Every now and then you get a nation that has a pool of players available to fill three of four starting XI’s capable of winning a tournament.
Most recently was Spain, who won three international tournaments in a row between 2008-2012, had a generation of players that were part of the most dominant side of the post-war era but were also spread all over the continent at the biggest club sides.
Now, France are the leading generation when it comes to player development with a pool of players to pick from as deep as the Atlantic. But with Euro 2020 around the corner and the World Cup 2022 qualifiers underway, what is their strongest lineup?
There are a handful of positions in the side that aren’t up for debate right now and goalkeeper is one of them.
Tottenham stopper Hugo Lloris is the captain of the national team and has been the man to don the number one shirt since 2009 and is the most capped goalkeeper in the history of Les Blues. He maintains a high level of performance for the team, even since winning the World Cup two years ago and he is still the best option.
Starter: Hugo Lloris
The defence on paper is one of the most stacked positions that manager Didier Deschamps has to choose from. The likes of Aymeric Laporte, Jules Kounde, Wesley Fofana are yet to be capped fully at senior level, while Real Madrid’s starting full-back Ferland Mendy is only recently breaking into the team.
Despite naturally being a left-back, Mendy would be my pick on the right-hand side of the defence. He is both footed, excellent in both directions, quick and great on the ball so would provide plenty of balance to the team. That would also allow Theo Hernandez to continue in the left-back role, where he has been impressive for AC Milan this season and the national team. Lucas Digne is another option, but Hernandez is that bit more dynamic and for me just edges it in their personal battle.
In the centre, Deschamps has so many options. Aside from the three previously mentioned players the likes of Raphael Varane, Presnel Kimpembe, Dayot Upamecano, Kurt Zouma, Clement Lenglet, Ibrahima Konate and even Samuel Umtiti are all candidates for the starting berths. Despite such a plethora of talent, Deschamps is likely to go with the experience and quality of Varane and Kimpembe. They both possess great pace, great positioning, are good aerially and with the ball at their feet while also having leadership qualities.
Starters: Ferland Mendy, Raphael Varane, Presnel Kimpembe, Theo Hernandez
Deschamps tends to play in a 4-2-3-1 formation because of the plethora of attacking options he has, but I think a fluid 4-3-3 formation could be the best way forward. There is already so much depth involved in the position with players such as Adrian Rabiot, Eduardo Camavinga, Moussa Sissoko, Houssem Aouar all in and out of squads.
Without a doubt, if fit, Ngolo Kante and Paul Pogba will be starters in the heart of the pitch with their attributes balancing perfectly to help at both ends of the pitch. Rather than use Antoine Griezmann as the number ten option though, Tanguy Ndombele should come into the team.
The Spurs midfielder has had an excellent season on an individual basis and deserves to start in a slightly more advanced role. For Spurs he has played as both an eight or a ten and has the creative abilities to help the attack. He also allows for familiarity to switch to a more defensive 4-3-3 shape if necessary as he can naturally play in that position also. It would allow Deschamps to use the same players regardless of opposition but slightly alter the setup if necessary.
Starters: Ngolo Kante, Paul Pogba, Tanguy Ndombele
When everyone is fit, the forward department is likely the one easiest to pick from for Deschamps such is the quality of his options.
Olivier Giroud has been a staple of the French national team in recent years as the centre forward and sits just seven goals behind Thierry Henry at the top of the all-time scoring charts for the national team. Despite that, the way he plays means that France’s attacks become a little bit one dimensional. He’s shown an ability in the past for his club that he is able to come off the bench and make a difference and at 34-years-old he’s unlikely to be too picky about it being a starting role or not.
Out wide, Kylian Mbappe is the golden boy of French and potentially world football and is a guaranteed starter. His pace, explosiveness, skill and phenomenal output when it comes to scoring and assisting. On the opposite flank, whether it be on the left or right, Ousmane Dembele is the man that should get the spot. When fit he possesses all the skill and quality to be one of the best in the world and with both men’s ability to play on both flanks it allows plenty of freedom and interchanging throughout a game.
Up front, Antoine Griezmann deserves the spot. His appearance in the 2-0 win over Kazakhstan made it 45 international games in a row that he has featured in, more than anyone else in the post-war era for the French national team. He has a great international record and despite going on bursts of form this season for Barcelona, he currently has 14 goals in all competitions for Los Cules. He’d be able to drop deeper to link the midfield to the attack of play on the shoulder of the defence to run in behind.
Starters: Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele