Are Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé France's 'Three Musketeers'?
Sunday, 13 June 2021
The prospect of watching France's fantasy attacking trio at their swashbuckling best is something to savour, but how will it work? And is there a Plan B?
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With Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann having recovered from minor injuries, Didier Deschamps is set to unleash a fearsome attacking trio completed by Kylian Mbappé on Germany in Munich on Tuesday evening in France's Group F opener.
Benzema's recall after more than five and a half years out of the international reckoning means France boast a first-choice front line that plundered a phenomenal 92 goals at club level in 2020/21. But will Mbappé (42 goals for Paris Saint-Germain this past season) plus Benzema (30 for Real Madrid) plus Griezmann (20 for Barcelona) equal goals galore for France at UEFA EURO 2020?
The initial signs are very promising. In 114 minutes together on the field in pre-EURO friendlies against Wales and Bulgaria, France scored three goals – two for Griezmann and one for Mbappé. Benzema had a penalty saved by Wales' Danny Ward and had to go off with a knock before half-time against Bulgaria, limiting the time for the trident to fine-tune their understanding.
Nevertheless, Benzema is confident the association will work, telling TF1: "Top players don't need to play 100 matches together. Because they're so good technically, it's easy to play with each other."
What formation to use?
Deschamps placed Griezmann at the apex of a midfield diamond behind the other two against Wales, before opting for a 4-3-3 with Mbappé on the left and Griezmann on the right versus Bulgaria.
Whichever system he deploys against Germany, the message will remain the one the coach revealed after the Wales victory: "There are no fixed positions in attack; I give them total freedom," he said. "But when we lose the ball, they know what they have to do."
Mbappé added: "Our attacking style has changed because Karim has a different profile. Olivier [Giroud] is a more tactical player. Karim likes to move and can find himself on the left or the right."
What does it mean for Griezmann?
Ever since a productive half-time formation tweak against the Republic of Ireland in the EURO 2016 round of 16, Deschamps' thinking has been based on getting Griezmann into positions where he can exact maximum damage.
A double against the Irish was followed by another against Germany in the semi-finals, helping Griezmann finish as top scorer with six goals. The creative left-footer was also France's joint leading marksman alongside Mbappé on four goals as they clinched the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Griezmann told L'Équipe: "Nothing has changed for me. The coach wants me to touch the ball as often as possible, to make the team play, to talk a lot on the pitch, to take set pieces."
What if it doesn't work?
French fans of a pessimistic persuasion recall that Les Bleus went into the 2002 World Cup as defending champions and with a squad that contained the leading scorers from England (Thierry Henry), Italy (David Trezeguet) and France (Djibril Cissé). Yet they failed to muster a goal and exited after the group stage.
It is hard to imagine a repeat. When Benzema went off against Bulgaria, on came Giroud, France's all-time second-highest scorer behind Henry. Ever reliable, the Chelsea forward duly struck his 45th and 46th goals for his country. Deschamps can also call upon Kingsley Coman, the match winner in the 2020 UEFA Champions League final, and the talented Ousmane Dembélé.
France's attacking strength-in-depth truly is frightening.