Sunday, March 30, 2008

Which 23 for Les Bleus in the Euros????

So I have time to digest the last France game in addition to consume all that could find on the web about the match and the team. The next big stage for Les Bleus will be the final list of 23 that Domenech will have to determine. This has given me some pause for thought, we all know that Domenech has some interesting way of selecting players and is not one that is not known for pulling a fast one...we also know that he likes players that can play different positions and different systems. So here are the 23 I think he will take....and the 23 I would take -

Domenech's 23-

Keepers:
Coupet, Landreau, and Frey.

Defenders: Abidal, Gallas, Thuram, Sagnol, Mexes, Evra, Escude, and Clerc

Midfielder: Vieira, Makelele, Toulalan, Ribery, Malouda, Gouvou, LDiarra, and Nasri

Strikers: Henry, Benezema, Anelka, and Cisse

I think Domenech might sacrifice Clerc for another midfielder such as Ben Afra, since he can always slot LDiarra back on defense if need be to cover the defensive flanks. Ben Afra would give him another wide option and a player that could also play up front.

My 23-

Keepers -

Coupet - clear French #1, he was the clear #1 at the world cup except to Domenech and Martini
Landreau - while he has had a bad spell he remains a top keeper
Frey - The Fiorentina keeper, if he were English, would be the Three Lions clear #1

Defenders -
Thuram -The old lion still has the guile and experience to anchor the French back line. The question will be can he pace himself for club to ensure he is fresh for the Euros
Gallas - The Arsenal captain has come under scrutiny for his actions for the Gunners, but for France there is no arguing that his partnership is the glue that holds the back 4 for Les Bleus.
Sagnol - He remains France's best right back (although I will agree with Sam that Sagna is closing in on that title) Willy brings the ability to hit "beckhamesc" crosses and gives the French game more width.
Abidal - The former Lyon defender has made himself the #1 option for Barca. He remains France's #1 left back...but not by much with Evra and Clichy making cases for the role.
Escude - His ability to play in the middle or on the flanks makes him a valuable asset to the French squad.
Evra - He has entrenched himself as the #1 left back for Manchester United. He has the pace and flair to jump into any attack
Mexes - There is a love hate relationship between the Roma player and Domenech...actually more hate than love. But the central defenders talents are unquestionable...while he is prone to the rash challenge here and there, that will change with maturity and age, I think he and Gallas are the future central defense pairing for Les Bleus.
Clichy - I could argue that his Arsenal defensive partner, Sagna, is more deserving to go, however I think the natural lefty would gain more from the experience than would Sagna. Clichy may very well be the future left back for Les Bleus, being able to see him in training will be very valuable for Domenech to determine this. Additionally, in a pinch I have no fear of seeing Clichy lined up on the left side of the French defense.

Midfielders -

Vieira-The French captain is sure to be there short of injury. He still has something to give, is a monster tackler, can distribute the ball and chips in with a goal once in a while.
Makelele - The other half of the old guard. He is up there in age, and at times shows his age for club. However watching him play for Les Bleus it is clear that he gets a boost of fire. Against England he was the engine in the middle, stopping English attacks and starting the French counters.
Ribery - I think the Bayern man will have a big tournament. It was clear that during the World Cup he started to feel comfortable and allowed his game to show the talent and flair that made him one of the most exciting players in Europe. He will not be in awe on the big stage, and I think with Zidane no longer on the team Ribery will look to make the midfield his.
Malouda - While no longer seeing the pitch at Stamford Bridge, he remains a strong wing player for Les Bleus. The main issue will be if his lack of playing time will put too much rust on the former Lyon midfielder.
Toulalan - The next Makelele? The holding midfielder has an incredible work rate, is a solid tackler, good distributor and is fearless. He is the heir to the Makelele role for Les Bleus.
L Diarra - The other player often seen as the heir to Makelele. He has demonstrated with Portsmouth that when given time he can be an engine in the midfield. He can also slot back at left or right back if need be, which makes him very valuable.
Nasri - The OM player brings Les Bleus an offensive option any side would relish. He can slot in the middle just behind a lone striker, or play the #10 role in a 4-4-2. He can score goals and distribute.
Rothen - Maybe it is my PSG bias...but he is one of the few natural left sided players. He could provide some great width to Les Bleus. I could even see a team with Rothen playing the left channel with Sagnol coming up the right, the service to the strikers would be deadly from either flank. He can even slot to the middle of the park to play the #10 role. If Domenech goes with 3 offensive midfielders you could have a Ribery - Nasri - Rothen midfield supporting Anelka or Henry....Rothen's passing and crossing game would be a good change to a typical speed game from Malouda.

