Philippe Mexes’ suspension for the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 has been described as a “blessing in disguise” by some people. Although Mexes and Adil Rami have formed an excellent partnership under Laurent Blanc, there has been a sloppiness to France’s defending that has been exemplified by Mexes, whose lapses and tendencies to lumber don’t exactly complement the hulking Rami.
On the back of a brilliant season and a half for the Arsenal, many commentators in France have been calling for Laurent Koscielny to be involved more in the defensive setup – he has just 3 caps. Legendary commentator Jean-Michel Larqué went so far as to say that of the 3 candidates (on current form), Koscielny was first on the “podium” and Mexes was 3rd.
Blanc has thus far understandably remained loyal to the XI that brought him so successfully through qualifying. Apart from the fact that Mexes and Rami have a great understanding, the tense and congested environment of an international tournament doesn’t really allow for too much experimentation or for new partnerships to be developed. Mexes’ suspension however opens up a controversy-free door for Koscielny to step in and partner Rami at the heart of the France defence.
It’s probably just the thing that France need with Spain up next in the quarter-finals – most people haven’t forgotten LK6’s absolutely brilliant performances in the two legs against Barcelona from 2010/2011, and similar qualities will be needed in Donetsk against the reigning champions. Koscielny’s concentration, mobility, and doggedness will be vital.
His recovery pace will also be useful in covering for the brilliant Mathieu Debuchy – whose starting position and playing style are more akin to a right-winger. Whilst Debuchy is no slouch, and is constantly up and down the flank, France’s first-choice XI featured the unfortunate Bacary Sagna. Sagna’s positional discipline added more balance and solidity to the back 4, and didn’t allow for the frailties of Rami and Mexes to be exposed. Debuchy’s inclusion – whilst providing much excitement – has seen the defensive shape change quite drastically, and Les Bleus haven’t yet adjusted to that.
Hopefully Laurent can come in and stake his claim – as a late bloomer, he is probably desperate to make the most of his chances.