Defensive headaches for Domenech’s France

By Online Editorial
France and Barcelonas Eric Abidal

France and Barcelona's Eric Abidal

As Raymond Domenech’s France prepare to face Ireland in the play-offs, his back five remains a huge problem with indecision surrounding his best keeper and endless combinations being tried out in the centre of defence, says Ben Lyttleton.

The absence through injury of Franck Ribery from France’s World Cup play-off match against Ireland on Saturday is causing coach Raymond Domenech far fewer headaches than what to do with his defence.

While Domenech has strategies in place in case of Ribery’s unavailability either picking Karim Benzema as a direct replacement on the right wing, or picking Nicolas Anelka on the left wing and moving Thierry Henry and Yoann Gourcuff to the middle and right respectively he still has no idea of his best central defensive partnership and can’t decide which goalkeeper he prefers.

Since Euro 2008, during which France conceded six goals in three games (including a 4-1 defeat to Holland which was the first time they had conceded four goals since 1982), Domenech has never played the same back four for more than two consecutive games in 16 outings, and has chopped and changed between Steve Mandanda (10 games) and Hugo Lloris in goal (six games).

“You have to juggle things according to form and what’s happening at the time,” said Domenech of the battle for the No 1 jersey. “It’s hard to say who is the best. They play in the same competitions, they’re the same age, they have the same level.” Neither shone in Sunday night¹s astonishing 5-5 draw between Lyon and Marseille.

The most damning statistic of Domenech’s reign post-Euro 2008 is that he has tried seven different central defensive pairings and is still no closer to finding the right partner for William Gallas.

This lack of stability in the side has clearly affected those who have had the chance of making the position their own.

The first problem, one of them admitted, was the spectre of the past weighing down on them: “It has been complicated because we were young and there was a lot of expectation from people,” said Sebastien Squillaci. “We followed on from players with 80 caps like Lilian Thuram [142 caps], Marcel Desailly [116 caps] and Laurent Blanc [97 caps].”

In this qualifying campaign alone, Domenech has partnered Gallas with Mexes, Escude and Abidal; Squillaci with Escude, and Boumsong with Abidal. “This team still lacks stability. That’s what happens to young teams,” “that’s the way it goes,” was the coach’s explanation.

It may also explain why France have conceded in three of their last four games, to Romania and Austria (home) and Serbia (away). Their only clean sheet since September came against the Faroe Islands.

So while the smart money may be on Saturday night’s first leg being very tight, remember that Ireland will want to take an advantage to the Stade de France and will see Domenech¹s constant chopping and changing as a weakness to exploit. The price is (1.8) for both teams to score, while the draw is (3.25) and a 1-1 Correct Score is (7.2).

These problems will certainly not be lost on Giovanni Trapattoni and his backroom team, though there is one downside for opponents of any team managed by Domenech: it’s impossible to second-guess his team selections.

As Patrice Evra, who has only recently seen off Gael Clichy and Abidal to make the left-back spot his own, added: “In the French team, things can change from one day to the next.”

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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