MBG, GBM, BGM, MGB: It is as difficult to find an acronym for France’s attacking trifecta as it is for their boss Didier Deschamps to find a coherent tactical framework for them to work within.
The front three have simply failed to click since Karim Benzema’s return last May. Benzema has performed individually, against Portugal and Switzerland, or dovetailed impressively with Antoine Griezmann, like against Finland. But France’s fabled front three have yet to perform as a unit – and that inability to do so was a contributory factor in France’s shock Euro 2020 exit.
Yet, France’s hopes of winning the Nations League are invariably wedded to a front three that is the envy of the world. The tournament allows Deschamps another opportunity – ahead of next year’s World Cup in Qatar – to find a formula that draws the best out of the trio. Should France manage to win the competition it would go some way to dispelling the idea that the three can’t play together.
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50-cap Kylian Mbappé aiming to dispel doubts
Mbappé has a target on his back – he is the player critics have focused upon. He has scored just one goal for France in 11 matches in the last year. However, the biggest symbol of his malaise for the national team was his crucial, decisive penalty miss against Switzerland in Bucharest.
He may be – at just 22 years old - collecting his 50th cap in Turin on Thursday against Belgium, but he has failed to kick on after an impressive World Cup in 2018. And given the chemistry shown between Benzema and Griezmann in his absence against Finland in a 2-0 win, it has been suggested that perhaps the world champions are a more threatening proposition without the PSG forward. It is an idea Mbappe addressed in a recent interview with L’Equipe:
The message that I received is that my ego made us lose, that I wanted to take up too much space and that without me, therefore, we might have won.
It is not a sentiment his coach shares, telling LeParisien:
“I prefer to have Kylian in my team because I know the France team will be stronger with him.”
Deschamps intends to continue to build his team around the 22-year-old forward. The match against Belgium represents a perfect opportunity for Mbappe to offer up a reminder of his undoubted talent, and end the debate about whether he warrants a place in the team.
Karim Benzema: A last chance for the Ballon d'Or
Benzema has his eyes on a different prize: the Ballon d’Or. The 33-year-old Real Madrid forward’s return to the national fold has been deemed an individual success. His presence in the squad or team is no longer up for debate. However, the Nations League provides him with an opportunity to cement his candidacy for the Ballon d’Or and winning the tournament in Italy could give him the edge against current frontrunners Robert Lewandowski and Lionel Messi.
The Nations League may not have the prestige of La Liga, the Champions League, the Euros or the Copa America, but, having failed to claim a major trophy yet in 2021, playing a key role in a France success could prove crucial, with recency bias known to impact voting for the prestigious individual prize.
Antoine Griezmann: The lifeline
A change in clubs has not had a positive impact on Griezmann’s form, who is now a substitute for Atlético Madrid. A reunion with Diego Simeone has failed to reap the rewards either man expected: he has one goal in 10 games.
After his struggles at the Euros - where his position in the starting XI came under question - Griezmann returned to form with a sparkling performance against Finland. However, given his club form, he is one poor performance for the national team away from those questions returning. For the past two years, France has been his solace and lifeline, but his room for error becomes smaller with every passing game.
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