With a European Championship on home soil now just four months away, the last thing Didier Deschamps needs is uncertainty over his team’s best striker.
But that’s exactly what the France coach has been handed, with allegations over Karim Benzema’s involvement in the blackmailing of Mathieu Valbuena leading to the Real Madrid’s forward indefinite suspension from international football.
The loss of a player who averages 25 goals a season isn’t an easy one to absorb, but fortunately for Deschamps, the outstanding form of another French attacker this year could soften the blow.
Sevilla’s Kevin Gameiro is on track to register his best ever season in front of goal, with the 28-year-old’s brilliant performances for Spain’s cup kings helping him build a strong case for inclusion in the France squad this summer. Is Deschamps paying attention?
The numbers add up
Gameiro became Sevilla’s starting striker this season after the departure of Carlos Bacca to Milan, and the Frenchman has stepped in with aplomb. He's currently on 19 goals in all competitions after Thursday night's strike in the 3-0 win over Molde, and has already surpassed his total of 17 from the 2014/15 campaign.
Unless something unusual happens, he should comfortably break his previous season best of 21 for the Andalucian club.
There are no prizes for guessing the biggest motivation behind the No.9’s performances. Gameiro has openly admitted that he is doing everything possible to force his way into the France squad for Euro 2016, encouraging sceptics to look at his statistics when evaluating his ability.
The target of 25 goals in 2015/16 is one he should be confident of reaching. At this stage last year, former team-mate Bacca had only 16 strikes to his name – two fewer than his successor has at present – yet the Colombian finished the campaign on 28.
With three months of La Liga left to play, a place in the Copa del Rey final guaranteed and the Europa League resuming on Thursday, Sevilla’s centre-forward has plenty of games left to fulfil his objective.
Gameiro’s form since the turn of the year has been excellent: with nine goals in six weeks, he has registered half of his season’s total in the months of January and February, with braces struck against Malaga, Athletic Club and Celta Vigo.
Hitting his stride at the optimum time could be crucial to his chances of an international call-up for the Euros, with Gameiro now boasting more league goals than Antoine Griezmann, significantly more in all competitions than Alexandre Lacazette and the same number overall as Olivier Giroud.
Unsurprisingly, observers are beginning to take note back in his native France. Perhaps the highest-profile example is European Championship-winner Luis Fernandez, the former PSG man who recently argued that France’s two pre-Euro 2016 friendlies in March are the perfect opportunity for Deschamps to take a look at Gameiro.
The ideal impact sub?
The case for Gameiro as an international starter is growing stronger, but if Benzema is cleared to return to the France set-up in time there's no doubt who will be Deschamps’ first-choice striker.
Fortunately for the Sevilla man, he has developed a handy habit of making important contributions from the substitute’s bench. Competing with Bacca in his first two years at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan meant Gameiro grew accustomed to making the most out of every single minute of his time on the pitch.
In 2013/14 and 2014/15 he scored 38 goals in 4,651 minutes of playing time: one every 122 minutes. By way of comparison, Benzema’s record during the same period was a goal every 167 minutes.
Much of Gameiro’s success from the bench is down to his strongest traits as a footballer. His speed allows him to profit when others around him are tiring, while his excellent first touch ensures leggy centre-backs are always going to struggle to claw the ball back. Gameiro is a competent finisher, and there is a high chance that he will convert every good opportunity he is given.
Gameiro scores against Celta
There are shades of Diego Costa in the way that a simple ball over the top can become a viable avenue of attack when he's up front; even if an opponent is quick enough to stay with him for the duration of his run, he’s intelligent enough to hold the ball up and help his team-mates advance up the pitch.
It’s easy to see how the 28-year-old could be a valuable asset from the bench for his nation this summer, particularly in games that head to extra time.
Your move, Didier
Deschamps has been rather hesitant with Gameiro to date, including him in multiple pre-selection lists for friendlies before cutting him when he narrows down his selection. That is surely going to change given the way he is currently playing, however.
Already the fourth-highest scorer for Sevilla this century, Gameiro has played a key role in the Spaniards’ two Europa League triumphs, demonstrating an ability to deliver on the big stage. He can deliver from the start or from the bench, and has surely now done enough to earn a call-up in an upcoming friendly.
With extenuating circumstances meaning the makeup of France’s forward line for the summer is far from certain, taking advantage of the untapped talent available is essential for Deschamps. If it’s ignored and the host nation fails at Euro 2016, their coach will have to shoulder the brunt of the blame.
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