Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Henry for Eto'o.....makes sense

Another rumor that Titi could be heading to the Spanish giant -

Arsenal is expected to be in pole position for Samuel Eto'o, when the bidding war begins in earnest. Arsenal is thought to be ready to offer Barcelona Thierry Henry in a straight swap for Eto'o.
-- fansfc.com

Again, I have stated that where there is smoke there is fire....there has been no secret that Barca coveted Henry over last summer, nor that Henry was hiding his curiosity to play with the Catalan squad. The recent bust up between Etoo, Rijkaard and Ronaldiho could lead to the Cameroonian star to leave Barca. Wenger has not been shy to express his desire for Eto'o, mentioning his name as the player he would expect in return for Henry 2 years ago when the rumors started to fly.

It might be just the move both star stikers need. If Wenger could do the straight Eto'o for Henry swap in addition to a summer war chest could he also go after Torres and Ribery? That might make Arsenal real scarey - of course he still needs a keeper....

Monday, February 26, 2007

Arsenal - Chelsea rivalry continues

Chelsea defeats Arsenal youth 2-1...to win the Carling Cup.

First I must admit I was not able to see the high lights, the game was not shown where I live, plus I was house hunting....fun. However from the reports and what high lights I could see it was a lively and exciting game to say the least and even had an old school NHL type bench clearing brawl!

From the reports it would appear that Arsenal, with a youth side, gave the senior millionaire prima donas from Chelsea all they could handle. However the outcome appears to have been just, both teams threatening but the more experience team on the pitch capitalizing when it needed to.

The Good: Theo scoring his first goal under the Arsenal colors could not have come at a better time, granted not the champions or even FA cup final, but still a final against the best English club of the past 2 years. The goal itself was a great example of Arsenal team work with some heady passing that sprung the teenager free for a coolly taken 1v1 against Cech. Hopefully this is another step in the development of the youngster, it has always been clear that his pace and talent were what made him a threat at every moment.

Arsenal youth - I am glad that Wenger stuck with the young players at Arsenal for this final, that is what got them there. Diaby appeared to be back from injury playing an instrumental role in the midfield (the accidental knocking out of Terry aside). Diaby will play an important role if Arsenal is to do anything in either the Champions League or FA cup, he will be needed to spell what should be a tiring midfield of Fabergas, Gilberto, Flamini et al. Aliadiere has finally demonstrated the talent that Wenger has seen in him...the player often limited by injury has received a real chance to shine and has taken that opportunity with fervor. The two young Frenchmen should continue to play important supporting roles for the Gunners this season and longer term.

The Bad: Arsenal had a real chance to grab some silverware but could not put away the Blues when they had the chance. Theo goal aside, Arsenal seem to have a real problem this season, and last putting away teams when they have the chance.

The Ugly: The match ending brawl comes to mind for this category...I think that was just the culmination of heated tempers that have been between the two sides since Mourinho has arrived in London. While the "Special Whiner" heaped praise on his North London rival after the match, his arrogant attitude continues to have its finger prints all over the club and players. The action that started the brawl was nothing out of the ordinary, but I think it is was bubbling under the surface for a while. I think this will make the May 5th match this much more interesting, while the title might no longer be in play I am sure there will be some scores to settle, in addition to having Cashley Cole returning to the Arsenal grounds.

The kick on Terry, while I cannot stand the England and Chelsea captain (mainly due to the apparent new found arrogance from the once reserved central midfielder...again I would equate that to playing for the Portuguese Man of Whine) was an ugly incident that marred the game. Diaby looking to clear a corner found Terry's face rather than the football, giving Terry a ticket to the local hospital.

An intense Carling Cup final, making this ugly step child of a trophy rather important this season. Now what if we had another Arsenal - Chelsea match in the FA Cup and a home - away match in the Champions League.....

Monday, February 19, 2007

Zidane to the MLS??? Sacre Bleu

The rumors are kicking up again about Zizou coming over to this side of the pond to ply his trade, which he had retired from this past summer after the world cup ..http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/scorecard/02/19/truth.rumors.soccer/index.html

If the rumors are too be believed Zizou might find himself in a bidding war between Chicago and New York/New Jersey. I am a little hesitant to believe in the rumors.

