FEATURE | Is Adrien Rabiot the key to French World Cup success?

When France won the UEFA Nations League in 2021, Adrien Rabiot missed the final due to coronavirus. Although Didier Deschamps’ men went on to lift the trophy by beating Spain 2-1, Rabiot had to bear the burden of regret, the same feeling that engulfed the Frenchman after being left out of the 2018 World Cup squad.

Despite not being productive in goals and assists over the years, Rabiot has become a prominent figure for his country. Since leaving Paris Saint-Germain, the 27-year-old has established himself as a regular in France’s midfield. Finally, his perseverance has paid off, with Rabiot boarding the plane to Qatar.

While some will struggle to understand how the midfielder continues to pick up caps for the national side despite being inconsistent at club level over the last few years, it appears as if Deschamps will rely on the Juventus midfielder throughout the tournament in Qatar, especially given the injuries to Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté, France’s 2018 World Cup-winning midfield pair.

Now with 30 international caps to his name, Rabiot could become a key player in France’s midfield, and perhaps Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri knows why. The beginning of the season has not been the best for Juventus. The Bianconeri have already been expelled from the Champions League but, over this torrid spell, Allegri’s faith in Rabiot’s abilities has remained constant. Playing 14 games in all competitions, the French international has hit five non-penalty goals this season so far.

Following summer links with a move to Manchester United, the former PSG man has yet to provide an assist but he has recorded 2.39 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes, which is his best return for the Italian side since the Old Lady last became champions of Italy at the end of the 2019/20 season. In the defensive department, his numbers of tackles, blocks and aerial duels won are all competitive too.

Juventus’ poor start could’ve been worse without Rabiot’s brace that led the Bianconeri to salvage a hard-fought 3-1 win against Maccabi Haifa last October while his two goals against Empoli and one against Inter in the Derby d’Italia won’t have gone unnoticed by those at Les Bleus‘ headquarters. In the 2022/23 season, the Frenchman has seen the most success while playing as a box-to-box midfielder, although he has dropped down at times to organise the midfield with his defensive qualities.

While Rabiot is famous for being a workhorse in the midfield, his crossing and long-range passing need improvement, both being fundament elements of a quality midfielder. Pogba’s long balls were so effective in 2018 that Deschamps never felt the need to add more creative outlets to the midfield but, with the former Manchester United midfield maestro missing the World Cup in Qatar, Rabiot will likely require the assistance of Antoine Griezmann to create in the same way.

Les Bleus will play with four defenders during the tournament, says Deschamps, with a return to 2018’s asymmetric 4-2-3-1 formation is likely at some point too. In 2018, Blaise Matuidi was inspirational, dominating down the left side of France’s midfield and Rabiot is seen as Matuidi’s successor by Deschamps and could be used here against tougher opponents.

France would need someone to carry the ball and narrow the distance between the deepest midfielder, most likely Aurélien Tchouaméni, and Griezmann. While the likes of Youssouf Fofana and Mattéo Guendouzi are extremely-talented ball carries and could be the emerging stars of the tournament for France, it is obvious that both prodigies are less experienced than Rabiot and have made fewer appearances for the national side, with Fofana only making his debut in September and Guendouzi having played just six games for Les Bleus so far.

Marseille’s Jordan Veretout is considered cover for Rabiot, meaning that the Juventus midfielder appears to be the first-choice midfield option for France going forward. Despite the quality in their attacking department, the deciding factor might come down to how far the French midfield, and especially Rabiot, can push their limits, because, as they say: ‘Midfield is where the game is won and lost.’

Jyotirmoy Halder | GWFN

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