Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Euro qualifiers

With Les Bleus idle with regards to Euro qualifying here are some intriguing match ups I will be keeping an eye on -

  • Scotland v Italy: When the groups came out, who would have looked at this match as pivotal match up? After a roaring start, included a 1-0 defeat of France, Scotland came back down to earth a bit after a lose to the Ukraine. They also found a way to snatch a victory in the last minutes versus a weak Georgia team this past weekend. But this game is crucial for both sides, playing in Bari, Italy must expect to get the full complement of points...but it thought it would do the same when they hosted Lithuania only to find themselves drawn 1-1. An Italian win will bring the Azurri to within 2 points of the three leaders - Ukraine, France and Scotland. For Scotland it would not be the end of the world, even though they would lose a game (Scotland would be at 12 points from 6 games while the others would be on 5 games). An Azurri loss would de devasting for the World Champs, they cannot afford to drop any more points at home. A tie would not be ideal but not earth shattering for either nation (although more positive for the Scots). I think Italy is still trying to figure itself out post world cup, and Scotland will load up the midfield frustrating the Italians - Prediction 0-0 draw.
  • England v Andorra: Why do I mention this game? A game that England should win convincingly? Mainly due to the massive turmoil within the England camp. There is no doubt in my mind that England will win this match, the question will it be 1-0 or 5-0? I think that will determine the level of malaise that follows Steve McClaren and his england squad back to SOHO square - Prediction 4-1 to England, the one conceded goal is the lead story on the Mirror and all the english tabloids.
  • Northern Ireland v Sweden: See Scotland - Italy, who would have thought this game would be a battle of top of table squads for this group? After the shock 3-2 defeat of Spain, Northern Ireland started believing that it could qualify for a major football final for the first time since 1982. Playing the undefeated Sweden will prove another stern test. If the Northern Irish can someone find a way to earn a draw they will be very positive on their potential qualifications....but I think Sweden is too strong - Prediction 2-0 victory for Sweden.
There is a lot to play for today, and is a nice appetizer for the next round in June.

Les Bleus line up the youth

According to L'Equipe, Domenech is lining up the youth for the friendly against Austria -

Les Bleus will line up in a 4-3-1-2 with two strikers supported by the offensive midfielder Nasri.

Coupet - Clerc, Mexes, Thuram, Escude - Diarra, Mavuba, Diaby - Nasri - Cisse, Anelka

I am happy to see that Domenech has lined up the youth for this game. I have read a few articles stating that France needs to win to validate their small 1-0 victory over Lithuania, I saw hogwash. France needs to keep their eyes on the prize - finish 1st or 2nd in the Group to qualify for the Euro, not worry about winning a friendly. This game is very valuable from the perspective that the youngsters need to get some run together on the pitch.

There is one surprise for me, and that is Thuram getting the start. Why not have Squillaci in the middle of the pitch? Maybe Domenech wants some veteran leadership to anchor a very young and experimental back 4.

I will be very interested to see how the three holding midfielders do. This will be the second cap for Diaby and Diarra, Mavuba will be back in the fold after a false start a few years ago. Unlike the three holding midfielders against Lithuania, there is more offensive punch here in Diaby. Not only does he physically resemble Patrick Vieira but his game is a poor man's version, where he really bridges the defense to the offense. Something that is not the strength of Makelele, Toulalan and at this moment Diarra. Mavuba will play more of the Makelele role, camping out in front of the back 4. Diarra will be the one tasked with destroying any offensive build up around the midfield line and Diaby will be looked to for counter attacks and getting the ball to the strikers. Throw in Toulalan and you are looking at the future of the holding/defensive midfield for Les Bleus for the future. Assuming that these players all develop to some level of the potential they all appear to have, this could prove to be another strong midfield for the French national team - following on the strong midfield that won the World Cup '98 and Euro '00 - that was anchored by players such as Deschamps, Vieira, Karembeau, Petit or the Euro '84 Champion - that team had the Carre Magique - Tigana, Fernandez, Giresse, Platini (I am convinced that if that squad had 1 world class striker they would have won the world cup in either '82 or '86....)

The big question for this midfield is who will fill the play maker role that was handled by Platini and Zidane.....a bit of a lofty status to live up to.....if the hype is to be believed Nasri might be the heir apparent for the offensive midfielder that makes the team world class. The match against Austria will be the first test for the young Marseilles player. While I think that much of the hype is generated because of his pedigree - Marseille born midfielder of Algerian origin....hmmmm sound familiar?

Before we look to the young talent to become the next Zidane, we need to temper our expectations. Players like Platini and Zidane are arguably top 20 players of all time, maybe even top 10 (I would rank Pele, Maradonna, Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Puskas, Platini, Yachin, Eusebio, Best, and Zidane in my top 10 - with Mueller, di Stefano, and Maldini close behind) So we should not place such a burden of expectation on the slender shoulders of the youngster. However I think the role of creative midfielder could be assumed by other players - Ribery and Gourcuff - coming to mind. All three have the ability and vision to distribute the ball, I would argue that Ribery looked to pass too much in the World Cup and was not selfish enough at times! Between Nasri, Ribery and Gourcuff I hope that one emerges to take ownership of the #10 strip for Les Bleus.

