France enjoyed a 2-0 win over Serbia in Reims on Saturday night to add to their less convincing 3-2 victory over Iceland last week. Although the performance was a big improvement on the one seen in Valenciennes, France manager Laurent Blanc is still faced with more questions than answers.
Despite not being faced with the same injury issues as England boss Roy Hodgson, the former Bordeaux manager has a few headaches of his own to contend with ahead of next Tuesday’s final Euro 2012 warm-up match with Estonia. Having experimented with a number of different players so far during the training camp, Blanc’s selection for next week’s game should be fairly close to the side he expects to name in opening Group D clash against England.
The first conundrum facing the former French international is deciding on the formation he wants to lead with as les Bleus enter the tournament. He was criticised by some because of his decision to start with two defensive midfielders against Iceland but quickly changed that approach when it became obvious it was not working.
"It all depends on whether the point of the midfield triangle is in front of the defence (4-3-3) or behind the attackers (4-2-3-1), but you still have three midfielders and three attackers" Blanc explained. "For me, it's six of one, half a dozen of the other."
Against Serbia though the side went for a more attacking 4-3-3 formation that allowed the side to shift the emphasis from defence to attack. Blanc used his substitutions to try a variety of different combinations but was also forced to make a change that he perhaps did not want to make as Yann M’Vila had to leave the pitch after five minutes of play. Thankfully the injury is not as bad as first feared.
The difference in performance between the two games was big and given the success of the formation, it would appear that the biggest problem for Blanc now is deciding which team to select.
In my opinion the biggest problem lies in defence. Philippe Mexès despite playing for AC Milan still looks unsure of himself in the centre of defence and on the evidence of the first two games still lacks discipline as he has picked up two bookings in two games. Would Blanc be better served by pairing the solid if unspectacular Laurent Koscielny with Adil Rami to give the back four some much needed balance? Perhaps.
Also, a lot has been made of Gaël Clichy’s inclusion in the squad and the question marks it has raised over the confidence in Manchester United’s Patrice Evra at international level. The City full-back was in good form against Serbia and Blanc has spoken of his delight at the former Arsenal man’s form perhaps hinting that he could play a leading role for les Bleus in the tournament.
Giroud, Benzema or both?
The final teaser then is how to incorporate Ligue 1 top scorer Olivier Giroud into the side. The Montpellier predator came off the bench and provided two assists in the final five minutes to down Iceland and despite calls to try to play him alongside Real Madrid star Karim Benzema, Blanc has yet to start the pair together.
"We are preparing for the match on 11 June against England, not the matches against Iceland, Serbia or Estonia" he explained prior to the Serbia match. "To play Benzema and Giroud together from the start would mean reorganising the entire midfield."
Giroud came off the bench against the Serbs enjoying the final 30 minutes despite not having as big an impact as he did in Valenciennes. The win though stretches France’s impressive unbeaten run to 20 games and given Giroud’s goal against Germany en route to that record, Blanc may already have plans for the big striker.
With the final warm-up game against Estonia on Tuesday remaining, France appear well on course to be ready for the Group D curtain raiser with England on June 11.