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Euro-Bleu Tracker – The Race to Clairefontaine – Week 8

In a week of spills and thrills, sublime goals, Champions’ League heroics and heartbreak, the big story out of FFF headquarters was the announcement that Karim Benzema would not be selected for this summer’s European Championships.

The news wasn’t exactly inevitable, but given that Benzema had not been included in last month’s friendlies, despite another fine season with Real Madrid, the writing was on the wall to some degree.

With only four or five matches left for most of those hopeful to get the call from Didier Deschamps, there is still enough time for a surprise inclusion or two. As always, players are listed with their club team and the date of their last selection for the senior squad, where applicable, and includes matches played through April 18.

Performing: 

Loic Perrin, AS Saint-Etienne (18/11/2015) 

1-0 at SC Bastia, 90′ 

With no goals conceded since Perrin’s return from injury, leading to four consecutive wins, Les Verts’ captain is  making a strong case to be included in the 23, especially with Jeremy Mathieu’s injury.

Against an always gritty Bastia, Perrin assuredly led the line again, dealing with the bulky Brandao and giving his team a much-needed foundation at the always-dangerous Furiani, letting the team see out a close match. These qualities are important in a knock-out competition, and given Perrin’s prior involvement with the squad, he seems the natural replacement for Jeremy Mathieu.

Alexandre Lacazette, Olympique Lyonnais (18/11/2015)  

1-1 draw v OGC Nice, 90′, 1 goal 

Another week, another goal for Lyon’s target man. This time, there was a bit of luck involved as Lacazette turned in the rebound from a Mathieu Valbuena free kick, but throughout the match, despite being a goal and a man down for more than an hour, the striker’s never-say-die attitude had as much to do with their comeback as Bruno Genesio’ tactics.

While admittedly Antoine Griezmann’s heroics against Barcelona mean his starting is a given, Lacazette’s motor and pace make him a better choice at this point than the likes of Olivier Giroud.

Alphonse Areola, Villarreal (n/a) 

2-4 win at Sparta Prague, 90′, 1-2 loss at Rayo Vallecano, 90′ 

While conceding four goals in two matches isn’t often a good thing for a young goalkeeper, the importance of Areola to Villarreal was once again underscored as the club battled back against the feisty Czech side.

While a knee issue had kept the PSG loanee out of consideration for last month’s friendlies, leading a unfancied Villarreal to fourth place and a Europa League semifinal is some achievement, and the youngster’s future make him a good choice for Deschamps.

Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid (29/03/2016) 

2-0 win v Barcelona, 90′, 2 goals, 3-0 win v Granada, 63′ 

With each passing season, the €30M that Atletico Madrid paid Real Sociedad for Antoine Griezmann is looking increasingly a bargain. His double against Barcelona to eliminate the holders from the Champions’ League was impressive, bringing him to 29 for the season in all competitions, but more impressive still is his versatility.

Able to play anywhere across a front four, Griezmann not only offers Deschamps a supremely talented player but also the ability to easily add a tactical wrinkle without using a substitution, an important asset in a tournament.

Morgan Schneiderlin, Manchester United (18/11/2015)

1-0 win v Aston Villa, 90′, 1-2 win at West Ham United, 23′ 

Four weeks ago, Manchester United’s season had looked like a lost cause, with the club languishing in the Europa League spots and dumped out of the Europa League by arch-rivals Liverpool. However, in the intervening period, the team has won five of seven in the league and advanced to an FA cup semi-final.

Once again a regular starter, Schneiderlin’s performances have likewise improved in that period, the team’s loss to Tottenham notwithstanding, meaning that Lassana Diarra’s battle for fitness becomes even more pressing.

Underperforming: 

Benoit Costil, Stade Rennais (29/03/2016) 

3-0 loss at Guingamp, 90′

With consecutive matches ending in 3-0 scorelines for Rennes, the club’s once promising season is now reliant on slip-ups from the likes of Saint-Etienne and Lille to even qualify for Europe. Admittedly Costil hasn’t been solely at fault for his club’s performances, but with the ‘keeper 29 in the summer, and Hugo Lloris and Steve Mandanda all but irreplaceable ahead of him, might it be time for Deschamps to look at a younger player to be the third ‘keeper?

Mamadou Sakho, Liverpool (29/03/2016) 

4-3 win v Borussia Dortmund, 90′, 1 goal, 2-1 win v Bournemouth, 23′ 

While Liverpool are a fine run of form domestically, and their defeat of Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League quarterfinals is already becoming the stuff of legend, poor marking on the part of Sakho meant their unlikely progression almost didn’t happen.

Shockingly out of place on two of Dortmund’s goals, Sakho seems to have been struck down with the same problem that plagues France’s other central defenders, displaying an over-reliance on his pace at the expense of thoughtful positioning. If France’s attack can lead the team to the title the season, poor defending could also see them disappoint.

Geoffrey Kondogbia, Inter Milan (07/09/2015) 

2-0 win v SSC Napoli, 68′, booking 

A much-needed win against Napoli, Inter taking advantage of the absence of Gonzalo Higuain, so where’s the issue? Kondogbia once again displayed his disciplinary issues, pitching up with a booking that will see him suspended, furthering doubts about his suitability to sit in front of defense.

With Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba firmly ensconced in the other two midfield spots, the former Monaco player’s lack of composure has lead to his gradual slipping from Deschamps’ reckoning, a trend that was furthered on Saturday.

Olivier Giroud, Arsenal (29/03/2016) 

1-1 draw v Crystal Palace, 15′ 

With Giroud not having scored a league goal in over three months, it is not a persistent disdain for the player that sees him listed in the underperforming section once again. Given that Andre-Pierre Gignac perfectly fits the tradtional target man profile and is in form, and that neither is likely to start, can Deschamps really afford to take both players?

With such a wealth of other, more tactically suitable options, (Lacazette, Martial, Griezmann, even Payet in a pinch) the Arsenal player doesn’t deserve to go simply on his reputation and should, like Loic Remy, become an afterthought.

Benoit Tremoulinas, Sevilla (07/09/2015) 

1-2 draw v Athletic Bilbao, not in the squad 1-1 draw v Deportivo La Coruna, not in the squad 

It is perhaps appropriate to shed a tear for Tremoulinas, who, despite some assured performances over the course of the season, looks a long shot to be included this summer, despite some competent displays in the recent past.

With thigh issues preventing him from appearing a crucial Europa League fixture last mid-week, as well as a dreary home draw against Deportivo, any slim hopes that Tremoulinas may have harbored of making the squad as a consequence of Jeremy Mathieu’s injury have evaporated owing to his own setbacks.

Eric Devin

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