FEATURE | France World Cup midfield options. Who replaces Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté?

France’s squad may have evolved since their 2018 triumph in Russia but, in many positions, there remain old certainties. Hugo Lloris will captain the side, as he did four years ago, Raphaël Varane, Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez will all likely feature in defence, whilst Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann will continue to lead the line. Les Bleus’ midfield hasn’t achieved such longevity; none of the class of 2018 will feature this time around.

France’s midfield is therefore building up from ground-zero. Until recently sustained injuries, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté still represented immovable objects in the centre of the park, despite the emergence of challengers such as Aurélien Tchouaméni. Reconstructing a midfield amidst the pressure of a World Cup defence is a suboptimal scenario, but certain mitigations can be made.

Pairing Tchouaméni with Youssouf Fofana to reconstruct AS Monaco’s midfield pivot from last season is a logical one, and one that Deschamps may find hard to resist. The duo were inseparable last season, and pivotal to Les Monégasques’ Champions League push. Despite Tchouaméni’s €100m move to Real Madrid this summer, it wouldn’t take long for muscle memory to kick in and for the partnership to once again bear fruit.

However, it’s a midfield without experience. At 29, Jordan Veretout is the oldest midfielder in Frances’s ranks, but the Marseille man has only accumulated five appearances at international level, and hasn’t featured for Les Bleus this calendar year. Adrien Rabiot is a much more astute bet. The Juventus midfielder, who has started the season in fine form in Serie A, has never competed in a World Cup. The former PSG man infamously refused to be a part of Deschamps’ reserve list in 2018, but now looks in a good position to start the first game of the tournament four years later, having featured for France in Euro 2020.

Mattéo Guendouzi can make a solid case for being in the starting line-up but, given the probable reconstruction of the Fofana-Tchouaméni pivot, it would be a risky choice to add another inexperienced element into the mix. This season, the former Arsenal man has often been utilised in a more attacking role at Marseille but, given the attacking talents at France’s disposal, it’s fair to assume that Guendouzi will find himself in a deeper role, should he feature.

Eduardo Camavinga was arguably lucky to get into the squad. There’s no doubting the Real Madrid midfielder’s potential, but his recent poor performances for the national team threw his selection into doubt. Many of his best appearances for the European champions have come off the bench, especially during last season’s Champions League campaign, and it looks highly likely that Camavinga will have to settle for a similar role at the World Cup. He is a bit of a wildcard that, if correctly utilised, has the potential to make a big difference late in games.

Regardless of the various configurations of this France midfield, the players on the pitch have the unenviable task of living up to the achievements of Pogba and Kanté. How they handle these expectations and pressures will be decisive to functioning of a new-look midfield that has the potential to make or break France’s World Cup defence.

Luke Entwistle

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