Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Gallas out!

Watching the Arsenal match this weekend, when my cable was not on the fritz, I got a nice scare when Gallas went down awkwardly immediately calling to be substituted. On the replay I feared torn knee ligaments...fortunately it appears it is not that severe. However bad enough for Gallas to be out for 3 weeks...not good for Arsenal and really not good for France. Why? Not because they face Slovakia tomorrow in a friendly, but because they face Italy and Scotland in the next round of the Euro qualifiers. These matches are two huge games to determine who will emerge from the group to head to Austria/Switzerland next summer.

Gallas played a vital role in the 3-1 drubbing the French gave the Italians end of last summer in Paris in their Euro qualifier, he will be sorely missed. But I would not be too nervous if I had faith in Domenech's ability to put the right combination at the center of the French defense. However I fear he will look at Boumsong before he takes the better options of Mexes, Thuram and Squillaci (or even Escude if he is healthy). Mexes should be partnered with Thuram.

Mexes is arguably on of the best defenders in the Italian Serie A. He plays against the majority of the players France will be facing versus the Italians on a regular basis, so knows them and will not be intimidated by the hostile crowd. Additionally, he has some offensive ability and skill a valuable asset considering Sagnol will not be available so the French will need to infuse some offensive threat on their back line.

Alas, I fear Domenech will find a way to have Boumsong partner with Thuram....if that is the case look for the Azzurri to throw attacks right down the middle of the pitch.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Domenech gives his big list for the Int'ls


Domenech has announced the list of 34 players that he will draw from to meet Slovakia in a friendly. All of this is with the next Euro qualifier matches coming up, and the first two game for France will be paramount - at Italy and home against Scotland.

As I look over the list there are a few surprises - the main one being Boumsong. I really do not understand Domenech's love affair with the former Ranger defender. There is no doubt that he has some tremendous raw talent...actually I would even question that! He is a big defender, so is decent in the air. Has decent pace, but does not seem to read the game well and gets beaten too easily to the position. France has some much better options in the middle of the defense - Thuram, Gallas, Mexes, Givet, Escude, and Squillaci....so why take the overrated Juventus central defender when a much more deserving player, such as Clichy, should have been selected? Domenech has a wealth of options to anchor the middle of the defense, however needs to develop players on the wings, especially with Sagnol being injured.

Other surprises - Rothen is a slight surprise, I think he deserves the call up. He is a natural left footed player and until his injury a few seasons ago appeared to be a viable midfielder for Les Bleus. His early season with PSG has given him the honor of being selected. What is interesting is that Domenech has selected a very defensive oriented midfield. With the Diarra's, Diaby, Vieira, Toulalan, Mavuba and Makelele the midfield is rather leaning towards defensive/holding midfielders. I would have liked to have seen a Gourcuff called up.

Overall Domenech should have a solid squad to turn to, but this game will be crucial for him to determine what system to go with once France faces Italy and Scotland. Will Henry be back alone up front? Will Anelka be put back on the bench? What is Trezegol's role? Which keeper will be the #1? Is Nasri ready to take the mantel as France's #10?

It should be interesting, but I think that Domenech has a wealth of talent to select from, which is a good problem.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Beckham is here! Beckham is here!

Oh brother, I just sat through the most fascinating and interesting 30 minutes of a soccer game, okay well maybe not that fascinating and interesting....so it is Thursday night the Red Sox have an off day, I could not stomach watching a pre season NFL game between the Colts and Cowboys, and I could not get myself to watch two Honduran club teams go at it on GolTV or watch Dream Team on FSC....so to get my sports and more importantly footie fix I found myself drifting to ESPN and watching the end of the DC United vs LA Galaxy match. Granted, had the Beckhamania not been going on I would have turned off the TV and read a book....how is that for a novel idea. But instead I watched the rest of the match, I must admit wanting to see how our peroxide friend Mr Spice would do.

