Euro 2021: How How The Delay is Perfect For World Champions France

Euro 2021

The world champions, France - with their young and exciting squad - would have been eager to go at Euro 2020, whilst looking to avenge their Euro 2016 final defeat on home soil. Now, with young stars like Kylian Mbappe already rated amongst the very best, both the present and the future is exceptionally bright for this gargantuan football nation.

However, with the postponement to Euro 2021, does this work in favour for the world champions? They were, after all, just behind England as the favourites heading into the 2020 showdown?

France are still being rated as second-favourites to lift the trophy, with Paddy Power offering odds of 5/1 in 2021 - the same as Belgium. Unlike most nations, France have the luxury of youth on their side, mixed with experienced talent, whilst some of these young stars are already at heights some players could only dream of.

The entire squad is bursting at the seams with young talent, so much so, that two years ago, elite players such as Anthony Martial missed out on a World Cup medal, and are still struggling to get in the side today.

Although, if anything, a year-long wait will only benefit France, as it gives more time for talent to develop and establish themselves on the world stage.

The go-to starting 11 during 2018’s World Cup campaign only consisted of three players over the age of 27, whilst the entire 23-man squad only had five players above 30, with two of them being goalkeepers.

What France had was a World Cup-winning squad consisting of a key group of players who hadn’t even reached their prime years, and now, at 2021, some will be within their 'prime age', whilst others are still years off.

With this said, will France be even more of a formidable force in 2021? Or will the delay affecting the small group of older players take its toll the rest of the team?

Here, we will look at where the extra year can affect France, and where it leaves them in the fight for the trophy.

A chance for Pogba to rebuild

It's fair to say that Manchester United star Paul Pogba has looked a shadow of the man that forced a record-breaking sale back to the club from Juventus.

At the 2018 World Cup, Pogba was one of France's stars, proving he can still do the job to the high level that is expected. In a midfield alongside N'Golo Kante, the United man scored in the final and was unlucky to miss out on the Team of the Tournament to Kevin De Bruyne and Philippe Coutinho.

In the season immediately following the World Cup, his 16 goals and 11 assists in 47 games for United, on paper, looked impressive. As we know, statistics don’t tell the whole story, with his inconsistencies, failure to produce in big games and apparent lack of motivation or effort caused constant headaches for United fans.

And this season that was heading into the Euro's has been all but written off by injury, limiting Pogba to just 610 minutes of football - far from ideal preparation for an international tournament. Now, the year-long delay will offer Paul Pogba another shot at preparing and finding the form he showed back in 2018.

Whether this is with United or not remains to be seen. However, the Red Devils were in great form prior to the suspension because of the acquisition of Bruno Fernandes, which could entirely transform his form heading into 2021.

The opportunity to play in a team where the responsibility isn't solely on his shoulders could bring the best out of Pogba once more. Just look at how he performed in a Juventus midfield including Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio, or how he plays in the French national team.

Turning 28 just before the 2021 tournament, Pogba should be approaching the prime days of his career. This further year of preparation is a blessing and could be what it takes to bring him to the levels he has always promised to show.

If injuries are kept at bay, expect him to star in 2021 and be back to his stellar best.

Key men from 2018 will be even stronger

It’s not often you have a World Cup-winning team where the key players are still yet to see their best years. Recent winning nations like Italy, Germany and Spain all boasted of players in their peak years, but this was far from the case with France.

Mbappe, arguably the most exciting player in 2018, was only 19 years old at the time. Four goals in the tournament, including one in the final, makes him one of the greatest teens to ever grace the competition and he may be the difference in 2021. A mind-blowing 72 goals in 73 games for PSG since then shows that perhaps another year to develop may end up being the difference between winning and losing.

The central defensive pairing of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti was a key to success in 2018, and at just 25 and 24 years old, respectively, it seemed the best was yet to come. Varane has already established himself as one of the world’s leading central defenders, and Real Madrid man has four Champions Leagues and two league titles already under his belt-playing a key part in each campaign. Yet to turn 27, he should be approaching his prime in 2021.

Umtiti, on the other hand, has endured a difficult two seasons since the World Cup- limited to just 31 games in two years. He has suffered from injuries in that time so a year to get fully fit and back to his best is just what is needed to recreate 2018's impressive defensive partnership with Varane.

ICYMI: Read about Hazard's first season at Real Madrid as we take a look at what has gone wrong for the Belgian at his new club.

Where are the strikers?

It’s not all good news for France, however.

Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud took part in the 2018 World Cup, and whilst not putting in a memorable performance, we know how troublesome he can be off the bench. After starting on the bench in the opening game he started all six following games on route to the final, which clearly worked to some degree.

On paper, his stats for the tournament are underwhelming. Just one shot on goal and one assist throughout would normally be recognised as a terrible return for a striker. As always though, stats don’t tell the whole story. His unselfish style of play, ability to hold the ball up and link play together meant that he was a vital cog in the machine that was the France side.

He was 31 years old then, and 2020 looked like the last chance for him to fill that role for France again. Since the World Cup campaign, he has been a bit-part player for Chelsea, starting just 29 games across two seasons. Now, approaching 35 in the summer of 2021, it's a fair argument to say he may not even be on the plane, which leaves a big gap in the side. After all, only Michel Platini and Thierry Henry have more goals for France than him.

This, ultimately, leaves no notable out-and-out number nine at Didier Deschamps' disposal. Whilst Griezmann can occupy this role, his form at Barcelona is far from what it was at Atletico Madrid, whilst other forwards who may go are deployed down the flanks.

Of course, they'll be fine with Mbappe and Griezmann - who wouldn't be? But Giroud has been incredibly underappreciated with his national side and his 39 goals for them may be missed when push comes to shove.

Even more stars to come

One benefit for all sides within the delay is that it gives a chance for young stars to develop, or perhaps, find Mbappe-esque star. This is especially true for France, who seem to be producing superstar at an unprecedented rate.

There a few prospects who should already be eyeing up the potential gaps that will open up in the 2021 squad. At just 23 years old, Moussa Dembele already seems to have done so much and could have another chance, as Giroud edges closer to retirement.

Since joining Lyon, Dembele has further cemented his place amongst the great goalscorers in Europe, with 42 goals in 88 games, including 16 Ligue 1 goals this season - only Mbappe and Wissam Ben Yedder have more.

Furthermore, the year between now and Euro 2021 looks like a period of getting back to fitness for centre-back Umtiti. If he isn’t ready in time, he will be a big miss. However, there is a more than adequate young player who should be ready to fill his space in Dayot Upamecano.

Upamecano has been a star player for RB Leipzig. At just 21 years old, he has proven to be a reliable player in a Leipzig team bidding for titles. He has also been influential in France's youth sides and looks like ready to make the step up right now, which only means he should be stronger next year.

Umtiti is obviously still the first choice, but with another year to prove himself it wouldn’t be unfeasible to see Upamecano take that spot. If Umtiti can’t make it Frances defence would still be in very safe hands, and with Upamecano so young it can remain that way for years to come.

The year-long delay has thrown up a lot of uncertainties for every nation at Euro 2021, but for France, it may be in their best interest. The world champions were the favourites in many eyes heading into this summer, but in 2021, it's tough to argue against them.

By Jak Richardson


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