Up front, you have a newer strike pair - Anelka and Cisse - made up of veteran strikers. If they can click it will give Domenech the necessary options and alternatives up front to the Henry - Saha/Trezeguet pairing.

This game will be very interesting from the perspective of seeing how the midfield clicks, how Anelka and Cisse work together. I am not looking for too much from the back 4. Escude is being played out of position (maybe Domenech should have called up Clichy....given him his first A cap as well....would have rather seen Clerc, Mexes, Squillaci, Clichy), Mexes will most likely pair up with Gallas in the future, and I still do not understand what has happened to Chimbonda (he should be there rather than Clerc)

Predictions -

France 3 - Austria 2 a good ole fashion 5 goal affair.

Anelka 2
Cisse 1

Saturday, March 24, 2007

La Petite Victoire

Phewww, that was not pretty. France leave the Baltics exhaling a bit easier after an ugly 1-0 victory on an individual action from Anelka. Many of our fears came true the first 45 minutes -
a goat ranch of a pitch, a Lithuania team packing the back, no French linking midfield, poor defending on dead balls, and a very isolated French striker. The essential was accomplished, France keep pace with Scotland and gain the full 3 points from this trap game. My thought:

The Good:
  • Anelka demonstrated his quality as a lone striker. He was able to take on defenders, make deep runs, flick on, and overall pressure the defenders. Without much support, his efforts at times were for naught. The goal was an absolute pure striker goal: he kept off three defenders as he cut dangerously across the face of the 18 yard box, he unleashed a powerful shot, which became a volley due to the divots in the pitch. But it was really the only way I think the French could score without any of their creative midfielders. Anelka's talent have never been in question, sometimes I wonder how things might have been had his attitude been more in line with his ability. However, I think as long as he keeps his head on straight he will be a valuable asset for Les Bleus, and hopefully a major force at Euro 2008.
  • Diarra, the mini Makelele grew stronger as the match wore on. He did attempt some rather audacious shots from far out, maybe trying a little to hard. But overall I felt he demonstrated his worth, granted against one of the third tier soccer nations. I think his partnering with Toulalan bodes well for the future of the holding responsibilities for the French national team.
  • The Lithuanians - Much credit needs to be given to the Baltic team. They played hard and tactically very intelligently the entire match. They may have deserved a draw, with a very dangerous attempt end of the first half that only the emergency slide tackle from Sagnol saving a possible French embarrassment. They were dangerous on every dead ball situation, and their long throw ins were a major threat the entire match.
The Bad:
  • Domenech's Tactics: As I had written in the run up to the game, I was very concerned about the defensive posture Domenech had decided to line up for the match. With three holding midfielders it was going to be very difficult for the strickers to gain the support needed. Emmanuel Petit and Didier Roustan were both commenting on this line up on the TV5 broadcast, they mentioned the fact that in 1998 Jacquet had a similar line up - Deschamps, Petit and Karembeau in the midfield, all three holding midfielders. The differences are they had been playing that style for a few years, they were more experienced players (Diara with his first cap, Toulalan his second!), the defense was more experienced in this style, and finally they had one Zidane at the peak of his ability pulling the strings....the current team does not have the offensive talent to go with such a format. I think the French manager was more nervous about losing 1-0 than he was interested in winning. Now I cannot criticise the result, but I can call into question the philosophy.
  • Govou: I have never been a huge fan of the Lyon winger. He shows some flashes, but he is not a consistent enough goal scorer to be given the role of primary attacker. His recent form with Lyon also points to a player "searching" for his game. The switch with Cisse gave the French a much more fluid and dangerous play, it allowed Anelka to drop back a bit and force the defense to open up a bit more with the fear of Cisse's pace, something Govou cannot offer.
The Ugly:
  • The Pitch: Like Roustan said, it was a Potatoe Farm. It is always difficult for smaller Associations to maintain high level pitches, especially where the weather is not ideal. But it also is in the best interest of the Lithuanias to maintain such a slow and irregular pitch.
Overall the essential was accomplished, 3 points. France must now focus on the next games in June when Ukraine will be on the menu. Hopefully they will have a healthy Vieira, Saha, Henry and Ribery. The upcoming friendly with Austria should be an experimental time for Domenech. I would like to see a few things:

  • Get Mexes and Gallas on the pitch together, Thuram is not going to play forever (and he did play well against Lithuania). Mexes, and Escude, appear to be the future central pairing for Les Bleus.
  • Sit Makelele and play Diarra and Toulalan again together.
  • Get Nasri in there to see what he can do.
  • Play Diaby with Nasri, could be an interesting pairing for the future
  • Pair up Cisse and Anelka
Here is the line up I would throw out there -

Landreau - Sagnol, Mexes, Gallas, Abidal - Diarra, Toulalan - Diaby, Nasri - Cisse, Anelka

These are the players that will play a role in the Euro 2008, and more importantly World Cup qualifying for 2010, get them out there!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Les Bleus evolve in a 4-3-3

Domenech has announced his starting team, one minor surprise: Diarra is going to receive his first cap, starting alongside his Chelsea teammate Makelele.