Zidane, unlike Beckham, does not need the lime light nor does he have a wife that yurns to have an "acting" career. Beckham feels he is the leader for football for the free world and needs to carry the game to the United States, I really think he sees the $$$ in post career opportunities in Los Angeles rather than London, Manchester or Madrid (have to give Beckham credit for recognizing this fact). Zidane is an introverted person, not seeking the glory nor the spot light. He is a fierce competitor, something I doubt he will get playing for the Fire or the Metrostars.....

If Zidane is to come back to high level football, why would he not seek an opportunity with say, Marseille? He could come back and play for his home town team for a young team, and play along side players like Cisse, Ribery, Nasri, and the like. Similar to another star that was penciled to head to America - Edgar Davids, who went back to Ajax, rather than toiling in Dallas for FC Dallas.

Playing in Marseilles, Zizou would be close to home and could work with the North African community that is prevalent in Marseille, something that appears to be close to his heart - witness his recent trip to Algeria. Granted, getting a Beckhamesc contract might making living in the Gold Coast of Chicago or somewhere off Central Park West appear appealing for 3-5 years, but will Zizou really get excited about lacing up the boots to play the Colorado Rapids on a Wednesday night in front of 12,000 fans when he could be playing in the OM - PSG derby, or heading again Lyon....or even playing against Nice in the Riviera derby?

Selfishly I would like to see Zizou play in the MLS for a season so I could see his matches, and keep him away from Marseille...but I can not imagine what would be so appealing to the arguably the greatest French player of all time....unless it is the $250m that Beckham extorted from the Galaxy...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Les Bleus - some food for thought

Since the France - Argentina match I have had some responses, thanks Laurie at France.worldcupblog.org, as well as some conversations with fellow footie fans about the state of the French national team. Here are the two areas of conversation - the French backs as well as the future of the French strikers.

First, with regards to the backs, this past weekend we once again say the wealth of talent the French have to draw from with regards to left backs. Clichy and Evra, plying their trades in the Premiership, both demonstrated their skill and pace. Clichy was everywhere in the Arsenal - Wigan match. To quote Brett "how can he not have a French cap yet" good question. I would surmise that losing last year to injury has delayed his emergence on the full senior French team. While Clichy may not have the offensive skills a Sagnol has, he definitely has the pace, confidence and ability to mark the best strikers in the world. A great example is watch his game when Arsenal beat Man United at the Emirates. He did more than hold his own against Rooney. Clichy is a product of AS Cannes, which produced the likes of Micoud, Vieira and Zidane....not a bad pedigree.

As for Evra, he made his way onto the French national squad while he was at AS Monaco, but his move to Manchester United seemed to send him to the waste land until he was called up by Domenech a few matches ago, marking the end to a 3 year sabbatical. I think with Evra's replacement of Heinze as the starting left back for Manchester United has elevated his name in the eyes of Domenech.

Here is the catch, Eric Abidal has established himself as the French left back, in addition his Lyon teammate Malouda plays left midfield and the two work well together attacking and defending. With the French team moving to a more wing based attack - attacking on the left with Malouda and Abidal on the right with Ribery and Sagnol, it would appear difficult in the short term for Clichy or Evra to make inroads into the starting squad. However, there have been some rumors that Abidal will be starting to play more in the middle of the defense...that might make room for one of the above mentioned to claim their stake at left back. I would much rather see a Gallas - Abidal pairing in the center of the defense with Clicy/Evra on the left.

