Friday, December 26, 2008

Arsenal drop 2 points

Ugh, after being up 2-0 Arsenal once again find a way to not close out a game. The Gunners looked good after going up 2-0, although Villa had their chances hitting the post and watching Sagna make an acrobatic save off the line. What really frustrated me was Gallas' foul for the penalty kick, granted Gallas had a good game, except for that situation and it was not a necessary tackle. Agbonlahor was the only Villa player and Toure was tracking back covering the middle of the penalty box. Gallas could have just forced Agbonlahor to the end line, maybe he remembered what happened to him in the first match when the young Brit out paced Gallas to the ball to score a wonderful goal. Maybe Gallas felt he had to tackle the striker otherwise he would be outpaced.

The second goal is what is really frustrating, in injury time a deep ball into the box...and Arsenal were out numbered in the box. Ugh. How is that possible when you are in injury time and have a 1 goal lead on the road. Once again Arsenal do not know how to kill off a game. Very frustrating. Once again I think the issue of not have some veteran leadership and more importantly not having some toughness on the pitch is what is cursing Arsenal. Come on Wenger get some of both during the transfer window...otherwise the UEFA cup might be in the Gunners future.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Arsenal down and out?

Bad news from North London with Cesc suffering a ligament injury causing him to potentially miss up to 4 months. Ugh. Does this spell the end for Arsenal's quest for silverware this season? The Gunners were already desperately thin in the midfield and losing their best midfielder will not rectify that situation. Will Wenger go out and buy a replacement? I am sure he will look for one but who is out there that is an equal replacement? Here are some ideas...some are off the wall I will admit:

  • Sessegnon from PSG. The Benin midfielder is very versatile he can play the #10 role or lie deeper to sit just in front of the defenders. PSG just bought him over the summer transfer window so not sure they will want to see him go especially since he is a key to PSG's turn around this season However PSG is under a tight financial situation so if the price is right, they might decide to allow him to leave. It was rumored that Wenger was looking at the player this summer before he left for PSG so it is clear the interest is there. Could the Cesc injury be the motivating force behind going out and purchasing the player?
  • Toure...Yaya that is. Arsenal has always been linked to the international midfielder. Would Wenger go out and pay the money necessary to secure his services? Barca is leading the league in Spain and has a chance to capture another Champions League title so they might be hard pressed to allow their midfielder to leave, plus he would be unable to play the Champions League for Arsenal.
  • Here is a crazy idea - Vieira ... Pat has never been the same since he left the Gunners. Rumor is he is breaking down under the difficult training tactics by the Italians. He is also being forced to play out of position - wide and not in the central role he excels at. Could he be had for short money? Allowed to come back to the club that made him a star? Crazier things have happened, but he could be a good stop gap for the rest of the season.
Wenger seems to believe he has the necessary resources within his own club already, but I doubt that since he was thin with Cesc...without him it is almost disastrous. Come on Wenger show your genius talent assessment again this transfer window!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Champions League draw....bad news for the Frenchies

The Draw for the knock out stage of the Champions League:

Chelsea v Juventus
Villarreal v Panathinaikos
Sporting Lisbon v Bayern Munich
Atletico Madrid v Porto
Lyon v Barcelona
Real Madrid v Liverpool
Arsenal v Roma
Inter Milan v Manchester United

Ouch ouch ouch...the Frenchies are in a tough position - Lyon and Wenger. A quick look at the pairings:

  • Chelsea will beat Juve but it will be very close. Intrigue that Juve's current boss used to manage the Blues. Too much midfield talent at Stamford Bridge for the old lady.
  • Villareal will be upset by the Greeks! Tough leg to play in Athens.
  • Bayern over the Portugese. The Bundesliga champs draw one of the easier clubs, have too much fire power in Ribery, Klose and Toni.
  • The other Madrid club...Athletico, gets by Porto. Not many outside Iberia will be intrigued, but this should be a good match up.
  • Ugh, tough tough tough draw for Lyon...Barca is the best club in Europe right now, with all the problems the Lyon team faces on defense I am not sure they can stop Eto'o, Henry, Messi, Bojan, et al. Barca win handily.
  • Interesting match up on two very successful Champions League clubs and two managers that are masters of knock out competitions. I think that the Premiership title chase is too much for Benetiz and Real find a way to get past Liverpool, but could go either way.
  • Yuck, another tough match up for the Frenchies - Wenger et al. Roma is in good form right now and the trip to Italy will be very difficult. I think much depends on what happens for Arsenal during the transfer window....if they lose more experience, aka Gallas. I think they will have a tough time of it. However I think Arsenal will find a way to draw at Roma and win at home 1-0. Arsenal through....barely.
  • Ah Mourinho vs Ferguson, two of the most capable...and arrogant managers. There are so many story lines here, one of which would be is this a match up of the current and future Manchester United managers? Mourinho is almost highly motivated but facing ManU will only add to his desire to demonstrate his specialness. If anyone knows how to go to Old Trafford and win it is Jose. I see this being a mouth watering match up, but in the end the Red Devils get through.
Mind you, this is my first take so I am sure once I start thinking about this more I will change all my predictions! I am glad that ManU did not end up with Sporting or Panathinikos, but Lyon playing Barca is cruel fate for the French champs.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Real Madrid thinking big for next year....already.

The rumors and heat that revolve around Real Madrid is always the source of good stories. The latest one being an oldie but goodie: Manchester United's talisman, winger Christiano Ronaldo heading to Real Madrid. Those rumors were running wild and crazy prior to the Euros last summer, and much like I have stated in the past where there is smoke there is most definately fire when it comes to transfer rumors. I think this is a done deal. Real Madrid and Ronaldo were so clearly demonstrating their undying love for one another last summer it was nauseating, the only thing that held back the deal was SAF and ManU. I doubt they will resist the offers coming from Spain this time around. For Ronaldo, it makes perfect sense. What else does he have to prove and win for Manchester United? He has bought them Premiership titles and Champions' League glory. The season he had last campaign will be very difficult if not impossible to replicate. He needs new challenges. Unlike players like Scholes and Giggs, he has no roots with the Red Devils nor loyalties to SAF...even wonderkid Beckham from the ManU development program was sent packing.

With all this in mind, I cannot see Manchester United turning down what ever ridiculous offer Real Madrid throws at them. The future Manchester United is going to revolve around Rooney and SAF will use those massive treasure chest to build around the British striker. Real Madrid will again wow the footballing world with a crown jewel...and remain dysfunctional.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The holidays....and winter transfer window fast approaching!

With Christmas just a week away, wow I should think about doing some Xmas shopping, I figured it was time to think about which players would be on the move once the January transfer window opens. A few thoughts -

  • LDiarra from Portsmouth is all but signed and delivered to be heading to Real Madrid for a small sum of 20m pounds...wow. Diarra will now have been at 4 clubs in basically 2 years - Chelsea, Arsenal, Portsmouth and now Real Madrid. He is approaching Anelkaesc movement of teams. It is not a surprise that Diarra is leaving the south of England for a top notch European club, I was always a bit shocked that he left Arsenal...not totally shocked since he was sitting behind Flamini as the holding midfielder (Arsenal could use him this season). I hope that Diarra finds some stability at Real. He will have some competition at the position from Gago and Diarra (not related). Now Diarra is hurt, but should be back at some point. However, I think that LDiarra could develop into Reals new Makelele...or decide to move in the summer transfer window.
  • Marseilles - They seem to be going after every tier 2 offensive players - Podolski and Savidan - on the market. The irony is that Marseilles had the top of the diamond striker they desire when Cisse was not back in England. I think OM sees this season as an opportunity to threaten Lyon at the top of the table, and to do so they will need another striker. I say they get Podoloski on a loan for the rest of the season.
  • The Arsenal rumor mill is rather quiet, then again do they even have any money to go out and acquire a player? Or do they see Eduardo's potential return in the second half of the season as equivalent to a transfer addition? Granted, there are some stories that Inter want Bendtner...hmmmm not sure why, but maybe Mourinho just wants to stick it to Wenger from Italy. Of course the biggest rumor is that Gallas is on his way out, especially after his captain's armband being taken away from him. But where could he go? Here is a crazy thought - PSG could take him. PSG has had a surprisingly good first half of the season and will be looking to build to at least challenge for Champions League football...or gasp....a Ligue 1 title. There were some mild rumors this past summer that PSG would make a push for the French central defender, the situation seems ripe now for that to occur.
  • Speaking of Paris...PSG maybe a player in the transfer market this January. With wins over Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseilles, PSG must see that they have a real chance of challenging for the top step on the podium (in addition Lyon keeps dropping points). The strangest rumor is Hourau for Adriano....hmmmm. Why would PSG want to get rid of their tall striker that plays well partnering with Guily. And why would PSG want Adriano? The player that is one dinner and binge night away from spiraling back into a black hole. I do think a move for a Gallas would be very intriguing, giving PSG some more steel on the back line and allow Gallas to redefine his club career. Could PSG also go after Briand from Rennes after failing in their bid this past summer. It never hurts to add some quality players, but I have never been convinced Briand is the offensive star the media hypes him up to be.
These are just some thoughts, the rumors will start flying fast and furious. Looking forward to the crazy transfer season.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ramos ends up at Real

