Deschamps needs to solve Pogba conundrum if France are to thrive at Euro 2016


It had been speculated for days but it was still a shock when the news broke: Paul Pogba had been left out of France's starting XI for their game with Albania in Marseille.

Add in the fact there was no Antoine Griezmann either and Les Bleus boss Didier Deschamps appeared to be taking a major gamble.

Were they merely rested? That's certainly a plausible argument for Griezmann's omission - Friday's 2-1 defeat of Romania was his 64th game of the season for club and country.

And this was 'only' Albania, supposedly the weakest team in Group A, a bunch of players who, in theory, should have been cannon fodder for France's team of talents.

Yet Pogba's absence hinted at a deeper reason. He has played 10 fewer games this season than Griezmann so fatigue should not have been a factor.

More likely it was as a result of Deschamps' eagerness to try a 4-2-3-1 formation for which Pogba appears ill-suited.

France lined up in a 4-3-3 against Romania with Pogba on the left of midfield. He looked out of place and out of sorts before being hauled off with 13 minutes to go.

At Juventus, Pogba operates in a 3-5-2 and Deschamps himself used that as one reason as to why he struggled to replicate his brilliant club form on the international stage.

Speaking before the Albania game, he said: "He doesn't have the same shirt on. He's not playing in the same formation, Juventus play with three centre-backs.

"He's played some less impressive games [for France] but I am not asking myself how to use him in a similar fashion to how he is used by Juventus."

Perhaps he should be.

After a lively start, France faded horribly in the first half with the visitors bossing the final 20 minutes.

Deschamps had seen enough, introducing Pogba for the woefully ineffective Anthony Martial.

France reverted back to 4-3-3 and immediately carried more threat with Pogba almost opening the scoring, firing just over the bar following a sublime outside-of-the-boot cross from the impressive Dimitri Payet.

That's not to say Albania took a backward step. Gianni De Biasi's wonderfully resolute side still looked dangerous coming forward and shortly before Pogba's chance only the post prevented a combination of Ledian Memushaj and Bacary Sagna from smuggling the ball past Hugo Lloris.

France also hit the woodwork when Olivier Giroud, whose profligacy in front of goal remains a major headache for Deschamps, nodded Patrice Evra's cross against the base of the upright.

Either side of those incidents, Pogba looked in menacing mood, despite the limitations of the formation. Some lovely moments of individual skill were in evidence, as were the characteristic surges from midfield.

One delicate chip almost picked out Blaise Matuidi while another lung-bursting run eventually ended in Sagna lashing over Payet's cross.

In the end it was the other omitted player who broke the deadlock, substitute Griezmann glancing home Adil Rami's right-wing cross a minute from time before Payet curled in a fine second to prompt a noisy rendition of La Marseillaise.

The French fans knew they'd had a lucky escape for this was a far from perfect display.

If France are to go deep in this tournament - and with their squad they should - Deschamps needs to find a way of getting the best out of Pogba and Griezmann.

They are worth building a team - and a formation - around.