World Cup tactics: France start afresh with Blanc page

The debris from the slow-motion car crash that has been the last two years in the life of the France team is unlikely to settle for some time. The fall-out from their spectacularly ugly World Cup failure will rumble long into the summer, with players promising to reveal the full story behind their ill-tempered campaign and government ministers poised to carry out a searching investigation into the failings of the French Football Federation.

French football fans want a line to be drawn under this World Cup as swiftly as possible and in the imminent arrival of Laurent Blanc as new head coach they have at least an opportunity to start afresh. Le Président has not yet signed his contract but France’s next game, a friendly against Norway in Oslo on August 11, is less than two months anyway and he will already have formulated strong ideas about how he is going to approach his gargantuan task. What next, then, for France?

Blanc would not be the first international coach to turn to trusted players from his tenure as a club manager and in that respect his arrival is good news for the Bordeaux contingent, namely Alou Diarra and, in particular, Yoann Gourcuff. The latter’s wretched tournament was ended by a harsh red card in the 2-1 defeat by South Africa on Tuesday, but Gourcuff already carried the look of a haunted man. Amid rumours of discord between him and some of the team’s high-profile senior players, Gourcuff produced an uncharacteristically shaky performance in the 0-0 draw with Uruguay and lost his place for the 2-0 loss against Mexico. His composure was badly disturbed by the atmosphere surrounding the team and Blanc’s first job will be to restore him to the level of confidence he enjoyed during Bordeaux’s annus mirabilis in 2009.

That Blanc’s France will be built around Gourcuff is almost certain, but the new coach could also call on his Bordeaux charges in other areas. Patrice Evra may struggle to regain public confidence after his leading role in the player revolt and should he fall from grace, Benoît Trémoulinas is one of a number of enterprising left-backs who could succeed him. Arsenal’s Gaël Clichy heads the queue to replace Evra though and at 24 he will theoretically be reaching his prime by the time the next World Cup comes around. Should he disappoint, Lyon’s Aly Cissokho and Valencia’s Jérémy Mathieu would also come into contention.

Of the other France defenders, Clichy’s clubmate Bacary Sagna could be the only player to survive the post-Domenech cull. William Gallas and Eric Abidal may never pull on a France shirt again and Sagna, though far from irreproachable for his performances in South Africa, profits from a lack of competition. Rod Fanni can expect a higher profile if he joins Atletico Madrid and Sevilla’s 26-year-old Abdoulay Konko is another candidate for the right-back slot.

Centre-backs Sébastien Squillaci and Julien Escudé, both also from Sevilla, will hope to benefit from the defensive reshuffle, but Blanc could turn to Roma’s long-overlooked Philippe Mexès. Lille’s Adil Rami and Bordeaux’s Marc Planus are strong candidates for a starting berth, while Laurent Koscielny will be able to advance a much stronger case for inclusion when he completes his expected move from Lorient to Arsenal. Michaël Ciani, another Bordeaux man, may also get a chance to redeem himself after a nervy performance against Spain in March.

How France might line up under Laurent Blanc in a 4-2-3-1 formation

A key feature of Bordeaux’s title-winning side was the attacking role of full-backs Trémoulinas and Matthieu Chalmé. Didier Deschamps estimated in January that “50 percent of their goals [come] from crosses from their full-backs” and Blanc is likely to encourage his wide defenders to get forward as much as possible. Sagna was notably deficient in this regard during the World Cup.

Despite the anticipated upheaval, core elements of the side are unlikely to change. Hugo Lloris may have flapped against South Africa but he remains one of Europe’s best young goalkeepers, while Jérémy Toulalan’s industry and reading of the game make him an indispensable component of the midfield. Lassana Diarra offers a combination of defensive diligence and attacking intent that no other French holding midfielder can provide, but he lost his place at Real Madrid towards the end of last season and missed the World Cup owing to a genetic blood condition.

