For those of you new to these 2018 Men’s Nations League previews, this will give you a better idea of the teams that you’re unfamiliar with and will allow you to follow the tournament more easily. The format consists of 5 weekends of round-robin play starting tomorrow taking place in different locations around the world followed by a final round in Lille, France on July 4-8th.
I’ll be doing the previews in reverse order of my own personal, unofficial power rankings. Feel free to let me know why your team is too low.
Of course, we had to put last summer’s champions up near the top. This team might even be better than they were last summer, with every player on their starting lineup and bench playing major roles for strong club teams. They automatically qualify for the final 6 in Lille as they are the hosts, so they can afford to take it easy during the pool play.
France has the deepest lineup of outside hitters I have ever seen on a volleyball team before. They are led by superstar Earvin Ngapeth, one of the best players on the planet, but behind him, there is an army of 6’7 technically superb players ready to play for France. Kevin Tillie, Trevor Clevenot, Thibault Rossard, Julien Lyneel, and Yacine Louati would be star players on half of the teams in nations league and starters on the rest. Coach Laurent Tillie may have too much a good thing, as choosing one of these players from the list could be difficult. Laurent will likely give many players a chance during pool play, and make his decision for the finals based on situational match ups.
The one pebble in France’s shoe will be their abysmal performance in the 2017 European championships last summer. After winning the world league, beating teams like the USA and Brazil on their way to the gold medal, they lost to the Czech Republic in the pre-quarters to finish in 9th place. No doubt that the French players will have that tournament in the back of their mind when they play in the nations league. Whether that fuels them or hinders them will be seen soon.
Benjamin Toniutti and Jenia Grebbenikov are arguably the best players in the world at their respective positions. Stephen Boyer is a ridiculously athletic opposite who is still only 22. If France has any roster weaknesses it would be in the middle. Kevin Le Roux had a season hampered by injuries and looks a step slower than in previous seasons. Nicolas Le Goff is just a middle-tier player. And Barthelemy Chinenyeze will be incredible in a few years but is still quite raw. France may not have the biggest or most athletic team, but nobody can match them in pure volleyball skills.
Likely starters (players to watch in italics):
OH: Earvin Ngapeth (Modena)
OH: Trevor Clevenot (Piacenza)
OP: Stephen Boyer (Chaumont)
MB: Kevin Le Roux (Rennes)
MB: Barthelemy Chinenyeze (Asseco Resovia)
S: Ben Toniutti (Zaksa Kedzierzyn-Kozle)
L: Jenia Grebbenikov (Civitanova)