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/europe/7773422.stm

After being let go from Tottenham, Ramos ends up back in Spain running one of Europe's most famous sides - Real Madrid. Is this a surprise? No. First Schuster has been on the hot seat for a while, and the fact he publicly came out and said that Real Madrid had no chance of defeating Barca in their next domestic league match....um not really a smart statement if you are looking to keep your job and give your team motivation. Second, Ramos came to Tottenham with a world of expectations after leading Sevilla to back to back UEFA cup titles. He quickly demonstrated his ability to win cups by leading Tottenham to the Carling Cup. Of course he made some questionable choices in the off season by allowing his top two strikers leave without a true replacement plan. This showed with Tottenham having the worst start to a championship season. However, he knows Spain very well and is heading to a club that is one of the top 2 teams in the nation, at Tottenham he was not even at a top 2 club in his city.

Ramos should have some success, he has talent, even with all the injuries at Real. Will Schuster come out and over turn the deficit to bring back the league title? Doubtful. But he should give the team some direction and structure. He might even make a good run at the Champions League, much like Benetiz he is a master at game to game planning in a knock out competition.

The true conclusion to all is - the Real Madrid merry go round continues, for such a storied club they appear to have very little stability....just think how good they could be if they had a SAF or Wenger there for 10 years....

Monday, December 08, 2008

Anyone notice...Ligue 1 is competitive!!!

I must admit, I had Olympique Lyonnaise sized up for their 8th straight league title prior to the season starting. But after 17 matches Lyon has a slim 3 point lead over Marseilles and is only 5 points ahead of the 5th place team - PSG. Unlike prior seasons, the Ligue 1 title might play itself out until late into the season. To what do we owe this competitiveness? A few things.

  • Lyon has dropped with regards to their depth and talent. It would be impossible for a team to sustain such a high level when they have regularly lost some top players. Lyon were not just losing high performing players for Ligue 1 but players that are world class - Diarra, Essein, Malouda, Coupet, and Malouda to name a few. While they have done a good job adding the top talent in the French league, they have not added the world class level they have seen leaving. In addition, Lyon is not getting younger. Players such as Juninho are starting to show their age. There remains a tremendous amount of young talent - Lloris, Benzema, Pjanic, and Mounier to name a few. But these players are young and still have a ways to go (the latter two more than the former two). However it is very difficult to do what Lyon has already achieved, the fact they remain on top of the table is nothing to sneeze at, but compared to their prior seasons it gives pause that they might be caught!
  • The challengers - teams such as Marseilles, Rennes, and Bordeaux have done some interesting things to contend, namely adding some important talent. Bordeaux went out and got Gourcuff from Milan and Marseilles added, from OL, Ben Arfa. However the club that is most surprising, pleasantly for me, is PSG. They went out and got some veterans - Guily and Makelele as well as taking chances on second division players like Hourau. It has taken some time, but PSG looks like it has found itself. They have already defeated, Marseilles, Lyon and Bordeaux this season. I also think the play of Landreau has thrusted PSG back into contention. It will be interesting to see if these clubs go out and purchase players during the winter break to really challenge OL.
  • The pressure of success I think has worn on OL. Winning the league title is not the most important for Lyon. They have clearly dominated league play for the past 7 seasons...but they have always missed on the ultimate prize - Europe. I think Lyon needs to at least get to a Champions League finals, and really needs to win European silverware for this winning run to be truly categorized as "legendary." They have reached the 1/4 finals a few times, the hardest being in 2006 losing an apparent ticket to the 1/2 finals at the San Siro when they fell apart in the last 5 minutes to a battling AC Milan team. Has this pressure mounted on Lyon? And if it has, does it show in their play?
I will not pick again Lyon to win another title, but I think that the French league will be one worth watching this season, unlike the past few that have been victory laps for Lyon starting in February.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Eboue all done at the Emirates?

Ah things are never simple with Arsenal. They managed to hold on for the full 3 points against Wigan this past weekend, but the story to me was the injury to Nasri which led to Eboue playing the bulk of the game and the fact he was brought off to a torrent of boos. Where they all deserved? Maybe...he did give away a few atrocious balls and somehow was not sure what to do when Toure had a head of steam with the ball. Or were some of the boos pent up frustration by the Arsenal fans at the one time rising player at Arsenal? Interesting as well, when Gallas went on his tirade a few weeks back he mentioned a player who was 6 years younger than himself...Eboue being one of the candidates. Do the patrons at the game know something we don't? Another post with some video -

http://gunnerblog.com/?p=1275




Overall an important but nervous 3 points for the Gunners, they had plenty of chances to put the game away but appeared nervous and disjointed for much of the second half. Again going back to my contention that veteran leadership is lacking in this side once again.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Arsenal down again?

Ah, after a great win over city rivals Chelsea they crash out of the Carling Cup against Burnley, I will have to look at my FIFA 2008 game later tonight to see if I can find Burnley (ok they are in 4th place of the Coca Cola Championship...but still). I realize that Wenger values the Carling Cup about as much as he reveres 33 year old veteran players, but I think this was a lost opportunity for Arsenal. I know Wenger wants to play his youth during these competitions and has stuck to his philosophy, a few years back he still fielded a youth side in the finals of the Carling Cup against Chelsea's first team. Yet the last time Arsenal has won any silverware Vieira was still wearing the captain's armband for the Gooners, Republicans controlled DC and Obama was only a junior senator from Illinois. Maybe Wenger would see winning some trophies as important for the club. I am not arguing that he should not try to play the bulk of his youth, but maybe think about adding some veteran help from the first team.

I fear that Arsenal will end this season without silverware again, why? I think the Prem is out of the question, I just do not see Arsenal with the depth or consistency to challenge Chelsea or Manchester United for the title (I think Liverpool will fade as always). The FA Cup is a crap shoot, and the Champions League I think will be too difficult for Arsenal. Unlike a few seasons back when Arsenal went to the finals, they do not have the right combination of veterans and youth to make a deep run.

Come on Wenger, try to win all the silverware you can, because you never know when you will have a chance to win trophies. Adding trophies is just as important for a club as is the opportunity to give your youth some game action.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Arsenal's frustrating season continues

Why do I say it is frustrating? Because how can you lose to Stoke, Manchester City and Hull, draw against Tottenham when you have a 2 goal lead in the 89th minute and then turn around and beat Manchester United and Chelsea. Similar to the past few seasons, Arsenal just seems to tease the fans with some great performances only to follow with a series of less than top notch performances. For Arsenal to challenge for a title they need to win games against the middle and bottom of the table on a regular basis while hoping to hold serve against the other "big 4." Arsenal needs to win or draw games as they did against the Red Devils and Blues, which they have been able to do so in the past...but they frustratingly lose to teams they should beat!