Coupet - Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal - Makelele, Toulalan, L. Diarra - Govou, Malouda, Anelka.

With three recovering midfielders, the French should not have any problems defending, but attacking it might be another story. The attack down the flanks might come more from Abidal and Sagnol rather than the midfielders. This line up is a very safe course of action, I think that Govou, Malouda and Anelka all have the pace to break down the Lithuania squad, but I fear the Baltic nation will pack in their penalty box and look to break. Breaking out will not be easy with the defensive curtains Les Blues can throw up, but scoring for the French might not be easy either.

I think Domenech envisages being able to get the important goal and then hold off any potential attacks, and if he needs more offense he can take off one of his midfielders and throw on Cisse, play Malouda and Govou wide and allow Cisse and Anelka to play at the point.

The positive is we will see the future of the midfield for France - Diarra making his first start and Toulalan making his second....

Wenger adds another Frenchie

Arsenal will sign teenage French striker Gilles Sunu in July for between £700,000 and £1m on a four-year deal from Chateauroux. (Daily Telegraph)

This rumor had been kicking around for a while, the teenage striker from France will be added to the roster of youth Wenger has collected. Could we see a Walcott - Sunu strike force in northern London in a few years?

From what little information I have gathered on the youngster, he is seen as a big time prospect for both country and club. His father was an international for Togo.

Once again Arsene poaches the talented youth from his home land.

Maybe Domenech will select the youngster.....just to see what the Professor says....

Thursday, March 22, 2007

France - Lithuania....trap game

This weekend Les Bleus travel to Lithuania for their Euro 2008 qualifier. This is a big time trap game for the World Cup runner ups. A couple of reasons why:

  • The game is on the road, and even though Frane is "ranked" 4th and Lithuania 76th in the FIFA world rankings (any reader of this blog realizes how much weight I put into that 'ranking') world football has become so competitive that any road game is a challenge.
  • Lithuania is no push over, any time that over looks such a nation might get surprised. Which is exactly what happened to Italy who dropped 2 points by only drawing with Lithuania in the first round match in Naples! I think the Italians, coming off their World Cup high, and probably looking forward to the France match rather than focusing on their opponents of the day were surprised (the Italians had to come back from a 1-0 deficit to earn the draw!)
  • France is hurt by injuries. It has been widely discussed that Saha, Henry, and Vieira are injured and Trezeguet has not been selected. Without the last three you are losing mountains of experience, and 3 of the active World Cup and European Cup champions. How will the youth, if thrown into the deep end of the pool, do?
France should win this match, and I think they will. But it will be much more difficult than we all think it should be. I recall a Euro qualifier in 1999 against Andorra, where the defending World Cup Champions, France eecked out a 1-0 victory on a last minute PK from Frank LeBoeuf....France needs to score quickly and not take the foot off the accelerator. I believe that the defense will be very strong and difficult for Lithuania to beat, but the offense is in question. The longer the Lithuanians hold off the French, the harder it will be for the French to maintain their organization in attack.

Les Bleus will need a positive result, with Scotland hosting Georgia (assume 3 points for the Scots, but another trap game with an Italy - Scotland game looming next week) and Ukraine playing the Faroe Islands, guaranteed 3 points, France will need to win to keep pace. This group was seen as a difficult group when it was drawn mainly due to the presence of Italy, France and Ukraine...but with the play of Scotland it has made a difficult group that much more challenging for all the favorites.

Allez les bleus! 3 points are needed!!! Otherwise the pressure will only get greater!

Prediction - France 2 Lithuania 0
Goals from Anelka and Gallas.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Who to play for Les Bleus this weekend?

Interesting article calling into question what starting line up Domenech will put on the pitch against Lithuania this weekend. Not selecting Trezeguet has left Domenech with few experienced options to start up front for Les Bleus. It appears that Anelka will be the #1 striker with Cisse as #2....but will he go with two strikers or one striker and 3 midfielders. Opting for the latter will give him another problem - who to play the role of Ribery? Gouvou and Malouda are certain to start, but who will be the third attacking midfielder? 19 that is a lot to ask. Wiltord, maybe, he has the experience but is getting long in the tooth and not sure I want to see him middle of the pitch for 90 minutes.

Domenech should go with experience first - play Anelka and Cisse together. I know Cisse has been struggling lately with Marseilles, but he is experienced and I think his pace will give Lithuania a world of problems allowing Anelka to become that much more dangerous. Play Malouda and Govou on the wings, with Makelele and Toulalan in support. The back line will be experienced and solid - Abidal, Gallas, Thuram, Abidal. If you want to get some of the younger players some time, bring them in the last 20 minutes. If Les Bleus can get a lead on the Lithuanias, maybe look to bring in Nasri and Benzema for Anelka and Cisse, go to a 3 attacking midfield, one striker to protect the lead and get the youth some run....but one thing is for sure, Domenech will do something that makes folks scratch their heads. As long as we come back to Paris with 3 points.....that is the essential.

