Thursday, October 25, 2007

Martin Jol out....

No stunner here, Martin Jol steps down from the Northern London club. After a disastrous start to the season the writing on the wall was there that the dutchman would not last. However does he deserve all the blame? I would say no. I think the majority of the blame should fall on the slim shoulders of Robinson.

Robinson has been nothing short of a disaster this season for both club and country. While I have never been convinced that he is a world class keeper, this season he has demonstrated that he might not be a #1 in the Prem. For whatever reason this season Robinson has decided that parrying shots into the middle of the 5 yard box is a new tactic. Against Liverpool for Tottenham and recently against Russia for England, Robinson decided to parry shots that were at his body right into the 5 yard box where the striker following the ball had a simple tap in. In both cases this cost Robinson's teams important points.

Too bad for Martin Jol that his transfer spending did not land him a pair of more reliable hands, cause that might have kept him in his job.

Champions League - what is happening to Liverpool

The Reds inexplicably lost to Beskitas last night in the Champions League, granted the game was in Istanbul, not the easiest place to play. But Benetiz's reds are in real danger of not qualifying for the knock out stage of the Champions League. After three games Liverpool sit last on 1 point, a fortunate draw away to Porto. Now Liverpool have the advantage of facing only one road match the rest of the way - away to Marseilles. Liverpool will have to make the most of their two matches in Anfield, otherwise Benetiz's season will be over....since no one really believes they will challenge for the Prem title.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ooooof - France passes and a new all time goal scorer

Oooof oooof oooooffff....Les Bleus find a way to crack the Lithuanian defense with two Henry goals late in the Euro qualifier. This game took on even greater importance after it was learned that Georgia had defeated the Scots 2-0 earlier throwing the group into increased confusion. First let us look at the France game.

I think the beauty of World Cup and Euro qualifiers is that games that you would otherwise not care about take on a huge importance....such as this one. France came out with some urgency, hitting the post twice in the first 10 minutes and were not unlucky in not securing a 1-0 lead early on. But as the first half pressed on it was apparent that Lithuania was not intimidated and were ready to allow the French to lay seige to their goal and defend, looking for the counter to try and steal a goal....which they almost did. After the early barrage of French pressure Lithuania found itself sitting on a golden opportunity in their only foray into French territory when in the 18th minute, Ksanavicius took one two French defenders, turned, somehow got free and curled a dangerous left footed shot that beat Landreau only to smack against the right goal post. The rebound was even more dangerous as it fell into the path of an on rush Lithuanian who inexplicably launched his shot high and wide when he had the entire goal to shoot at. This near fatal strike did not seem to phase Les Bleus as they continue to press on looking for the edge.

They appeared to make the break 12 minutes later when Malouda was second man in on a Ribery cross, only to have brave defending from the Lithuania defender deny him a goal. As well as a lively run from Benzema in the 37th minute only to have his shot skirt the right post.

The second half started much as had the first, with France pressing the Lithuania goal but only finding their finishing lacking. The French were unfortunate to not having 2 penalty kicks awarded after Ribery's kit was cleared pulled in the box and Henry was taken down after making the turn at the penalty spot. Domenech then inserted youngster Ben Afra, demonstrating the importance of winning the match was for Les Bleus. The young Lyon player had a chance to be a hero on a tricky pass from Ribery after he had beaten the keeper but not knowing what to do with a mid level ball Ben Afra tried to strike it home with his boot rather than attempting a diving header. It appeared that the Baltic nation may have once again found playing spoiler to a favorite, just as it had when it drew with the Italians earlier on in the campaign.

But the liberation would be found in the 79th minute when Titi would will his way to finding France a goal. At first it was questionable as to whether or not Ribery was in an off side position but a Lithuania defender clearly kept the play on side. With that goal, not only did Henry put France in a much better position to qualify but it pushed him ahead of French legend Platini to be the top scorer for the French national team with 42 goals. A few minutes later Henry latched on from a brilliant deep ball from Toulalan to increase his overall tally to 43 goals, making the score 2-0. A few minutes later France really should have added a third when Benzema found himself 1 on 1 with the keeper with a wealth of options....he could take it on himself or pass off to a wide open Henry to his right. Instead he tried to be cheeky and chip the keeper only to see a prone Lithuania keeper make a huge double save, one on Benzema and the second on a charging Malouda.

France would milk the rest of the match, with Lithuania conceding defeat. The game proved much more difficult than it should have, but shows what international football is about in modern times...even small nations can give the big teams major headaches. In the end France secured the essential, the full three points.