Now on to the right back, with regards to Sagnol - Clerc. First I think that position is Sagnol's until he decides he no longer wants it, being 29 he should be able to make it through the European Cup and maybe to South Africa for the World Cup. Willy started out as a winger, which shows up in his many forays into the offensive end of the pitch. His crossing ability is second to none, he almost delivered a huge cross to Zidane in the World Cup final, only to see Zizou's header turned away by Buffon. Second, I am not sure why we are looking at Clerc as his heir apparent...granted he is young - 23, but he is still not Lyon's undisputed right back. Clerc and Reveillere are both trying to establish themselves at the post. While I think both could be the French right back in a few years, I think the real question should be why is Chimbonda not being called up on a regular basis to the French team???? He was a last minute surprise selection for the World Cup team, a very deserved selection after being voted the best right back in the Premiership for 2006! But post world cup...where has he been? He is at his peak - 27 - he is competing in one of the most difficult leagues in the world, for a large club - Tottenham. I am not sure if something happened during the month of World Cup football, but the fact he has not been recalled, while the likes of Clerc have, baffles me. Watching Tottenham, it is evident that Chimbonda is top flight right fullback. He can mark, make runs, and use his speed to recover. Clerc and Reveillere should be 3rd and 4th in line behind Pascal...wake up Domenech!

Finally, what about the strikers. Especially Anelka. I have been a huge fan of his, I was living in Paris when a certain Wenger swooped in a "bought" this young prodigy that was in the PSG development program. I remember the French press, and myself, were a bit irked that this great player that would have been a corner stone for PSG was taken from under our noses by the cunning Wenger (then again had he stayed at PSG I am sure he would have been complete lost in the insane asylum that is PSG). He only went on to dominate the English premiership scoring a bushel of goals...of course he then went on to play for every team in Europe - Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City, Fenerbahce, PSG (again), and now Bolton. He has earned the name the "incredible sulk" for a reason...however his talent is exceptional...his attitude not so much. The question remains does Anelka have a place in the French squad? With Henry, Saha, Trezeguet, and Cisse is there room for Nico to hold a place and play a role in this squad? I think yes. He brings something that few of these strikers have - the complete package of pace, size, being able to take on defenders, and ability to finish. While some might point to his attitude, I would argue that while he is not 100% over his moniker of "sulk" he is now playing with his contemporaries who are the leaders of the squad and will be more likely to control his attitude "issues."

Unlike the French teams of the 80s, when we had players like Lacombe and Six to play up front, the current version of the French national team has a wealth of options to pair up at the striker position, and Anelka should be part of the equation.

Famous victory

This weekend we witnessed a famous victory on the old continent....and I don't mean Arsenal - Wigan, although that match was fantastic, highlighted by Henry's taunt of the Wigan keeper.

While that was remarkable come back, and shows why I think Baptista should be playing over Hleb and especially Flamini, it is by no means as big a last minute victory as we saw in Ireland. France beating the Irish on a last gasp try in the Six Nations rugby tournament. While I was not able to watch the match....Setanta is suppose to show the archive but still waiting for it to be uploaded, from the webcast it was a sensational match, one where the French literally scored a huge try to win the game with no time left in the match.

I just hope I can watch it sooner rather than later.....Allez les Bleus

Thursday, February 08, 2007

International Friendly Recap

Yesterday we football junkies were privy to a slew of international friendlies, and many enticing match ups. Of course the one that was my focus was the Argentina vs France at Stade de France.

First, a plug for Setanta sport, thanks to their broadband service I was able to watch the game on my PC. Granted the streaming video had some cuts and stops, but overall I was able to watch the entire match. The one issue is the screen size, anyone who has watched a match on your PC you are watching it on a screen not much larger than an iPod screen....not the same when you are used to watching this on a 42 in Plasma!!!! But enough about me, back to the match and some observations.

Argentina, after losing to Brazil and Spain in the last matches finally won under their new manager, beating the French 1-0. The goal was on a nice build up and flick on by Saviola where Coupet made the initial save on Crespo's screamer by allowed the rebound to fall perfectly into the path of the on running Saviola. Other than the nice flick, the match was clearly between two teams that were going through the motions with players that had not completely recovered from their domestic league winter break nor ramped back up.

Argentina played a very defensive formation with 4 midfielders more geared towards blocking the middle of the pitch and strike on counter attacks rather than try to play free flowing football. With 8 players behind the ball, not including the keeper, the French had a hard time cracking the this light blue and white defensive wall.