Who to play for Les Bleus this weekend?

Interesting article calling into question what starting line up Domenech will put on the pitch against Lithuania this weekend. Not selecting Trezeguet has left Domenech with few experienced options to start up front for Les Bleus. It appears that Anelka will be the #1 striker with Cisse as #2....but will he go with two strikers or one striker and 3 midfielders. Opting for the latter will give him another problem - who to play the role of Ribery? Gouvou and Malouda are certain to start, but who will be the third attacking midfielder? 19 that is a lot to ask. Wiltord, maybe, he has the experience but is getting long in the tooth and not sure I want to see him middle of the pitch for 90 minutes.

Domenech should go with experience first - play Anelka and Cisse together. I know Cisse has been struggling lately with Marseilles, but he is experienced and I think his pace will give Lithuania a world of problems allowing Anelka to become that much more dangerous. Play Malouda and Govou on the wings, with Makelele and Toulalan in support. The back line will be experienced and solid - Abidal, Gallas, Thuram, Abidal. If you want to get some of the younger players some time, bring them in the last 20 minutes. If Les Bleus can get a lead on the Lithuanias, maybe look to bring in Nasri and Benzema for Anelka and Cisse, go to a 3 attacking midfield, one striker to protect the lead and get the youth some run....but one thing is for sure, Domenech will do something that makes folks scratch their heads. As long as we come back to Paris with 3 points.....that is the essential.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Domenech pile on

Interesting recap....Deschamps the Juventus manager is also critical of the lack of communications coming from the French National team. Interesting article, since I was having lunch with Sam (former blogger) about the Wenger - Domenech - Henry saga. As I have stated in prior postings, I think that Wenger is pushing it when it comes to Henry and his play for Les Bleus. While I can see the arguement for not having Henry play in too many friendlies, I stand by my assertion that the Professor Arsene is starting to whine too much and trying to heap the blame on the shoulders of Domenech.

However, if the argument was that Domenech lacks in communication with the club managers, then I firmly agree, something I have also stated in prior postings. This latest incident reiterates one of my major pet peeves with Domenech - his apparent lack of personal skills. He has had clear run ins with Mouinho over Makelele, Wenger over Henry, Houllier over the use of the Lyon players, and now Deschamps. None of the 4 are dog food when it comes to the managerial ranks.

Domenech needs to work on his communication skills, many would agree that his stint as manager of the French national team is due to Zidane (Zizou saved the French qualification for the World Cup and then led to the team to the finals). Since many would argue his is managing on borrowed time, he needs to ensure that those aspects he can control he does so with humility. Make calls and building relations with club managers is one such aspect.

PSG's demise ..... Arsenal's opportunity?

Watching the "highlights" of PSG's 1-0 loss to Rennes this weekend was painful enough for this PSG fan. The Capital team is now 2 points away from safety, with 9 days left. And from their form of late, I think it is 50/50 that they will be able to emerge out of the drop zone.

However, could this unfortunate turn be an opportunity for the Gunners? The player I am thinking of is the only one worthy of being a Ligue 1 player - Mickael Landreau. He is firmly entrenched on the French National team, he has been playing professionally since 1996 since he wa a teenager at Nantes. And he is only 27, which is young for a keeper. Landreau joined PSG last summer from Nantes, which at the time looked like a great piece of the PSG puzzle, one that would allow the team to challenge for a spot in Europe. However will the team be able to keep its prized asset if they are relegated to Ligue 2? Or will they need to sell players - Landreau, Pauletta, Rothen, Kalou - to name a few, that they might not be able to afford or that may no longer want to play for a team relegated to Ligue 2. Wenger, if he is interested in solving his long term keeper issue, with Lehman being at the end of his contract, as well as tail end of his career, should look at the young Frenchman. The appeal of playing for one of the best teams in England, the appeal of playing consistent Champions League play, the appeal of playing in the lime light of the Premiership might sway the PSG keeper to agree to a transfer.

Of course, PSG might look to maintain their backstop, and dump the other players mentioned. Look to rebuild the team around Landreau and fight their way back to Ligue 1.

Arsene...give PSG a call.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Les bleus for Lithuania

Of course a minute after I posted my last rant, Domenech announces his team -

Grégory Coupet (Lyon)
Mickaël Landreau (Paris SG)

Eric Abidal (Lyon)
François Clerc (Lyon)
Julien Escude (FC Séville)
William Gallas (Arsenal)
Philippe Mexès (AS Rome)
Willy Sagnol (Bayern Munich)
Sébastien Squillaci (Lyon)
Lilian Thuram (FC Barcelone)

Milieux de terrain
Abou Diaby (Arsenal)
Lassana Diarra (Chelsea)
Claude Makelele (Chelsea)
Rio Antonio Mavuba (Bordeaux)
Samir Nasri (Marseille)
Jérémy Toulalan (Lyon)

Nicolas Anelka (Bolton)
Karim Benzema (Lyon)
Djibril Cissé (Marseille)
Sidney Govou (Lyon)
Florent Malouda (Lyon)
Frédéric Piquionne (Monaco)
Sylvain Wiltord (Lyon)

Some nice surprises and some interesting absenses.

