"I could make one or two changes," said Laurent Blanc at today's press conference, before adding, after a rather lengthy pause, "or I could pick the same team that played England."
The France coach is too long in the tooth to give anything away on the eve of such a big game – no matter how much the media fish. "Are you not revealing your team in order to keep the players on their toes, to keep your options open, or because you don't want the opposition to know?" asked one persistent journalist. "For those three reasons, yes. Thanks for answering your own question," Blanc smiled.
For all Blanc's mystique, there are few doubts. Against Ukraine, he will keep the same goalkeeper, defence and front three that drew 1-1 with England. The solitary change, if there is one, will occur in midfield.
Yann M'Vila's return to fitness has presented Blanc with a dilemma: does he stick with Yohan Cabaye, Florent Malouda and M'Vila's direct replacement Alou Diarra, who excelled in the anchor role on Tuesday, or does he bring back one of the key figures from France's qualifying campaign? "I have a decision to make," Blanc said. "If I do make a change, it'll be to improve the team and not punishment for a poor performance."
Some may feel the inclusion or otherwise of one player is of limited significance. Yet such is the importance of this particular position and the potential influence of the player in question, Blanc's choice may have far-reaching consequences. "Yann's very important to the way we play," Blanc noted. "He's had an injury. He's had a long season. Maybe the break will have done him good. I'll weigh up the pros and cons."
In other words, if the trainer feels M'Vila is ready, he will pick him. The 21-year-old has been selected more than any other outfield player by Blanc, emerging as an efficient, reliable fulcrum. Not only does he hold the midfield intelligently, his crisp, accurate passing is crucial to the way Les Bleus attack. Diarra, although more athletic, does not offer the same fluidity.
M'Vila's versatility means he could even play with Diarra. Indeed, France's best performance under Blanc came in Sarajevo when M'Vila, Diarra and Abou Diaby controlled the midfield against Bosnia and Herzegovina. Malouda's place is therefore also under threat. At this evening's training session, M'Vila looked like a man on a mission, striding purposefully on to the Kirsha pitch and performing the drills with intensity and focus under Blanc's watchful gaze. But has he done enough to convince the coach?
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