By Jonathan Johnson (@Jon_LeGossip)
France have made a successful start to their 2016 UEFA European Championship campaign without truly impressing so far. The hosts beat Albania 2-0 at Stade Velodrome on Wednesday to add to a 2-1 win over Romania at Stade de France on opening night last Friday.
Didier Deschamps’ men might have six points and four goals to their name at present but both of their Group A victories so far have been fortuitous and three of the four goals scored have come in the dying minutes of the matches.
Dimitri Payet has been Les Bleus’ star man so far; the West Ham United gem has netted superb late strikes against both the Romanians and the Albanians, while it has taken Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba a little more time to warm up.
The Atletico Madrid and Juventus stars looked better when they were introduced as substitutes against Albania but both are still some way off their stellar best regularly displayed on the domestic and continental stages with their clubs.
However, despite many criticisms of their performances so far, the French have two wins from two fixtures and have already booked their place in the latter stages of their own tournament.
Back in competitive action for the first time in almost two years and with the added weight of expectation playing on home soil, things have ben far from disastrous for the two-time winners so far.
Here are five areas where France can improve moving forward though.
Remove Patrice Evra from the starting XI
France’s opening two Euro 2016 matches have made a few things painfully clear and one of those things is that Patrice Evra is not the force he once was.
Although he may continue to look evergreen at club level and even in European competition, the Juventus man’s international days are behind him.
Evra conceded the penalty that allowed Romania to equalise in the first game and the 35-year-old was run ragged against an Albania side many expected Les Bleus to dominate in the second.
Deschamps’ faith in his long serving left-back is admirable but it is also starting to look misplaced now.
There is little doubt that Evra will start in most, if not all, of the hosts’ potential latter stage fixtures as the most experienced outfield member of the squad.
So, if Deschamps is going to continue to rely on the team’s controversial former captain, then he must consider resting him against Switzerland and giving AS Roma’s Lucas Digne a chance to impress.
Evra could use the valuable time to take stock of his two dismal displays so far, while Digne deserves the opportunity to offer a glimpse of the future after a successful loan spell in the Italian capital.
Try Paul Pogba in Blaise Matuidi’s position
Pogba is yet to live up to the insane amount of pre-tournament hype that he was subject to but he is not being helped by the fact that Deschamps continues to play him in a position that does not suit him best.
The Juventus superstar favours the left central midfield role that Paris Saint-Germain’s Blaise Matuidi currently occupies.
However, the France No. 14 has put in two disappointing showings so far and looks every bit the player who has been run into the ground by club and country this season.
Matuidi has been a victim of his own success over the past few campaigns, yet few choose to see it that way and instead bemoan his lack of energy and limited performances at the end of another long term.
If Deschamps is going to persevere with one of his most trusted lieutenants in the knockout rounds, then Matuidi will have to be rested against Switzerland. Doing so would give Pogba the chance to start in his preferred left-sided central role alongside the impressive N’Golo Kante of Leicester City.
Regardless of whether Deschamps goes 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, Pogba will have a better chance of shining against the Swiss if he is closer to the left rather than the right.
Give Andre-Pierre Gignac a chance over Olivier Giroud
Although Olivier Giroud scored France’s first goal of Euro 2016, he has struggled to impress when leading the line.
Plenty of opportunities have come the Arsenal man’s way, yet aside from a second half header that hit the post against Albania, he could have done better with those chances.
Tigres UANL’s Andre-Pierre Gignac has been patiently waiting for his chance to impress and he produced an assist with a 10-minute cameo against the Albanians on his return to Stade Velodrome.
With Giroud struggling to make the most of his teammates’ service, Gignac should be given the nod against Switzerland to see if he fares any better ahead of the latter stages.
Alternatively, Griezmann could be started through the middle with Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman and Manchester United’s Anthony martial either side of him in a front three blessed with incredible pace.
Continue to play Kingsley Coman from the start
Regardless of whether it is part of a front three of a an attacking midfield trio supporting a lone striker, Coman should be given another chance from the start against Switzerland after an energetic 68-minute run-out against Albania.
Although nobody was truly outstanding for the French in Marseille, the jet-heeled 20-year-old showed enough from the right to earn a second consecutive start against the Swiss in Lille on Sunday.
Coman was far more impressive than the disappointing Martial and the Paris-born youngster’s maturity means that Deschamps has a reliable alternative to playing Griezmann wide on the right, which enables him to move the Atletico man into a central role if he chooses.
Continue to manage Antoine Griezmann’s physical condition
After failing to hit the back of the net in the opening win over Romania, Griezmann is finally off the mark for Euro 2016 and it came from an unlikely header as well.
Although it looked as if it might backfire until very late in the game against Albania, Deschamps was ultimately right to start without the Atletico star or Pogba and his decisions ultimately had the desired effect.
What the 1998 FIFA World Cup and 2000 UEFA European Championship-winning former captain now must do is continue to manage Griezmann’s physical condition after a demanding season in La Liga under Diego Simeone in Madrid.
The France No. 7 should now start every match but Deschamps must look to bring him off if there is a point where the job looks done, especially against Switzerland in the final Group A clash, so he can be saved for future challenges.