I have harped on this in the past, but to me this is due to a lack of veterans and of toughness that allow Arsenal to play to the level of their competition. Without players like Pires, Vieira, Bergkamp, Edu, Gilberto, Henry, Campbell, etc Arsenal do not have the leadership to motivate and get the team up for a game against Stoke just as it would against Chelsea. The road to a Premiership title is a slog, especially in the cold hard winter months. Arsenal needs to start rethinking some of their strategies when it comes to veterans, otherwise I fear this maddening inconsistency will only get worse.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Arsenal in disarray

Not sure what to make of the latest news coming out of North London. Gallas has been striped of his captain's arm band and left at home while the Gonners travel to Manchester to play the citizens. This was a long time coming. Gallas ended last year in turmoil, acting irrationally and child like on more than one occasion. However, based on what is being reported, I am not sure what Gallas has to say is that earth shattering, some quotes:

  • "We are not brave enough in battle,' Gallas said. 'I think we need to be soldiers. We have to be warriors. There are teams who can do it well against us, and we have to be able to face up to these attacks."
  • "We are coming up against teams who are not scared to play football against us, who are not scared to take us on at our place, and this is becoming dangerous for Arsenal."
  • "There was a problem at half-time of the 4-4 draw with Tottenham," he said. "The only thing that I could say at half-time was 'guys, we resolve these problems after the match, not at halftime'."
Again, overall I do not see any of these statements as so ghastly. What this makes me wonder is the following - do these outbursts indicate a greater malaise within the Arsenal camp? Over the past few seasons Arsenal have seen their veterans - Henry, Vieira, Pires, Gilberto, Edu, Ljungberg, Campbell, to name a few, retire or be allowed to walk away - while stocking up on the youth movement. Has this come to haunt Wenger? Is there a lack of leadership at the Emirates?

I think that Gallas' statements ring some truth. I have criticized Arsenal, since they let Vieira walk, for a lack of leadership and toughness. The Gunners have always maintained their ability to play beautiful football, but they have lost an ability to grind out the wins you need to have to have success in the Premiership. Wenger has always been a master of finding the diamonds in the rough, and getting young talent on the cheap. However he has not done a good job holding on to veteran players, the players you need to hold the ship together (Flamini anyone?). Look at the on field bust up last season between Adebayor and Bendtner, that would never have happened with a Vieira around. Arsenal need to get the ship righted, and now, otherwise they will never see any hardware any time soon. Gallas may be the one punished for speaking out, but maybe what he is only pointing out that all is not well at Arsenal.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another friendly or a chance for a change?

Les Bleus will head into a difficult friendly today versus South American nation - Uruguay in Paris. Domenech, as usual has announced an interesting list of players for the match (the original list):

La sélection française :
Gardiens :
Hugo Lloris (Lyon)
Steve Mandanda (Marseille)
Yohann Pelé (Le Mans)

Defenseurs :
Gaël Clichy (Arsenal)
Julien Escudé (FC Séville)
Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
Rod Fanni (Rennes)
William Gallas (Arsenal)
Philippe Mexès (AS Roma)
Bakary Sagna (Arsenal)
Mikaël Silvestre (Arsenal)

Milieux de terrain :
Alou Diarra (Bordeaux)
Lassana Diarra (Portsmouth)
Yoann Gourcuff (Bordeaux)
Samir Nasri (Arsenal)
Jeremy Toulalan (Lyon)
Patrick Vieira (Inter Milan)

Attaquants :
Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea)
Karim Benzema (Lyon)
Jimmy Briand (Rennes)
Thierry Henry (Barcelone)
Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich)
Steve Savidan (Caen)

Escude, Sagna and LDiarra are already out due to injuries...of course Boumsong was called back into the squad...why I am not sure. But some thoughts:

The Good:
  • I like seeing Fanni back in the roster, he will most likely start for Les Bleus on the right side of the defense. He has shown some talent for both his club Rennes and for France when he has had the opportunity. Many have compared him to Thuram, not a minor comparison to make, while this is a lofty stature to live up to I think that Fanni can do so. Does this mean that Sagna is out? No. But I think France should be in good shape on the right side of the defense for years to come.
  • Speaking of the defense, the left side is in good shape as well. Evra and Clichy are both world class wide defenders. Clichy final opened his goal account a few matches ago for Arsenal so should be full of confidence. Evra remains a constant for Manchester United. I would like to see Clichy starting on the left side for France, but either player would be a valid option. I think that Clichy has shown he works very well with Nasri and that would be a good combination to develop for Les Bleus...more on this later in the posting.
  • Speaking of Nasri, I have been reading some comments about how Gourcuff has done better in two matches for France than Nasri, even thought the young Gunner has been more hyped. I would beg to differ on that statement. While I am an unabashed fan of Gourcuff, I am also a fan of Nasri, but not in the middle of the pitch. I think that France needs to leverage Nasri much as Arsenal does, on the flank leveraging his pace and talent to widen the pitch. I realize Henry appears to be the favorite on the left but is he really the long term solution? While he should still be effective in South Africa, if France makes it, he will be on the back half of his career.
  • Vieira, I like seeing Pat back in the squad. Now let us hope that he actually gets on the pitch. I think it he is the true leader of the squad, but same as Henry he might be getting close to the end. So while a good thing for this match, not sure a long term solution.
The Bad:
  • Um Jean Alain Boumsong ....what is Domenech doing???? Why? What is going on...I am not sure what to make of this. I am without words. Boumsong is terrible. He should never see a France kit unless it is when he is on the Champs D'Elysee at the Adidas store. There are other players that should get a chance to show their wares in the middle of the France defense. If he gets on the pitch rather than Mexes I will go bananas.
The Ugly:
  • Boumsong...he is just terrible. I'm sorry I just cannot believe that he still has a place on the French team.
  • The keepers, This is not a criticism of Pele, Mandanda or Lloris, they are all solid keepers and I think they are the future of the French national team. But what is ugly is the situation with Frey. Frey is clearly one of the top 2 keepers in the Serie A, it is really between him and Buffon. Yet, Domenech treats him as if he is a second string keeper for the LA Galaxy, forcing Frey to renounce on the French national team and then during a press conference Domenech goes on to say that Frey is always selectable....um....ok. Hey Domenech learn some personal skills and give us some reasons with your rhyme. Frey should be France's #1, Mandanda and Lloris the back ups. Landreau should also still be in the mix. Once again Domenech is showing his questionable strategy/tactics/tact when it comes to his team and players. I am sure that Deschamps would have brought back France's best keeper into the mix.
France should go out with the following squad:

Lloris/Mandanda

Clichy, Mexes, Gallas, Fanni

Vieira, Toulalan

Nasri, Gourcuff, Ribery

Benzema

Let us see if we can get the old guard - Vieira - back into the mix. Let us try out, what I think is the attacking future for France, Nasri - Gourcuff - Ribery - Benzema. I think the second half we can test Anelka up front with Henry on the wing. I think the real area to be tested is the defense, and more specifically the middle of the defense. The wide defenders are fine, there is talent and depth there, it is really the middle of the defense. Who will be the one to partner with Gallas? And who will be the long term option? Mexes is the clear option, he is one of Italy's best defenders and should be a main stay for the French defense. I think the Uruguay team will be a good test for France, they are not a top tier nation but will offer a stern test for France.

Prediction - France 3 Uruguay 1: Benzema 2, Anelka 1.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Landycakes in Europe?

Latest news is that Landy cakes will try his hand in Europe football again. He might be heading back to Germany, this time with Bayern Munich.

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iUd7ZCg8vvue2Sc7r38z1l08GSAg

Hmmmm...interesting. I guess the surfing has gotten better in Germany...but anyways. When I first saw these rumors I was scratching my head about this move. Landy Cakes has never demonstrated the back bone to play at a higher level of footie. The first and only time he attempted the European adventure he came scurrying back to the states with his tail between his legs. His excuse was something about missing the surfing of California etc etc.....Now, Landy Cakes is not old at all, really entering the prime of his career, so maybe the move back to Europe is a good idea. However has he really shown anything during his time in the MLS to give anyone hope that he will be anything but a substitute at Bayern? He has led the MLS in scoring, but plays for a horrible team and has not carried them to any glory. He has done well in high pressured matches between the US and Mexico....however he was a timid shell of himself in the World Cup Germany. So which player could show up in Europe?

