In an underwhelming night of football, France were held 1-1 by Bosnia at the Stade de la Meinau in Strasbourg.
The result leaves France still top of Group D in World Cup qualification. What did we learn?
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1. Griezmann’s great week continues
Antoine Griezmann had been absolutely miserable for Barcelona in their start to La Liga. Three games, no goals, no assists, no chances created. Just awful. Quite possibly the nadir for a player who had never really fit in at the Camp Nou. But then on deadline day, a touch of fortune as he got a dramatic move back to his old club Atlético Madrid.
The Frenchman would have come into this Bosnia game full of confidence, and although his overall game wasn’t at its flowing best just yet he did manage to find (or re-find?) his goalscoring touch through yet more outrageous fortune. Just before half-time, with France trailing 0-1, he leaped to try and meet a Kylian Mbappé corner – but as it went over his head Edin Dzeko headed the ball into his back and it bounced over the line. Just over the line, too, a VAR review was needed to confirm the goal.
Could this be the start of the Griezmannassaince?
2. Dzeko’s still got it
Edin Dzeko had a poor season at Roma last year, but Romelu Lukaku’s departure from Inter saw the Bosnian move to the San Siro. He’s started life there in great form, and carried that forward today where he pounced on a sloppy bit of play from Thomas Lemar to give Bosnia the lead.
The Frenchman gave the ball away in his own half and after the ball was recovered, Dzeko took it down, pushed it forward and then lashed home a left-footed strike from just outside the box. An absolutely miraculous goal that gave Bosnia a huge lead, and proof positive that the former Man City man has “still got it.”
3. Tchouameni states his case
France were 1-1 at half-time but had played so miserably that Didier Deschamps had to make changes, and he made one, bringing Aurelien Tchouameni on for his France debut in place of Lemar. Tchouameni took his place at the base of midfield and the 21 year-old basically started running the show for his country.
Tchouameni is exactly the kind of holding midfielder France are crying out for, really. Someone whose defensive prowess is so clear, and whose ability to recycle possession is so consistent, that it makes perfect sense to use him as the ideal compliment to Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté. They’ll need time to work on chemistry, but with Tchouameni holding Kanté will be more free to press and roam and then Paul Pogba will of course be more able to push forward and influence the game in key areas.
Forget Rabiot, forget Veretout, forget Tolisso, Sissoko and Nzonzi… Aurelien Tchouameni is the way.
Benjamin Pavard starts at right-back for France. He starts at right-back despite quite obviously being a centre-back. It makes little sense from an attacking standpoint but does allow France to field a side that has three (or four, if Lucas Hernandez plays) centre-backs in a 4-3-1-2 formation.
Thing is, Pavard has been doing it so long (he plays there for Bayern Munich too) that you can at least argue that he has become somewhat accustomed to the demands of the position and plays it fairly well. The same, of course, cannot be said for his understudy today Jules Koundé.
The Sevilla defender plays centre-back for his club and rarely if ever plays on the right, as such he is entirely unsuited to play right-back for the national side. He was poor today and that’s before his shockingly reckless tackle on Sead Kolasinac not only forced the Bosnian off injured but picked up a red card for himself and hamstrung France’s efforts to find a winner.
Leo Dubois eventually came on to cover, but the question is why on earth didn’t he start? Why doesn’t he start normally? He’s a good right-back, and in a team as stacked as France’s could be a great one. Why not play players in their proper positions? It couldn’t hurt!
5. Didier Deschamps is France’s most dangerous opponent
Didier Deschamps won the 2018 World Cup with one of the most stacked French squads in the history, and it was impressive but it also could have been much more so as Les Bleus played a prosaic, risk-free brand of football that relied on Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé for their stardust and otherwise were a rock solid defence driving forward of Antoine Griezmann’s set-pieces.
Still, you win the World Cup, people don’t care how you play. Except, what if you don’t win? What if limiting your team and trying to do the bare minimum to win games backfires and you end up losing? Well then what was all that pragmatism for? France suffered from this at Euro 2020 when they produced 10 minutes of magic to build a lead against Switzerland but then just sat on it and were made to pay for that.
Today we again saw signs that Didier Deschamps has not learned his lesson as he sent out a pragmatic side for a home game that France should have been looking to dominate. And then France didn’t play with any sense of collective intelligence, relying on the big names to conjure magic between themselves. And against an organised and dogged Bosnia side that, predictably, didn’t work.
Deschamps’ subs were poor and only like for like, he never took a risk by altering the shape as that risk would open France up to danger and that is something he always tries to avoid. But without real risk, there can be no truly satisfying rewards. Didier Deschamps needs to get out of his own way because right now he is France’s most dangerous opponent.