Coming into this month's UEFA Euro 2024 qualifiers, there were many questions over France after their unexpected run to the FIFA 2022 World Cup final. Didier Deschamps stayed on but lost two key players in Hugo Lloris and Raphael Varane which meant not only a tactical rethink but also a new captain. Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe has filled that leadership void while Mike Maignan is the new French No. 1.
The Netherlands were disposed of 4-0 but it was a narrow 1-0 victory for Les Bleus in Dublin as they made it six points from six. Three goals inside of 21 minutes against the Dutch at Stade de France was impressive despite some key Oranje absentees but it was more of a scrap in Ireland with the hosts dominant at times. Deschamps' men are 100% after two games, though, so already in control of Group B despite Greece's one win from one game played so far.
So how are France looking in 2023?
Kylian Mbappe thriving in new role
With two goals and an assist against the Netherlands, the 24-year-old made an ideal start to life as France skipper. Mbappe was quieter against the Irish but there were still a few flashes of danger from the PSG man. It is early days but he has settled into his new role well and although things are not entirely convincing up top, he will always pose a threat to opponents.
5 - France have won their last five qualifying games for a major tournament (World Cup + EURO), each time without conceding a goal. Lock. #IRLFRA pic.twitter.com/cK6VxjG09l— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 27, 2023
Antoine Griezmann remains productive
Being overlooked by Deschamps for the captaincy could have had an adverse impact on the squad chemistry but the 32-year-old remained professional and needed just two minutes to score against the Dutch. Griezmann was a central figure again in Dublin and his relationship with Mbappe has shown no signs of irreparable damage so far in these opening two outings.
Mike Maignan anchors defense
The big success story from this early international break came between the sticks where Deschamps opted for Maignan as Lloris' long-term replacement and was immediately justified. The AC Milan shot stopper made a sensational late save to keep France ahead late on at Aviva Stadium and the Irish would have drawn had the 27-year-old not been so agile. Factor in Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate in front of him and it is an almost entirely new central defensive core for Les Bleus which has passed two early tests.
Magic Mike saved all 3 points for France. 🧤 pic.twitter.com/zbzhJYk6qZ— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) March 27, 2023
Adrien Rabiot bosses midfield
The Juventus midfielder has carried his impressive Qatar form over into 2023 and he is now emerging as an integral member of this French setup at 27. Rabiot paired with Aurelien Tchouameni from the start in one game and with Eduardo Camavinga in the other which suggests that Deschamps is certain about him while he decides who to play alongside him with Griezmann higher up. It is a similar story in defense with Benjamin Pavard back in the picture and on the score sheet against Ireland while Jules Kounde started against the Netherlands.
Randal Kolo Muani struggles
Arguably the most work to be done ahead of the next set of international fixtures is working out how to get the front line working better with Mbappe alone in his success this month. Randal Kolo Muani struggled to replicate the same sort of impact we saw from him as a substitute in the World Cup while Olivier Giroud feels something of an awkward fit with the Eintracht Frankfurt man and Mbappe. Thankfully for Deschamps, he has the PSG man to provide that quality going forward but Ireland showed that France's thrashing of the Netherlands was not quite the statement it might have seemed at the time.