I think that the timid player we last saw on the global stage during Ghana vs United States will be the one that shows up more than less. I think Donovan will not be ready for the rigorous of training and playing when it is cold and snowing out during the December and January months. I am also hesitant to see him playing a much more intense schedule between league games, cup games and Champions league games.

In the end I think this is the right move for him, he needs to find out if he can play club soccer at the highest level. However I doubt he will be as successful as he thinks he can be. The true test will be his ability to handle the adversity and set backs he is destined to encounter. I see him playing 1 or 2 seasons with Bayern, sitting on the bench and will eventually find himself at either a smaller club in Germany or elsewhere in Europe. I do not see him ending up in Spain or England.

Good luck Landy Cakes, hopefully your time will be worth it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Back to the future - Argentina looks to Diego as their new manager

When I started hearing the rumor I thought to myself "this is crazy, the man has done nothing but become an embarrassing caricature of himself the past few years." But it appears that Diego will now become the new manager of the Argentinian national team...um...okay. This man does not paint the picture of the "ideal" candidate: cocaine abuse, firing guns at reporters, hanging out with Castro, becoming a fat whale, getting his stomach stapled....etc etc. This is the same man that has been seen at La Bombonera, shirt off egging on the crazed Boca fans, great for someone who is a fan but not someone who is suppose to be running a national side, let alone one that aspires to major titles.

This selection is fraught with risk. While Diego remains a hero in his homeland, how long will that last once Argentina hits some rough roads? Does he have any experience selecting a team? Training a team? Being the spokesperson for his nation? no no no to the above. Yes he was his nation's captain during his playing time, but he led more by being the best player on the pitch than by his locker room leadership skills. He has never managed anything other than his cocaine habit. Argentina has the talent to be one the best teams in the world, they are young, experienced and loaded across the pitch. I fear that putting an irrational, untested, national icon such as Diego, in charge may waste this generation of Argentinian talent. Too bad

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Domenech wake up

I wonder if Domenech watches Serie A...to see that the best French keeper is Frey. Mandanda and Lloris might be the future, but Frey needs to be the now...too bad Domenech is too stubborn and has he personal skills of a cheese grater.

PSG scores a huge win

PSG beat their ancient rival, Marseilles, 4-2 this past weekend. The game continues to be discussed for a multitude of reasons - OM had a real chance to threaten Lyon and their title run, the rise of PSG and Ben Arfa not seeing the pitch and his subsequent pouting.

The game went back and forth, a typical Paris - Marseilles derby match. What struck me the most was that finally Hourau looked a bit more dangerous that beginning of the season. While he is not going to have anyone mistaken him for Ronaldo, he is starting to play more like the goal scorer/poacher that PSG needs to have any success. There remains many games to go, but this is promising for PSG.

What is less promising is what went down with Ben Arfa. The French starlet did not start the game and then refused to come into the game at the half time. Granted he apologized publicly after the match, but what does this say about the mentality of the player? The fact he did not take the pitch, too protest the fact he was not a starter is inexcusable. This behavior is not entirely surprising from Ben Arfa, he has been dogged by a bad attitude, and I think that attitude is what kept clubs such as Arsenal away from him during the past transfer season. Ben Arfa will need to work on his attitude, he has the talent, but if he does not have the right head on his shoulders he will waste away and never live up to his tremendous potential.

A great win for PSG, but there remains a lot of footie to go...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tottenham - relegated?

The London club is in real danger of being dropped this season, not a huge surprise when you sell your top two strikers and get.....no one to replace them. Smart. As of right now, both Tottenham and Newcastle would be relegated...ha.

A week to digest Les Bleus

Ok the international break has been over for a few days and we are back to club footie, and due to my travel I have not been able to reflect on the matches played by Les Bleus. I have however had plenty of time to think about the Romania game to some extent the friendly against Tunisia.

First the important match, the one in Romania for World Cup qualifying. I was able to watch the match on TV5, and for the first 20 minutes wished the game had not been broadcast. Quick recap, France looks like disjointed defensively the first 20 minutes and then mount a comeback that gets them a point for the draw and could have easily been the full 3 points of a win. Some thoughts:

The Good:
  • Gourcuff, after his strong showing against Serbia (prompting me to search for a Gourcuff kit while at the Adidas store on the Champs D'Elysee, they did not have his number and name, but I am sure that will change now) he followed up that showing with an encore that included an assist and a spectacular goal, his first for Les Bleus. In the young man from Brittany, France might have the piece they have been missing since Zizou retired - a #10, someone to pull the offensive strings for the team. While I am not ready to even place Gourcuff in the same time zone as Zidane or Platini, he has demonstrated an ability and willingness to take on defenders with his dribbling, look for the deadly thru balls, attempt the school yard back heel or flick on, and is not afraid to attempt to test keepers from long range. This is what France has been dearly missing, and was evident this summer at the Euros (amongst many deficiencies in the French game). His partnership with Ribery is especially intriguing, the two players linked up on more than one occasion carving up the Romanian defense. The future is very bright for Yoann.
  • Speaking of Ribery he too was very good, scoring an important goal before the end of the half cutting the deficit in half. For his first game back in Blue the Bayern man looked dangerous running at the defense and linking up with Gourcuff. He also demonstrated his emergence as a leader for the French team, his work rate after the second Romania goal was what kept the French afloat. The partnership between Ribery and Gourcuff might be the cornerstone for Les Bleus for years to come.
The Bad:
  • The French defense, was absolutely TERRIBLE. They dug themselves a nice 0-2 hole after 17 minutes. The first goal was on a poor effort from Evra who fell asleep at the wheel allowing his man to run right by him to latch onto a long through ball to fire Romania up 1-0. And of course, my good friend Boumsong did not shower himself in glory once again. France has the talent defensively - Mexes, Clichy, Evra, Sagna, Gallas, Squillaci all play a big time European clubs, but for some reason the French defense remains a huge enigma.
  • What about Malouda? His form for Chelsea is finally coming up to the level he demonstrated while at Lyon. Yet for France he appears lost. He got a surprise start on the left side but was completely invisible and substituted out well before the end of the first half. Is this the last we will see of the talented left wing? With Nasri, Ben Afra, and even veterans Henry threatening to assume the responsibility for the left side of the French attack, the Chelsea man might only be in Blue at Stamford Bridge.
  • Have I mentioned that Boumsong is absolutely terrible? He jumped 3 inches on the second goal, last I checked he is a central defender with some size and on set pieces is suppose to stick his head in there to clear the ball, not allow an attacking player to easily out jump him for an open header at the net.
The Ugly:
  • Boumsong, yes once again he qualifies for both Bad and Ugly. And what is really ugly is that he got the start in the friendly against Tunisia. That makes no sense to me. First of all, the only reason he was on the squad was due to the injury to Gallas, so technically he is your 4th or 5th best central defender, yet he gets to start both games???? That makes no sense what so ever to me. Why was Mexes not starting the friendly? I realize he is a player I love to hate, but there is plenty there not to like...Les Bleus will go no where with that donkey in the middle of the defense.
  • Defending set pieces, the French defense was overall bad but defending set pieces was UGLY. It is incomprehensive that a team cannot defend corners or free kicks. You would think it was a team of 7 year olds just learning the game. The goal on the corner kick was terrible and in some perverse way humorous, you could almost see it coming, the French defense flat footed and allowing a free run at the ball.
  • The fact Domenech still has his job is pure ugly. He should have been sacked minutes after France got humiliated at the Euros. The fact he remains in charge is preposterous. He continues to make questionable decisions with regards to selecting players. He appears to have no desire to work with the talent around him - how do you explain the whole Mexes fiasco? He continues to alienated players. And remains standoffish and aloof with the fans and media. Also, can he practice defending set pieces? Is that too much to ask? I fear that sticking with Domenech may waste the talented youth that France has...
The trip to Romania, was thankfully, not the disaster that it could have been. Being down 0-2, I was ready to see Les Bleus dig themselves into a deep hole for South Africa 2010, but they fought back and dominated the game. When France shifted Henry to the left, Benzema up front with Gourcuff sitting in the middle and Ribery on the right, they looked very dangerous. If you look at this offensive combo it is very young, with only Henry the "elder statesman" but you also have Nasri and Ben Arfa that will contend to hold that left channel. I could even see Remy or Gouffran getting a look soon to fill those roles. The holding roles are also in good hands - Toulalan and Diarra look like they will be able to hold down those roles.

