Three things we learnt as France held to back-to-back draws in Euro 2024

France have been held to back-to-back draws after Tusday’s 1-1 result against Poland, which means Didier Deschamps’ side finish second in Group D, putting them at risk of facing a difficult opponent in the Round of 16 of Euros 2024. The issues evidenced in Les Bleus’ draw against the Netherlands were once again on display in what was another lethargic and overly-conservative performance.

Deschamps’ handbrake firmly engaged

Didier Deschamps, in his conservaitsm, has almost been a caricature of himself this week. In the absence of Kylian Mbappé earlier this week, the France manager opted to bring in a No.6 in the form of Aurélien Tchouaméni. Mbappé returned against Poland but it was one of Les Bleus’ few creative outlets, Antoine Griezmann, who gave way. In his absence, France lacked any kind of creativity. Bradley Barcola looked dangerous when he did get on the ball but he received far too sparingly.

With Tchouaméni starting as a conventional No.6, it was N’Golo Kanté who was charged with linking the play and providing that creative spark in midfield. It was an experiment that brought mixed results. Whilst the Al-Ittihad midfielder performed his defensive duties admirably, as he always does, he didn’t look comfortable when he found himself in more advanced areas and when asked to find the final pass. It is not his role and he shouldn’t be charged with being France’s spark – that goes without saying.

In firmly applying the handbrake, the balance of the midfield has been tampered with and lost. That balance, with Griezmann in the No.8, relaying role, was France’s strenght in Qatar 18 months ago; their midfield is now their weakness.

Barcola – a flawed X-factor

Given Marcus Thuram’s inability to shine in a France shir (two goals in 20 appearances for Les Bleus), there was a natural clamour for change. Mbappé, in the opening game against Austria, occupied central areas with Thuram drifitng out wide. It is a position in which Bradley Barcola is more capable, as he showed against Poland. 

Whilst he flitted in and out of the game, he was France’s main source of threat in the first half. His interchange with Mbappé, with whom he has built a strong connection in his one-and-only season with Mbappé at Paris Saint-Germain, created Les Bleus’ two best changes of the first period, both of which came just before the half-time break. 

He added a lot down the left-wing, a lot more than Thuram, however, it very much pigeon-holed Mbappé as a No.9, which doesn’t fully suit him, whilst he also lacks the discipline to play the role. He struggled to resist his natrual instinct to drift wide and whilst that is less problematic with Thuram in the team, as the Inter Milan is happy to occupy those central areas, it was a problem with Barcola. The former Olympique Lyonnais winger will not come inside and in the first-half it left a vast space unoccupied. Barcola has proved to be a tempting and exciting option for Deschamps but he certainly isn’t an option without flaws. 

A portrait of Dembélé’s career

A story as old as time itself, Ousmane Dembélé beats his man but then can’t do anything with it. The PSG forward’s performance against Poland was a snapshot of his career. Luis Enrique called Dembélé “the most destabilising player in the world” last season and he showed why he earned that title, frequently beating his man. It is the next step that was the problem, and always has been. When in dangerous areas, Dembélé continues to be incredibly wasteful and had he had better decision-making and better execution, hr could have changed the course of the match.

Dembélé has been the uncontested first choice on the right wing for a while now but he leaves Deschamps and France with a dilemma. Kingsley Coman and Randal Kolo Muani are waiting in the wings but for the former, there are fitness concerns, for the latter, a crisis of confidence. Deschamps now has to consider whether the alternatvies could prove an upgrade on Dembélé who, through his profligacy, has left his manager with a big decision to make going into the group stages.

GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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