Having seen their hopes of back-to-back UEFA Nations League titles crash and burn, France resume League A Group 1 duties at home to Austria on Thursday night. Les Bleus are facing the prospect of a devastating relegation to League B, while their visitors are not much better off, sitting in third place with four points to their name. Not even the sheer goalscoring brilliance of Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe could prevent France going winless throughout all of June, as Didier Deschamps witnessed his side quickly plummet to the bottom of the standings in their Nations League group. For whatever reason, the Bleus squad just did not gel in the summer – although scheduling four Nations League games right after a hectic domestic season may have had a part to play in that – and top spot is now firmly out of their reach.
Taking just two points from the first 12 on offer, France ended an abysmal month of June with a 1-0 defeat to Croatia on matchday four, as Luka Modric’s fifth-minute penalty saw the Chequered Ones glean a measure of revenge from their World Cup final defeat in 2018. While their Nations League crown will soon fall into another team’s lap, France still have a World Cup trophy to defend before the end of the year, with Australia, Denmark and Tunisia all seeking to take advantage of Les Bleus’ recent woes in Group D. France did endure a five-game winless streak as recently as 2021 and are now at risk of suffering three consecutive home defeats in the Nations League, which would only louden calls for Zinedine Zidane to displace Deschamps in the Bleus hotseat after Qatar. Victory for Austria this week would officially relegate France to League B, but Ralf Rangnick’s side are not safe from the drop just yet either, with Das Team going winless in their final three Nations League games back in June.
After opening the 2022-23 tournament with an eye-catching 3-0 success over Croatia, Austria took just one point from the next nine on offer and succumbed to goals from Jonas Wind and Andreas Skov Olsen in a 2-0 defeat to Denmark last time out. With no World Cup to prepare for, Das Team can harness all of their competitive energy into their Nations League survival bid, and Rangnick will prepare his side for two friendlies with fellow Qatar absentees Andorra and Italy in November. A paltry one win from their last six games in all competitions does not make for positive reading for Das Team before a trip to the Stade de France, but they had won five Nations League games on the bounce away from home before coming out second best against Denmark.
Rangnick’s men were undone by a late Mbappe leveller in a 1-1 draw with France three months ago, and Austria have suffered four consecutive defeats against Les Bleus away from home since winning 2-1 in a 1965 friendly. France boss Deschamps is working with nothing short of an injury crisis for September’s games, with the likes of Paul Pogba, Presnel Kimpembe, Ibrahima Konate, Lucas Hernandez, N’Golo Kante, Anthony Martial, Kingsley Coman and Benzema all unavailable. Since naming his squad, Deschamps has also lost Adrien Rabiot, Hugo Lloris, Theo Hernandez and Boubacar Kamara to injury. Hernandez’s replacement, Lucas Digne, has also sustained an ankle problem and has dropped out for Adrien Truffert.
Given the wealth of established stars currently on the sidelines, the likes of Mike Maignan and William Saliba can stake their claims for starting roles, while Ousmane Dembele and Olivier Giroud should both have good chances of starting after returning to the Bleus squad this month. France are not the only ones ruing their own physical problems, as Austria’s towering number nine Sasa Kalajdzic suffered a severe ACL injury during his first 45 minutes of action with Wolverhampton Wanderers and will spend at least six months recovering. RB Leipzig midfielder Konrad Laimer is another long-term injury concern for Austria, who are also without Valentino Lazaro, Florian Grillitsch, Stefan Ilsanker and Martin Hinteregger, the latter of whom retired from football in the summer after links with a far-right extremist emerged. Even with Kalajdzic absent, Rangnick has witnessed Marko Arnautovic open the Serie A season with six goals in seven games for Bologna, and the 33-year-old ought to lead the line here. Kevin Danso, meanwhile, will miss out due to suspension.
France possible starting lineup:
Maignan; Pavard, Kounde, Varane, Mendy; Guendouzi, Tchouameni, Camavinga; Griezmann; Mbappe, Giroud
Austria possible starting lineup:
Lindner; Lainer, Trauner, Lienhart, Alaba; Sabitzer, Schlager, Siewald; Baumgartner; Arnautovic, Gregoritsch