Competition for Diarra’s place is fierce, with his Bordeaux namesake Alou, Arsenal’s Abou Diaby, Mathieu Flamini of Milan and 19-year-old Rennes starlet Yann M’Vila – called into France’s initial 30-man squad – leading the charge. Moussa Sissoko of Toulouse is another contender, although he tends to play further forward.

It was in attack that France laboured most obviously in their short-lived World Cup adventure and it is here that we should perhaps expect the most change. Thierry Henry’s international career is over and Nicolas Anelka’s stock has plunged so low it is impossible to see how he could ever recover in the eyes of the French fans. At 28, Djibril Cissé may have played his last major tournament. André-Pierre Gignac once again failed to convince when it mattered, although his case will be bolstered if a mooted move to Marseille materialises.

The most obvious beneficiary will be Karim Benzema. He is the only world-class centre forward on Blanc’s radar and, despite his difficulties bedding down at Real Madrid, he is sure to be given a chance to make the number nine shirt his own. He can also expect more playing time at the Bernabéu next season. A Real director told L’Equipe earlier this month: “Not only are Inter not interested in Benzema but even if they were, we wouldn’t sell him. Real count on him.” Blanc may have concerns about Benzema’s ability to lead the line on his own, but with the right support he can be lethal. France are not currently blessed with a wealth of top-rank striking talent, but Blanc is certain to look at Lorient livewire Kévin Gameiro – recently linked with a move to Valencia – and Nice frontman Loïc Rémy.

Goals may have been hard to come by for France in recent times but the composition of the midfield was equally as responsible as the bluntness of the strikers. Franck Ribéry disappointed in South Africa despite being restored to his favoured left-wing role and was outshone by Florent Malouda whenever the Chelsea man was given a chance to stake a claim to the position. At 27, Ribéry is three years Malouda’s junior but the Bayern Munich winger has just cause to fear for his international future.

Sidney Govou’s appalling tournament highlighted France’s dearth of options on the right of midfield, but competition to succeed him will be fierce. Recovered from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament and fresh from a €6 million move from Rennes to Lyon, Jimmy Briand can be expected to mount a strong challenge. With a dynamic player like Ribéry or Malouda likely to feature on the left, however, France may be better served by deploying a more thoughtful midfielder on the right and Samir Nasri would certainly enable them to recycle the ball more easily in advanced areas. So much of France’s offensive play at the World Cup relied on flashes of skill or pace from individuals, but a midfield containing Gourcuff and Nasri would give Blanc’s France much better command of the play in advanced areas. Beyond the players already named, Marseille’s Hatem Ben Arfa and Roma’s Jérémy Menez could also have a say in the configuration of Les Bleus’ new attack.

How France might line up under Laurent Blanc in a 4-1-3-2 formation

In terms of shape, Blanc used both 4-1-3-2 and 4-2-3-1 during his last two seasons at Bordeaux, with the former typically seen against lesser opposition in domestic competition and the latter used for tricky away trips and European ties. Blanc would love to be able to call upon France-born Marouane Chamakh to lead his line, given the Moroccan’s physicality in a lone striking role, but elsewhere he will find components not dissimilar to that with which he worked at Bordeaux. Malouda offers the same directness and athleticism on the left as Wendel, while Nasri’s versatility and ability to play in both advanced and withdrawn positions makes him a similar player to Jaroslav Plašil. Toulalan would in all probability be the holding midfielder to retain his place if Blanc switched to 4-1-3-2, with the rangy Rémy an intriguing potential partner for Benzema due to his pace and his penchant for working the channels.

By the time the next major tournament rolls around, however, Toulalan could be a centre-back. He played there impressively at times for Lyon last season and there were even reports prior to the World Cup that he would be asked to fulfil the role for his country. If he continues to play there next season, Blanc may look to deploy him as a central defender alongside a more classic centre-back such as Mexès or Squillaci. Drawing Toulalan back would enable Blanc to field Gourcuff in a deeper midfield position – a role which many pundits, including his own father, believe would suit him better. That would allow Nasri to occupy the central playmaking role – where he says he feels “most effective” – thereby freeing up space on the right for a more direct player such as Briand, Ben Arfa or Menez.

