Before the 2018 World Cup, Blues already in the dark

January 2018. The World Cup in Russia was approaching and the France team was entering a series of five friendly matches to finish preparing for the deadline. The previous year had seen the Blues qualify without impressing, with in particular a misstep in Sweden (1-2, June 9, 2017) and an embarrassing draw against Luxembourg (0-0, September 3, 2017). So much so that they were not among the first names mentioned when discussing favorites for the world title.

As in recent months, Didier Deschamps was still groping about the system to adopt. The coach then alternated between a 4-2-3-1 to maximize the attacking potential of his squad and a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 in which Antoine Griezmann was not playing in the best conditions. The first option will finally be retained for the competition, with the switchover of Blaise Matuidi on the left wing.

Blaise Matuidi, captain of the France team against Eire in a friendly.  (P. Lahalle/The Team)

Blaise Matuidi, captain of the France team against Eire in a friendly. (P. Lahalle/The Team)

Another already worrying site at the time, the two side positions were subject to debate. On the right, Djibril Sidibé gave more the impression of being a default choice in the face of the lack of solutions. On the other side, Benjamin Mendy seemed settled before being seriously injured a year earlier. The pair will be tested to the end and a final friendly against the United States on June 9, 2018 (1-1). Neither will eventually be part of the eleven type that will emerge in Russia.

The hierarchy of the France group was clear

Despite these few question marks, the coach had very clear ideas about the hierarchy in place within his group. The framework of the eleven which will evolve in Russia was already well established. Captain Hugo Lloris was undisputed in goal. In hinge, Raphaël Varane was an obvious choice and Samuel Umtiti held the rope to accompany him. N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba were leaders in the midfield, at club level as with the Blues. Griezmann was at the top of his form with Atlético. Matuidi and Olivier Giroud offered rare reliability in selection. And Kylian Mbappé was in full explosion.

Contrary to the current situation of the Blues, the individual dynamics and the state of health of the leaders were then green. What relativize the few questions of the time. And amplify the current doubts about the shape of the leaders of a defending group.

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