What terrifies me is the defense. There is talent there, but there does not seem to be the system or partnership in place. Mexes - Gallas? Gallas - Abidal? Mexes - Squillaci? Boumsong? The right and left side are well served - Clichy might be getting a leg up on Evra and on the right Sagna is quickly cementing his place. The problem is with the central pairing. Mexes needs to be in the mix, but Domenech appears to be hot and cold with him. Gallas will be there but needs to develop a partnership and soon. Also, I think Mandanda has a wealth of talent and is the long term solution in goal, but I find Domenech's jettisoning of Landreau and Frey as irresponsible. Neither man really did anything to deserve that fate. I think Frey should be France's #1, he is clearly the best keeper in Serie A and has been that for a few seasons. However for whatever reason Domenech decides he will be discarded to the rubbish heap...stupid.

France have some talent and have the pieces, I fear that Domenech in his stubbornness and inability to properly manage might see this talent waste away.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Euros look like the NHL playoffs

Ok I realize this is relatively old news, but I have been busy! However still need to discuss this idiotic idea that the UEFA Euros will go from 16 teams to 24 teams in 2016. Obviously this was done with one motivator - MONEY. Pretty soon the Euros will have more teams in the tourney than the World Cup! 24 teams is basically half of the 53 member European nations...eliminate sides such as Andorra, Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, and Lichtenstein (no offense to those nations) and basically any and every nation that has a half decent soccer pedigree should qualify for the tournament. Ugh. Sounds a lot like the NHL playoffs...

I think that at 16 the tournament is perfect, granted I am a purist and loved it when it was 8 nations. However at 16 you still have most of the heavyweights in the tournament, as well as 1 or 2 surprises. With 16 nations, you were guaranteed to have solid groups, difficult group games, surprise nations (see Russia and Turkey) going far, exciting tournaments, and meaningful qualifiers. I fear that much of that will disappear with the expansion. While it will only add one more round to the knock out stages, it will dilute the group stages and more importantly make qualifying a formality for the heavyweights. Now speaking as a irrational die hard fan of one of those heavyweights, I am happy to assume France will qualify for the Euros from now on, but as a footie fan I think it is a bit silly. Let us look at the last Euros and see who would have rounded out the tourney:

The eight additional teams could have been:
  1. England
  2. Scotland
  3. Serbia
  4. Norway
  5. Ireland
  6. Bulgaria
  7. Northern Ireland
  8. Denmark
Um ok, all solid teams, but seriously. Look at the next "top nations" - Finland, Slovenia, Belarus, Ukraine....um ok. Again, out of all these nations England is the one "heavyweight" that missed out, and that is because they, once again underachieved and could not get a point from a meaningless game for Croatia at Wembley....same goes for Scotland. They could not beat Georgia or even draw with Georgia. With the new format the Scotland - Italy game would have be a "friendly." Of course, with more teams you might get what happened when Denmark surprised the world and won the 1992 tournament - a second tier football nation who wins the entire tournament. Or what happened in Portugal when Greece won the title. However we already have that with the current format. I would argue that adding another knock out round will LIMIT the ability for one of these surprise nations to emerge with the title. Longer knock out rounds usually mean the cream rises - heavyweight nations have more depth and talent, can adjust better and deal with injury and suspensions better than outsiders.

I cannot wait for the Euros to expand to 40 nations...allow the minnows to use the qualifiers to determine which go to the Euros to get destroyed by the heavyweights. Come on UEFA, keep the Euros as what it should be, an exciting and difficult tournament. What is better, a group with Holland, Italy, France and Roumania? Or one where North Ireland or Norway or Serbia is there?

Ah the power of money.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Back from the old country....some thoughts on Les Bleus

I am all worked up, have some pent up thoughts on Les Bleus and their success against Serbia and what that means for Domenech and the gang. I was actually back in the homeland, was suppose to go to the game but family events prevented me from attending...but I was able to watch the game on my DVR as well as read the press in Paris. So here are some thoughts:

The Good:
  • Gourcuff - The young French prodigy has been left out in the waste lands when he made a very ballyhooed move to the San Siro. At the time Grourcuff was seen as the rising star in France the player with the talent and ability to become the next "Zidane." Of course like many hyped players, he became lost in the plethora of stars that he found himself amidst at AC Milan. Especially for the position he played - midfield. AC Milan already had Pirlo, Kaka, and Seedorf sitting in front of Gourcuff. Playing time was obviously going to be hard to come by, and being banished to the substitute bench put him out of site for Domenech. His move to Bordeaux allowed Gourcuff to finally find himself earn first team football as well as find himself playing for one of France's up and coming managers - Laurent Blanc. Probably does not hurt for Yoann to be under the tutelage of one of France's most capped players as well. Of course as usual, Domenech used Yoann in strange ways to start the international season, substituting him for 40 seconds against Sweden in the opening friendly. However after the horrible showing in Vienna, Domenech turned the keys of the offense over to Gourcuff and saw the dividends immediately. Playing a 4-2-3-1, with Yoann playing the #10 role. What was very good for Les Bleus was the ability of Gourcuff to drive at the defenders, to look to make the thru balls and take chances that France needs to break down defenses. Clearly in the second half, Gourcuff also demonstrated a strong understanding with Anelka putting in the Chelsea striker on a few occasions. If they get a chance to develop more of a working relationship you can see that Anelka will feast over the Bordelais' passing ability. While one game does not mean long term success, I think Gourcuff might be the key for France's midfield. More on this later. But for this one game, Yoann definitely gets ranked as good.
  • Anelka - The bad boy of French football, once again demonstrated why he has commanded so much in transfer fees and played for so many top clubs in Europe. Once he came in the game, the dynamics of the match clearly shifted. Serbia had no one that could slow down the Chelsea man. He threaten the Serbian goal from the get go with some long distance bombs, forcing some stellar saves from the Serbian keeper. These long range threats forced Serbian defenders to come up higher on Anelka, which then allowed passing lanes to be opened and for Nico to make some threatening runs. Anelka demonstrated, once again, that when he is on top of his game and motivated he is one of international football's most dangerous striker.
  • Henry - Titi had a very good game, opening up the game with his second half goal. However it was his play on the left and ability to slot wide and drift back to the center that was the key. He floated around the pitch at times but overall stayed true to his role as a left winger in a 4-2-3-1 formation. He also played a much more prominent role in the airial game, he attacked the high balls and looked to threaten the goal from crosses and long balls, a part of his game he has never been known for but did enough to force Serbia to respect that aspect of the French game. While I am still not convinced he can be the tip of the spear for France if they make it to South Africa, he proved that he still has some football left in his legs.
The Bad:
  • The French Defense, okay maybe this is a bit harsh but the French defense was not rock solid. Clichy got his long awaited first cap, much deserved based on his play for Arsenal, but he was nervous at times, took bad angles, and almost got beat early on in the box. Sagna was solid, made some good runs on the flanks. Gallas and Abidal had some issues, what bothered me was Abidal relying too much on his atheletic ability and speed rather than his positioning. When you are on the flanks you need to be quick and keep up with the fast wingers the opposition will throw at you. However as a central defender, speed, while necessary and nice, is not crucial. Positioning and anticipation is much more important for success. France were fortunate not being down a goal or two early on based on Gallas and Abidal making some poor decisions allowing some threatening thru balls. There was clearly still lots of work that needs to be done for the back 4 to become a strength and not a risk. The talent is there, the problem is the proper combination is not necessarily in place. As I have stated before, I think your back 4 should be a combo of Sagna, Gallas, Mexes (or Abidal, but I am not convinced of the Barca man as a central back), Evra/Clichy. Throw in Clerc as a back up to Sagna and I think you have the talent to work with, again France needs to find the right combo, but for now it is a weakness.
  • Benzema - for all his talent and early season success for Lyon, he has been a bit transparent for France the last two games. Yet, this game he was slotted exactly in the role for the young prodigy, he was allowed to play up top supported by Henry, Gourcuff and Gouvou. He really did not threaten the Serbian goal and what was frustrating was watching his replacement - Anelka - torch the Serbian defense. By no means should Benzema be dropped, but he needs to translate his club success to the national team level. Benzema might be pushing too hard for France, it might make sense to put him on the bench for the short term, allow him to come off the bench and run at a tired defense for the last 20 - 30 minutes of a game get his confidence back where it should be.
The Ugly -
  • Set piece defending is terrible. France has now given up 4 goals in 2 games from set pieces, granted one was a penalty kick, but still. And of those 4 goals, at least 2 of them were balls that Mandanda should have come out and attacked. The goal France gave up was off a corner to the 5 meter box, that should be the keeper's home, he needs to own that space. Especially an international level keeper! While the defending was not glorious, it really should have been Mandanda coming out and challenging the Serbian player for the ball rather than allowing a free header. I am not sure if this is a training issue or a philosophy issue, not having keepers come further off their lines to attack high crosses and long balls. France is going to need to improve on this, and soon. Otherwise they will be in trouble. The teams they will face will play a similar style - defend and try to beat France on the counter and set pieces. Mandanda is a big keeper and athletic, he needs to be more aggressive on this balls take some pressure off his defenders, take ownership of his goal box.
The essential was accomplished against Serbia, France secured the full 3 points. There remain some weaknesses and some major gaps for Les Bleus. I do feel a bit better than I did after the Austria game. With Austria losing, the group remains wide open, I am not convinced Lithuania will remain a top the group. France's destiny will really be determined over the next few matches, going to Roumania and then back to back games versus Lithuania. Les Bleus still need to address the defense, figure out how to defend set pieces, and determine where to play Benzema. Here are some ideas:

France needs to figure out the central pairing for defense. I think that Mexes needs to be back in the mix with Gallas. The Roman defender has too much talent and ability not to be successful, he just needs the time and trust to build the central anchor with Gallas. Defensive midfield needs to be more offensive, Toulalan and Diarra did a good job breaking up Serbian attacks but need to be more of a linkage between the defense and the offense. Vieira can provide this solution, when healthy....and that is a huge IF. But Diarra has the ability, based on his play at Portsmouth, to play that role. The offensive midfield has some talent but also needs to find the proper system. I think that the attacking midfield should be built around Gourcuff pulling the strings, with Nasri/Ben Afra on the left and Ribery on the right. Potentially throw in Malouda/Gouvou to shore up one of the wings and you have what could be a very potent attacking midfield. Finally, the question is who to have at the top of the diamond - Anelka, Henry or Benzema? Les Bleus need to find the right system. They have the talent, but need the system. The Serbian win gives them some breathing room, but the next game is away to Roumania which will be a huge match. France has always struggled traveling East. Domenech remains on the hot seat. Les Bleus have some work ahead of them, but parts are emerging that might be very solid for the future.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Les Bleus - Le Terrible

OMG the unthinkable happened today, France got slapped around in Vienna 3-1 against an Austrian team that had nothing to lose and played France physically and took their chances. Ok first a caveat, I did not get to see the game...for some reason TV5 did not carry the feed, but I "watched" it on line, saw the "highlights" and have been reading the post game commentary.

Unfortunately the defense has conceded 5 goals in their last two games, if we include the Euros they have given up 11 goals in 5 games ... including a 0-0 draw with the Romanians...this is completely unacceptable for a nation that is ranked 11th in the world. France lost to a nation, that prior to the Euros, their own fans put together a petition to pull out of their own tournament! What frightens me is the central defensive pairing, it appears that Mexes is not taking his high level of play from AS Roma to the French team, maybe he is pushing too much, nervous that Domenech has never really been a fan of the Roman defender. Mexes might be constantly looking over his shoulder, afraid to play his game always concerned about his place on the squad. Frankly on the first and last goal Mexes is directly to blame. The opening goal, Mexes allowed the Austrian striker to back him down rather than aggressively attacking the ball. Mexes then inexplicably tackled an Austrian player on a corner kick. Plus he pulled down the player at the PK spot when the corner was a tight inswinger and the player fouled would most likely not have been in the play!!! Gallas has not taken the reigns of the defense. With Thuram retired, I thought this would be the opportunity for Gallas to step up and become the "patron" for the French defense. Maybe the Gunner, while a top notch defender, needs a Desailly, Terry or Thuram to take the leadership of the defense, for he is not comfortable leading the back 4. Maybe all the rumors that were coming out of the Emirates locker room last year that Gallas was letting his teammates down with his lack of leadership, is rearing its ugly head under the blue shirt of France. Mandanda is also not to escape some blame. On the second goal he should have attacked the ball while in the air, the long indirect kick was floated into the top of this 5 yard box where France messed up the clearance allowing the Austrians to smash home the goal from point blank range. The French keeper really should have attacked the first ball in the air.

It also sounds as if Diarra and Toulalan were not the defensive forces they need to be for this system to work, maybe Les Bleus miss Vieira more than they thought. What really drives me crazy is the fact France gave up all goals off set pieces, once again Les Bleus could not defend two 40 yard indirect kicks that, by all accord, were just dumped into the French 18 yard box. Ugh.

This does not bode well, at all. France now hosts Serbia next week. Which will not be a walk in the park. Serbia will play more physically than Austria, and will be tighter defensively than the Austrians. France have no choice but to win on Wednesday....if they come out of these two games with 1 or 0 points, it would be disastrous. They would then have to go to Roumania who would be on 3 points, having played the Faroe Islands next. Serbia would be clearly in the driver seat, with surprise Austria and Lithuania either one at 6 points or both at 4 (they play each other next round). France could conceivable find themselves in last, behind the Faroe Islands.

Of course all is not lost, this is but one game. France lost twice to the Scots in the last qualifiers, and still squeaked in. But the road does not get any easier. The only good thing is that the other group favorite, Romania lost, and they lost at home. But if that is the one straw I get to grasp...it is a pretty sad day in French football.

Hopefully Deschamps has his list of players, he might find himself as France manager very shortly.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Les Bleus for the opening qualifiers

Domenech has announced the list for Les Bleus for the first two games of the World Cup qualifiers. Not too many changes from the team that won away at Sweden. Here is the list:

La sélection française :
Gardiens : Lloris, Mandanda
Défenseurs : Abidal, Clichy, Evra, Fanni, Gallas, Mexès, Sagna, Squillaci
Milieux : A. Diarra, L. Diarra, Flamini, Nasri, Toulalan
Attaquants : Anelka, Ben Arfa, Benzema, Gourcuff, Govou, Henry, Malouda

Overall nothing too surprising, but here are some thoughts:

The Good:
  • Consistency - One thing that I am glad to see, is Domenech keeping a consistent list from the Sweden game. Even retaining folks like Gourcuff and Fanni. The only changes were the addition of Squillaci, Abidal, and Nasri. These players would have most likely been on the squad had they not been injured.
  • The Youth - Domenech has also stayed with the youth. He did not bring back Coupet, but rather stayed with the two young keepers, wonder what that means for Greg long term? I do think this is the proper move, while taking Landreau or Frey as well to make them #1 would not have been questioned, I think that Domenech is signaling that he sees the future with the two youngsters in France.
  • No Boumson - While I am sure he will rear his head again....thank goodness he is off the list.
The Bad -
  • Govou - Okay next to Boumsong he is my favorite whipping boy...but he scored a brace against Sweden so I guess deserves the call up...I guess.
  • Makelele - Okay, why is this "bad" because his name keeps coming up...the fact that Domenech or the press keep throwing out his name is bad. The man has been a nothing but a pure professional for Les Bleus. He was unfortunate to be left off both the World Cup and European Cup winning teams...hard when you have Deschamps, Vieira, Karembeau, and Petit blocking your path.
The Ugly -
  • Nothing.....yup, I cannot really find anything too ugly with the selection. Now when Domenech decides to have Abidal shoulder Gallas rather than Mexes...then I will call that UGLY
This is the beauty of international footie, the European Cup is still fresh in our memories, the club season has just started and we are starting the long process of determining which nations will go to South Africa in 2 years to play for the World Cup. France have a tricky group, one they should win, but one filled with traps and potential pitfalls. On paper you would think that the main competition will come from Roumania, but one needs to becareful of Austria and Serbia. Also, Lithuania will not be an easy 3 point match, especially when traveling away.