Of course the talking heads commentating on the match were so googoo and gaagaa over every move Becks made you thought he would single handily score a brace and set up another goal....of course, as was to be expected, Becks did what he could do to turn the tide for the Galaxy. Granted he had one spectacular pass from his half which dissected the defense...of course had a Rooney or Van Nistelrooy been the target the result may have been better. Instead it was golden boy Donovan who appeared to go after the ball half heartedly when the saw the keeper coming out, and rather than accelerating through the ball appeared to timidly try to toe poke or chip or trip on the ball and then proceed to fly through the air like a human cannonball, probably trying to win a penalty. Of course he then was rolling around like he took a shot from the grass knoll for a good 2 minutes.

What I find particularly humorous was the dedicated "Beckham Cam"....as if I need to see his reaction when his pub league teammates once again balloon a shot over the goal. Like my wife said, if this were the WE channel or Oxygen, it might make sense to exploit Beckham's B Movie looks. I also enjoyed hearing the commentators state "ohhhhh be careful you don't want to give Beckham a free kick..." There is no denying that Becks is a master of the dead ball, but come on. First, I challenge you to name me 5 big goals he scored directly from a free kick....other than his goal against Greece in qualifiers, his other successes tend to be a result of his passes not direct shots. Second, without world class players to latch on to his dead balls Becks might get more and more frustrated while the commentators continue to place unrealistic expectations on his dead ball abilities.

Once again, we must temper our expectations. Beckham should be one of the top 10 players in the MLS, however he is not in his prime nor is he nor was he a Ronaldino, Messi or Zidane type player. One that will take on defenders one v one and score spectacular goals. Beckham, when you peel the onion back, is a solid player who knows his limitations and abilities. He is one of the best crossers, long ball and dead ball specialists, but for any of these to matter he needs teammates on the end of these that can clinically finish, otherwise it will all be for naught. So put him at Manchester United with Cantona, Cole, Sheringham, Giggs, Scholes et al or at Read Madrid with Zidane, Raul, Van Nistelrooy or with England with Rooney, Owen, Shearer etc and he can thrive. I have yet to be convinced that he can play the role the MLS sees for him...granted the sample size is insignificant, but the Galaxy are not the next coming of the Red Devils either.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Prem about to kick off

This weekend is the official start of the Barclay's Premiership. We will be witness to an exciting title race, gritty matches, spectacular goals, and some of the world's greatest players only to see one of the following teams hoist the trophy - Chelsea or Manchester United - at the end of the season. When you step back it is amazing how popular the Prem is yet how little turn over you have at the top of the table every season. Since the re-organization of the domestic league into the "Prem", Manchester United have dominated, winning 9 titles, Arsenal are second with 3 titles, Chelsea have won 2 and Blackburn 1.....Blackburn??? (What happened to them??) And in recent history the teams in contention have been from the "big 4" - Arsenal,Man U, Chelsea and Liverpool (and I would argue that Liverpool should not been included since they have not won a domestic title in 17 years!!!). And Chelsea only came into that elite company when Abramovich showered the club with his billions of fleeced rubles.