First the surprises -
The midfielders, as the rumors stated, Domenech looked towards some youth in the midfield - Diarra, Diaby and Nasri. There are already "critics" stating that neither Diarra nor Diaby have carved out starting roles for their teams. Hogwash. Diarra has been playing an increased role for the Blues of Chelsea. Mourinho has demonstrated the confidence in his young Frenchman by playing him along side Makelele in the middle of the park and at times on the defensive flanks. It is not like he is playing for a second rate team lacking in star power through out its effective. As for Diaby, we soon forget that his season was cut short last year which spilled over into this season. Prior to that set back, Wenger was turning to the U-19 France Captain more and more in terms of being the holding midfielder supporting Fabergas. Again, it is not as if he is playing for a Div 2 team where he would start every game. I think these three selections are very positive. I hope for the Austria game they all get some time on the pitch.

Piquionne, the lanky Monaco striker was an interesting and deserved selection. A striker in the mold of Kanu or Adebayour he has been one of the in form strikers in France (netting 9 goals since the beginning of the year). It will be interesting to see if he will become on of the future strikers available on a regular basis for Les Bleus....

And now the surprise - Trezeguet - the Juventus striker was left off the roster. Domenech gave some strange reason, how he wanted to allow Trezegol to concentrate on helping Juve back into Seria A....hmmm...not sure I buy it. Domenech is making a mistake, Trezeguet has seen his confidence at an all time low for Les Bleus, after a difficult World Cup qualification period, a World Cup where he saw more of the bench than the pitch, and culmination to the World Cup where he say his PK slam against the cross bar in the finals. Domenech needs to make sure he maintains France's third all time leading scorer at a higher level of confidence. Why not select him, if you want to start Anelka - Cisse then so be it, but at least you get Trezeguet into the practices and into the team again, ensure that he understands he has your confidence. Now maybe Domenech has spoken with his striker and knows more than I do....which would not be a stretch to believe.

I truly believe that Trezegol has plenty left in the tank. However I do not want to see that tank drained because of a lack of confidence.

Les Bleus ... Aie Aie Aie

Domenech is set to unveil his squad for France's two upcoming matches, one Euro qualifier at Lithuania and a home friendly against one of the co-hosts, Austria. However the concern is the amount of forfeits he already has: Henry, Saha, Vieira, Silverstre and Ribery. Ouch.

Domenech has some interesting choices to make, good site is to see some interesting discussions. So let us start with where, for the first time in a while, Domenech does not need to worry, and that is his back line.

Coupet - Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal. Should be his starting back line, which is his preferred back line. The return of Gallas and Thuram should shore up the defense which looked a little shaky against Argentina. The return of the center back duo will allow the offensive minded Sagnol to range further up the pitch, and allow Abidal to make more of his deep runs.

The midfield and up front is where it will get interesting. Without Vieira, Domenech will have to find a partner with Makelele to protect the back four and launch counter attacks. There have been some talk to bring back Dacourt into the fold....hmm interesting. While he has been playing well for Inter (especially when partnered with Vieira) I am not sure this would be a wise move. Especially since Domenech does have other options, and said options are more likely the future of Les Bleus. Rather than look to Dacourt Domenech should give the Lyonaise Toulalon another start in the midfield. He looked very solid, albeit against the minnows Faroe Islands, in his first international start. Domenech is not asking him to start and replace Vieira against Brazil, the French are still playing one of the lesser soccer powers, even though it is on the road which will add some pressure. But it would be a good opportunity to get the youngster more run with the first team in a meaningful match. I think Domenech should also look at Mavuba, both Diarras (Lassana should be getting more looks for the way he has been playing for Chelsea) as well as Flamini.....France does have some solid options at holding midfield, lets look to them not to players like Dacourt (not that I do not like the Milanaise midfielder, I think he should have been included in the side but his time has passed, such is the life of international footie)

The midfield wings are less difficult to determine - Malouda on one side and Govou/Wiltord on the other. The interesting decision will be who to back them up. Again, old timers like Micoud and Guily are mentioned....again I would say why? I think both players are excellent, but they are on the back end of their careers, if Domenech did not think they were good enough for France when they were at their peaks why would he turn to them now? Domenech has the opportunity to look at youngsters Nasri and Gourcuff. He could also turn to a pseudo old timer, but who still has plenty in the tank - Rothen. The natural left footer would be a great option on the left side, giving Les Bleus a true crossing machine. Something Domenech will need if you look
at the strikers he might select....

