We take a look at how Les Bleus fared in their first competitive outing at the Stade de France since the 2018 World Cup, in what ended up being a strong 4-0 victory of Iceland.
Hugo Lloris: 5
The captain did not have all that much to do – again – tonight, but what he did have to do, he did it very well. There have been question marks over his performances for Spurs this season but for Les Bleus, Lloris is and probably always will be a safe pair of hands who you can always rely on to organise a defence and keep his concentration throughout long periods of inactivity.
Layvin Kurzawa: 6
Another good performance from the full-back who did not really put a foot wrong again tonight. Going forward, he was good and always posed a threat, while defensively he did look much better than what we have seen on him on previous occasions. Much like against Moldova, this may not be the best match to fully judge Kurzawa on his defensive capabilities but in what we did see, there has been an improvement. He will not be the first choice left-back once everyone is fit, but over this international break he has definitely proved himself to be one of the best to have as cover.
Raphael Varane: 6.5
It might not be too far-fetched to say that Raphaël Varane is the best defender in the world and can make a tough task look easy. Now, that is not for me to decide but when you see how well he dealt with the aerial threat from Iceland tonight, you realise just how easy he makes defending look. He is tall, strong, intelligent and knows to pick the right option every single time, with tonight being no exception.
Samuel Umtiti: 7
It is impossible not to like Samuel Umtiti. Not only is he an outstanding defender and forms one half of perhaps the best defensive duo in world football, but he has one of the most enjoyable celebrations too! The Barcelona man opened the scoring after he glanced in Kylian Mbappé’s cross – before breaking out his strut celebration – but overall he was outstanding again. Starting attacks from the back and helping the midfield out on the ball was a key part of his game and is probably overlooked by pundits.
Benjamin Pavard: 8
The best thing about covering the French National Team is seeing the exceptional growth of players under Didier Deschamps in this infectiously positive group. Benjamin Pavard, a centre-back for his club Stuttgart in the Bundesliga, has grown so much as a player that he has become outstanding as a right-back for his country as well! Tonight was arguably his most perfect performance and he nearly recreated his stunning goal from the World Cup against Argentina, proving to be a threat down the right flank going forward. The attacking part of his game was what stood out as something that needed to improve and clearly, as tonight showed, he has completely upped his standards and now looks even better.
N’Golo Kanté: 6.5
Tonight did not feel like a night for Kanté. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what was wrong, but he did not seem to have his best game against a tough Iceland midfield that bought multiple fouls off of the diminutive midfielder, but also tried to bully him at times. It just felt like the midfield had to be run by Pogba – someone who could bypass the Icelandic midfield rather than tackle and hassle – which meant that while Kanté certainly did not have a disappointing game, he certainly did not have one to remember.
Paul Pogba: 8
In the past two games for Les Bleus, Paul Pogba has shown why he is simply one of the best midfielders in the world. He has everything you would want from a midfielder. He has the ability to pick out any of his teammates with any kind of pass, he can win the ball back and protect the ball thanks to his seemingly extendable legs, he can run at defences, he can score, he can assist, he can do whatever he wants when he is on a football pitch. It is a joy to watch and he makes football fun, so I guess you can say he had a very, very good game tonight.
Blaise Matuidi: 6
Once again, Matuidi sacrificed his own performance for the good of the team. Why? Because look at the scoreline and look at the performance from Pogba. No statistic will show you the impact that Matuidi had on Pogba’s game, but without a runner like Matuidi, creating space and dragging opponents away from the ball, Deschamps’ side would not be able to play with their expansive, fluid style. No statistic will back-up Matuidi’s impact, but the Juventus midfielder’s presence is always felt and remains critically important.
Antoine Griezmann: 7.5
In a week when his Netflix documentary dropped and he scored a beautiful volley in the previous game against Moldova, you are never quite sure what Grizou is going to do next. But at least when he is wearing the France shirt, you know he is going to score. Which he did in style and it topped off what was a productive, if not different, kind of game for the forward.
Often, you see Griezmann dropping deep to collect the ball, essentially becoming a deep-lying playmaker to allow Giroud to occupy the defenders and Mbappé and Matuidi to stretch the full-backs. Tonight he was omnipresent, hurrying after every loose ball and he was one of the main creators in attack, even busting out the Lance Stephenson Air Guitar celebration for his goal (the man is obsessed with the NBA).
Kylian Mbappé: 8
The Prince was at it again. He scored a goal that was very similar to what we would see a young Thierry Henry pull out from time to time (the build-up was magnificent, too) and his back-heel to set-up Griezmann for the final goal was simply sublime. He may have had a few more goals too if he had his shooting boots on in the 1st half, but nevertheless it speaks volumes on how good this young man is when he scores one and assists another and we sit here afterwards saying he could have done more. Mbappé causes pure havoc when he is running at defenders, pinning them back and it could also be argued that when he gets into full motion, he cannot be stopped. Iceland were not able to stop him tonight, and they paid the price.
Olivier Giroud: 7.5
His goal was not spectacular and he probably did not know all that much about his finish but that is irrelevant when you see that Giroud’s goal tonight put him above David Trezeguet into third place of all-time top scorers for the French National Team. His hold-up play was once again superb, as he helped bring others into play and he could have had more if not for a wonderful save that tipped his header over the crossbar in the 1st half.
We should enjoy Giroud whilst he is still here because he is not going to be around forever and while he may not score the bagfuls of goals that is expected of a striker, he is just more than that and truly unique in 2019. What he brings is only quantifiable when you see how the attack works around him, like it did tonight.
Thomas Lemar for N’Golo Kanté: N/A
Presnel Kimpembe for Layvin Kurzawa: N/A
Moussa Sissoko for Olivier Giroud: N/A