Netherlands v France
(Friday, k.o. 7.45pm GMT, Amsterdam)
Given they have not played a competitive match since they were knocked out of the 2014 World Cup, the mere fact that the French are facing an opponent who (on paper at least) will cause them serious issues across the pitch should be cause for celebration. But with only a few months to go until Les Bleus host a tournament many expect them to win, Deschamps arguably has more selection decisions still to make than many of his peers.
Perhaps that should not be surprising – this month he has arguably left out better players than many of his contemporaries have been able to call upon. The inclusion of Dimitri Payet following his heroics for West Ham gives France another attacking option they don’t really need (they have Griezmann! Martial! Coman!), and Deschamps’ comments suggest the Hammer might well face an uphill battle to actually get in the final 23-man Euros squad.
More interesting is the inclusion of Leicester’s N’Golo Kante, whose ball-winning abilities have earned him a late shot at showing he can perform the same role at international level. He could yet start both friendlies (they face Russia next Tuesday), and put paid to Morgan Schneiderlin’s own aspirations of making the tournament.
“He’s a complete midfielder,” Deschamps said of Kante. “He has a great approach to recovering the ball – to sense the path of it and to position himself well. But he doesn’t just do that. He has the energy to play what they call in England a box-to-box role. He’s capable of taking part in attacks too.”
What else? While it looks increasingly likely that Karim Benzema will ultimately be available in the summer (Mathieu Valbuena is not going to get in on form, and the striker’s legal proceedings seem to be drawing towards a conclusion that will not bar him from selection), Deschamps will want to see if Andre-PierreGignac can still offer a contribution as an alternative to Olivier Giroud, althoughLyon’s Alexandre Lacazette remains a fringe contender.
With Netherlands missing out this summer, Danny Blind probably needs a decent result to assuage early doubt that he is the right man for the job.