Some thoughts on the match -

The Good:

  • Benzema - while I remain a fan of Trezeguet and believe he has an important role on the French national team, it is evident that the young player from Lyon has some impressive skills and is a jewel of the future generation for Les Bleus. Granted, he was playing this week versus Faroe Islands and Lithuania, however he demonstrated an ability to take on defenders from the wing as well as from the top of the formation. He has an incredible acceleration and is not afraid to shoot. What he brings that is different than a Trezeguet is his ability to pick up the ball further up the park and carry it to the scoring zone. Manu Petit, commentating, made a good point that we should not get too caught up in the early irrational exuberance surrounding the youngster, but at 19 it appears that he might evolve into the next great French striker.
  • Toulalan - another player from Lyon....he had a solid first half but really picked up his game the second half. His energy and tackling allowed France to continually put the pressure on the team from the Baltics. He was the origin of the second goal but putting in a fantastic through ball from deep in the French camp.
  • Henry - I will admit that I have been at times critical of the talismatic Frenchman, but in scoring two goals today he not only emerged tops of the French all time scoring list but gave France an important 3 points in the race for the Euros. One could argue that it came against Lithuania but then again goals are goals, and these two might have put France one step closer to qualification.
The Bad
  • French defense - Granted they did not concede a goal, but the first half double miss by Lithuania should never have happened. The first action occurred when two French defenders had shut down the Lithuania striker but somehow allowed him to escape to get off a dangerous shot.
  • Domenech's selection - I guess the results speak for themselves, but I question insisting on putting Diarra at right back when his natural position is midfield. I understand why the Arsenal player has played that role at times for his club, mainly due to necessity. However with a player like Sagna on the bench why would he not be the #1 option? The corn rowed defender got a start against Faroe Islands, but not sure why he is not the #1 option with Sagnol out...
The Ugly
  • French finishing - Okay they scored the vital 2 goals and hit the post twice....but it should have been easier had they been able to finish. One major aspect is the lack of support from the midfielders in the attacking half. It appears at times that Les Bleus are efficient and clinical at getting the ball into the last 18, but then stand back and wait for the strikers to do the rest, rather than continuing to add support and putting pressure on the defense.
So what does this all mean? With Scotland inexplicably losing to Georgia, it all comes down to the Italy vs Scotland match. That match will be held prior to France traveling to Kiev. As it stands if Scotland lose to the Azurri, France are in regardless of their trip to Kiev. A Scotish victory or draw will mean France need a point from Keiv to go through....of course after what happened in World Cup '94 qualifying I am rooting for Italy to come out of Scotland with 3 points!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Trezeguet - black listed?

After Saha had to withdraw from France's upcoming Euro qualifiers it would appear that the replacement striker would fall on the shoulders of Trezegol....who was already snubbed from the initial list. However, Domenech called upon the Lyon youngster Ben Arfa to fill the slot. A bit of a curious choice, since the young winger has not been lighting Ligue 1 on fire and he has not been called up for the senior squad prior. Granted he has a good track record with the youth French national teams, winning a European Championship at the U-17 level. One theory pushed by the article is that Domenech may look to get some playing time for the youngster in order to avoid having him to potentially be poached by Tunisia, where he has dual nationality.

However the trend that is disturbing is the manner in which Domenech is handling his Juventus striker. For the past two seasons Domenech has appeared to target Trezeguet as his whipping boy. He shifted his World Cup team structure forcing Trezeguet to the bench, which the results demonstrated might have been the right choice. After the World Cup and due to his missed penalty kick, many thought Trezegol would retire from the national team, however he did not. With Juventus toiling in Serie B, Domenech used this as a reason for not selecting Trezegol. Which made no sense when the Franco-Argentinian would from time to time, find himself in France's blue. Domenech then went one step worse by sticking Trezeguet on the "A side" during a friendly against Slovakia, basically putting him on the JV team. And then Domenech recalls Trezeguet for the Scotland qualifier. So the Trezeguet yo-yoing continues. Which is ridiculous for a player of his caliber, a player that is currently a leading scorer in Italy....last time I checked Henry and Saha are not leading their domestic leagues with goal tallies.

