France won 2-1 versus Australia in their Group C opener, but there was a familiar feeling of discontent.
What should have been a comfortable victory over the Socceroos on Saturday proved anything but – France were stunted and lethargic, seemingly bereft of any ideas in attack, despite a squad overflowing with talent.
It is an issue that has plagued manager Didier Deschamps since he took charge of the national team in 2012. He has an enviable pool of players to pick from – many of those who did not make the squad for this World Cup would start for other teams – and his side have been included amongst the favourites in each of the last three major tournaments.
They have repeatedly fallen short, however.
Often, they have looked like a group of talented individuals rather than a collective unit. There has been no cohesion, no real fluidity. Against Australia, though France emerged with a win, the suggestion was that this tournament will bring more of the same.
Deschamps’ team selection was, again, questionable.
He fielded a 4-3-3, with a midfield trio of Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Corentin Tolisso, and a front three of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele. The midfield was static and, it seemed, unnecessarily cautious.
In attack, additionally, Dembele and Mbappe played in the manner of youngsters with very little international experience. Deschamps also opted to play Benjamin Pavard at right back, who struggled.
A caveat to the Deschamps criticism, though, is that he spends so little time with his squad that it’s unrealistic to expect a fluidity between his front three often garnered from club football.
In theory, the team should have been far superior to an industrious but limited Australia side. Deschamps has an abundance of quality at his disposal but there is a sense that he does not know how to use it.
At present, he is a coach without an identity, whose instructions more often that not appear to be lost in the ether.
He is clearly undecided over which players make up his best available team, and indeed which system to play them in. Deschamps regularly used a 4-4-2 in qualifying, but has also switched intermittently between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3.
Too much change
Constant fluctuation does not help with stability. And stability, a feeling of assurance and understanding between the players and coach, can often bring success at international level.
For Thursday's game against Peru, Deschamps is expected to include PSG midfielder Blaise Matuidi, but he is likely to start on the left of midfield, with Pogba and Kante in the central areas.
The intention is not yet clear, and France should improve against the South Americans, but Deschamps' incessant tinkering could prove more of a hindrance than a help.
"It's hard to explain everything," said Deschamps after the Australia win and this seems to be the main issue: difficulties with communication, a disconnect between ideas and reality.
We missed a change of pace, a little juice. We did the job. But we can do better, do a lot better.
That is an accurate summation of both France and Deschamps' tenure with the national team thus far. He has done the job, improved things significantly, and taken France to the brink of tournament success, but there is more to do. And it can be done better.
If it is not, France could be left with regrets when looking back at a uniquely talented generation of players.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 5 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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