20:00 BST, Saturday 9th June, Stade des Lumieres (Lyon, France)
After a 3-1 victory over the Italians in the first of their pre-World Cup friendlies, there’s a feeling of cautious optimism engulfing the France camp ahead of their trip to Russia.
Nothing is, as of yet, set in stone for the Frenchman, and there’s a number of first team places up for grabs, with the likes of Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembele still pushing to start Les Bleus’ opener against Australia on June 16th.
For the States, this is a chance for the national team to test themselves against FIFA’s number seven ranked nation and prove to the world that they are a team fit for international competition after missing out on this summer’s tournament.
Last Time Out
France 3-1 Italy
Mario Balotelli could not add to the goal he scored on his return to international football as France ran out 3-1 winners in a heavyweight European clash in Nice at the beginning of the month.
The French began the game energetically and centre back Samuel Umtiti -who recently extended his Barcelona contract to 2023- took advantage of a loose ball in the box, following a Salvatore Sirigu save from Kylian Mbappe, to open the scoring in the eighth minute.
France continued to bully the Italians and N’Golo Kante saw a low shot palmed onto the post, before Antoine Griezmann doubled the lead from the penalty spot after a foul from Rolando Mandragora on Lucas Hernandez.
Although Leonardo Bonucci pulled one back in the 36th minute, Ousmane Dembele put the game to bed with a delightful curling effort from the edge of the box after previously hitting the crossbar.
Ireland 2-1 USA
The Irish came from behind to beat the United States on John O’Shea’s international departure. On his 118th cap for his country, the 37-year-old Sunderland defender was given a stirring reception as he was substituted in the first half.
Martin O’Neill’s side were on the wrong end of a three-game losing streak, which looked set to continue when Bobby Wood put the Americans in front in injury time at the end of the first half. However, Graham Burke equalised after converting debutant Darragh Lenihan’s shot.
Substitute Alan Judge ensured the streak was over with a 91st minute winner to send Dave Sarachan’s young side home with a loss.
Deschamps opted for a front three of Mbappe, Griezmann and Dembele in the 3-1 victory over Italy, but he’s likely to chop and change his forwards to give alternate systems and personnel an opportunity to impress.
This could see the likes of Thomas Lemar and Olivier Giroud start against USA as Deschamps still settles on his first choice starting XI.
Benjamin Mendy could also come in for Atletico Madrid’s Lucas Hernandez, with Corentin Tolisso and N’Golo Kante making way for Steven N’Zonzi and Blaise Matuidi in the middle.
Bobby Wood could keep his spot up front after scoring last time out against Ireland, whilst Sarachan will continue to explore the effectiveness of Timothy Weah on the flank.
Key Battle: Olivier Giroud vs Cameron Carter-Vickers
If Olivier Giroud starts up front for France, Deschamps will be looking to take advantage of his aerial strength with balls into the Chelsea striker for him to knockdown or hold-up to bring the likes of Lemar and Florian Thauvin into play.
Giroud won 40 aerial duels in his 13 Premier League appearances for Chelsea -at a rate of 3.08 per game- and it’s a useful tool to have in any team’s arsenal if the ground game isn’t seeing success.
Cameron Carter-Vickers, however, the young American centre back on loan from Tottenham at Ipswich Town, has a slight height disadvantage against Giroud -measuring five centimetres shorter- and will have his work cut out from him in dealing with aerial balls.
The 20-year-old, though, won 60 aerial duels at Ipswich, at a more successful rate of 3.75 per game, though he has previously looked unassured when dealing with physical threats from Premier League strikers.
Getting the best out of Paul Pogba
How to get the best out of Paul Pogba is the million pound question, with neither Deschamps nor club manager Jose Mourinho seemingly able to find a solution to the issue of Pogba’s perceived shackling.
The 25-year-old wasn’t at the peak of his powers last time out against Italy and was, surprisingly, booed by his own fans after a woeful shot in the 3-1 victory, prompting calls from his manager to “raise his level of play.”
Partnered with Kante and Tolisso in a midfield three didn’t seem to work for Pogba, so Deschamps may opt for two defensive midfielders to release the Manchester United number six from his shackles.
The Timothy Weah experiment
Son of former FIFA World Player of the Year winner George Weah, Timothy has shone since his debut for the USA first team, scoring on his first international start against Bolivia, becoming the fourth-youngest player ever to score for the United States.
Weah is known for his blistering pace and electric dribbling and Sarachan will be hoping he can continue to cause problems for opposition defences, especially against Benjamin Mendy, who has been out of action for a majority of the season and is hoping to regain form ahead of the World Cup.
Benjamin Mendy vs DeAndre Yedlin
As mentioned, Mendy has spent most of Manchester City’s title-winning season sidelined through injury and was fairly lucky to earn a call-up to the World Cup squad, with the Frenchman hoping to return to form ahead of Les Bleus’ opener.
By contrast, DeAndre Yedlin thrived for Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United side, who comfortably survived the drop.
The 24-year-old assisted two goals, created 19 chances and completed 24 take-ons, but the attacking side of his game will likely be kept on a tight leash given the need to defend against whoever starts on France’s left, be it Lemar, Thauvin or Mbappe.
Similarly, Mendy, if selected, will have to contain the burgeoning threat of Timothy Weah, although France will spend the majority of the game on the front foot.
Prediction: France 3-0 USA
The strength in depth in the French squad is, frankly, astonishing and Deschamps has a variety of options to choose from, all of which likely spell defeat for the Americans.
Sarachan’s young squad are some way off France’s level and won’t have much joy in Lyon.
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