Kylian Mbappé to take on central role in France’s young World Cup squad

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With versatile forwards such as Antoine Griezmann at his disposal, Didier Deschamps may no longer need to rely on Olivier Giroud up front

18 May ~ France named their 23-man squad for the World Cup on Thursday night and Didier Deschamps revealed a little more about how the team’s likely to line-up during the tournament in Russia. There are only five specialist midfielders in the squad, suggesting France are more likely to use a 4-4-2 than a 4-3-3. Deschamps went on to clarify what he feels are the best positions of the seven attacking players in the squad, many of whom can operate in more than one area of the pitch.

The coach sees Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappé as France’s two main central strikers, with Antoine Griezmann and Nabil Fekir the two players best-suited to playing off them. This is interesting because until recently Mbappé was viewed as a winger, the position he’s played in at Paris Saint-Germain this season. Yet he was used as a central striker for France in a friendly against Russia in Saint Petersburg, scoring twice.

“Kylian can play in all three attacking positions [right wing, left wing, central striker],” Deschamps said. “But for me he’s one of our four central attackers. I also know the cost if he plays out wide in a 4-4-2: he has a lot of work to do in that role.”

The knock-on effect is that Giroud no longer seems to be an automatic starter. In one sense that’s harsh on a player that did well at Euro 2016 and has scored ten goals in ten starts since that tournament. But it appears Deschamps prefers the pace of Mbappé through the middle, with Florian Thauvin, Ousmane Dembélé and Thomas Lemar the options for the two wing positions.

Dimitri Payet misses out. He was a “strong candidate”, said Deschamps, until injury in the Europa League final on Wednesday night. The only minor surprise was the omission of PSG midfielder Adrien Rabiot. Deschamps preferred Seville’s Steven N’zonzi as a more natural deputy for N’golo Kanté.

This is a young and inexperienced France squad. There are only nine survivors from Euro 2016. The average age of the squad is 25.6; of the likely starting XI, 24.4. Only five players – Hugo Lloris, Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba, Giroud and Griezmann – have more than 50 caps.

While inexperience need not be a handicap, the lack of leaders is. This squad’s more talented than the one that won the World Cup on home soil 20 years ago, but the absence of players to drag the team through difficult moments – players like Deschamps, in fact – is a legitimate concern. James Eastham