Without Henry and Saha, I think Domenech should turn to a combo - Anelka/Trezeguet/Cisse. If he decides to play Anelka - Trezeguet, I think a surpise move of having Rothen on one side and Sagnol on the other (on defense) would supply a number of crosses that a player like Trezeguet could latch on...with Anelka roaming behind the point striker this could cause the Lithuania defense much trouble. Domenech could then put in Cisse at the end of the match for the last 20 - 30 minutes to change the look of the game. I also feel he should take this as an opportunity to select the youngster Benzema.

Here is what I would put on the pitch -

Coupet - Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal - Makelele, Toulalan - Rothen, Malouda - Trezeguet, Anelka.

On paper they should leave Lithuania with the full 3 points...but again that is only on paper.

Come on Domenech use what appears to be a negative and turn it into an opportunity to get some of the French youth into the team.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Blame Game Begins

The blame game on Titi's injury has commenced. No surprise that Wenger blames Domenech and his usage of Henry for the striker's season ending injuries. Wenger does have a point, post world cup the French played a friendly against Bosnia, in which Henry plays the entire 90 minutes. Wenger complains that he should not have played the entire game....I partially agree. This was the only tune up game prior to France starting their Euro qualifying campaigns....and the second game in that exercise was going to be against the Italians. Should Henry have been substituted out...maybe....but would his only playing 60 minutes or 45 minutes saved him from future injury...doubtful. The subsequent friendlies in question - Greece and Argentina.

The Greece match was the last international for the 2006 season and in honor of the World Cup winners in 1998 and Euro winners 2000, two teams where Henry played prominently...and the Argentina match is to get ready for the restart of qualifiers. Again, in both matches Henry could have sat for 30 or 45 minutes....but again in the grand scheme would that have "saved" his season...doubtful.

The real culprit behind these players breaking down is the ridiculous overall domestic and international schedules these players are asked to play. Arsenal played well over 60 games in 2006 if you count Premier games, FA cup and Champions League (I will not count Carling Cup since Wenger rarely plays players such as Henry). Now add in the run France made at the World Cup and that adds another 7 games, including 3 pre-world cup warm up matches. Assuming Henry averages 90 minutes a game, you are looking at over 6300 minutes and at least double that in terms of practice minutes. If Domenech sits Henry for a full games or halves of games during the friendlies that represents 2% of the overall game time Henry might log! Maybe the other 98% of the time Henry is running around the pitch is the time when he might have injured himself....

I think if Wenger is really concerned about wear and tear on his players he needs to look at the schedule Arsenal and other domestic teams play. The International schedule is minor in regards of the amount of football a player is asked to play....with the Champions League you play 6 games before even getting into the knock out stages. With the FA cup and its replay rules, you at times find yourself playing a home and away schedule when you did not plan to. The Carling Cup adds games, that appear to be completely useless.....and with 20 teams in the premiership the toll it takes on players is noticeable. But of course these games pay the salaries, fill the coffers of the domestic teams and pay Wenger his high salaries, so he rather not critic that golden goose.

Again, I have been critical of Domenech and primarily his relationship or lack thereof he has with the domestic managers, but Wenger needs to check himself as well. This season I feel that Arsene has been particularly whiny. Rather than throwing blame around he should focus on the opportunity to get his young Gunners focused on ending the season in a strong fashion and building for the future.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Titi out

The news keeps getting better in North London...Titi is out for the next three months...ouch. Then I guess it is not a bad thing since Arsenal have nothing really left to play for, other than the 3-4-5 position in the Premiership. However this will impact Les Bleus. Or will it?

Their next match is March 24 against Lithuania, no footballing powerhouse, but still a trap game. Without Henry, Domenech might turn to his other striker pairing - Anelka and Trezeguet. The game is on the road so will prove difficult, however the French should find a way to emerge with the full 3 points. Where it gets tricky is the early summer matches - 2 home games June 2nd versus Ukraine and June 6 versus Georgia. Henry should be back at that time, however will he be in any shape to play against the Ukraine? Hopefully the French will be able to defeat Georgia at home with out Henry, but the Ukraine match might need their talismatic striker.

Domenech does have a wild card to play, and that is return of Cisse back to form. However Cisse has had some recent difficulties as does his club. With Saha apparently on the mend as well, Trezeguet in poor form for France, Domenech has few options to choose from where he used to be embarassingly rich. However June is a long way away, and much can change. Watching some Juventus highlights I saw all the talent and ability from Trezegol, with a crushing goal from outside the 18. Maybe this is what Trezegol needs, being paired with another striker, such as Anelka. As Laurie from stated, sometimes the French malaise in scoring may be due to Henry...someone who is devoid of reproach from the press and fans.

