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Euro-Bleu Tracker – The Road to Clairefontaine – Week 2

Another week, another look at the individuals chasing for a place at EURO 2016. Eric Devin takes a look at five performing and five underperforming hopefuls from last week’s action.

Each player below is listed with their club team, last call-up, number of matches played for their club during the week ending March 13, and their performances.

Performing:

Timothee Kolodziejczak, Sevilla (n/a) 

2 matches played, 0-0 win draw at FC Basel, 90′, 4-2 win v Villarreal, on the bench

Given the performances of the likes of Samuel Umtiti in recent weeks, it may come as a surprise to see the likes of the Arras-born center back included here. However, despite not being included for a grudge match against Villarreal in the league, Kolodziejczak has been a regular for Sevilla in most of their biggest matches, a regular as the club progressed to the Copa del Rey final and notched third in a tough Champions’ League group.

Originally a left back, his form and versatility could make him an attractive option for Deschamps come June. Adept with the ball at his feet, pacy in addition to being strong in the air, the player is also eligible for Poland, whose surprise progression to the finals may be a lure. While never a candidate to start, bringing the Lens academy product into the fold may be a chance to tie his allegiance to Les Bleus.

Ousmane Dembélé, Stade Rennais (n/a) 

1 match played, 2-2 draw v Olympique Lyonnais, 90′, 1 assist, 1 booking 

Another match, another level of hype surrounding Rennes’ young winger. Not only did Dembélé deliver the assist for Rennes’ first goal, (admittedly benefitting from so slack defending on Lyon’s part) he also was a constant menace against Lyon’s back line, consistently drawing fouls and playing some fine interchanges with his fellow attackers. Showing no level of drop-off in a match with huge ramifications for his club’s European hopes, Dembélé has continued to rise to the occasion despite his young age.

Not included in the recent U-19 side for World Cup qualifiers against Denmark and Montenegro, Dembélé’s form cannot be ignored, and the question now is whether he becomes an Espoir or a member of the senior side. With other players in his position badly struggling for form, Deschamps could do worse than having a closer look at the youngster.

Samuel Umtiti, Olympique Lyonnais (n/a) 

1 match played, 2-2 draw at Stade Rennais: 90′ 

While conceding two goals is hardly the mark of quality, Umtiti was once again majestic alongside Bakary Kone. His ball-playing abilities were on full display, as was his recovery pace, making several important tackles to break up play, particularly as Rennes chased the game following the introductions of Clement Grenier and Corentin Tolisso.

As wily and pacy as Dembélé and substitute Jeremie Boga can be, Umtiti was every bit their equal. Like Kolodziejczak, Umtiti is also eligible for another country, Cameroon, and Deschamps might be wise to cap the youngster in the face of a greater potential for opportunity elsewhere. While Nicolas N’Koulou and Joel Matip are fine defenders, Umtiti has had a better season than either, and is certainly more accomplished than either of Sebastien Bassong or Aurelien Chedjou, both of whom were recalled for Les Indomptibles’ upcoming AFCON qualifiers.

Moussa Sissoko, Newcastle United (17/11/2015) 

1 match played, 1-0 loss at Leicester City90′

Hardly a doubt to be included this summer, it was nevertheless a breath of fresh air to see Sissoko at his scintillating best against leaders Leicester on Monday. While his efforts weren’t enough to secure a point for the Magpies, the former Toulouse man showed why he has been linked with the likes of Arsenal and others in the past, deployed on the left side of Rafa Benitez’s 4-2-3-1. Whether tracking back or going forward, Sissoko was a constant menace.

While he failed to breach Kasper Schmeichel’s goal on the evening, Sissoko showed how, on form, he is an automatic selection for Deschamps, despite the failings of his side around him. With Mathieu Valbuena’s status with the team still in doubt, Sissoko, if he can persist with this level of play, can make a real case for not only a place in the squad, but his inclusions in the starting eleven.

N’Golo Kante, Leicester City (n/a)

1 match played, 1-0 win v Newcastle, 90′

Given that Didier Deschamps has already shown there can be a place in the squad for an undersized, all-action midfielder, (in the form of LassanaDiarra) might the former Caen player usurp the Marseille player, despite his experience. In a nervy match against an invigorated Newcastle, Kante continued to shine. Doing what he does best, he added guile, verve and bite to the Foxes’ midfield, allowing the more bulky Danny Drinkwater to do the lion’s share in terms of shielding the back four.

In this role, Kante is masterful at breaking up play and facilitating Leicesteron the counter attack, but questions nevertheless remain surrounding his suitability to a 4-3-3, given Blaise Matuidi’s ability to play a similar role. The fact remains, however, that with the Foxes leading the league and Kantebeing perhaps the biggest difference between last season’s squad and this, Deschamps would be a fool to not include him, especially given his eligibility for Mali.

Underperforming:

Lassana Diarra, Olympique Marseille (17/11/2015)

2 matches played, 1-1 draw at Gazelec Ajaccio, not in the squad, 1-1 draw at Lorient, not in the squad

As Kante’s tock rises, Diarra’s takes a hit, a problematic situation given their similarities on the pitch. With no room in Deschamps’ 4-3-3 for both, it seems a long shot for both to be part of the 23-man squad come the summer. Diarra’s Marseille have been struggling in the league of late, winless in six. This, coupled with the team’s elimination by an admittedly resolute Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League, can’t be doing the former Real Madrid player’s stock much good.