French football is in crisis but, just like last season, the 2010-2011 campaign will start with French players plying their trade at the grandest clubs in Europe. Blanc crucially arrives with the support of the entire French football community – not least the ever-pervasive alumni of the great 1998 team – but will not be expected to work miracles immediately.

Speaking about Blanc’s reaction to his dismissal in the 1998 World Cup semi-final, which ruled him out of the final against Brazil, Deschamps said: “He let nothing show. No emotion, no sadness. That’s him completely. He has this way of detaching himself from things. There’s a lot of that in the way he coaches, too.” One suspects Blanc will need to draw upon all his reserves of sangfroid in the months and years ahead.

26 Responses to “World Cup tactics: France start afresh with Blanc page”

  • Really interesting stuff.

    The massive fascination is clearly the question of how Blanc puts Gourcuff at the centre of this team as at Bordeaux, after he has so sensationally been on the periphery in every sense in South Africa. I suppose the hope is that some of these issues go away with Henry, Anelka and Gallas (and Domenech!) but is it a given that Evra walks away (or is pushed)? I guess these are things Blanc needs to assess.

    I think it is interesting too that Ribery’s star has fallen so far that as you say he ”has cause to fear for his international future”. At 27, you’d think there would be time for him to come again. Strangely though, his peak years where he looked a world-beater, say 2006-2009, are looking like the blip on an otherwise merely good career?

    Not sure about Escude – 31 this year and perhaps not part of Blanc’s vision for future? Although, like you say, a lot of options at centre-back without many stand-out candidates.

    One thing that is an obvious thing to say is that any player not involved in this debacle will have seen his stock rise – in Benzema’s case this is questionable, in Nasri’s case it is fully deserved. Surely as you suggest he just has to be, alongside Gourcuff, a huge part of the future?

    Great read.

  • Vijay B:

    I sort of disagree with that line-up Tom. I am surprised you have included Malouda!!

    My Line-up

    Lloris | Sagna Koscielny Squillaci Clichy | Gourcuff Diarra Diaby | Nasri Benzema Ribery in a 4-3-3.

    – Is young.
    – Have enough creativity.
    – Fluid.
    – Complete!! A creator – ball winner – holder.

  • Bahon:

    Thank you very much for this very interesting article!
    As a Frenchman I would like to say I am sick of all the post-competition rumors and “political” calculations made by “France-98” former players, journalists, politicians (!), players or members of the FFF. That debate is important too (who is responsible for the flop, and what should be changed within the Federation) but thank you for writing about the exciting task, in terms of tactics and player selection Blanc will have to cope with.
    I also have a few things to mention. I am not a pundit so maybe I am totally wrong but:

    -Isn’t Laurent Blanc a little overrated for what he did with FCGB? Don’t we forget a bit quickly the nice work done by Ricardo before Blanc?

    -About Lass Diarra: didn’t he learn how to play his best football when he was with Makelele? that is, how to play as a “number 6” just in front of the defensive line? He can also play, of course, a more offensive role but I think he would be best as a second option after Toulalan.

    -Gourcuff main interest as far as his offensive skills are concerned is his ability to shoot, and he seemed not at his best for more defensive tasks.

    -I would let Diaby confirm his good game against Uruguay. We should see him live and play with a group where there are less conflicts, like the group that left for South Africa (and came back quickly…).

    Sorry for my English, and thanks again!

  • jjiii:

    Sakho and Hoarau from Psg ?

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Robert Gomm, Sandra N. , France World Cup, Sarah from Offside, Max and others. Max said: RT @tomwfootball: World Cup tactics: Where now for France? http://bit.ly/9dYaY2 […]

  • julien:

    Sakho and Hoarau are two of our biggest prospects. In a further future Gameiro and Nolan Roux could be our Villa and Torres, why not.

