There was a telling sight on France's bench last week, towards the end of their final warmup match for Euro 2012. Karim Benzema, having just been substituted after scoring two goals and making another in a 4-0 victory Estonia, was capering in a way that caused Franck Ribéry and Samir Nasri to vibrate with laughter. The striker had his mouth covered with a towel, perhaps to prevent his quips from being lipread by viewers, but the image still said a lot.

A little over two years ago Benzema riled his compatriots by suggesting he did not really enjoy playing for France, now he is clearly having fun, which spells trouble for England. Benzema's disenchantment had much to do with his own struggle for form and a lack of love for France's previous manager, Raymond Domenech, who grew tried of waiting for him to fulfil his promise and took Djibril Cissé to the last World Cup instead.

As with Nasri, being omitted from the World Cup may have been a blessing for Benzema – not merely because it absolved him from any blame for France's embarrassing disintegration in South Africa but mainly because it jolted his pride sufficiently for him to get his career back on track. He was helped too by José Mourinho, perhaps the ideal manager to bring him out of his shell.

When he was 16, Benzema had to pass the usual initiation for anyone joining Lyon's first-team squad, standing up to give a speech to the rest of the players. All a-quiver, he stumbled so badly over his words that he brought jeering from senior player such as Sidney Govou and Michael Essien. "Quit your mocking," blurted a piqued Benzema. "I'm here to take your place."

Mourinho, constantly cajoling and coercing, and the World Cup snub, seem to have inspired a similar revolt. After a first season at Real Madrid that was so underwhelming the club drafted in Emmanuel Adebayor to serve as back up to Gonzalo Higuaín, Benzema has learned to bully or elude world-class defenders and become the leader of Real's attack, as proven by 21 goals in La Liga last season and another seven in 11 Champions League games.

Forecast for superstardom ever since he spearheaded Lyon to a French league and cup double at the age of 19, he now, at 24, stands on the cusp of greatness. He may still insist "I don't want to be a star, simply a footballer" but he also has no trouble declaring: "I am not so far off the level of Cristiano [Ronaldo] and [Lionel] Messi, so why not win the Ballon d'Or?" It is not that he likes the limelight, just that he no longer shys away from it. "I know everyone expects me to produce the goods here [at Euro 2012], that's just how it is."

Benzema is certain to start against England, most likely in a lone striker role, although there are many in France who would prefer him to be deployed either alongside the Montpellier striker Olivier Giroud or just behind him. Giroud, a powerful, natural predator with an artful touch, has shot to prominence through an excellent season with his club, the surprising winners of Ligue 1.

Since Benzema can create as much as he scores, many supporters feel that Blanc should find a way to start both players and the best way to do that while adhering to the manager's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation is for the Real player to slot in just behind Giroud. Blanc is likely to save that as a Plan B, principally because he has so many other conjurers who can play behind Benzema, although all, unlike Benzema and Giroud, have a tendency to be over-intricate.

Ribéry will undoubtedly begin on the left, for he and Benzema, great friends off the pitch, seem to bring the best out of one another. "We have an understanding," said Ribéry after the Estonia match, in which he scored his 10th international goal from a pass by Benzema. The Bayern Munich winger, who was one of the prime instigators of the South African shenanigans, had been in a slump but is regaining his verve of old.

Nasri will probably play as well, starting either wide on the right or as the central attacking midfielder. The Manchester City player may not have developed into the Zidane-esque playmaker that Blanc craves but can still orchestrate spells of rarefied class. And he is "super-motivated" to do well against England, against whom he excelled when France won 2-1 at Wembley in 2010. Benzema thrived that day too, scoring the opening goal following a slick one-two with Florent Malouda, whose recent form for his country differs from his diffidence with Chelsea.

More one-twos are a certainty – such interchanges were one of the recurring features of France's three warmup matches – and a Malouda start is a probability, either wide or as a deep-lying midfielder alongside Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye. Malouda did well in that unfamiliar role in the recent win over Serbia but against England Blanc may opt for caution by fielding a more obvious enforcer such as Yann M'Vila or, if the Rennes man has not recovered from injury, Alou Diarra.

The other attacking midfield options are intriguing: Marseille's Mathieu Valbuena and Paris St-Germain's Jérémy Ménez are full of ingenuity but in the pecking order they may now be behind Hatem Ben Arfa, who, just a few month ago, would not have been a contender to play with Benzema. First, because he was barely in Blanc's thoughts – his superb performances for Newcastle changed that – and, second, because he and Benzema nurtured notorious enmity.

When they were the two youngest players in Lyon's side, they had a famous but still mysterious falling out that led to them either being at each other's throats or refusing to speak to one another for years. That, too, has changed and in the recent friendlies they have combined beautifully. "We have matured," Ben Arfa told L'Equipe. "Off the field we now get on great and on the field we deliberately seek each other out. We've got a feeling. When he has the ball, I know exactly what he's thinking." Defenders wish they could say the same.