It is true that he will likely recover from an injury to feature, perhaps as soon as this weekend, but the fact is the damage has been done, and given Diarra’s age (31) and long lay-off from competitive football, questions have started to swirl about his fitness and suitability on a larger stage. If he can recapture his incandescent form of the early season, he may still have a chance to participate, but those odds are growing longer by the day.

Christophe Jallet, Olympique Lyonnais (17/11/2015)

1 match, 2-2 draw at Stade Rennais, on the bench

Much like Moussa Sissoko, Christophe Jallet is well in contention for a place in the 23-man squad, with an outside chance of being a part of the first team. Given the form of Bacary Sagna, and the stumbles of Mathieu Debuchy, outlined here last week, Jallet, like the Newcastle player, has the real potential to be a key part of the starting eleven.

Assured on the ball, resolute in defense and with the knack for the odd headed goal, Jallet is the complete right back. Mistakes are rare and experience is high, making this summer the perfect opportunity for the former Paris Saint-Germain player to end his international career in style.

That is, however, if he can regain his place as his club’s first choice right back. At the weekend, Rafael got the nod over Jallet, as he had against Guingamp the previous weekend. While part of the Brazilian’s selection over Jallet may be down to his dismissal against Lille in mid-February, four matches on, it is doubtful whether that is still in Genesio’s consideration.

Jallet may have an immediate chance to reclaim his starting spot against Nantes this weekend, given the way Rafael failed to keep out Jeremie Boga’s equalizer, but he will need to keep an iron grip on his starting place if he is to continue to be a part of the national side.

Clement Grenier, Olympique Lyonnais (01/06/2014)

1 match, 2-2 draw at Stade Rennais, 13′

Having ridden his fine form three years ago to a presumptive place in France’s group for Brazil 2014, Grenier has struggled mightily with injury in the interim. His return to fitness at the turn of the year rekindled hopes among the Lyon faithful, who must surely cherish the memories of the club’s run-in in the 2012-13 season, where a magnificent Grenier, deputizing for the injured Yoann Gourcuff, was the club’s talisman as they pipped Saint-Etienne and a hard-charging Nice to third place.

However, despite notching a goal and two assists since his return, Grenier appears no closer to the national side than he did a year ago, when he was battling a series of injuries.

This is not an indictment of the player’s talent, but just a question of how he could potentially fit into a 4-3-3. The aggressive play of the likes of Corentin Tolisso and Jordan Ferri make them a better fit for Genesio’s system, and at this point in time they are both better options for Deschamps’ midfield as well.

Grenier is still a remarkable talent in terms of his vision and ability from dead ball situations, but his tackling, as the loss to Lille showed, is simply abject, meaning that he could shoulder no significant burden unless Les Bleus were chasing a game. Still only 25, Grenier can yet be an important player for his country, but the qualification for Russia in two years’ time looks more of an opportunity than this summer.

Francis Coquelin, Arsenal (n/a)

2 matches played, 4-0 win at Hull City, suspended, 1-2 loss v Watford, 90′ 

Still uncapped for France, despite his relative success with Arsenal, Francis Coquelin continues to confound. A late bloomer set to turn 25 in less than two months’ time, he was hailed as the missing piece to Arsenal’s lack of bite in defensive midfield upon his deployment last season. Used alongside a variety of central midfielders, (Santi Cazorla, Mohamed Elneny, Aaron Ramsey) Coquelin has been a terrier-like presence in the center of the park for the Gunners since his promotion to the first team.

That said, is he really the type of player than Deschamps can call upon? In a 4-3-3, he would have to be used at the base of midfield, given that he lacks enough panache to be deployed further forward.

But, can his discipline be trusted? Given his sending-off against Spurs last weekend, that must also be doubted. With the likes of Kante and yes, Diarra, ahead of the Arsenal player, his uneven performances this season, especially compared to last, show a player at risk of being “figured out,” hardly the ideal type for a major tournament.

Bacary Sagna, Manchester City (17/11/2015)

1 match played, 0-0 draw at Norwich City, 85′ played

Sagna is still Didier Deschamps’ presumptive starter at right back, and he has admittedly done well this season to keep Pablo Zabaleta out of the side in the biggest matches. The former Arsenal man is a more than veteran player at 33, but still delivers the goods most weeks. Why, then, does he find himself amongst the underperformers? It may be a bit harsh, but given the precarious state of Manchester City in the Premier League, was a scoreless draw against relegation-threatened Norwich an ideal result?

Sure, one could argue that a right back’s ability to influence a game is minimal, but tell that to the likes of Dani Alves or Philipp Lahm. While Sagna was commendable in defense, his attacking contributions against an ill-equipped Norwich side were negligible.

In a 4-3-3, it is imperative that the full backs contribute in attack, and at the moment, against resolute opposition, (Romania, anyone?) Sagna simply doesn’t seem up for the challenge. While he or Jallet will start by default, Sagna simply must show more going forward if France are to display the class needed to succeed this summer.

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