  • Crespo and Saviola: both players demonstrated their skill, with little support from the midfield both players remained dangerous latching on to long balls and working well together to put some pressure on the French penalty area. Crespo was always a threat, lashing a screamer from 20 yards forcing Coupet to make a good save on a hard knuckling shot. Saviola showed that his club form is no fluke.
  • Henry and Trezegol: What has happened to this dynamic duo? These two broke out on the international footie scene in the late 90s when both were academic players at AS Monaco under the tutelage of one Arsene Wenger. Both players were looked at as the future of French football, and they have been vital parts of the French teams that dominated the world football scene between 1998 - 2001...both took cool penalty shots in the 1998 World Cup 1/4 shoot out against Italy. Trezeguet scored a stunner in the European Cup finals in 2000, against Italy again. Both strikers have piled up the goals for their nation - Trezegol with 34 tallies, Henry with 39 tallies. Yet, since the Euro 2004 campaign it appears that Henry and Trezeguet cannot find the magic they had a few seasons ago (the last time it clicked was when France dominated Germany Trezeguet with the brace and Henry with one). This partnership is being hurt by the loss of Zidane, which is ironic since the debate used to be can Henry and Zidane coexist on the pitch. Without Zidane, France is a team that attacks via the wings - Ribery, Malouda, Abidal and Sagnol bombing down the wings. This allows Henry to pick up the ball higher, and play quicker passes with the wingers. However this takes away from Trezeguets strengths which are to play with his back to the goal and camp out around the penalty box, poaching, latching on to crosses, and cleaning up in the box. When Zidane was roaming the pitch, he would carry the ball in the middle of the pitch and wait for players to place themselves before looking to distribute, giving Trezeguet the ability to work his positioning to receive good distribution. This becomes more apparent when Saha or Anelka come in to partner with Henry, they are both strikers that also like to run at defenses from 30 yards out, strikers that like to pick up the ball deep and challenge defenses. Does this mean that Trezegeut's future in Bleu is in jeopardy? I say no, but I think he needs to go back to his super sub role that he excelled in, the team is still trying to figure out tactics and direction. But if this team is going to be built around wingers and attacking defenses, Trezeguet will continue to struggle to get the touches a player such as he needs. And he has the perfect style to come in late in a game when a defense is tired and suspect to mistakes, mistakes Trezeguet is clinic at punishing teams.
  • Vieira and Makelele: Vieira showed me that he still has some solid football left in his legs. And Makelele showed how valuable he is, reason why Domenech is not worried about strong arming Chelesa to ensure France can secure his services. With Makelele doing lots of the dirty work, Vieira was free to connect the defense to the offense.
  • Gallas: It is clear how much France is lacking without their talismatic defender anchoring the back four. The Argentine goal saw too much standing around and poor reaction to the situation, while I am not sure Gallas or Thuram would have been able to do anything different, it was clear that Escude and Squillaci were not 100% comfortable along side one another. While both demonstrated some individual skills, they did not work as a team. I am not laying any blame since this is the first time they were thrusted into the middle of the defense, and to do so against Argentina is no small task. A useless statistic - without Gallas, Domenech has never won an international match.....
  • Heinze: I never realized what a dirt bag he really is. He is the type of player everyone loves to hate, and it is easy to see why. He comes in studs high all the time, whines about everything, dives, cheap shots and is overall annoying. It fits that he plays for Manchester United.
  • Overall: This was by no means a horrible defeat for Les Bleus. The game was clearly one played by teams playing a "friendly" not a qualifier or World Cup match. While there were some intense moments, mainly due to Argentina cheap shots (a horrible back tackle on Anelka end of the game comes to mind), the game itself was a simple "scrimmage." The Argentines needed to win the game more than the French, having been on two straight defeats. The French showed me some glimpses of hope - Vieira was the engine running the team he can be, Ribery showed signs of brilliance (let us not forget he is just coming back from injury), Abidal and Sagnol controlled their flanks very well and had timely attacks. With a big Euro match at Lithuania in the Spring for France, this lose might give the French the wake up call necessary to refocus on the task at hand.

