Yohan Cabaye: The importance
La Marseillaise boomed out around the Stade De France, the Tricolours waved amongst the crowd and despite 84% of people saying they had given up on the French national team, Les Bleus triumphed 3-0 over Ukraine, sealing their place at Brazil 2014. Mamadou Sakho surprisingly got a brace from close range, with Karim Benzema scoring the other in match where France could easily have scored four or five. Les Bleus delivered a vastly improved performance on the first leg, playing with a much higher intensity and more attacking threat despite the incredibly poor quality pitch. Whilst Franck Ribery’s trickery, Mathieu Valbuena’s movement and set piece delivery, and Sakho’s assurance at the back have attracted plaudits, the role Yohan Cabaye played sitting in front of the back four was just as important in Les Bleus victory.
Nicknamed by L’Equipe as the ‘Little Prince’ after the game, Cabaye showed remarkable restraint by playing as the most deep lying of the three central midfielders, sometimes so deep he was almost a third centre back. It is certainly not Cabaye’s natural position, one completely different to that he’s played for Newcastle United so far this season, getting forward to score long range strikes against Everton and Liverpool. However, his tactical discipline and ferocious snap in the tackle added a balance to a French side, which had been severely lacking in the away leg. In Ukraine, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi played the holding midfield role in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which patently failed to make the most of their talents. Both in reality are box to box midfielders, and with their dynamism shackled in the first leg severely inhibited France’s attacking threat. With Cabaye sitting behind them, the freedom to burst forward in the second leg enabled France to play with a high intensity which unsettled Ukraine. Pogba in particular had a fine game linking defence and attack, and breaking forward at every opportunity which would have been impossible in Kiev.
Breaking up play
With France’s qualification hopes threatened by an away goal throughout, Cabaye had to stifle the threat of Yarmalenko and Konoplyanka and the Ukrainian counter attack. He was the top tackler for France with seven tackles, and also made the second highest amount of interceptions at five. He broke up play remarkably effectively to contribute to France having 68% of possession. Cabaye’s strengths lie not just in his destructive qualities, but also his passing skills. He can play, as he did last night, as a deep lying playmaker as well as a tough tackling defensive midfielder. Cabaye had the most amount of passes and touches of any of the French players, monopolising possession for the French, and doing the boring work which allowed Valbuena, Benzema and Ribery to flourish.
Arsene Wenger, who was commentating on the match for French television, was left drooling over Cabaye’s performance saying that he ran the show. This will worry Newcastle fans, as Arsenal had a £10 million bid for the midfielder turned down in August. This performance appears to have cemented Cabaye a starting berth in Brazil. Indeed the chemistry between himself, Matuidi and Pogba far outshone that with Nasri in the first leg. This combination as a midfield three in a 4-3-3 appears to have solved Didier Deschamps’ formation conundrum, with 4-3-3 also suiting the front three of Ribery, Benzema and Valbuena. This appears to have struck the final nail in the coffin of Samir Nasri as a number ten for France, who Cabaye replaced in the side. Cabaye has also consistently performed well with the blue shirt upon his back, which again cannot be said of Nasri.
Cemented his place
The pressure that comes with playing in a World Cup Finals cannot be overstated, and with this performance Cabaye showed he could perform carrying the weight of a nation on his shoulders. With L’Equipe’s front page headline of ‘Respect’ regarding the performance, it appears Cabaye has gained that from the players, the media but more importantly the French public, who so doubted the team prior to kick off. Cabaye himself said, “This is perhaps the best match of my career. Ahugegame. I think we deserve to be going to Brazil.” What is beyond doubt is that the ‘Little Prince’ deserves to go to Brazil, with his majestic performance ensuring France’s qualification.
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