How is France without Benzema? Better than ever
Benzema key in qualifying and beyond
It was June 23, 2021 when Karim Benzema announced his return Les Blues to the rest of the world. Yes, he was in Didier Deschamps’ 26-man squad for Euro 2020 and he featured in a few matches before his grand return to the French side. Yet his two goals in a crucial group stage match against Portugal cemented his return to the pinnacle of international football after nearly six years in exile. Benzema was back.
And he was a great help to a French team that may be called the best in the world. He scored six goals in his ten games after the European Championship. Even though France fell into a slump in the Nations League, he was a rare sparkle in a sea of gloom. He even scored six goals in 11 Real Madrid matches. He would lead the French frontline to another victory in Qatar. Benzema would be the one to break the World Cup curse and prove he had not missed a beat with his new French team.
That’s why his thigh injury a day before the World Cup started was so heartbreaking. Not only did the reigning Ballon d’Or winner miss out on his big return to the international scene, but he also joined the likes of Presnel Kimpembe, Christopher Nkunku, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante watching the World Cup at home. It seemed that the curse of the World Cup winner would strike again.
Injury? No problem
France had a lot of eyes on them during the World Cup. They are expected to bounce early due to their poor form and injury issues, Les Blues it looked like they were going to struggle in Qatar as Craig Goodwin scored an early goal in their opener.
But to the surprise of most people, France struck back. First came an Adrien Rabiot header to tie the game. Olivier Giroud’s incredible deception in the penalty area helped France score another goal to take the lead. Kylian Mbappé headed in France’s third goal in the second half, and Giroud rounded off the game with another header to end the game 4–1.
France followed a dominant display against Australia with a knockout victory against Denmark. Mbappé took the lead early on with a superb goal in the 61st minute, but Denmark hit back with a strong header past Hugo Lloris. Denmark, which always seemed to be the kryptonite of France’s superhuman onslaught, seemed to have found a solution to Mbappé’s score.
That was until the 86th minute, when Mbappé sent an Antoine Griezmann cross past Kasper Schemichel into the net.
After Tunisia defeated the French reserve team in their final group stage match, France entered a match where Poland looked surprisingly dangerous. They showed it late in the first half when Olivier Giroud sent a first shot past Wojciech Szczesny to the back of the net to make him France’s top goalscorer. Mbappé scored his fourth goal of the season and put his calculated finish past a host of defenders and Szczesny to double France’s lead.
He scored a miraculous goal in the 90th minute, bending a great shot from a difficult angle into the top corner of the net to give Mbappé his fifth goal of the World Cup and France’s third goal of the match. While Robert Lewandowski’s penalty prevented a clean sheet in stoppage time, France’s strong performance against Poland will ensure it Les Blues on track for a game against England
How Deschamps replaced Benzema
Didier Deschamps’ tactical choices this World Cup have been largely consistent; apart from a bizarre loss to Tunisia. The French side is usually lined up in a shape like a 4-2-3-1.
Hugo Lloris starts in goal, as he has done consistently since 2008. Mike Maignan’s injury means France could be in trouble if he gets injured. Lloris has failed to keep a clean sheet at Qatar, but Deschamps’ confidence in his starting keeper is unwavering.
Raphaël Varane and Dayot Upamecano are the two starting central defenders. Both are in good form for their respective clubs. To their left is Theo Hernández of Upamecano. He replaced Lucas Hernández after suffering a serious injury against Australia just 13 minutes into the game.
One of the main talking points for France is Benjamin Pavard’s benching. Despite a solid performance against Australia, the Bayern right-back failed to make the starting eleven for their games against Denmark or Poland.
Deschamps believes Pavard has shown a lack of self-criticism, especially considering he has protected him since joining the French team and the two have been close in the past.
GetFootballNewsFrance Raphael Jucobin
Sevilla’s Jules Koundé replaced him despite usually playing at centre-back, but he has played superbly for France. It will be a constant battle for Pavard to regain his starting place.
Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot are given the two positions in midfield, amid some controversy. Some said Eduardo Camavinga could take a starting spot, or Matteo Guendouzi could emerge as a breakaway candidate for Les Blues. Still, it seems that Deschamps made the right choice. The two number six have impressed in Qatar, adding an extra layer of safety to France’s goal.
Giroud, who is tearing up Serie A with Milan, is taking on the role of striker, as he usually does at his club. Although he is 36, he has not played like this in Qatar. He’s proven Deschamps right by saying he’s still a lethal elite striker who needs to be given plenty of room.
Deschamps usually backs Giroud with Ousmane Dembele and Mbappe on the wings, and Antoine Griezmann at centre-forward. Mbappé has scored a total of 26 goals in 29 appearances this season, while Dembélé has five goals and nine assists in 25 appearances. Unsurprisingly, two of them wreaked havoc on the wings. Despite struggling at times with a sluggish Atleti side, Griezmann is given the crucial position as an attacking midfielder.
Wings win matches for France
One of France’s greatest qualities is its lethality on the wings. With Mbappé, Dembélé, Hernandez and Koundé on the wings, France has all the firepower they need to score a lot of goals.
Therefore, Giroud is relatively little involved in the French attack. Despite scoring three goals in Qatar, he has not touched the ball more than 20 times in any of his matches. Its presence in the box helps to create space while taking advantage of its consistent finish.
It is a drastic change from when Benzema led France into battle. He is very involved in the offense at both club and country level. With Carlo Ancelotti, he is the center forward in a three-man duo with Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo. But with Deschamps, Benzema has played alongside Mbappé or alone.
Benzema likes to join the midfield and combine with wingers for team goals, but Giroud is more of a poacher who can finish anything in the penalty area.
You could argue that Giroud’s success shows that France might be better off without Benzema. Giroud has mainly stayed in the penalty area, unlike Benzema, giving France more channels to attack. France doesn’t get that extra mobility on the ground that Benzema gives with his superior passing skills. But with a game against England coming up, Giroud’s goalscoring and dangerousness in the under-18 will give them an extra boost.
Photo credit: IMAGO/Icon Sportswire
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