Strikers -
Henry - The Barca man is not having his best season, and I would argue that he is no longer France's #1 striker. However he remains a dangerous player with bags of pace and the ability to score at any moment. Will this be "his" tournament?
Benezema -The young French phenom is having a huge season for Lyon. His name will be spoken at many a big clubs this summer and moving forward. He is young, big, fast, and can score for anywhere on the pitch....what else do you want from a striker?
Anelka - The incredible sulk is France's #1 striker....no question. There has never been any question he could score, it was his attitude that always seems to have held him back. Yet with age it appears that he has come to accept and be comfortable with his role and his place in football. He is the complete striker. He has the pace to take the ball from deep and attack a defense, he can shoot from anywhere, he can score with his head, he can poach, he can distribute, and he is not afraid to drop very deep to recover a ball. I think he can also be looked to in the Euros to carry the scoring burden for Les Bleus.
Trezeguet - Yes I would still put the Juve man on this team. He is the one striker in this list that gives an additional dimension...the "fox in the box" striker. While I realize this will not happen, see my last rant about Les Bleus, I think he would be a great option to have on your bench or in your starting line up. You could bring in Trezegol into a game when you want to throw a bunch of crosses into the box, forcing a defense to defend lower...thereby opening space for the midfielders.

Not a huge difference between rosters, but I would not take Domenech's binky - Gouvou....never understood why he loved the Lyon player. The other players on the cusp for my team -

Ben Afra - a good option for the midfield/striker role. He has the pace and width to change a game. I would not be averse to seeing him go to Austria/Switerzland.
Flamini - for me a toss up between the "French Gattuso" and LDiarra. I think Diarra has a little more to give in his game but not by much.
Sagna - a toss up between him and Clichy for the last defensive spot, but think the left back would gain more from the experience.
Cisse - the striker is in form for Marseilles, but too similar to the other strikers.
Mandanda - the OM keeper could be the future for Les Bleus...but not sure which keeper I would kick off to make room for the youngster...his time will come.

We shall see what Domenech decides...I am sure I will second guess him!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

France gains small, but morale boosting victory over English rivals

France come away from this International break with two victories, a 3-2 defeat against Mali (the A team JV) and then a 1-0 victory over their age old rivals England today at Stade De France. The important match was the France v England game which saw the difference being made from a Ribery penalty in the first half after Calamity James made a mockery of his attempt to win a through ball from Clerc and clumsily clattered down Anelka to earn Les Bleus the penalty. Some thoughts on the match:

The Good:
  • Anelka - The French striker showed off his wealth of talent. He played up high in tandem with Trezeguet or dropped back to pick up the ball deeper, he was a constant threat in the air and with his speed. He was not afraid to attempt the cheeky pass or back heel. He demonstrated an ability to take difficult angles and still put a shot on net. On the play that earned France the penalty he completely out paced the England back 4 to go in solo on James forcing Calamity to bring him down. While some may argue that Henry remains France's #1 striker I would make the case that the "incredible sulk" has become the #1 striker for Les Bleus, the main question now becomes, does Domenech play Anelka up front with a strike partner or as a lone striker supported by three offensive midfielders...either way I think he will prove to be the main threat from Les Bleus this summer.
  • Ribery - What can you say about the Bayern man? During the run up to the World Cup the young French midfielder was seen as the next big French footballer and many were clamoring for the youngster to make the squad...after being a late call up for Domenech he forced his way into the starting line up and soon demonstrated his value to the team. His confidence has only grown since Germany...during the first few games in Germany it was clear that Ribery at times differed to those around him rather than take his own chances (I remember Ribery breaking into the Swiss defense during the first group game and rather than taking his own chance 1v1 with the keeper he tried an awkward drop pass to Henry) However it is clear that Ribery's confidence and game have evolved and he is taking his chances and using his immense talent to force defenses back on their heels. Ribery was allowed to be creative and roam a bit more than when France play with 3 offensive midfielders. He was able to slot into either channel or the middle and start the attacks. At times he tried too hard to get his own shots, but that is good, a sign of someone with confidence and looking to make something happen. Let us hope his confidence and form keep up, for he will be an important player for France this summer. His penalty taking was perfect, very cool and collected.
  • The old guard - Thuram and Makelele demonstrated that they still a lot left in the tank. Makelele impressed me by taking on more of the Pat Vieira role, carrying the ball deeper, looking to create and spring the strikers rather than being the midfield destroyer. He still demonstrated his value in front of the back 4 and in breaking up any attack in the middle of the park. He showed an incredible engine for a player on the back end of his career. The same can be said for Thuram. He was rarely out of position in the back, cutting off channels, passing lanes and being strong in the air. He had one mistake on a poor clearance in the second half but the other half of the old guard, Makelele, was there to bail him out.
  • Defending set pieces - France, for once, appeared more confident on set pieces. They attacked the ball in the air and did not allow England to get too many good looks at the net, the one exception was a Ferdinand free header that he inexplicable tried to pass rather than put on net (was not really a set piece but felt like one!). But compared to what France has demonstrated on defending set pieces the last few games their ability to defend against, arguably one of the best set piece experts -Beckham - bodes well.
  • Speaking of Beckham - I thought the newest 100 cap English player, did very well for himself. He was very active in his channel, tackling back, looking to spring the strikers, and almost scoring on his 100th appearance for England. He was the one English player that appeared to want to play and compete in this game.
  • Hargreaves - Okay Beckham was not the only English player that wanted to play, the Canadian native played a solid game. He was tasked to trying to keep Ribery in check something he was able to do fairly well...as well as one can expect. But he had a good engine for England looking to slow down and destroy French attacks and launch English counters.
The Bad:
  • Joe Cole - Based on his form for Chelsea I was expecting more from the English midfielder. He was completely invisible for the majority of the game, the only time I noticed him is when he and Gerrard walked past each other on a throw in...
  • Brown - Maybe his goal over the weekend gave him a false sense of talent, but he was constantly on his back heel and looking completely out classed by the attacks down his channel.
  • Trezegol - Ugh...I was hoping the Juve man would have a better game. While I am not going to blame the Franco-Argentine for his poor game, I think that he has played his last match for Les Bleus. I think that was evident when Domenech substituted him off in the second half, allow the crowd in Stade de France give him a proper farewell. What I think made the situation "bad" was the inability or lack of comfort with the Juve point man. On a few occasions I noticed the French midfielders or defenders with the ball at feet and time, Trezeguet had positioned himself on the last defender in perfect position for a long through ball into the penalty area, only for the French to pull the ball back and try to thread the ball into a danger area. Watching Trezegol with Juve, the Turin club at least once or twice a game will look to put through balls over the top to their goal scorer....while they do not always ended up as goals the threat forces defenses to play deeper...opening up the space between the back 4 and the midfield.
The Ugly:
  • Okay I am harping on this, but the Trezeguet situation is ugly. I think that if he is good enough to start along side Anelka, then he is at worst your 4th best striker. So why is not a regular member of this team? I mean seriously, is Briand or Menez, both solid players in their own rights, better options for Les Bleus than Trezeguet? A player with 34 goals under the French jersey, a player who is the #1 striker at a big European club and a player who is regularly at the top of the scoring charts in Serie A???? I think the answer is he remains and should remain a top option. Domenech has clearly looked to have strikers that can drop in deep to collect the ball and that can create their own scoring opportunities. Having a striker of the caliber of Trezeguet is not something anyone should be so cavalier about, having the opportunity to put Trezegol on the pitch forces the opponent to change their tactics. I think that Domenech has, as he has demonstrated in the past, done a poor job handling this situation (as well as other situations). I fear that the next round of friendlies Trezegol will once again find himself banished to footballing siberia, with Domenech saying "I know his skills and he remains an option..." I think Domenech needs to fish or cut bait....and since it is clear he is not a huge fan of the Juve striker....cut him loose. An ugly way to end what is a distinguished and amazing career as an international, David deserves much more than this. I remember watching the young 20 year old take a PK against Italy in the 1998 World Cup 1/4 finals and cooly slot his kick couple that with his incredible goal scoring and his wonder strike to win the 2000 Euro cup makes him on of France's greatest players. He deserves more than Domenech appears to want to grant him. UGLY
Overall I was optimistic with this game. While there remains a lot of questions - when everyone is healthy who will start up front? are the old guard too old once they get to the Euros? should France play the lone striker or a combo? However compared to the last match against Spain, France looked a lot more organized and dangerous. They have room for improvement, but that is the idea. You do not want to be playing your best football now...but once the Euros start.

