Friday, June 10, 2016

Get ready for a month of footy...second best tournament. Can Les Bleus do it for a third time?

1984 and 1998, two years that will mark French football. At this point I am sure you are all aware that those are the two of the years France hosted a major footy tournament on home soil...and won. France also hosted the last pre-war World Cup in 1938, which they did not win. In the modern era, this will be the third major footy tournament hosted in my home land. What can we expect from the hosts?

Let's first look at today's opening match versus Romania. Not the most difficult opening opponent, nor the easiest. The former iron curtain nation tends to pose a difficult enigma to most nations that face them. They tend to be well disciplined defensively and will ruthlessly punish you for any mistakes. I don't think they will make a run like they did in the 1994 World Cup where they were lead by their talisman - Hagi. Their Euro qualifying campaign was not a walk in the park and not in a group of death! They would end the qualifiers in second behind surprise North Ireland. But none of this matters as all the teams start with a 0-0-0 record.

Les Bleus head into this opening game on a relative high, after defeating Scotland in their last friendly. The 3-0 score line could have easily been 5-0 (Pogba hitting a post on a wonderful free kick and Gignac demonstrating why he plays in Mexico and not in Europe after completely botching a 1v1). France has had a decent run as of late. They have been scoring goals...but also conceding to many at the same time. Without their best defender - Varane - I fear this might be their down fall. But let's focus on the positives first.

  • The midfield is the iron of this side. Much like the glory days of old, when France had the Carre Magique of Tigana, Fernandes, Giresse and Platini (I still get emotional thinking of that midfield). Or the one anchored by a certain Zidane, that also had the likes of Deschamps, Vieira, Petit, Karembeu and Pires. This side has what appears to be a midfield that could elevate itself to these lofty highs. With Pogba and Matuidi, you have two of the best box to box midfielders in the world. Pogba can also either play deeper in a Pirlo role or play the true box to box role. The emergence of Kante for Leicester City could prove to be the key for France. While he is playing deeper than he does in the EPL, his engine and tireless work rate will be the key to providing cover for the back four. Deschamps has some options on the bench as well - Cabaye, Sissoko and Scheiderlin - he can rapidly add some muscle to his midfield.
  • An infusion of youth...speaking of midfield talent, there is some youth in that area as well with the emergence of Coman at Bayern Munich (I am still pissed that PSG let him leave). Coman could slot in as a winger or a deeper lying offensive midfielder. Not a bad option to
    Expect the former PSG player to have a say during the Euros
    play in a game. There is also Manchester United striker Martial who brings youth to the table. While neither player looks like they will start, both will play vital roles for Les Bleus.
  • In form players - Griezmann, Payet, Pogba, Matuidi to name a few have had solid domestic seasons for their clubs. All will be called upon if France is to go far in this tournament. While I will not place too much emphasis on "in form" players, need I remind everyone that going into the 2002 World Cup France had the leading goal scorers from the English, Italian and French domestic leagues - Henry, Trezeguet and Cisse - and mustered ZERO goals in those games. ZERO. But I rather have players in form than struggling.
Of course there are some negatives...well one...and it is a big one.
  • That back line is RUBBISH. Losing Varane made an area of concern a major fear. First, Evra still our first choice left back??? His best days are way way way behind him. He was washed up during the last World Cup! Argh. I know Deschamps has tried other options like Tremoulinas, Kurzawa, etc but how is the old man still running up and down the left side?? On the right...isn't much better. Sagna was a beast when he came over to Arsenal from Ligue 1. While he is still solid defensively his crosses are RUBBISH. Sorry that might be too strong. But I never mistake his crosses from a David Beckham special. What is more scary is the central pairings. Kos is solid but I fear he is always good for at least one brain fart every once in a while. Rami has had a good season in Spain. But lets face it, is the emergency back up to the emergency back up! At least with Varane I felt there was one out of the four that could keep his cool. Now I am not so sure. Lloris will have to on top of his game.
Okay so we headed into today's game with a lot of excitement and expectations. Looks like DD will go with his usual 4-3-3. Lloris: Evra, Rami, Kos, Sagna: Kante, Matuidi, Pogba: Griezmann, Giroud, Payet. I have been reading some calls for Martial to start, but what I think we are really seeing is Deschamps looking for flexibility. While Payet will start out on the right side, I think he will be looked upon to act as the defacto "10" probably slotting behind Griezmann and Giroud during the game. When he stays wide I look to Pogba to push higher on the pitch to support the attacking three. This will also place greater emphasis on Sagna making runs to give the French right width. Thru out the years, with Henry then Ribery and Valbuena and now Griezmann, the French attach has leaned heavily to the left (there is a political joke in there). So France continues to look for options to balance this attack, this is where a player like Coman can help. On defense I look for Kante and Matuidi to do much of the dirty work and try to alleviate any strain on the back 4. The question will be, who is the launching pad from the back for attacks? Kante isn't truly a distributor. Varane played that role before but who now? I look for Matuidi to be asked to drop deeper at times and fulfill this role.