Domenech has demonstrated an uncanny ability to mismanage the personal relationship side of being a national team manager. Granted, so far he has saved his job because he has survived due to his results - although barely....losing to Scotland twice is not good. Domenech has 3 games to go. If he qualifies France and does well next year in the European Championship, anything short of a semi final will be a failure, then I will grudgingly accept his style as national manager. If he stumbles, I am sure he will be out in which case my criticisms may prove well warranted.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Spurs deeper into the abyss

After a brace from Keane this weekend it appeared that Martin Jol would not only save his neck but might also see his underachieving Tottenham side start to creep back to where they belong. However a famous victory at the Kop was snatched away by a last minute goal by Torres....on a play where Chimbonda should have done a bit better than allow the Spanish striker a free jump to the ball. However the malaise can be seen across the entire club. Paul Robinson is looking very shaky these days. It can be argued that the free kick he spilled for Veronin to tap in was not up to his apparent caliber of play. However why were no Tottenham defenders following the pony tailed striker after the initial strike? At times Tottenham looked sluggish and out of sync. They could have put this match away during the run of play but never seemed to get the proper rhythm. It just felt that the North London players were assuming that at some point Liverpool would find the equalizer and that it was just a matter of time....which turned out to be a self fulfilling prophecy.

So where does this leave the Spurs? I think Jol will find himself out of a job post international break. I think his team is going through the motions and not playing anywhere near the level expected of them. I realize that King is out, and certain pundits point to this as causing instability on the Spurs back line, but I do not accept that. They still have what is considered world class players and defenders, it is unacceptable to allow so many leads slip away in the late stages of matches. Since you cannot fire the entire team, the Dutchman will be the one facing the prospects of getting the pink slip. Who will replace him? Not Mourinho, although that would be a great story line. I think Tottenham will have to find a care take manager, one that can ensure the Spurs stay in the Prem next season....which I woul dnot have thought would be a problem pre-season. Or do the North Londoners make a splash and go after Fabio Capello? You know the spectacled Italian will make sure the Tottenham defense does not sprout any more late match leaks.

This saga does overshadow something that must make the Anfield faithful cringe, the fact Liverpool has had a successful run of draws and poor performances. They cannot even turn to Champions League for solace having somehow lost to Marseilles at home. Benetiz is once again finding himself defending his rotation system and it becomes more clear to me that the Spaniard is better suited for knock out football. Games where he can tailor his rotation to meet the teams he is facing. When it comes to the Premiership, the rotation does his side no good when they need to get a rhythm for the long run, sustain it, and not worry about who is on the opposite side of the pitch. The Benetiz over thinking will once again cost the Reds a legitimate shot at the Premiership title.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Allez Les Bleus!!!!

Not in footie but rugby, another historic victory of the French over the heavily favored All Blacks from New Zealand. France proved all the pundits wrong and won a famous 20 - 13 quarter final match in Cardiff. Reminds me of another famous French victory over the New Zealanders in 1999 at Twickenham.

This sets up a huge semi final match versus historic rival England at the Stade de France. Maybe this will inspire their counterparts who kick a round ball to end qualifiers strong. France need to make and win the finals, otherwise this historic victory will ring a bit hollow.

Allez les BLEUS!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

France announce the team for next Euro round

Domenech announced yesterday the players he will be retaining for the next two matches against Lithuania and the Faroe Islands. A few surprises, but overall the usual suspects:

La sélection :
Gardiens :
Sébastien Frey, Mickaël Landreau, Ulrich Ramé

Défenseurs :
Eric Abidal, Julien Escudé, Patrice Evra, William
Gallas, Philippe Mexès, Bakary Sagna, Lilian Thuram

Milieux de terrain :
Abou Diaby, Lassana Diarra, Mathieu Flamini, Claude Makelele, Jérôme Rothen, Jérémy Toulalan

Attaquants :
Nicolas Anelka, Karim Benzema, Sidney Govou, Thierry Henry, Florent Malouda, Franck Ribéry, Louis Saha

So here is my major beef, and I might sound like a broken record....but why is Trezegol not on
the list? Domenech cannot use the "well he plays in Serie B" as an excuse anymore, Juventus is back in Serie A....and doing very well. He cannot use that Trezeguet is not showing results - he leads Serie A with 7 goals already. So what bullsh*t does Domenech us for not selecting the striker? "Because there is lots of competitors for the forward role..." huh? what? Lots of competition? Isn't that always the case for any half decent footballing nation?

So rather than taking one of France's leading scorers he decides that wants to instead include Manchester United's just back to the pitch striker - Saha. He has a whopping 2 goals for ManU this season, obviously far better than Trezegol's 7. And not that he would ever do this, but Henry has not been lighting it up in Spain...but he is the Teflon player.