    • Tom:

      Yes, Sakho and Hoarau were both worthy of mention. Apologies. I think Sakho might be a bit too tender to be thrust into the first-team picture straight away, but Hoarau definitely deserves consideration, provided he can stay fit. He’s probably the closest thing to a French Chamakh.

  • PEM8000:

    I would agree : Mamadou Sakho and Guillaume Hoarau are good prospects.

    Benoit Cheyrou could also be a good backup to Lass Diarra / Gourcuff / Toulalan although he’s already 29.

    Marc Planus is 28 and has been an essential part of Bordeaux team those last seasons. I’m pretty sure he’s not finished.

    We could end up with Bordeaux back 6 Tremoulinas-Ciani-Planus-Chalmé / A. Diarra-Gourcuff and it would the best defending plan since 2006 (when Thuram and Vieira were still around). It’s quite unlikely to happen (just imagine Bordeaux new coach’s face) but it will go in the right direction.

    • Le Minot:

      It would be the best defending plan since 2006 but could also easily be as poor as 2008 or 2010 if you look at how Bordeaux struggled in 2010.

  • Jao:

    There’s more to Nasri’s “shocking” exclusion from this WC and I’m sure Blanc will have words with the Three Musketeers (Ben Arfa, Benzema, and Nasri) when they all get called up.

    Escude’s done and he knows it. Domenech left him hanging and Escude knew it. With so many options as LB, Evra will have to do some extreme kissing up to Blanc because “I’m the best LB in the world” isn’t going to work. There are better and younger options. Also, don’t be surprised if Chalme, Yanga-M’Biwa, or Corchia upend Sagna for the RB spot.

    Forget about Nasri, Ribery, Malouda, Ribery on the wings. My surprise selection is Karim Ait-Fana. Blanc will have so much talent in his arsenal. It all comes down to what he does with it.

    • Tom:

      I’d be very surprised to see Chalme, Yanga-M’Biwa or Corchia dislodge Sagna immediately. Talent is all well and good, but Sagna plays in the Premier League for one of the world’s biggest clubs and has Champions League experience. I’m not saying the younger players won’t get a chance, but it would be foolish to throw a 21-year-old or a 19-year-old straight into the France team while he’s still learning his trade.

      • Jao:

        Yeah, foolish like calling up Koscielny just because he’s going to sign with Arsenal. I thought those type of call-ups only existed for the lower national teams. : P

        Also, didn’t the “Player A plays in the for one of the world’s biggest clubs and has Champions League experience” rant end following the 2006 World Cup after Brazil’s failure?

  • Fabrice:

    Strange to see Kosielny so high … he’s only one year in Ligue 1 behind him, he has a lot to prove … i think Squilacci, Mexès, Rami, Ciani, Planus will be the first players to try (again )for what’s going to be the most important work to do for Blanc

    • Tom:

      True, Koscielny is a bit high given his lack of experience. I just think a move to Arsenal would push him up the pecking order and force Blanc to take a look at him sooner than if he had stayed at Lorient.

  • Roberticus:

    Tom,

    let’s hope that Blanc heeds Christian Gourcuff’s advice and places his son relatively deeper at the heart of the team`s action.

    Whether as an auxiliary holding midfielder or a bit looser as an ‘interior’ in a three-man engine room; as long as he has the play unfolding in front of him. It would be a pity to have both Toulalan and Lassana occupying the central midfield berths.

    Also, Nasri’s return will be welcome; he brings his nimbleness and close-quarters control to the trequartista position, more so than Gourcuff.

  • […] World Cup tactics: France start afresh with Blanc page “The debris from the slow-motion car crash that has been the last two years in the life of the France team is unlikely to settle for some time. The fall-out from their spectacularly ugly World Cup failure will rumble long into the summer, with players promising to reveal the full story behind their ill-tempered campaign and government ministers poised to carry out a searching investigation into the failings of the French Football Federation.” (Football Further) […]

  • Clichy’s better than Evra, and Evra’s illiterate, immature, and stupid just like his Manure teammate Shrek.

