With some of his star attacking players not currently on song, Didier Deschamps is facing a real – and simultaneously very daunting – dilemma as to who should partner Kylian Mbappe up front in his France side ahead of Euro 2020.
The France boss has added rather than lost firepower to his attacking arsenal since the 2018 World Cup victory in Russia, while seasoned internationals Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud are still key members of his squad.
Anthony Martial, Kingsley Coman and even Wissam Ben Yedder are now their main competitors as opposed to Thomas Lemar and Nabil Fekir two years ago.
Didier Deschamps has a few dilemmas for his France forward line ahead of Euro 2020
Kylian Mbappe is the leading forward but Deschamps is yet to stumble upon his strike partner
All three missed out on the World Cup squad two years ago, but are now gaining prominence at club level with Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Monaco.
Nevertheless, PSG forward Mbappe has emerged as his country’s leading star having already netted 16 times on the international scene at the age of 21, and was the standout performer in Russia with stunning goals notably against Argentina and Croatia.
Deschamps will know his array of forward talent will be needed in his 4-3-1-2 formation at various stages if they are to repeat the country’s feat between 1998 and 2000 of back-to-back wins at major tournaments.
But the former France captain would have wished for fewer problems in those forward areas than he currently appears to be juggling, not only ahead of Tuesday’s Nations League clash with Sweden, but more importantly the long-term picture of next summer’s tournament.
Antoine Griezmann has scored 33 goals in 85 games for France and is still a regular for France
Olivier Giroud won his 103rd cap against Finland and is France’s second highest goalscorer
History suggests that come the next edition of the Euros in 2021, Griezmann and Giroud will find their mojo to the extent that they will ensure France are clinical enough up front at the very least, even if there is sometimes a degree of panache going begging.
The duo were instrumental in helping their side reach the final of Euro 2016 on home soil, with Griezmann going on to clinch the Golden Boot despite the defeat to Portugal in Paris, and were once again influential in Russia two years ago in a victorious campaign that time around despite Mbappe largely stealing the show.
But Barcelona star Griezmann has endured a frustrating and rather alarming start to the season under Ronald Koeman, often being shunted out on the right and sometimes dropped in favour of youngsters Ansu Fati and Pedri.
Only recently has the 29-year-old – who has netted 33 goals in 85 games for France – been deployed as a central striker by Koeman, and with Fati expected to be out for a few months, Griezmann still has a chance to turn his fortunes around this season.
Griezmann and Giroud combined with Mbappe brilliantly as France won the 2018 World Cup
But at the moment frustration continues to reign over his stats too, having netted just twice for the Catalan giants this season, albeit with those strikes coming in his last two LaLiga appearances.
His current form comes after a season in which he scored just nine league goals and two across a whole Champions League campaign, and while he is likely to occupy the position behind the lead forward, Griezmann’s indifferent club form may make Deschamps more hesitant to place him up front if the circumstances demand an alternative.
If Griezmann’s season statistics so far appear bleak, then Giroud’s are seemingly right on the verge of proving fatal to his hopes of featuring at Euro 2020, despite the Chelsea striker sitting behind only Thierry Henry as the country’s highest goalscorer of all time.
The 34-year-old has started just one match under Frank Lampard so far this season, scored as many goals, and has played a mere 60 minutes combined in the Premier League and Champions League this season.
But Griezmann has had an alarming start to the season at Barcelona under Ronald Koeman
Giroud meanwhile has started just one game for Chelsea this term and scored as many goals
Of course, goalscoring was not the be-all and end-all two summers ago when Giroud failed to register a single effort on target – let alone score a goal – in the whole tournament which Les Bleus still managed to win.
But rather than the lack of strikes – of which he has 42 for France in 102 games – it is the limited game time that Giroud has seen recently that is of greater concern to Deschamps, who highlighted the former Arsenal forward’s need to try to find ‘rhythm’ as soon as possible.
Giroud of course has faced a fight on his hands before to claim his starting berth for his country, moving to Chelsea on deadline day in January 2018 from the Gunners after Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joined the north London club six months apart to block his route to regular first-team minutes at Emirates Stadium.
That struggle for minutes appeared to re-surface in January this year when he was heavily linked with a move to Inter Milan after playing just seven times for Chelsea in the first half of the season.
Manchester United forward Anthony Martial is playing with the most confidence at club level
But he came back from the mounting pressure and appeared to secure his place in Deschamps’ Euro 2020 squad – before the tournament was postponed due to coronavirus – after netting seven goals in 12 games following the restart and earning a contract extension at Stamford Bridge along the way.
Now however, with Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham representing Lampard’s favoured options for the central striker’s role, an exit appears Giroud’s most likely avenue to regular minutes, but the risk of choosing the wrong club so close to a major tournament is also high.
But Deschamps has insisted that his current situation at Chelsea cannot continue if he harbours hopes of making the cut for Euro 2020, and has even warned him he risks losing his place to Martial.
It is on club form and performances that the Manchester United striker appears to be the French forward playing with the most confidence and fluency currently.
The 24-year-old has improved dramatically under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, netting 23 goals last season and continuing his form in the Champions League with goals against RB Leipzig and Istanbul Basaksehir.
But he extend his four-year goalscoring rut with France against Portugal on Saturday night
He is yet to get off the mark in the Premier League this term but did miss three matches after being harshly sent off against Tottenham, but he has provided a much-needed focal point for a United side in disarray in other areas of the pitch.
But while adrenaline is pumping through his veins, Martial’s record at international level reads one goal in 25 appearances, and given that return has come under Deschamps it will provide the France boss with a considerable amount of concern.
The United star was preferred over Giroud in the Nations League victory against Portugal, but failed to end his four-year rut of not having scored for his country since netting in a friendly win against Italy in September 2016.
Goals may not be the only stat by which Martial is judged on given the prolific nature of his likely strike partner, but his form in front of goal for France, which again came back to haunt him with misses against Finland, will not work in his favour right now.
Kingsley Coman was Martial’s strike partner against Portugal and could figure in that position
Bayern Munich star Coman was Martial’s strike partner on Saturday and could therefore enhance his ever-growing reputation with more starts there for his country, having showed his goalscoring prowess in last season’s Champions League final.
But whether Deschamps will take that risk voluntarily in a major tournament given the unlikelihood of Coman playing the position for his club due to Robert Lewandowski’s presence remains to be seen.
Wissam Ben Yedder is the other forward Deschamps has been keen to integrate into his squad, with the Monaco man netting twice from the 11 appearances he has made at international level.
The 30-year-old played 57 minutes from the start in their shock friendly defeat to Finland last week but failed to register a single shot on target or create a chance for a team-mate before pulling out of the Nations League fixtures following a positive coronavirus test.
Wissam Ben Yedder is another forward Deschamps has been keen to integrate in his set-up
Reports have also suggested Martial has a back injury and trained away from the group on Monday, while others claim it is still uncertain that Mbappe will start against Sweden despite completing his first training session following a thigh injury suffered last month.
Those injuries would likely give Giroud the perfect opportunity to show Deschamps that despite entering the twilight of his career, he has the energy required to push France towards glory in another tournament.
But the match is unlikely to clear up all the questions and conundrums currently presenting themselves to Deschamps.
With no international fixtures scheduled now until March he will be left fretting as to what sort of form and situation he will welcome his forwards back in before the next round of matches come around, when the Euros will be ever closer.