Against a team like Lithuania I think a pairing of Anelka and Trezegeut will be very potent, with support from Malouda, Ribery, Vieira and Makelele I think Les Bleus should be able to find success against their opponents in March and June. The difference between Anelka and Henry is that Henry has become a bit one dimensional with Les Bleus, he floats to the wings and waits to beat defenders one on one. He does not appear to look to shoot from distance (not doing much of that for Arsenal either) something that made him so deadly. A tandem of Anelka and Trezeguet will force the defense to defend deeper, allowing more running room for the French wingers. The beauty of Anelka and Trezegeut is that both are great poachers around the penalty area. Anelka has the added dimension that he has no fear of taking on players one on one or one on many (see his early season wonder strike against Arsenal for Bolton)

Without the spectre of Henry looming over the team, France will give its other strikers chances to show what they bring to the table. I also feel it is a great time to call up the youngster Benzema from Lyon. I am not endorsing not having Henry in the line up once he is healthy, but I think Les Bleus can use this injury as an opportunity to get other strikers on the pitch.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Champions League Recap - Arsenal pain

We have the final 8 for the Champions League -


Thoughs on their journey:

Manchester United - Lille: A definate case of David vs Goliath, Lille could not even host the home match since their stadium does not meet UEFA regulation for European cup matches! ManU was definately the best squad and deserved to win, I am happy in a way, that they won 1-0 at Old Trafford otherwies the "questionable" goal in France would still hang over the teams.

Chelsea - Porto: Ahhhh what could have been, it would have been great seeing the "Great Whiner's" old team defeat his current team. Porto was let down by their keeper that made a horrible gaff on the first goal at Stamford Bridge. A low driven shot by Robben should have been saved, instead Helton did not get enough of his body behind the shot nor got his hands properly on the ball seeing it skip over him and into the back of the net. After that equalizer it appears that Porto lost all its steam and mental lapse allowed Ballack a clean turn on a ball inside the 18...aweful.

Valencia- Inter: Wow was that ugly....I did not see the match but did see the "higlights" of the Inter team chasing around Navarro trying to give him payback for having completely sucker punched one of their teammates, Brudisso, breaking his nose. It was a completely cowardly act by the Spanish player, but made for great theater as the battle continued into the tunnel and locker room....The match itself was of little interested based on the post game activities. Surprising that Valencia is the last Spanish team left in the Champions League. But let us not forget that Valencia was a two time finalist in the early 2000s. This team has the talent to go further in the tournament.

Roma - Lyon: Ugh, once again the pundits dark horses crashed out earlier than anyone would image, the best chance for the French to bring home the trophy with "big ears" is once again heading home sooner than expected. After un ugly game at Rome, it was thought that Lyon had a good chance to win back at home, only to see the Romans explode early for 2 quick goals...maybe next year for Lyon.

Milan - Celtic: Hmmm what to say about a team that was punching above its weight in Celtic heading to Italy where they had never done well. So Milan moves on, no surprise, although there was definately 2 clear times that Celtic might have been granted a penalty shot.

Bayern - Real Madrid: In the battle of imbattled footballing giants saw Bayern come back to win 2-1 at home and take advantage of their 2 away goals to knock out the beleagured Spanish giant. It appears that it will be one more season with out any silverware for El Gallatico. Can Capello be far behind interms of heading for the exit?

This loss is the lates in a number of poor performances by the Madrid squad. They are fighting for their Champions League lives in Spain, trying to ensure they finish third, appears that the outright title will not happen. Losing 2-1 at Bayern, and the Real goal came very late, was a poor showing for a team that has 9 total trophies in their lobby.

PSV - Arsenal: Ugh...what can be said the runner up from last year crashed out to a team that has been quietly successful in the Champions League the past two seasons (semi final and quarter final runs). After a lack luster 1-0 loss away, Arsenal had a good chance coming back home. But they could not even score at the Emirates! Their goal coming on an own goal......

Wenger then threw caution to the wind throwing onto the pitch an injured Henry...who subsequently injured himself even further, now missing another 3 weeks. Arsenal was not the champions league machine it was last year. They started out well in the group stages but fizzled poorly against Moscow in the back to back matches, this started a poor run of form. This loss is difficult for the North Londoners who crashed out of all three cup competitions they have been playing in - Carling Cup, FA cup and Champions League. The Arsenal youth gives the club a bright future, but this season has been a disappointment from the trophy stand point. But look out for PSV...they will sneak up on teams.

Liverpool - Barcelona: Okay this is the game I was very interested in watching...after going down 2-1 at home, Barca knew it had to score 2 goals at least. With that in mind they came out with an interesting formation, throwing 3 backs on the field, putting their starting sweeper Marquez at holding midfielder, sticking Eto'o on the wing, Ronaldino at the point and Messi on the opposite wing, with Deco to provide the service. What struck me was the lack of creativity or ideas that Barcelona offered the first 45 minutes. Ronaldino looked fat and out of place as the high striker, Eto'o was tired and lost on the wing as was Messi. Eto'o who has not been back 100% in terms of playing time should have been starting on the bench as the wild card off the bench. Guily came in for Eto'o and the dynamics instantly changed, his pace gave Liverpool too much trouble with the deep diaganol passes behind the fullbacks...

The problems were also apparent having Marquez trying to pretend he was Roy Keane and Puyol try to be Maldini out on the wing. Puyol should have been slotted in the middle of the park (rather than Thuram, cannot believe I said that....) why not have Zambrotta on on the wing, he is much more of an offensive threat and is at least not playing out of position.

