Fresh from seeing their back-to-back UEFA Nations League triumphs fail, world champions France resume their Group A campaign with a home game against Austria.
Les Bleus are in danger of a disappointing and unexpected relegation to League B if they do not get wins on the board having picked up two points from their four matches, but their opponents are not much worse off, languishing in third place with four points.
Despite the quality in Didier Deschams’ star-studded squad, it was a summer to forget for France failing to win any of their four matches picking up just two points, and plummeting to the bottom of their group. It just goes to show that having a plethora of stars does not always ensure success, especially on the international stage.
There is the argument that juggling four international games so soon after a hectic 2021/22 campaign, post-Euros, did not make sense for footballers who will then have to face a congested fixture schedule over the course of the calendar year with the World Cup looming.
Having said that, amongst all the expectancy for Les Bleus to triumph in the new international format once again, they have fallen short with the top spot, and potentially qualifying is simply out of their reach now.
France ended an abysmal month of June with a 1-0 defeat to Croatia on matchday four, as Luka Modric’s fifth-minute penalty saw the Croatians hand Les Bleus sweet revenge after their World Cup final defeat in 2018.
There have been serious calls for Didier Deschamps to be replaced in the near future with free agent and former Real Madrid player and manager Zinedine Zidane waiting in the wings, and those protests may well be intensified if the French don’t improve on their current winless streak over the coming months. It will certainly be a testing and decisive period for the world champions.
A famous victory on Thursday would relegate France to League B but Ralf Rangnick’s men aren’t safe from the drop themselves, failing to win any of their three matches in the summer.
After their UEFA Nations League campaign opened in impressive fashion with a 3-0 win over Croatia, the Austrians have failed to build from that taking just one point from nine on offer, and fell to a 2-0 defeat to high-flying Denmark in their last outing.
With no World Cup opportunities on offer this winter, the Austrians can place all their eggs in rebuilding their image under Ralf Rangnick and will use the next few games, especially their two friendlies in November as an opportunity to fine-tune the squad in terms of personnel and also refresh it tactically.
One win from their last six games does not make for fine reading for the former Manchester United coach and a good performance and result against France this week will go a long way in him further attempting to mould this squad in his image.
However, Austria have suffered four consecutive defeats against the world champions away from home since a 2-1 triumph 57 years ago in a friendly, so the omens certainly don’t look for Das Team.
WHERE & WHEN?
Venue: Stade de France.
Date: Thursday, 22nd September 2022.
Time: 19:45PM (BST).
Referee: Andreas Ekberg.
Assistant referee: Mehmet Culum, Niklas Nyberg.
Fourth official: Fredrik Klitte.
VAR: José María Sánchez.
Assistant VAR: Iñigo Prieto.
France head into this contest with a plethora of key injuries to their squad, with the likes of Paul Pogba, Presnel Kimpembe, Ibrahima Konate, Lucas Hernandez, N’Golo Kante, Anthony Martial, Kingsley Coman, and Benzema all currently unavailable for selection.
Since naming his 25-man squad, he’s also lost Adrien Rabiot, Hugo Lloris, Theo Hernandez, and Boubacar Kamara to injury. Hernandez’ supposed replacement Lucas Digne has also withdrawn because of injury due to an ankle problem with Adrien Truffert replacing him in Deschamps’ squad.
Austria, like France, are also suffering from injury trouble with their key striker Sasa Kalajdzic suffering a severe ACL injury during his 45-minute debut with Wolverhampton Wanderers and will spend at least six months on the treatment table.
RB Leipzig midfielder and key midfield enforcer Konrad Laimer is another long-term injury concern for Austria, who are also without Valentino Lazaro, Florian Grillitsch, and Stefan Ilsanker for the coming matches.
Despite the abundance of injuries plaguing France right at this moment, Didier Deschamps still possesses an incredible crop of talent to choose from in the coming match weeks with the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Aurelien Tchouameni, Eduardo Camavinga, Youssef Fofana, Ousmane Dembele, Matteo Guendouzi, Mike Maignan in goal, William Saliba hoping to continue his stunning upward trajectory, Christopher Nkunku as well as the experience and class of the likes of Olivier Giroud, Raphael Varane and Antoine Greizmann.