Stade de France will be absolute bonkers today. I look for France to feed off this energy. Les Bleus start the tournament with a 3-1 victory.

Goals from Griezmann, Giroud and Martial.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Les Bleus take down Oranje...but some concerns remain

Les Bleus come back from Holland with a 3-2 victory over the Dutch. A game that started out well for France took a bad dip in the start of the second half, but the captain for the day, Matuidi, came through at the dying moments of the game to secure a win. Was there much to learn from this game? Sort of...

The Good:
  • A win is a win....After the past few seasons, getting a win versus a decent national side in their home stadium is still a positive. Les Bleus played a typical friendly game, some good moments, some moments of sleep walking no one expected the intensity of a World Cup or Euro game. France will go into their final match against Russia looking to build on this momentum. 
  • Griezmann - The Atletico Madrid striker continues to grow in stature for France. Partnering with Giroud and Payet (more on him later) appeared to be clicking from the get go. Giroud playing the role he does with Arsenal - a pivot point for the attack - played well with Griezmann running off that fulcrum. His free kick was a thing of beauty as well. Coupled with Payet taking some sumptuous set pieces himself this part of the game offers much hope for fans of Les Bleus. The one possible issue is that Griezmann prefers coming in from the left, a spot that Martial is also more comfortable playing from. If Deschamps decides to lean on Giroud as his main central striker, he will have to leave Martial on his bench. Not a bad option coming in off the bench, but might also be underutilized that talent.
  • Payet - I have never been a huge fan of the former Nantes prospect, but he has been slowly winning me over. His move to West Ham has done him a world of good. Getting out of OM and Ligue 1 has allowed him to take the next step in his career. He is playing with a high level of skill and confidence. Lining up on the right, but really roaming the pitch as a #10 worked well with this formation. His set pieces were dangerous and his shoot from distance are all extremely positive. Could he be the Valbuena at the Euros? Seems that way.
  • Pogba - The Juventus #10 is an absolute beast. He is growing into a true "box to box" midfielder. He was making strong tackles, launching attacks, taking defenders on and bringing offensive options to the side. France will lean heavily on their Juventus midfielder. He needs to continue to mature but the future is bright for the former Manchester United player.
 The Bad
  • Still many questions on defense - The back 4 still has some shaky moments. I am not confident with our outside backs. Evra is old. Digne and Jallet can be shaky at times, allowing their man to get past them too quickly. Varane and Kos are sold in the middle of the park, but at times are asked to do too much to cover for the outside backs. Deschamps will have some work to do with regards to figuring out who he leans on from a fullback role. It feels that he will go with the veterans such as Evra and Sagna...ugh.
 The Ugly:
  • Can Les Bleus defend set pieces?? Two goals on set pieces. Granted the first goal should have been called back due to a hand ball. But Kos was hanging on to De Jong like he was a 5 year old on the deep end of the pool and De Jong was his life preserver. On the second goal...ouch...Afellay was WIDE open. Not good man marking on that corner kick...once again things that France struggle with. These will burn Les Bleus if not solved.
Decent game for Les Bleus. Let's see what happens next week versus Russia. As France have only another 90 minutes of football before the final roster of players is set for the Euros, it will be interesting to see who DD wants to see. Clearly the core list is probably in mind. I think the midfield will be the one place where there is some competition for spots. We shall see what falls out after next tuesday.

Allez Les Bleus!

Honoring the great Cruyff

Thursday, March 17, 2016

DD reveals last list before the Euros - should we read into anything?

First, I have been terrible and haven't written in months. With the Euros rapidly approaching I hope to change this.

So Deschamps released his list of players for the upcoming friendly matches versus Holland and Russia. The list -

Gardiens de but : Lloris, Mandanda, Costil.
Défenseurs : Sagna, Jallet, Evra, Digne, Varane, Koscielny, Sakho, Mathieu.
Milieux de terrain : Pogba, Matuidi, Diarra, Sissoko, Kanté, Cabaye.
Attaquants : Griezman, Martial, Giroud, Coman, Gignac, Payet.