  • And forgot to add, Koscielny is definitely the one rumored to be the “certain defensive signing” for us, especially as there were reports that Coquelin’s loan move to Lorient was part of the supposed deal.

    Now if only we can get another Frenchman (Frey, the GK not the younger Frey).

  • I would also think that the OL defensive midfielder – Gonalons will play a role in the next generation of Les Bleus. I could see Toulalan sliding back to the central defensive role and a Gonalons – Diaby type pairing as the holding players. That would also give us tremendous size and height.

    Ait Fana from Montpellier should be an option on the wing as well.

  • Guy:

    I agree in most part, and i think that the 4-2-3-1 will fit france better than a 4-4-2 … simply because the 4-2-3-1 is a better fit with the kind of players they currently have. The team has many good options at defensive midfield (Toulalan, Flamini, L.Diarra, Diaby, A.Diarra, Sissoko, M’Vila, Mavuba, Gonalons), but very little at striker, other than perhaps Benzema. Sure, there are a few good young players to develop, like Gameiro, Remy, Roux, Hoarau, and Kakuta, but Benzema is the only true international star right now. Especially since Henry might as well retire, Anelka is out of the picture, Cisse is past his prime, and Gignac is just average.

    Also, I am surprised nobody mentioned Yohan Cabaye, an attacking midfielder who scored 13 goals in 35 games last year. He would be a great reserve option for Gourcuff. Don’t forget also Clement Grenier, a former U21 playmaker, and Yoann Gouffran and Emmanuel Riviere, two talented wingers formerly on the U21 team.
    And what about Valbuena? I think he deserves a shot to take the right wing spot, where there is little competition. He is a good playmaker and should be included in Blanc’s new squad.

  • FranceRock:

    I agree that Nasri should start, I am so shocked he was not on the World Cup team. The combination of Ribery-Gourcuff-Nasri would be interesting. Is Koscielny ready to start for the national team? That seems a bit sudden. I think Mexes will likely get a chance to start, and probably Ciani as well since he is a favourite of Blanc. I heard that Toulalan can also play centre-back?

  • […] 2. Will France’s 4-3-3 work? How to put this? Not only did France’s 4-3-3 fail to work, but Raymond Domenech lost all faith in it before the tournament had even started. In their opening game, a 0-0 draw with Uruguay, they reverted to their tried and tested (if not actually effective) 4-2-3-1, with Jérémy Toulalan and Abou Diaby in the holding midfield roles and Yoann Gourcuff as the playmaker. The 4-2-3-1 remained in place for the 2-0 defeat by Mexico, but this time with Franck Ribéry in the playmaking role (to which he is wholly unsuited) and Nicolas Anelka reprising his great disappearing centre-forward act until matters came to a head at half-time. It was not until the 2-1 loss to South Africa that the long-awaited 4-3-3 finally made its appearance, but by then it was already too late. Over to you, Monsieur Blanc. […]

  • Were peter:

    I believe laurent Blanc should give the following team a starting role;

    Goal keeper 1. Lloris,

    Defenders 2. Sagna, 3. Clichy, 4. Mexes, 5. Koscieiny,

    Midfielders: 16.Flamini, 19.Diaby, 8.Gourcuff

    Forwards: 10.Nasri,9. Benzema,15. Malouda

    4-3-3

    With Nasri play making

  • anon:

    I like this aggressive lineup (4-1-2-3 when in possession, 4-1-4-1 when not):

    RB: Sagna

    CB: Mexes

    CB: Rami

    LB: Clichy

    DM: Toulalan

    RAM: Nasri

    LAM: Gourcuff

    RW: Ribery

    CF: Benzema

    LW: Malouda

    • anon:

      Fullbacks must stay disciplined, but Nasri and Ribery can switch positions, Ribery and Malouda can stay wide or cut in behind the defense, 4 playmakers plus Benzema on the field at the same time… I would rather use these players in attack than rely on fullbacks charging forward (Sagna can’t cross anyway)

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