Blanc to experiment against U.S.
France coach Laurent Blanc declared at his Tuesday news conference that he plans to field two different sides for this week¹s friendly matches against USA (Friday) and Belgium (Tuesday). "It will be a young team against USA and a stronger one against Belgium," he said.
The squad is missing some injured players -- among them, Samir Nasr, Yohan Cabaye and Florent Malouda -- and Blanc is likely to hand debuts to three players for Friday's match, each of whom could earn a place in France's squad for Euro 2012. Here is a rundown of those who have the most to gain from this week¹s match:
There is no obvious third-choice center back behind Mexes and Rami: Mamadou Sakho (four appearances) and Younes Kaboul (five appearances) have both stepped in but this is an opportunity for Koscielny to stake his claim. At Arsenal, he has dislodged new signing Per Mertesacker to become Thomas Vermaelen's partner. Coach Arsene Wenger believes the Vermaelen-Koscielny partnership is as strong as any in the Premier League, (which makes you wonder why he signed Mertesacker).
And yet Koscielny still divides opinion among Arsenal fans, depending on if they prefer to focus on his brilliant display against Lionel Messi in last season's Champions league win over Barcelona, or his error that led to Wojciech Szczesny dropping the ball to concede the winner in Arsenal's Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham City. "My game is based on that reading the game, being a step ahead, and I like to bring the ball out of defense and use it well," he told Canal Plus last season. Koscielny turned down an offer to represent Euro 2012 hosts Poland last season, as he qualifies through his paternal grandfather. He could yet make it there as a Frenchman.
When Evra was not included for these matches, it was reported that he had been given compassionate leave following the death of his brother a few weeks ago. But Evra's status in the squad, following his role as captain during the 2010 World Cup fiasco, when the squad threatened to go on strike, is still uncertain. Blanc has to decide if the negatives from his presence as a reserve defender -- the stigma of 2010, how he copes with the demotion -- outweigh the positives, which are that he has been United's most consistent defender over the last four years.
There are also other options behind Abidal as well, among them Clichy, who told
France proved against Bosnia-Herzegovina that there is a problem at center forward if Karim Benzema is not available. Loic Remy played there then and he missed two chances through the middle. Though Remy has been a rare bright spot in Marseille's dismal season, Blanc prefers him wide-right in the front three (with Franck Ribery on the left). With Kevin Gameiro secure in his status as an impact sub, there is room for one more striker, given that Guillaume Hoarau, out of favor at Paris Saint-Germain, has dropped out of contention.
Giroud is more versatile than Hoarau: just as good in the air, but a better finisher. It could be between Gomis and Giroud for that final strikers' spot in the squad, and if Giroud can continue his decent form this week, he could gain the edge (though Djibril Cisse is a compelling outsider for the position).
Blanc still has decisions to make all over the pitch, and because of his careful public statements, it's always hard to know what the coach is thinking. Marvin Martin also has the opportunity to step up in place of Nasri, which could spell bad news for Blanc's former star man at Bordeaux, Yoann Gourcuff. One thing is for sure: nothing is ever set in stone with Blanc, and he is not afraid to shake up the hierarchy. With that in mind, the France team that faces USA on Friday may be young, but it will also be extra-motivated.