Some interesting players in and out.

First the players that are in this list. Starting with the engine from Leicester City - Kante. The midfielder is having a massive coming out party this season. With his side sitting atop the Premiership and he playing a massive role in their success, no surprise he has been thrust into the spotlight. While I have not heard it yet, but the comparison to me is to the likes of Makelele. A player with an enormous work rate that plays bigger than his physical stature. A deserved call up indeed. Now where he could fit in the formation, that is the question, more on that later. Gignac once again in the list. The former OM striker is playing very well for his Mexican side, but once he left for Liga MX it felt as if he had put his international future in the rear view mirror. But combined with Benzema's sex tape scandal and Gignac's goal scoring form he has forced his way back in the picture. But this is also an indication of the thinness for France when it comes to strikers. The days of having Henry, Trezeguet and Cisse to lean on are long gone (don't forget going into the World Cup 2002 those three were all the leading scorers of their domestic leagues: England, Italy and France). Also interesting to see Mathieu back in the fold. With the injury to Zouma, I thought that DD might have called up Laporte from Atheltic Bilbao, especially since there are rumors that the Spanish national team have interest in getting him to flip.

Players that were left off, starting with Benzema. Okay no real surprise here. The Real Madrid striker remains embroiled in his sex tape black mail situation...idiot. And it is clear that DD is sticking by the FFF's punishment. Question is - will they change their minds come the summer? Speaking of sex tape, Valbuena was also left off the list. He hasn't been in great form, but he had become somewhat of a DD binky in recent years. No Kurzawa. Maybe not a surprise since he is not getting regular time with PSG, but it is more that Evra got called up. WHY??? I am not sure why the former Manchester United left back continues to get play at the international level.

So now the question becomes, what will DD do with regards to formation and line up? With his
Will he get a call up?
preferred, at least recently, 4-3-3 there remains the issue of who will play at the top of the attacking trident and who mans the right wing? With Griezman and Martial there are options of playing these two one on the left one in the center but allowing them to interchange during the match. Without Valbuena there isn't a right wing option, unless Payet slots there. Coman could as well. But not sure the Bayern man will be getting the start or seen as more of a wild card off the bench. The second trident should be straight forward with Pogba, Matuidi and Sissoko. The back line should be anchored by Kos and Varane. It would have been nice to see Laporte since I think he offers a nice option that might be better than Sakho who is trick or treat. Question is will DD go with the younger backs of Jallet and Digne or the veterans? I am not overly excited about either to be blunt....In goal we should see the usual - Lloris.

Now it would be interesting to see if DD decided to go back to a 4-2-3-1. Putting a Gignac or Giroud as lone striker. But does France have a true #10 that could play in the center of the park? Not sure. But that formation would allow DD to possible play a combo of Kante/Cabaye/Diarra in front of the back four. Then lean on Pogba/Griezman/Matuidi in the offense end.

I would think that most of the players on this list should be at the Euros this summer. What remains to be seen is what happens at the fullback slots, how does DD handle his strikers and what formation will he lean on?

Allez les Bleus!!

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Les Bleus back to a 4-3-3

After a 1-0 victory over Portugal, sorry for the lack of commentary but I did not see the game. I will have to go back and watch. But looking forward. Deschamps will look to get back to his 4-3-3 versus Serbia in their friendly tomorrow in Bordeaux.

The expected formation -

Lloris (Cap.)- Sagna ou Debuchy, Varane, Koscielny ou Mangala, Trémoulinas - Pogba, Schneiderlin, Matuidi ou Kondogbia - Valbuena, Giroud, Griezmann

Interesting to see the same central defensive pairing back out on the pitch (well unless Mangala gets in over Kos), but with some changes at the fullback. It will be good to see Tremoulinas back on the pitch he called home. Plus I think he deserves a serious look at that left back slot. In the midfield, Deschamps will again be able to call upon a solid block with the likes of Pogba, Schneiderlin, Matuidi or Kondogbia. The attacking trio will resemble a more regular formation with Griezmann wide left and Valbuena right, well Le Petit Velo out right on paper, but we all know he will most likely roam the offensive 1/3 of the pitch. Giroud back in the natural #9 role.