Other internationals: USA - Mexico, there are no friendlies when these two hated rivals play on another, and this was no different. The US came away with a not so deserved 2-0 victory. The first half both teams were feeling one another out, neither mounting much of a threat. The sparks flew once the second half started, but Mexico appeared the more offensive of the two sides, until the US scored on what appeared to be the only way they could - a dead ball. Mexico inexplicably allowed Conrad to sit unmarked on a corner kick in addition to not having a defender on the back post....so you don't cover everyone nor cover the two posts....yeah good formula for defending a corner kick, maybe it is a French coach running set piece defense.

However, had the Mexicans had any kind of finishing they could have won the game. The second goal came on a strange play where the ball deflected off the referee and Donavon did the only thing he can, use his speed to get a scoring oppt'y. Of course he looked great goading on the Mexican defenders as he pulled away from them....wonder what would happen if he did that to Roy Keane or if Donavon was playing in Europe where folks don't take to kindly to being shown up.....yet another reason I cannot stand the American "wonder boy." Speaking of Wonder boys, not a fan, but I have to say Dempsey is a solid player, and I think playing in the Premiership will really allow him to develop. Something which has also helped Howard, he is clearly the US #1 keeper. Also classy of the Mexican team to not shake hands, while I too would want to wipe that stupid grim off Donovon's mug, you still need to shake hands:

England - Spain
: Huge win for the Spanish, too bad they cannot carry the success in friendlies to the qualifying campaign. With all this talent how can they struggle??? Aragones...how does he still have his job? As for the three lions, it is clear that they still have some issues up front, Crouch (yes I know he scores) and Dyer are not the ideal option up front. They really miss Owen. And Rooney needs to find his form back if they want to make some noise, with a difficult qualifier at Israel.

Holland - Russia:
When will Hiddink find his way to East London? Russia has the talent and now the domestic league has improved we should see the Russian Football Federation recapture some of the glory from the days of wearing the CCCP stripe. And once again, it is amazing to see the Dutch machine, churn out teams and players that play total football.

Ireland - San Marino:
Wow what could have been...Ireland barely comes out with 3 points having to score in injury time. Not a good sign for a nation trying to recapture some of their success from the 1990s and early 2000 when they were qualifying for tournaments. But that showing, from all reports, was UGLY.....where is Roy Keane when you need him?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Henry rumors rear its ugly head again

The past few days has seen the start of the Henry out of North London rumors once again. After a long and drawn out soap opera from last spring, where Barca was rumored to fancy the services of the French international, TH14 finally put those to rest when we re-upped with the North London club during the summer. All seemed happy at Emirates. However this season we have seen what appears to be cracks in the relationship between Henry and Wenger, and now we are hearing rumors that Real Madrid and Barca will be once again in pursuit of the Arsenal captain this summer.

Again, I feel that where there is smoke there is fire, Wenger is not one shy for moving a big name star - Vieira which comes to mind. Vieira, much like Henry, had been rumored to move for a few summers before Wenger did what some thought would be impossible - selling of his captain. Here is why I think the unthinkable my become reality.

Fernando Torres appears to be making noise that he wants to come to Arsenal, he is a young striker a bit in the mold of Henry. He has the pace and takes on defenders much like Henry. He would be the natural short term replacement. Additionally, Wenger has the teenager Walcott waiting in the wings and is rumored to be pursuing France Under - 16 striker: Gilles Sunu. Maybe Wenger sees between Sunu and Walcott the future of the Arsenal strike force. Finally, there are some under currents that Ribery will be plying his trade in North London starting next season.

Wenger might be willing to jettison Henry and Ljungberg, use that money to pursue Torres and Ribery. He would then see his starting side as -

Goal - Leman (if he stays)
Back line - Eboue, Toure, Gallas, Clichy
Defensive/Holding midfield - Cesc&Gilberto
Attacking midfield wingers - Ribery&Hleb
Strikers - Van Persie & Torres

Bench - Walcott, Djourou, Senderos, Baptista & Adebayour.