France will come into the qualifiers with a tricky match, heading to Austria. Austria just drew at home against Italy in a match they could have won. It is never easy playing away, but I think that Austria will prove a difficult customer, wanting to demonstrate that hosting the Euros was not a fluke (granted they did not get out of the group stages, but some rank them higher than Les Bleus - http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/30062008/58/euro-2008-euro-power-rankings.html ) Austria played Germany very tough in the tournament and should not be overlooked at home.

France will then need to head home to face a difficult test against Serbia. Serbia should prove to be a difficult team to break down with a defense lead by ManU hard man - Vidic. Serbia will open with Faroe Islands so will head to Paris with the full 3 points and look to hold France to a draw. France might be heading into that game sitting with one point and will be desperate to find a win....a recipe for disaster for Les Bleus!

Domenech has a tough task at hand. His first 4 games will see Les Bleus traveling to Austria, Romania and Lithuania. As well as hosting the tough Serbs. In addition, the FFF has said it would revisit the Domenech situation during this run of games, if Les Bleus start slowly it could spell the end of Domenech's run as France manager. I think it will be hard pressed for France to expect to get 12 points from these matches. Les Bleus should beat Austria and Lithuania, and get a win&draw from the Romania - Serbia games. Coming out of these 4 games with 10 points should be seen as a successful run, 8 points will be acceptable....anything less and we might be seeing Deschamps in charge for the return game against Lithuania.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Arsenal lose....ugh

In a London derby, Arsenal lost today 1-0 to Fulham...ugh....Fulham? Shouldn't they be in the Championship??? Granted Arsenal had plenty of chances and got beat on a set piece....reminds me of watching Les Bleus. Arsenal clearly lacked the final touch, something that seems to haunt them over the past few seasons. Van Persie, Adebayour, et al had some very good chances but either hit posts or shot wide. I hope this is not a sign of things to come....

On another note, Tottenham...2 games....2 loses......somewhere in Germany Martin Jol is snickering.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Les Bleus start off with a 3-2 victory

Les Bleus go to Sweden and emerge with a 3-2 victory. Granted the Swedes were without Zlatan Ibrahimovic....I was able to catch the highlights of the game as well as follow it online. Here are some thoughts:

The Good -
  • Mandanda - From all reports the French keeper made some solid saves. The first goal was a spectacular volley from Larsson while the second was on a penalty kick. Otherwise it sounds as if the Marseille keeper made some solid stops in net. With the announcement from Frey that he will be retiring from the international game, it is clear that Les Bleus are firmly going to look to Mandanda and Lloris to carry France from a goalkeeping perspective.
  • Govou - Ugh, every time I am ready to say...this is it, he is not going to find his place in France's long term plans and he goes out and scores a brace. So he has to get a nod for being "good" once again. He was running hard on both goals to get himself into the proper position to score, the second one after a great back heel from Henry. Govou still does not convince me that he is the option for France at right wing, that should go to Ribery once he is healthy again. I think that the Lyon player has performed nicely for Les Bleus under Domenech but just because he wears #10 he should not be a main stay with France.
  • Benzema and Henry - Okay I was wrong, well not wrong, but skeptical to the success of playing two strikers up front. It did seem to work...albeit for one game. Henry and Benzema were able to work well off one another and put pressure on the Sweden defense. The goal from Benzema was the result of good service and pressure from Sagna from his right fullback position...not sure Clerc would have been able to jump into the play that quickly. The two striker combo gets a good for now, but I still think the lone striker with 3 supporting midfielders is the future for Les Bleus.
The Bad -
  • Mexes and Gallas - Okay this might be a bit harsh but clearly on the first goal there was a misunderstanding between the two central defenders. Sweden sent a striker through the 18 yard box on a diagonal run drawing both defenders....a pair that is comfortable with one another would understand who would peel off and cover the run while the second would drift back to protect space and cover a secondary run. In this case, both Mexes and Gallas when to the near post leaving Larsson alone, granted the Swede made a spectacular volley to score the goal but he was all alone...allowing him the space and lack of pressure to attempt and execute such a move. I could even argue he second goal came from a similar misunderstanding between the central defenders, forcing Diarra to come back and hack down Kallstrom. However, central defender pairings are the one spot on the pitch where understanding, positioning, and building a trust is crucial for success. I hope that Domenech sticks with this pairing and allows them time to grow and develop a working relationship, if so they will have something very solid. I hope...pray...that Domenech does not all of a sudden decide that Boumsong is a better option to Mexes in the middle....
The Ugly -
  • Lack of substitution - Okay what do I mean by that? This is a friendly, a game that means nothing in the grand scheme of things but a game that allows an international manager to look at his players, look at who he has moving forward. With that in mind, how can Gourcuff sit on the bench until the last minute? Can you really get a good look at him this way? No. Maybe Domenech should have brought him in with at least 20 minutes to go, see how he worked with his fellow midfielders/strikers. Sweden used 5 substitutes, France 1 (Gourcuff came in with 1 minute to go...so he gets a cap....but that is about it). Why did Domenech not try Fanni and Clichy in place of Evra and Sagna at some point of the game? See what these two backs can do. Why not insert a Flamini in place of Toulalan or Diarra see if the ex-Arsenal man is a good fit as the holding midfielder for Les Bleus?
    While I think the win was important for France, it would have been better to see Domenech use his substitutes in a friendly to see what some of his players can do. Maybe after going up 2-1, in the 61st minute, that gives you another 30 minutes....hmmm. Maybe look to see if you can insert your youngsters, above mentioned, who are more defensive and see if they can hold a lead, counter attack, etc. Maybe take out an Henry, go with 1 striker, insert Groucuff to play a 4-2-3-1. Take out a Toulalan and insert Flamini, see how he works with the defenders and with Diarra. Switch Evra for Clichy, allow 3 of the Arsenal backs to play some time together. Maybe insert Fanni...you selected him....see what he can do on the international stage. Hey, maybe even switch out Mandanda for Lloris, see what your #2 keeper can do. This trend with Domench drives me crazy, he refuses to take advantage of opportunities he has to see players, to use substitutions to the max, whether it be in a friendly or in a game that counts. I know some managers go to the extreme...see Sven and his full blown substitution patterns as if he were an NHL coach....but Domenech does not seem creative enough to envisage leveraging these opportunities to see what he has. National team managers have a difficult situation, they get to see the players they are too take to major tournaments a few times a year. While they have training sessions, it is during the game situations that managers really get a look at what they have....unless they decide not to take advantage of this.
Overall it is better to start the international season with a win, there remains so questions for Les Bleus - the defense, the formation, who will be the #1 striker and will Domenech use more than 1 sub.....

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Silvestre signs with Arsenal

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/teams/a/arsenal/7573520.stm

Arsenal sign player from rival Manchester United. Silvestre comes over from Manchester United from an undisclosed fee. An interesting move for Arsenal to shore up its defense. Silvestre has fallen out of favor at Old Trafford with the emergence of Evra at left back.

This appears to be a opportunistic signing for Arsene. He will not take the starting role from Clichy but will be good cover, and he can also evolve in central defense giving Wenger an opportunity to rotate his central defenders. This move might even give Wenger some flexibilities in pushing Toure into a higher position, maybe playing midfield right in front of the central defensive pairing...crazy yes, but maybe.

Overall a good signing for Arsenal, they just need to sign Mexes and they will basically have the French defense playing at Emirates.

Les Bleus - the starting XI

Domenech announced his starting XI -

Keeper - Mandanda. The obvious choice since Coupet and Frey were left off the roster. Mandanda, I believe, is the clear future for Les Bleus in goal. While still needing some seasoning, has all the tools to be a great kepper. Lloris, who will back him up is a very apt #2, and is really #1b.