The footballing legend and former world and European champion cannot have any complaints about injuries to key players, because he still holds the capabilities of harnessing a quality first XI against Austria, an 11 capable of dominating and topping their opponents on Thursday. In Lloris’ absence, AC Milan’s brilliant shot-stopper should start in goal whilst the back four is likely to include Jules Kounde/Benjamin Pavard, Saliba, Varane, and Real Madrid left-back Ferland Mendy who could easily slot in, in the absence of Theo Hernandez.
If Deschamps opts for his customary and trusted 4-3-3 shape, then the midfield trio could well pick itself: Tchouameni, Guendouzi, and Camavinga are all capable of providing youthful exuberance, defensive security, progressive passing, and dribbling as well as incision and invention the final third. Up front, again Deschamps boasts so much quality with the attacking trio likely to be Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, and Nkunku or Ousmane Dembele who has started off the season on fire for Barcelona.
For Austria, in Kalajdzic’s absence, Rangnick will have seen the return to form of Marko Arnautovic who has opened the Serie A campaign in sparkling form registering six goals in seven games for Bologna, and the 33-year-old will almost certainly lead the line for the Austrians.
With Konrad Laimer injured and out of the squad, Rangnick can still call upon the quality and experience of both Marcel Sabitzer and Laimer’s Leipzig teammate Xaver Schlager who will provide energy, intensity, and industry to an Austrian side boasting a lot of it.
It’s certainly conceivable to argue that Real Madrid have not missed the presence and aura of Casemiro one bit. And that’s down to the mesmerising qualities and tactical nous of Aurelien Tchouameni who has taken in the rigors and demands of being a Real Madrid regular like a duck to water.
The 22-year-old is the complete midfield player as he is showcased throughout the past year and it’s why Carlo Ancelotti and the Madrid hierarchy shelled out almost £100million to secure his services this summer.
Tchouameni was supposed to be Casemiro’s understudy when the campaign began, but the Brazilian left which meant the Frenchman was immediately thrown into the deep end, but he’s shown no signs of drowning, performing at such a measured and assured pace, like such demands come natural to him.
Real Madrid are still unbeaten in all competitions this new campaign, winning all nine of their matches and that has been down to the security and assurance that the Frenchman has provided in front of the defence.
He’s recorded 2.0 interceptions, 2.6 tackles, and 2.4 clearances per game whilst winning 59% of his total duels and an incredible 72% of his aerial duels in La Liga. He’s also contributed significantly to the attacking phase, registering 2 assists, 1.6 key passes, and creating 2 big chances so far. If you need any evidence as to his creativity, check out his remarkable assist for Rodrygo in the Madrid derby over the weekend – simply sublime.
This lad is the future of French football, we’re sure Kylian Mbappe wouldn’t mind sharing that tag with Tchouameni.
Remember when Arnautovic was slated for being linked with Manchester United in the summer? Well, that seems a distant memory.
Manchester United didn’t need Arnautovic and vice versa and considering the way the campaign has started for both parties, it’s true, that those links were certainly very strange. Seven games later, Arnautovic has answered his critics with so much class and quality bagging six goals in Serie A. He’s also averaging an astonishing 1.9 key passes per game, as well as creating two big chances.
The 33-year-old is certainly showing that he can still perform at the top level, and his country will be desperate for him to carry on this form heading into a key fixture with France on Thursday.
Any chance of an Austrian upset at the Stade de France will certainly hinge on Arnautovic.
France predicted XI vs Austria: Maignan (GK); Pavard, Kounde, Varane, Mendy; Guendouzi, Tchouameni, Camavinga; Nkunku, Mbappe, Giroud.
Austria predicted XI vs France: Lindner (GK); Lainer, Trauner, Lienhart, Alaba; Sabitzer, Schlager, Siewald; Baumgartner; Arnautovic, Gregoritsch.