What really surprises me, once again, is Domenech's short sightedness. He must realize that France are playing two weaker teams. Granted, if France cannot defeat the Faroe Islands without Trezeguet they do not deserve to go to the Euro. However, Lithuania demonstrated in the first game how they are going to approach Les Bleus - pack in the defense, defend the 18 yard box with 9 defenders. The perfect situation for a player that is a "fox of the box" a player that can also score from crosses and high balls. Not Saha, Henry, Ribery, or Malouda's strengths. What is really surprising to me is that in selecting Rothen, Domench has a player capable of launching clinical crosses into the box...would be nice to have someone that can do something with those crosses.

Finally, I think that this non selection is poor "people management" on the part of Domenech. His handling of Trezegeut has been nothing short of abysmal. He selects him, puts him on the bench, makes him play B' team games, starts him, and then does not select him for no good reason. Is Trezeguet to blame for the goalless two games the French suffered versus Italy and Last time I checked Henry was not lighting up the world at the San Siro. Last time I checked France did not beat Scotland as a team, not because of Trezegol.

Domenech is on the hot seat, he has to get three positive results over the next 3 games...and hope for some help. I think having the Turin striker as an option would make this task much easier....but I fear that if it comes does to getting a result in Ukraine and Trezegol some how has a role in a poor result, Domenech will have his whipping boy....not what this world class striker deserves.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Where Wenger will spend his millions

It is well publicized that Arsenal had a record year last season in terms of business and that Wenger is not sitting on a mountain of cash for the January transfer window. So this got me and Sam thinking while munching on $7.00 sandwiches at Fenway park. First, here are the areas that Arsenal need some depth if not a more viable starting option:

  • Keeper - Lamehands and Aluminumhands do not instill the greatest faith in me for either a deep Champions League run or a run in England. Yes Lehmann was an integral part of the team when it made its run to the Paris Champions League finals, but his form has drastically fallen since the 2006 season. Now the long term maybe in the hands of the Polish international, but that is down the road. For this season Arsenal has a glaring hole between the sticks.
  • Central defender - they need depth. If/when Gallas is healthy the defense is solid. With Gallas and Toure in the middle, flanked by Clichy and Sagna the Arsenal defense is strong, fast, and a bit nasty. The big hole is apparent when the Swiss version of Pascal Cygan is playing - Senderos. I keep hearing that Senderos will become a solid center back one day....not sure what day that will be, but it is certainly not on Sunday or any other day for that matter. I feel badly for Senderos, every time he plays he looks like a 5 year old that just had their lunch money stolen. I think he realizes he is completely over matched, he does not even position himself well.
  • Striker - I think they still need a true #1 striker. I realize that Adebayor is having a terrific start of the season....someone on Fox Soccer went so far as saying he was the best striker in the Premiership at this moment. But I am not convinced that the lanky Togolese striker is the answer to Arsenal looking to win silverware. He is a nice #2 striker but sooner rather than later teams will slow him down.
So where can Wenger go "shopping" this transfer season? Here are some players to keep in mind....some are a real stretches...okay probably most of them are -

  • Keeper - Make an offer to PSG for Landreau. Granted the French keeper is the only reason why PSG is not in Ligue 2 this season, but make them an offer. Wenger is adept at poaching players from PSG, remember him snatching an 18 year old named Anelka.
  • Central Defender - not sure who is out there, but here is a stretch - Japp Stam. He is not needed to play everyday, again this depends on Gallas returning to the pitch. Having the bald Dutchman would be a good part time player. And maybe Stam would jump at the chance to play for one of Manchester United's biggest rivals and stick it to SAF.
  • Striker - I am still a fan of Arsenal getting Anelka back. With Bolton on the verge of relegation it might be a good time to poach their former protege to come back to Northern London. But here is a stretch - Drogba. With Mourinho leaving Chelsea, it was clear that one player that was deeply affected was the Ivory Coast striker. There are few teams that could absorb his salary...Arsenal is one of those clubs. Maybe Drogba is angry enough to switch to the cross town rival. Maybe Chelsea would allow him to leave to give the owner's binky, Sheva, a chance to start more consistently, plus if Chelski gets Ronaldino, they will need to free up spots on the pitch for all the prima donas to play on.
So you could have a team consisting of the following -

Landreau - Sagna, Gallas, Toure, Clichy - Diaby, Cesc, Flamini, Van Persie - Adebayor, Drogba

Bench - Rosicky, Hleb, Gilberto, Stam, Bendtner, Eduardo, Eboue

Looks good to me! Maybe this is more for FIFA 2008....but one can always hope