Euro 2016 Fantasy Preview: France
France are the favourites going into Euro 2016, with Didier Deschamps’ side backed to win the trophy on home soil.
Rich attacking talent is complemented by one of the best young players in Europe, Paul Pogba, while Hugo Lloris is extremely reliable in goal for Les Bleus, although Raphaël Varane being ruled out of the tournament is a blow.
But what do fantasy football players need to know about France’s chances at Euro 2016?
Likely tactics and formation
France have a tried and trusted 4-3-3 formation and it is unlikely they will deviate far from that shape at the tournament, although they have also played 4-2-3-1 in some of their friendlies.
Deschamps places a high value on athleticism in midfield – which could be bad news for Dimitri Payet but a boost for N’Golo Kanté – while Pogba offers flexibility as he can operate either as the deep-lying central pivot or with a freer attacking role where he can destroy the opposition.
France will have serious pace in attack, particularly on their flanks, and Les Bleus have both the talent to unlock deep-lying sides and overpower teams on the counter-attack, a dizzying blend that should see them get to at least the semi-finals of the competition.
France have won seven of their last eight friendlies in the build-up to Euro 2016, that single defeat coming 2-0 to England at Wembley in November in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.
As France qualified for Euro 2016 automatically, their lack of preparation and the pressure on them as hosts are stumbling blocks Deschamps’ squad will have to overcome.
However, Deschamps was France’s captain when they won the 1998 World Cup on home soil.
Kanté and Payet have lit up the Premier League since leaving France a year ago and are pushing for inclusion, however Deschamps will have to reshape his defence because of the injury to Real Madrid defender Varane.
A grade two muscle tear in the 23-year-old’s left thigh has led to Adil Rami being called up as his replacement, with the Sevilla defender not initially named in either Deschamps’ squad or the standby list.
With Karim Benzema not included in the squad due to off-the-field issues, Deschamps also has a massive decision to make over who leads the line for his side, who face Romania, Albania and Switzerland in what should be an easy opening group stage.
Lloris is France’s captain and, as such, is certain of a place in the starting line-up. The Tottenham goalkeeper had an excellent season with his club, coming close to the Premier League title and keeping 13 clean sheets.
Among the key skills of Lloris are his ability on the ball and willingness to race off his line to sweep up through-balls, which allows France to play with a high defensive line.
If France go deep into the tournament, Lloris will become the player with the most caps as captain for his country. Providing cover for Lloris are Steve Mandanda of Marseille and Benoît Costil.
Varane’s injury will trouble Deschamps as he has been an automatic pick for his country of late despite being in and out of the Real Madrid side this season.
Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny had been pencilled in as Varane’s partner, but who will play alongside him remains uncertain at this stage with Barcelona’s Jérémy Mathieu also ruled out, and replaced by Lyon’s Samuel Umtiti. Eliaquim Mangala of Manchester City and Rami are the other options available at centre-back and there is also the possibility of Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho getting a last minute reprieve, should Deschamps opt to add him to the squad at the expense of someone else, after his UEFA doping ban expired.
France’s full-backs are not the youngest, with 30-somethings Bacary Sagna and Patrice Evra likely to start on the flanks, but Roma’s Lucas Digne is pushing Evra hard on the left side.
Pogba is a certainty to start, with Paris Saint-Germain’s midfield dynamo Blaise Matuidi expected to be in France’s strongest starting XI too.
The final place in the trio could well go to Kanté, whose boundless energy helped Leicester City to their unlikely Premier League triumph this season. Marseille’s Lassana Diarra is a favourite of Deschamps and could also get the nod.
However, as Kanté is slightly more defensively-minded than Diarra, his selection could allow Pogba to play further up the pitch, with Kanté acting as a defensive shield alongside Matuidi.
Benzema’s absence opens the door for Olivier Giroud, who scored 16 league goals in a hit-and-miss season for Arsenal, to spearhead the hosts’ attack.
The brilliant form of the Atlético Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann could, however, force Deschamps into a rethink. Griezmann initially developed as a left-winger but he has often played up front for Atlético, for whom he has hit 32 goals in 53 games in what has been an outstanding individual campaign this season.
Manchester United’s Anthony Martial typically plays on the left for his club but could operate on the right at Euro 2016, while Payet is another option who could start on either flank.
Bayern Munich’s talented young winger Kingsley Coman adds even more pace in attack too.
Coman is likely to begin on the bench, at least initially, and he has the potential to be one of the key substitute options at Euro 2016. Coman is just 19 but he has won four straight league titles, as well as five cups, and is quite rightly touted as one of Europe’s most exciting teenage footballers.
Hatem Ben Arfa is currently on France’s standby list but would be a thrilling substitute to call upon, should he make it into Deschamps’ final selection.
Kurt Zouma and Aymeric Laporte are among the defenders who are unavailable as they are injured, while Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho is out due to a drugs ban, so cover at the back is provided by Mangala, Rami and Mathieu.
Payet is one of the deadliest free-kick takers in the world, showing off a range of dead-ball techniques for West Ham United in a superb debut season in the Premier League.
Yohan Cabaye is likely to be on the bench but he is also a set-piece specialist, while another substitute, André-Pierre Gignac, is a solid penalty taker, converting nine out of 10 in his career.
Spot-kicks could be up for grabs, with Pogba perhaps most likely to demand the responsibility, although watch out for his incredibly slow run-up if he steps up at Euro 2016. Giroud has converted 12 of 13 penalties taken in his career and is another option for Deschamps.