Then again this "malaise" is rampant across all football -Lyon has won the French league 6 straight years, who outside of AC/Juventus have won the Italian league (granted maybe because they cheat the best), how about Spain - Barca or Real Madrid (at least Valencia have been able to sneak in recently) and in Germany Bayern Munich has won 7 out of the last 10 titles.....not much parody there. Okay enough of my rant, I will be the first one to watch the Derby v Portsmouth match or hold out hope when Bolton is sitting in third place that they might challenge for the title....all the while knowing that either Chelsea or Manchester United will win the trophy. Since I have given away who I think will win, here are my predictions for Prem -
  1. Manchester United - Ugh, how boring....but how can you argue with the Red Devils? They absolutely reloaded this off season and jettisoned some dead weight (Steve Smith anyone?). They remain solid on the back line, even if Heinze blazes his way out of town. With Vidic and Rio "I forget drug tests" Ferdinand anchoring the middle and Van Der Saar between the sticks they will have a stingy defense. The addition of Hargraeves, while I think was OVER valued, will help protect that back line. Evra will once again use his pace and be a two way threat. Midfield is stacked, Ronaldo is in his prime, scary. Giggs and Scholes are not what they used to be, but have the experience necessary. Carrick is good cover, Nani will be interesting to watch on the wings, and Park will play a valuable role as a spot starter and substitute. Up front there are a wealth of options, with Rooney and Tevez as #1 pairing with Solskjaer and Saha as replacements and Anderson can slot in at striker or attacking midfield...scary. There are a lot of question marks on how things will gel, but there is too much talent for this team not to repeat as champs.
  2. Arsenal - Okay I am being a homer...or maybe Sam's irrational exuberance has rubbed off on me. However here is my rational for Arsenal finishing second: last year Arsenal played very well against the other "big 4" the reason they struggled was too many dropped points early in the season, losing to Man City and West Ham as examples. Initially they also showed too much difficulty protecting their home turf. Additionally there was also too much turmoil early season - Henry playing not playing, new digs at Emirates, Gallas hurt, etc. These distractions, hopefully, will not be an issue this go around. I do think they will need to find a reliable scorer up front, I know everyone says that Van Persie will step in and fill those shoes, and I have no doubt of the Dutchman's talent, but I do not see him as a 20 goal a season sniper. Too me he remains a 12 - 15 goals player, reeking havoc from the wings, but not a true top of formation striker. If the rest of the merry band - Rosicky, Hleb, Adebayour, Bendtner, Eduardo and Walcott can chip in the goal scoring void should be addressed. Of course I think that having a "big name" striker - a la Eto'o or Anelka - would truly make Arsenal into title contenders. However the rest of the squad has become stronger. The additional of Sagna will bolster the back four, adding the talented Frenchman to the already present Toure, Gallas, Clichy, and Eboue should make the back line one of the North Londoners strengths. Traore, the French U-19 player, is knocking at the door to find a way into the big teams' rotation. The midfield will also remain a strength, especially in the defensive/holding role. No reason to believe that Gilberto will not have another outstanding year and with Denilson showing some real promise end of last season will prove some strong cover and presence in front of the back 4. Cesc will continue to develop and will continue to add some creativeness to the midfield. Rosicky and Hleb will continue to give workman like efforts at the midfield, with Flamini being the jack of all trade - being able to slot in midfield or in a pinch at fullback. Diaby should also provide some solid play at midfield being finally healthy. I give Arsenal the #2 slot assuming that Wenger has a few more cards up his sleeve - meaning another striker and potentially more cover in the midfield. Also the awarding of the captain's armband to Gallas will give some the defender the vote of confidence he was crying for over the summer, but more importantly Gallas will prove to be a vocal and solid leader.
  3. Chelsea - #2 last year, now #3....will we finally see Mourinho's head explode? Chelsea did add some key components - Malouda, Ben Haim, Sidwell and Pizarro - to an already loaded roster. However I am not sure that last years problems are solved. How will Sheva do in his second year? Will Ballack find his role...or end up in Madrid? But Chelsea have the horses. Joe Cole being healthy will be a huge plus for the Blues. Assuming Robben leaves to Real Madrid, I think that Malouda will be a very viable replacement. If SWP can approach his levels of Manchester City he will be a valuable asset. But the success still hinges on Drogba, Lampard, Essein, and Terry. I think Drogba will be a monster again, but he will miss time due to the African Nations Cup as well Essien. Terry is already hurt, but assuming Alex plays there should not be too much drop off. The reason I think Chelsea will suffer is the African Nations Cup, they stand to lose the most players - Drogba&Kalou (Ivory Coast), Essein (Ghana), and Mikel (Nigeria), this will fall in the middle of the season and any points dropped will be crucial. Additionally the lose of Terry for the early season may prove too difficult for the title aspirations, early points dropped are just as deadly to silverware acquisition as are points end of season. Chelsea still have the horses, but I think the drunken spending of the past few years will catch up with the harmony of the club.
  4. Tottenham - Okay, I realize Liverpool was suppose to be in this slot. But I am not a Benetiz fan, I think he is a great manager for short "series" such as the Champions League, but has not proven he can manage a long season (more below). I do think that Tottenham is in position to break into the top 4. First they kept the player vital to any success - Berbatov. Second, Martin Jol added some strength at defense in Kaboul and wonder kid Bale as well as up front in Bent. Finally, health, players like Ledley King should be back at full strength and partnered with Dawson with Kaboul as cover will solidify the center back role. Lennon will need to be more consistent to ensure Tottenham success. Keane, Defoe, Berbatov and Bent should provide the London club the necessary striker rotation needed to succeed in the Prem. 2 seasons ago, Tottenham made a run at the final Champions League slot, last year was a year of unmet expectations, I think that this season Tottenham gets themselves back into the picture. Additionally, Martin Jol is on the hot seat and will find a way to get the lads to perform.
