Why France could be Better off Without Karim Benzema at Euro 2016

There will be no Karim Benzema at Euro 2016; the forward has been ruled out of consideration by the FFF (French Football Federation) due to an altercation involving Mathieu Valbuena. Despite the 28-year-old’s impressive goal-scoring record for both France and Real Madrid, the team could in fact benefit from their former captain’s absence.

Despite an impressive showing in the 2014 World Cup, both Benzema and the French national team failed to reach the heights that was expected of them before the tournament. Two years on, they are still considered strong favourites alongside Germany at a major international tournament.

However, despite their continued presence amongst the elite of European football, there have been a number of new additions since that 2014 World Cup which could see this become a ‘Golden Age’ of French football, which could have seen Benzema excluded regardless.

Antoine Griezmann has so far scored 31 goals in 50 games for Atlético Madrid and France this season, which makes him the most prolific French forward of 2015-2016. He has also put in a series of match-winning performances over the course of the year; most notably Atlético’s 2-0 romp over Barcelona earlier this week. Griezmann has undoubtedly cemented a place in France’s starting XI, which leaves space for only one more forward on the pitch.

Although Benzema’s form is impressive (22 goals in 21 La Liga matches), football fans have witnessed the emergence of one of the most exhilarating players in Europe, Alexandre Lacazette. The 24-year-old centre-forward has been one of the most dominating players in the French league over the past two seasons, and has subsequently attracted attention from English giants such as Manchester United and Liverpool. Lacazette has not only become a fan-favourite in France but his electrifying pace and natural instincts would see him terrorise some of Europe’s best defences, let alone those of Romania and Albania.

With both Griezmann and Lacazette seemingly locked in to start for France this summer, Didier Deschamps might have deployed Benzema in the traditional number 10 role. Although this move paid dividends in Brazil, the sensational form of Dimitri Payet rules this option out also. Unfortunately for Benzema, France have too many quality wide players in Moussa Sissoko, Valbuena and Hatem Ben Arfa to excuse playing Payet out of position.

Another exciting player France must consider is Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman. The 19-year-old wide man has become increasingly influential to the German champions’ fortunes, pushing the likes of Thiago Alcântara and Douglas Costa for places. He has also outshone former France star Franck Ribéry for the majority of the 2015/16 campaign. Coman’s impressive season is all the more surprising given that he is 14 years younger than Ribéry, and you can, therefore, expect to see many eyes on him all tournament – similarly to how heavily Paul Pogba was watched during the last World Cup.

Such emerging talent should not be ignored in June and therefore, many French fans may see Benzema’s exclusion from the squad as a blessing in disguise; potential replacements will offer a much more dynamic playing style which will see France become a bigger threat against more opposition. Counter-attacking football against the likes of Germany and Spain will be key to success in the summer.

Benzema’s absence will deplete France’s goal-scoring threat to some extent, but both Lacazette and Griezmann alongside the likes of Olivier Giroud will be more than capable of breaking through most – if not any – defences they could face. It will also allow Payet and Ben Arfa to truly establish themselves as a vital part of the French side. Despite Benzema not playing this summer, the France squad still has an unbelievable amount of strength in depth. So much so, they look a more dangerous team on paper when you remove him from the line-up.
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