France vs Germany preview: Les Bleus out to justify favourites tag

class=”styled__BannerImage-sc-1wadlxz-1 iLJqYu styles_articleMainImage__Lj_Qv”>France's embarrassment of attacking riches has been further enhanced by Karim Benzema's return

France's embarrassment of attacking riches has been further enhanced by Karim Benzema's return

Group F: France v Germany, 8pm (UK time, ITV)

Tournament favourites France open their European Championship campaign against three-time winners Germany in the first heavyweight clash of Euro 2020. 

Beaten finalists on home soil five years ago, Les Bleus are stronger than ever and their stacked forward line has only been bolstered by Karim Benzema’s surprise return from exile.

Germany are at the start of a hard reset in their national history with World Cup-winning coach Joachim Low stepping down at the tournament’s end to be replaced by his old assistant Hansi Flick.

Recent form

With four straight wins without conceding under their belt, France are in exactly the sort of form you would expect from favourites ahead of a major tournament.

But Didier Deschamps’ men only beat Bulgaria, Wales, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kazakhstan in that run.

Prior to that, Les Bleus could only draw with Ukraine in a World Cup 2022 qualifier and were beaten 2-0 at home by Finland last November.

Germany are also not exactly on rock-solid foundations.

They have won just four of their last nine competitive games and were humbled by North Macedonia in a World Cup qualifier in March.

A 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain in the Nations League only served to underline how far they have slipped in recent times.

Mercedes Benz-ema

Karim Benzema has stepped up for Real Madrid since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure
Karim Benzema has stepped up for Real Madrid since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure

As if France did not already have enough firepower in a talent-rich forward line, Benzema, 33, was recalled after almost six years to spearhead the attack.

In the three years since Cristiano Ronaldo traded Real Madrid for Juventus, Benzema has netted 65 LaLiga goals, establishing himself as Los Blancos’ figurehead and one of the best No9s in world football.

Not only is Benzema an elite goalscorer, capable of scoring all kinds of goals, he is a selfless facilitator and tireless worker.

As well as 23 league goals, Benzema bagged nine LaLiga assists last term — against an expected goals assisted tally of just 6.3 — and averaged 3.11 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes.

Expect Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann to flourish on either side of him.

Returning hero

In a similar vein, Thomas Muller has been brought out of international exile in a last-ditch attempt to beef up Germany’s attacking options.

Muller, along with then Bayern Munich team-mates Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, was unceremoniously dumped from international duty by Low in March 2019.

But following another fine season with the German champions, in which he scored 11 Bundesliga goals and supplied a further 21 assists, Low was forced to swallow his pride.

Likely to be deployed as one of the two forwards behind Serge Gnabry, Muller’s movement, intelligence and work-rate make him one of Europe’s best in his position. 

Muller has racked up the most assists in three of the last four Bundesliga seasons while his tally of 4.81 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes is among the league’s best — only Jadon Sancho (5.46) and Christopher Nkunku (6.18) can better that return.

Unknown quantity

Bayern Munich utility man Joshua Kimmich has shifted out to wing-back recently
Bayern Munich utility man Joshua Kimmich has shifted out to wing-back recently

Only boss Low really knows what to expect from Germany so it will be intriguing to find out how they line up.

The 61-year-old has experimented with several systems since the 2018 World Cup in Russia when Germany were eliminated in the group phase after finishing bottom.

Most recently, he has deployed a 3-4-3 shape with Joshua Kimmich at right wing-back.

Muller’s return could suggest a return to 4-2-3-1, which served Germany so well earlier in Low’s reign.

But against a French side packed with midfield quality, lining up with just a pair of out-and-out midfielders seems unwise.

Midfield battle

Atalanta wing-back Robin Gosens has made the left-sided berth his own for Germany
Atalanta wing-back Robin Gosens has made the left-sided berth his own for Germany

France might not have a defined style of play under Deschamps but their individual and collective quality is such they can afford not to.

In midfield, N’Golo Kante arrives at the European Championship fresh from a man-of-the-match display against Manchester City in the Champions League final.

Meanwhile, Paul Pogba — so often an enigma for Manchester United — plays his best football for Les Bleus.

The final midfield berth should be a straight shootout between Adrien Rabiot and Moussa Sissoko, while Germany are missing Bayern powerhouse Leon Goretzka.

That will put the onus on the ageing Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan to control things but Kimmich can tuck in to make that a midfield three with Robin Gosens bombing on down the left.

Whoever gets hold of the midfield in this gargantuan tussle will surely prevail in Munich.

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FranceGermanyEuropean Championship