  5. Liverpool - He has added some big horses - Torres and Babel being the biggest. The main issue is that Liverpool has not demonstrated the internal fortitude to survive the brutal Premiership season. Whenever they have a chance to make a mark, they fall flat on their faces. I think that Benetiz is a master for match up footie. He has shown an uncanny ability to plan for a short match ups, scheming to stop another teams strengths, but he has not shown an ability to manage for the long season - establishing a rotation and motivating his team for the long haul. I am also not convinced that Torres will be a success in England. He has been good, but never as good as the publicity. I am still not convinced Crouch is a viable #1 striker and Kuyt never strikes fear into my heart. As long as Benetiz fumbles around with Gerrard, playing him on the wing etc, he will not live up to potential. Sissoko and Mascherano will be strengths for Liverpool but the back 4 are getting old (does Riise do anything other than the occasional left footed bomb?). Winning the Champions League a few season ago saved Benetiz's job. But I have a feeling that Mr Texas Ranger will be looking for a new manager after this season.
  6. Newcastle - I think that Big Sam will finally straighten out this underachieving bunch. Viduka will be a great addition, and one man's trash is another's treasure - Smith (then again if the Viduka - Smith combo can find any semblance of success from their Leeds United days it will be a strong duo) A full season of Owen would not hurt either.
  7. Bolton - They will bite, scratch, cheap shot and thug their way to a top 10 finish. As long as Anelka stays they should be in the top ten.
  8. Everton - I think the Toffies will surprise some out there, Moyes is a superior manager and should get Cahill (if he comes back from injury in time), Johnson and the rest of the boys to perform over their heads.
  9. Aston Villa - Another mid level team that has a top level manager in Martin O'Neill. The season success will depend if Carew can score double digit goals or will be looking for employment in the MLS
  10. Portsmouth - the Arsenal retirement home team will remain in the top 10. Redknapp is also a solid manager and should guide this team to mid table.
  11. Sunderland - Their return to the top flight is marked by the manager that is leading the club, Roy Keane. It will be interesting how Keane does in the Prem, as a player he had many a falling out with managers...wonder how he will act now that he is the manager. The recent signing of Craig Gordon will be huge, he is the prime reason why Scotland is in the running for a qualifying spot in the Euro 2008.
  12. Blackburn - Hey didn't they win the Premiership? As long as they have Friedel, even if he is 49 years old they should be a middle of the table club. The wild card might be if Santa Cruz can live up to his potential, Blackburn could find themselves in the top 10.
  13. West Ham - Survived las season by the skin of their teeth, were it not for a certain Tevez they would be in the CocaCola championship. They have added some new players, but most are second tier or past their prime players - Bellamy and Parker will have a lot to prove, Ljungberg will try to squeeze something out of his dwindling skills, Faubert could have been interesting....had he not suffered a season long injury.
  14. Middlesbrough - This team will be as always...cannon fodder. A team that had never won anything...oh wait they won a Carling Cup.....a team that lives up to its name "middle" like trying to be average. Securing Woodgate will help, as does ensuring Schwarer will stay between the pipes. Losing Viduka will be very painful for Boro. Middlesbrough will struggle to stay away from relegation, but once again find a way to survive.
  15. Fulham - Another club that every year seems to flirt with relegation. Interesting how they are owned with a ridiculously wealthy man - Mohammed Fayed. Yet they never spend money, play on grounds fit for a Nationwide side, and do not look like a serious Prem club. They will struggle once again, the success for Fulham will revolve around the success of the Americans - can McBride continue to be a good striker contributing key goals and can Clint "Deuce" Dempsey.
  16. Manchester City - Yuck, this team is putrid. The Citizens will remain a small team in the shadow of their cross town behemoth Man United. The main reason I am picking this team so low is due to one man - Sven....he admitted that he signed a number of players due to their video tape evidence.....hmm ever thought of either a)sending scouts b)getting on a plane to watch for yourself? Sven used this same logic to select Walcott for the English World Cup squad. Rather than chasing around the media skirts, Eriksson should consider doing some managing. If he had not won the Italian league with Lazio he would be plying his "trade" at some back water team in Sweden.
  17. Reading - This team played above themselves last season, losing Sidwell to Chelsea will hurt. They will need some minor miracles to come close to matching their success from last year, I see relegation worries all season for Reading.
  18. Birmingham City - Any team relying on Forssell to carry the scoring is in trouble. I remember a game when the Finn was sitting on a brace and when a penalty shot was award, ran up to the spot and waved away Birmingham City's designated PK taker so that he could score his hat trick....hmmm selfish anyone?
  19. Wigan - After Chimbonda left a season ago I could not recognize any of the players. The same goes for this season. It was nice to see you Wigan.
  20. Derby County - The usual story, team finds a way to win a playoff in League Championship to get to the Prem, finds itself in the Prem and gets outclassed, finds its way back to the League Championship. At least their crest has a mutton on it....mmmmm mutton.
I am looking forward to the start of the season, I will be glued to Fox Soccer (although not sure why Derby is going to be showcased the first two weeks on Fox Soccer.....maybe I should get DirecTV so I can sign up for Setanta as well). I will be looking forward to the Sunderland v Man United game, Keane might cloths line SAF on the side lines, or first the first whine from Mourinho.....let the games begin!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Ligue 1 kicks off