Defenders - Sagna will start on the right, which is the natural choice, even if Sagnol and Clerc were available. The Arsenal back should be the #1 choice for Les Bleus moving forward, I know Domenech loves Clerc but Sagna is a better defender might not be the same offensively, but is not far behind. Gallas will partner with Mexes in the middle. Gallas is the obvious choice, and I am glad to see Domenech finally got his head out of his arse and has the best option in the middle - Mexes. The Roma player should have been France's #1 choice to shoulder Gallas during the past few years, maybe even in Germany for the World Cup. I hope that this signals France's partnership moving forward. On the left Evra finds his place in the squad. The Manchester United player, should be a mainstay on that side for a long time to come, with Clichy being a apt lieutenant.

Midfield - The two holding midfielders will be Diarra and Toulalan, both are good choices. Flamini could make the case to take Toulalan's slot but amongst the three, France cannot make a poor pairing. On the wings we find Domenech's binky - Gouvou on the right and Malouda on the left. I have some questions about these choices. Gouvou and Malouda??? Really? But more on that later....

Strikers - Henry and Benzema will partner up front. Not a surprise to see these two partnering up front for Les Bleus.

Okay so what does this mean? From the defensive stand point, I think this is a good sign as long as Domenech stays with this formation. Mexes and Gallas need to develop a working partnership. Evra will add a lot of offensive pressure from his left side and Sagna should remind French fans of Lilian Thuram during his days as right back for Les Bleus.

Here is what I am worried about - the midfield/strikers combo. I am not sure if Domenech is looking to play a 4-4-2 and if so not sure that will work, who is the #10? Grourcuff would be that player, but he is not on the pitch....Gouvou and Malouda on the wings? Fine but you need someone to control the middle of the park. Toulalan and Diarra are solid holding midfielders but are not the type of players that can fill the space behind the strikers. With natural wide players in Malouda and Gouvou (althought Sidney could slide to the middle) I fear that Les Bleus will have a gap behind Henry and Benzema, something that was painful apparent during the Euros. If Domenech wants to have his two wide players, he needs someone between them to support the striker(s). I would much rather see - Diarra and Toulalan as holding, with Malouda, Gourcuff, Gouvou, with one striker up front....once Ribery is back he could slot at either the wide wing in place of Gouvou or in the middle in place of Gourcuff. I also think Ben Arfa should be the wide player on the left side...until Malouda returns to form.

We shall see what happens. I am happy to see some of the youth in the line up, I just hope that Domenech sticks with the youth and allows them to develop and become cohesive.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Domenech's first list post Euro disaster


So France has announced the list of 20 for their upcoming friendly against Sweden. This match will prove crucial for Les Bleus. After a disastrous European campaign, and with the World Cup qualifiers right around the corner this match will be the first time the French are back together on the pitch. There will clearly be some changes - Thuram, Makelele and Sagnol have announced their international retirements. With Vieira and Ribery sidelined, the French midfield will look very different than what we have grown accustomed to seeing. So let us dive into the lucky 20:

Keepers: Lloris, Mandanda
Defenders: Boumsong, Clichy, Evra, Fanni, Gallas, Mexès, Sagna
Midfielders: A. Diarra, L. Diarra, Flamini, Toulalan
Strikers: Anelka, Ben Arfa, Benzema, Gourcuff, Govou, Henry, Malouda

Looking over this list, no Coupet, no Frey and no Landreau. Is Domenech making a statement about the future of the keeper role for Les Bleus? I can see Coupet being left out, he might not be the French #1 choice keeper anymore especially looking forward 2 years. The sad part is he should have been France's #1 during the World Cup in Germany, but for some idiotic reason Domenech went with an aging Barthez. However Lloris and Mandanda are without a doubt the future for the French national team and their keeper position. Okay so let us dive into the list:

The Good:
  • Lloris and Mandanda - this is the future for France at goalkeeper. I think that getting these two into the squad early and often will pay dividends. It appears that Landreau, the one time shining star for France, has been dropped to second tier. I think that there remains a window for Frey to come in and assume the mantel as France's #1. There will be tough competition however, but in the long term there is solid talent at that position.
  • Clichy - The Arsenal left back has long deserved his place in the national team, now will he be the #1 option ahead of Evra? Not sure, I think that Evra still gets the nod. However, as long as Domenech understands that the future left back for France should be one of these two talented players, then it will all be good.
  • Gourcuff - The one time "next Zidane" lost a lot of luster when he made a big move to AC Milan only to find himself relegated to the substitutes' bench and could barely get on the pitch. Granted he had some tough competition at midfield - Pirlo, Kaka, to name a few. But he now has a real chance to continue to grow and develop to his full potential playing for Bordeaux, in the Micoud role. Under the eye of Laurent Blanc, one of France's up and coming managers, I think you will see Gourcuff live up to his potential. It might be a bit early for Domenech to integrate him into the French squad, but since the French league has already been under way since last weekend, the young midfielder will have more game action in his legs than other options. So why not take a look at him.
The Bad:
  • Malouda - I have to question this selection. It is a bad choice purely based on the fact he is not doing much with Chelsea and has not done much in over a year! This is an example of a player that chased the money and found himself on a team that had no real place for him. This shows in his play for Les Bleus. He had a few flashes during the Euros, okay maybe one when he ran through the entire Romanian defense but sent his shot screaming just wide of the top corner.....but that is it. Maybe Domenech took him for cover and will give the left side of the midfield to Ben Afra, who is the player that should be there. We shall see.
  • Govou - Ugh, I cannot understand the love affair between Domenech and Govou....I know he had a brace against Italy in the first European Qualifier ages ago, but still....please....he is a nice player, but not at the international level! Why not give a youngster like OM's Valbuena a chance to see what he can do on the international level?
The Ugly:

  • Boumsong - Um you all knew this was coming....how how how how in god's name can this player be constantly selected for the French national team? Does he have some pictures of Domenech that ensure he will always be on the squad? It just baffles me when he gets the call up. What happened to Escude? Squillaci? Givet? Ugh...anyone of these would be a better option than Boumsong. Maybe even take a chance on one of the youngsters - Sakho from PSG or Dabo from St Etienne. I really cannot understand why Domenech calls up Lyon's 4th choice central defender....he is slow, has terrible positioning, cannot defend...ugh. And if his inclusion precludes having Mexes partner with Gallas in the middle of the defense I will scream. He gives France nothinig in the back. Domenech should be playing the following - Sagna on the right, Mexes and Gallas in the middle, and Evra on the left (maybe Clichy, but I think Evra has a little more offensive talent), Boumsong should not be any where near the pitch, substitutes bench, team bus, etc.....
  • French strikers - Hmmm what was once a strength, now appears to be a potential weakness. Based on my conversation with Sam yesterday it is clear that France could have a shortage of strikers. Trezeguet has retired so he is out. Saha is always hurt. Cisse is coming back to form with Marseilles but has not translated this form to the national team. Briand remains a work in progress. Gomis has talent but might have shown everything he had in the one game against Ecuador. So it remains Anelka, Henry and Benzema. Henry is getting a long in the tooth and Anelka is hot and cold. Benzema is the rising star, but at times gets sacrificed for the veterans. I think Domenech needs to figure out who (Benzema) will be his point man, the player France will lean on the next 4 - 5 years for goal scoring. He can then figure out how to use the veterans (Anelka and Henry) to support and add to this formation. However, Domenech will have a very small window to figure out who is the complimentary striker to Benzema - Gomis? Briand? Gouffran? Remy? Menez?
I am looking forward to this match. Part of me wants France to come out and play some good flowing football, allowing players like Ben Afra and Gourcuff to shine, another part of me wants Domenech to fall on his face so we can get rid of him. I fear that the French Federation will stick with their philosophising manager too long and we will lose and opportunity and lose a generation of footballers. France no longer has the luxury of "building for the next tournament," they are now firmly entrenched as a nation that should be qualifying for and contending for every major international tournament.

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