Ribery and Menez (‘in the hole’) to get more presence higher up the pitch, getting the ball to Benzema better and essentially having more men in and around the box to try and make more chances.
And on the other, he can go for Florent Malouda and try and get that support to Ribery on the left flank. He’ll play in a slightly less advanced role, and Debuchy’s running up and down the pitch will be there to support Nasri (if he plays) on the right.
In the France midfield, Blanc usually goes for a ‘midfield destroyer’. This will be the man in charge of breaking down passages of play along with getting the ball moving. Essentially, it is a classic Makelele role. It will be either M’Villa or Alou Diarra getting the nod for this position, although Diarra is likely to start against England given M’villa’s fitness concerns over the past few days.
Cabaye then operates slightly further up the pitch – and his main duty will be to provide dynamism to the French midfield. He will be looking to link up the defence, along with their midfield destroyer to the wingers and more advanced players. He will also be tracking a lot of midfielders over the duration of the tournament.
A Slow Backline
The signs are pointing towards starts for Mexes and Rami in France’s first Group D match against England. However, if the friendlies are anything to go by, they will struggle against pacy forwards and wingers, given the slow nature of the French backline.
France operate a high backline, and often play the possession game against opponents. As seen against relative minnows Iceland, their defence was slow when balls were played behind them and were punished for it, conceding two before half time.
Evra might start against England, but like Benzema, sat out a training session just yesterday, and might miss out on the game. Gael Clichy can step in and be a replacement if required. Both provide potent attacking threats, and can punish the opposition with overmanning. Debuchy covers a lot of ground over the course of matches, and can provide width to this French side.
A Solid Number 1
Hugo Lloris will undoubtedly start between the sticks for France when they kickstart their EURO 2012 campaign come a few days time. He commands that 12 yard box really well and has had a good season with Lyon.
Mandanda is a decent replacement should any complications arise over the duration of the tournament.
The Key Man: Hugo Lloris
Captain, goalkeeper. Hugo Lloris will be a huge determining factor of how far France can go in the tournament. Has the ability to put up fantastic saves and will, in my opinion, be the key man for France over the duration of the EURO 2012 tournament.
Potential Breakthrough Star: Oliver Giroud
A fantastic season for the Frenchman for Ligue 1 side Montpellier, and this might just be the tournament where he will breakthrough. Among only two strikers selected for the tournament, but will start behind Benzema in the peking order when the tournament starts. Great aerial ability.
A good blend of midfield bite and attacking creativity in their team, although questions will be asked as to whether this French side can overcome the nightmares of their disappointing 2010 World Cup campaign.