This past weekend was the first week for France's Ligue 1. And no surprise, Lyon is back at top of the table, goals were sparse, and PSG could not find the back of the net. So here are some thoughts for the upcoming season:

  1. Lyon - yes they will make Ligue 1 boring, once again by winning their 7th straight title. But I think that this is going to be a tight race. Once again they lose more talent than they can replace - Abidal and Malouda gone and one player that is gone that is not getting as much attention - Tiago (after losing Essien and Diarra in past seasons). Lyon signed Italian defender Grosso to replace Abidal. They have signed two players from Caen - Bodmer and Keita. While neither is the same talent of Malouda, the combination of the two is a decent replacement for Malouda. The real question is who will replace Tiago. He was the quiet player on the Lyon team, coming over from Chelsea in the Essein swap he was the joker for Lyon in the their midfield. He could play a multitude of roles in the midfield. Moving to Juventus will create a big hole once again for Lyon. The major question mark will be can they survive 4 months without Coupet? But I think that Lyon has enough depth and talent to win Ligue 1 once again. Benzema is poised to have a break out season, Baros will have a full season, with the Brazilians still plying their trade for Lyonnaise - Cris, Fred and Juninho - they have too much for other clubs.
  2. Marseilles - Yes France's second city club will threaten Lyon, had they held on to Ribery I would give them a serious chance to unseat Lyon from top of France. They made some interesting signings this off season - securing Cisse full time, getting Zenden and signing Givet and Faty. The two latter to shore up the middle of the defense. Zenden will slot in next to Nasri to help manage the middle of the park. Cisse looks primed to make a full return after finally recovering from his horrible broken leg. I think he has a major chip on his shoulder to prove that he is the striker he once was with Auxerre. OM finished strong last season and have just enough to give Lyon a scare but with out 1 or 2 high class players (such as Ribery, and it could be worse if Inter grabs Nasri during the winter transfer window) they will not have enough.
  3. Lens - Les Sang et Or made a huge splash this off season by convincing Guy Roux to return to the management bench. Lens already had a solid 5th place last year and should build upon this result, I just cannot imagine Toulouse finishing third. Lens also brought in Kalou from PSG, I think away from the capital team, Kalou will demonstrate the true level of talent he has in his boots.
  4. Bordeaux - Les Girondins will challenge for top 5. Adding Alou Diarra to the roster might be the joker that Bordeaux needs. Diarra has always been chasing his "potential." Always one of those players deemed the next Vieira but never really living up to it. Micoud has a full season under his belt I think will be much more comfortable and at ease in Ligue 1. They still have a solid back stop in Rame and I think an intriguing first year manager - former French international Lauren Blanc. Blanc has talked a big game about how he would manage (he was in the running to take over the national team prior to the hiring of Domenech). This is his opportunity to prove himself.
  5. Monaco - The team from the principality always seems to creep up when least expected, I think this season is no different. With Koller and Piquionne up front, they will create some serious match up problems in the aerial game. Now maybe if anyone would show up to watch the games....
What about my team? PSG? Well they will struggle, they are in a transitional season under Le Guen. I think it is crucial that the powers that be at PSG allow their manager to mold the team and shape it. If they expect Champions League and Ligue 1 glory immediately they will once again be let down and will be going through their 14th manager in 2 seasons....PSG has not made any major off season signings other than resigning Rothen. They did allow Ypes and Kalou to leave, freeing up money and getting some underachievers out of Parc des Princes. I expect a good season from Luyindula and think that Le Guen has one or two tricks up his sleeve. If he is allowed to make the proper moves, PSG could rise back sooner rather than later, if he is sacked after 19 games then PSG will once again struggle.