Not a bad line up nor bench. Walcott would have another season under his belt. Assuming Baptista stays, a solid midfield/striker option. Of course there would be some questions - could Torres adapt to the British game? Who is between the pipes for Arsenal for the long term? Can Ribery commit to Arsenal for 4- 6 years?

Again, the selling of Henry would allow Wenger the funds needed to make such moves. Maybe during his absence this season he saw something that gave him food for thought about moving on without him....

Monday, February 05, 2007

Flamini French International

Mathieu Flamini has been called up to the French national team for cover...central defenders have been dropping like flies: Gallas and Boumsong remain injured, Thuram is not 100%, Mexes and Squillaci both picked up knocks over the weekend. Abidal also picked up a knock, not that he is a central defender, but he could have slotted there if need be. This leaves the French with the following combo - Givet and Escude. Not the worst combo but one that has never played together at the heart of the National team defense. While Flamini has turned into a "nice" player, I would never envision him as a full international, plus where does he play? He has demonstrated that he can slot at left back, or defensive midfielder, but Domenech needs a central defender. So the question remains why did Domenech select him? Silvestre has shown spurts for Manchester United and he can play in the middle of the pitch, how about Sylain Distin from Manchester City? Someone who has never bee mentioned, but a player that plays central defense and has demonstrated an ability to more than hold his own in the most difficult league in the world (more than Boumsong did at Newcastle, but don't get me started on that topic) If Domenech is using this situation as a opportunity to get a look at a defensive player than why not select Clichy...he has emerged as the starting left back for Arsenal, while he cannot play in the middle of the defense, he can slot on the left with Abidal out, giving Domench a chance to look at the youngster.

Flamini will most likely not see the pitch, he is at least 5th in line for defensive midfielder: Vieira, Makelele, Toulalan and Mavuba (Diarra not being selected), he is, at best a stop gap at left back, and cannot play sweeper or stopper...so why select him?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Domestic Cups Rant and Raves

As the European leagues emerge from their winter breaks, well all except England which I think needs a winter break. And we have the end of the season to look forward to as well as the domestic cups. Some thoughts:

The Carling Cup : Does anyone outside of Middlesbrough care about the Carling Cup, can you tell me who won it last year? Usually this tournament is highlighted by managers lining up their reserves and youth players, a chance to have a look at a club's future on a small stage. However this season the cup has added a new twist - Chelsea vs Arsenal final. The rivalry between the managers, while has cooled off, remains heated. Chelsea is in a bad spell, Mourinho and Abramovich are openly feuding, Shevchenko looks completely lost, Ballack looks terrible, the defense is in shambles (granted Chelsea remains in 6 points out of first place). And now they meet their cross town rival Arsenal. Wenger has approached the Carling Cup with a simple philosophy - get the youngsters some run, getting players such as Alaidiere and Diaby some run while resting the likes of Cesc and Henry. With all this drama this final might be "must see TV" I will be interested to see if Mourinho plays a close to regular side versus what Wenger has already stated will be his regular Carling Cup side. If this is the case the pressure will be monumental on the shoulders of the "Special One," if Chelsea with Terry, Ballack, Lampard, Drogba, Cech et al are on the pitch and they lose to the Baby Arsenal team what will happen to between Abramovich and Mourinho....

French Cup : The 5 time champions Lyon lost to Marseilles. In what appears to have been a great game...too bad I could not see it...I really need to get Setanta sport. Marseilles came back in the last 5 minutes to win 2-1. What could be a bad sign, Lyon has been dropping points and games all month. Does their double point lead in Ligue 1 make Lyon soft? In the transfer window Lyon lost Carew and added Baros, a move that is a push. They are not facing injury issues, so what is wrong with the French champs? Not clear. They better wake up soon, the Champions league is around the corner and they have a tough test against AS Roma. I think Lyon has become too accustom squeezing out last minute victories, now they will need to muck through ugly wins....