What will be interesting to watch for is how the French wings are bolstered with true wide players on the field. In the 4-4-2, the way Deschamps lined it up on Friday, did not have real attacking wingers on the field. DD did have a very powerful engine room with the likes of Sissoko, Pogba, Matuidi and Cabaye. Can Deschamps find a way to keep his midfield strong but have players like Griezmann on the field to give the team attacking width? And what about the right side? I realize that Valbuena is listed as the right winger in this formation, but I highly doubt he will stick out there for very long. Look for him to roam back in the middle of the field and even out to the left. This continues to be an issue for this side. This will place greater emphasis on the likes of either Sagna or Debuchy to take the space on the right side and provide some quality crosses. Otherwise the field will lean too heavily on the left.

I look for France to build on their success away to Portugal. France 2 - Serbia 0. Giroud and Valbuena.

Allez Les Bleus!

Friday, September 04, 2015

DD trying a two striker formation...but who is the play maker?

An interesting formation appears to be in the cards for Les Bleus - a 4-1-3-2, a hybrid 4-4-2. The line up:

Lloris - Sagna, Koscielny, Varane, Evra - Cabaye - Sissoko, Pogba, Matuidi - Fekir, Benzema.

A couple of things to watch.
  • The back line. With Varane and Kos back together does this mean that DD is going to lean on this pairing moving forward? Once again I am not convinced about the fullbacks. Evra, as I have stated for a few posts now, is on the back 9 of his career. Maybe even at the 19th hole. Not sure what we can expect from the former AS Monaco defender next summer. He might able to help game to game now, but during the Euros? As for Sagna, he has always been a solid defender but his crosses constantly frustrate. Just because there is a lot of volume to the crosses doesn't mean there is a high level of quality. Is DD still tinkering with the back line or are we seeing what he believes will carry Les Bleus next summer?
  • Who will be the play maker? Deschamps is lining up a solid midfield core, lots of ball winners and box to box midfielders. But who carries the role of the #10? I realize that Pogba is wearing that shirt for Juventus but that doesn't make him the defacto play maker. Clearly this midfield should control the pace of the game or at least have a very strong influence. But where will the creative aspect of the game come from? And who will cover the wide play? Sissoko and Matuidi can fill those roles, but are they natural wingers?
  • Two up that where the creativity comes from? Interesting move of pairing Fekir
    New playmaker?
    and Benzema together. It has been a long time since we have seen Les Bleus with 2 paired attacking players. Deschamps has lined up 3 attacking players in a 4-3-3 but that is with more traditional and wide attacking players. This line up is more of a 4-4-2 with two strikers. However does the inclusion of Fekir as one of the attacking players really disguise him as the #10 play maker? Had Benzema been lined up with Giroud, that would have been a pairing of two true strikers. Fekir is more of a hybrid striker, winger and attacking midfielder. Could he play a deep lying role, behind Benzema? Provide the link between the midfield and the attacking 1/3 of the field?
This will be an important game for Les Bleus, after a disastrous end of last international season, France have to find results over the next two matches. Both will be challenges, as France face some serious challenges. Frog's prediction: France 1 - Portugal 1....a tepid draw that doesn't uplift our spirits but also slows down the slide.

Allez les Bleus!!!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Deschamps' list for start of international friendlies...not much to see here

Les Bleus will head into the first international break with many questions looming. After a pathetic end to the last international season - getting badly outplayed by the Red Devils from Belgium as well as being hijacked away to Albania - France are not looking like they are anything but a welcoming host to next year's Euro. France and Deschamps are still haunted by the same issue they have been facing, for what feels like years now, a lack of both star power and a winning formula. Unfortunately for Les Bleus, time is not our their side and clearly there is not a whole lot of options for Deschamps.

So here is the list for next months games versus Portugal and Serbia - two massive challenges.