League 1 will once again struggle to have free flowing football with goals and anyone to really challenge Lyon. I think this is the result of the constant exodus of talent from Ligue 1 to other nations. You would think this is due to not enough money, yet the Canal + deal with Ligue 1 is second richest in Europe behind BskyB with the Prem....however the taxes are so high that to give players the same net take home money it would take 20% - 30% in gross salary...making it difficult to retain players of the likes of Gourcuff, Ribery, Malouda, Essien, Diarra, to name a few of the talented players to have left Ligue 1 in the past few seasons.

It should be a fun season, Lyon will win again but will be challenged more than the past few seasons.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Coupet out!


France's #1 keeper tore knee ligaments today in a practice session and will be out for 4 months. This is difficult news for the 6 time French league champions, they are heading into the season with a new manager, their back up keeper for 4 months, and a number of new faces to integrate.

I think that Lyon will be okay without Coupet for the short term, more on that this week when I discuss the upcoming Ligue 1.

As for France, they have a very capable #2 in Landreau. They are heading into some difficult qualifiers - Italy and Scotland. Landreau has played a handful of games for the French but mainly against lesser opponents. These matches will be his first true highly competitive matches for Les Bleus. However, he has a long resume as a professional and has been very successful. He was one of the primary reasons PSG stayed in the top flight last season putting together some impressive games.

The positive is that Landreau will have time to prepare physically and mentally for the challenges ahead. What will be interesting is whether his performance against Italy and Scotland, assuming they are solid, will put into question the #1 spot for the French. Coupet is no spring chicken and Domenech has demonstrated he has no problem relegating Coupet to the bench (granted he did so by favoring an older Barthez). So let us hope that Landreau has some good matches and that France has the good problem of having 2 top national keepers.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Fred break with OL?

The Brazilian striker Fred is back in training with Olympique Lyonnais, however not all is well in Lyon. Fred has asked to meet with the directors of Lyon to resolve some "small personal problems." Hmmmm, is that code for "I want out?"

With the continued exodus from the French Champions could Fred be asking to move to greener pastures? Maybe a certain "french professor" in Northern London should take notice, he might fit nicely on the front line for the Gunners.