If Barca really wanted to play offensively let Ronaldino play along side Deco, with Guily and Messi on the wings, and start Gudjohnsen as the point man. Xavi can play behind the two attacking midfielders and give cover. This is a very offensive team, however Barca could really afford to give up a goal since irregardless they need to score at least two goals (had they won 2-1 in regular time it would have gone to extra time). Rijkaard could have used Eto'o late in the game, given him 20 minutes in the place of the Icelandic international up front. If Barca score 2 or more goals, he could have then shifted to a more defensive team, taking out one of his attacking players for a Thuram or Marquez to give Barca four across the back...instead the Dutch man allowed the Spaniard out coach him.

The match ups I would like to see next round -

ManchesterUnited - Chelsea: after all the heated exchanges this season it would be great to see this match up as the Premiership winds down and heats up between the two managers.

Liverpool -Valencia: Match up between Benitez and his old club....

Roma - PSV: the two dark horse teams going head to head.

Milan - Bayern: Another match up of teams that are not living up to their domestic league expectations.

Monday, March 05, 2007

PSG heading to Ligue 2.

Timmmmber......that is the sound that is resonating from the Boulogne area of Paris. The Capital's only top flight football club (interesting Paris is the only major European city with only 1 top flight football club). This is just another chapter in the malaise that is PSG.

PSG has gone through 2 extremely difficult seasons...PSG has not recovered from selling Ronaldino. When PSG was able to sign the Brazilian phenom it was clear that the buck tooth footballer was only going to spend a few seasons in the city of lights before a larger club snatched him up. The issue was PSG did not have a clear plan on how to leverage his time at the club, what to do post Ronnie and a general strategy for the club. If I really want to push this I would say that PSG has not been the same since Wenger stole Anelka from under their noses. When Anelka was a youth in the PSG system, the Parisian club was challenging for the Ligue 1 title, they were a few seasons removed from winning the Cup winners Cup (for those who are not aware, there used to be 3 European cups - Champions Cup, Cup winners Cup and UEFA cup). The season that Anelka left, PSG made it back to the finals of the Cup Winners Cup to face Barca, only losing a tough match 1-0. Since then PSG has won 2 French cups, yes, but done little of anything else. In the mean time, Lyon has emerged as the class of the French Ligue 1.

So what is the root cause of this malaise? I think first the lack of competition...and I do not mean in Ligue 1, because it is evident that PSG gets clobbered by that competition, but I think not having another viable club in Paris hurts the team. Their one "derby" match is against a team on the south coast of France - Marseilles. While that is a great rivalry, it does not give PSG a local club they need to compete for the minds and hearts or Parisians. Every big European club has both league rivals as well as local rivals...even in France - Lyon vs St Eteinne, Marseilles vs Nice, Lens vs Lille.....In England - Manchester United vs City, the London clubs Arsenal Chelsea Tottenham are all bitter rivals, In Spain - Real vs Atheletico. In Italy - Juventus vs Torino, AC vs Inter Milan, Lazio vs Roma....and the list goes on. If Paris St Germain had another club in the city they would need to be more savvy about the business of running a club.

Another aspect is the apparent lack of direction of the club. They have been through, what appears to be, 27 different managers the past 3 seasons....where are they heading? They have the money but do not seem to make the correct talent assessments, do they build around Pauleta...a bit long in the tooth, Rothen? Has not lived up to his immense talent demonstrated while at Monaco. Who is the last academy player that PSG has brought up to the big team???

While some teams (see Chelsea) can buy their way to a title, PSG does not have the deep wallet nor structure in place to emulate that strategy. Nor do they find a way to acquire young players such as Arsenal or Barca and nurture them. They resemble a poor man's Real Madrid, grasping for second tier stars, over paying for them, and throwing them on the pitch with out any rhyme or reason. Maybe a trip to Ligue 2 would be the shake up the club need to live up to the amazing potential PSG possesses....

Friday, March 02, 2007

War of words,,2002390000-2007100174,00.html

Looks like the war of words between Manchester United and Chelsea have heated up with SFA telling the "Special Whiner" to button his lips....I must agree with the Scots jab at the Mourinho.

Chelsea once again are throwing stones in a very fragile glass house...whenever Chelsea loses it is invariably the fault of the referees, or the pitch, or the wind, or the fact the other team cheated etc. Never because the Chelsea was out played, or not good enough to win. With Mourinho complaining that Manchester United has been "lucky" to be where they are, it is the next step in the chapters of the whining of Mourinho.

The Blues having already one piece of silverware, and are in line to win 3 more. Rather than complaining and whining maybe Mourinho should focus on how he can prepare his team for the stretch run in the three competitions.

On another note, Arsenal was robbed agains Blackburn. How was the "tackle" on Ljunberg not a penalty shot? And now did Baptistat miss an open header? I think this season will end with no hardware for the Gunners, but I think that Wenger has put in place the pieces for a real run at silverware the next few seasons.