Les 23 Bleus retenus

Lloris, Mandanda, Ruffier
Varane, Debuchy, Evra, Koscielny, Mangala, Sagna, Trémoulinas, Zouma
Cabaye, Kondogbia, Matuidi, Pogba, Schneiderlin, Sissoko
Benzema, Fekir, Giroud, Griezmann, Martial, Valbuena.
The only new face is the Monaco striker - Martial. Feels like another candidate Deschamps wants to take a look at to bring some attacking talent to the French front line. His profile feels much like Lacazette - pacey forward who plays down the middle but can also slot out to the wings. Of course there is a glut of players who play the wide role: Griezmann, Valbuena, Fekir and even the likes of Sissoko can slot there. Reality is Les Bleus are still looking for a central striker that can truly carry the goal scoring load. Neither Benzema or Giroud have truly taken ownership of that role. 
The old man still sticking around
Otherwise the roster does not really surprise me, other than seeing Evra once again in the roster. It felt as if he was at the end of the road during the last World Cup...and not sure how he is going to be better two years later at the Euros. With other left backs such as Kurzawa waiting in the wings, why constantly go to an aging back who has lost his bite?
What to watch for - Which central defensive pairing does DD lean on? Varane - Kos? Will Zouma get some time, could he be paired with Varane? That could be a pairing for the long term. Does Griezmann lock down the left wing for himself? Other than Pogba and Matuidi in the midfield, who else gets their chance? Does Cabaye keep his role as the sentinel in front of the back 4?
Lots of questions and little time to answer them. Deschamps has a lot of work ahead of him and not much time. Not sure if he will lean on the 4-3-3 or maybe go back to a 4-2-3-1 to load up his midfield to stabilize the game. Keep an eye on the training sessions to see what falls out.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Ouch...Les Bleus streak of qualification in serious jeopardy

After having to play in a qualifying group that included Spain, France had to also have a miraculous reversal after dropping a 0-2 playoff game away to Ukraine, to get into the World Cup in Brazil. Looks like the next round of qualifiers for the World Cup in 2018 in Russia will be even tougher for Les Bleus. Since France feel to the second pot they knew they risked drawing a big fish as head of group...which they were served by getting the Oranje of Holland. To make things even more tasty, the French will also have to face off against Zlatan's Sweden...toss in Bulgaria and you have some serious hurdles that France will have to overcome to get to Russia.

The group A teams:

Netherlands, France, Sweden, Bulgaria, Belarus, Luxembourg

France's schedule:

6 septembre 2016: Biélorussie-France

7 octobre 2016: France-Bulgarie

10 octobre 2016: Pays-Bas-France

13 novembre 2016: France-Suède

25 mars 2017: Luxembourg-France

9 juin 2017: Suède-France

31 août 2017: France-Pays-Bas

3 septembre 2017: France-Luxembourg

7 octobre 2017: Bulgarie-France

10 octobre 2017: France-Biélorussie
The only positive aspect is that France get to face one of the weakest nations in the group first, get tested against Bulgaria before having to take on Holland. But there is very little else that is positive with this draw! It will be a tight race for head of the group, and second place will be a real dog fight. Luxembourg and Belarus will probably have no hope about sniffing qualification, but Belarus will act as spoiler. Bulgaria and France will most likely fight it out with whoever drops from the Holland - Sweden tandem for second place. Not a great group for France....Much will be expected from what happens next summer during the Euros. Can Les Bleus find their form? How will they fare being at home? And will any success...assuming they find some....carry over into the qualifiers? Lots of questions and lots of gaps that Deschamps must resolve not only for next summer but for beyond.
This is what you get when you under-perform for years...ugh. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Les Bleus get what they deserve...tough road ahead for qualifiers

No one should be surprised to see France being in the second pool for Russia 2018 World Cup qualifications. Anyone watching the last few months of this national side might even wonder why they were not dropped to the 3rd or 4th pool With home losses to Brazil and Belgium, the second one being an absolute fiasco and then ending the international season with a dreadful lose away to Albania, there is no surprise their ranking has dropped to 22nd in the FIFA rankings.

The pots:

Pot one: Germany, Belgium, Holland, Romania, England, Wales, Portugal, Spain, Croatia.
Pot two: Italy, Slovakia, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, France, Iceland, Denmark, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Pot three: Poland, Ukraine, Scotland, Hungary, Sweden, Albania, Northern Ireland, Serbia, Greece.
Pot four: Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Republic of Ireland, Norway, Bulgaria, Faroe Islands, Montenegro, Estonia.
Pot five: Cyprus, Latvia, Armenia, Finland, Belarus, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Moldova.
Pot six: Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Georgia, Malta, San Marino, Andorra.

So Les Bleus could have Germany, Belgium, Holland, Portugal or Spain at the top of their group! They did qualify for the last World Cup with Spain also in their group. So it is by no means a death sentence.

The scariest draw for Les Bleus: Germany, Sweden, Turkey, Macedonia and Georgia.
The best draw for France: Wales, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands, Cyprus and Andorra.

Regardless of the draw this qualification campaign will be a real test for this side. They are not looking very good a year away from hosting the Euros, but at least they will have home field and that by itself should at least get them out of the group and may past one knock out round. But this side is clearly still trying to define itself, who does it build around, where will the goals come from and who is the leader on the pitch? 2018 is a long ways away, but the reality is the preparation and groundwork starts now.