Let us hope Domenech can continue to build ... if he does France will be a threat at the Euros.

Arsenal .... all done

Ugh...I know this happened a few days ago, but the Arsenal loss to Chelsea coupled with Manchester United disassembling Liverpool means the Gooners are now in 3rd place! Some quick thoughts:

  • Arsenal needed to buy some players during the winter transfer window. Even before Eduardo was put out of action it was clear that Arsenal were thin up front. Van Persie is not reliable with regards to health, Bendtner is a decent 3rd or 4th striker but not a top class player to fill in a void. Arsenal also needed to maybe look for another midfielder to take some pressure off of Cesc. Finally they needed some cover for Gallas/Toure....again not sure Senderos is a Premier caliber central defender. Wenger will need to open the purse strings for next season, he needs to hold on to his players (Flamini comes to mind) and go out and spend on some new blood, Ben Afra is rumored but he will need more than the talented French midfielder/striker.
  • Manchester United are too deep...and will win the title. Just look at their depth in midfield - Scholes, Giggs, Nani, Anderson, Ronaldo, Hargreaves, Park, and Carrick. They do not have a lot of depth up front, but since they get goals from all over the roster they do not rely on Rooney or Tevez for all their goals. Granted Ronaldo is having a legendary sesason...which also helps.
  • Chelsea are making a late run, but it is too late. With their players returning from the African Cup in addition to their winter additions such as Anelka, Grant found himself with a wealthy of options. Of course some would argue he has no clue what he is doing with this talent. But even a broken watch is correct twice a day, so with Grant he can throw a bunch of players on the field and their talent will usually allow Chelsea to find some success. The problem is they are too far behind to catch ManU. Granted their remains a ManU v Chelsea game which could go a long way....so maybe there is an outside chance!
  • Liverpool once again shows that they will be without the Prem title....funny joke I heard yesterday on the Soccer Daily podcast "What ship has never docked in Liverpool?.....The Premiership Title." Once again this season, where I a Liverpool fan, I would be calling for Benetiz's head...were it not for 15 minutes of insanity in Instanbul, Benetiz would not have the Champions League title that is keeping him afloat in Liverpool. Were it not for Torres lighting up the score board, Liverpool would be behind hated rival Everton or even lower down the table.....
I think Manchester United will win the title, Chelsea will make it interesting but just do not have enough games left. Liverpool will actually fight for the 4th place and Arsenal will hold on their third place...but what will be considered a disappointing season.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Les Bleus heading into important test...many questions still outstanding

Tomorrow will find two old "friends" meeting once again on the pitch, when England visits Stade de France to face Les Bleus. The big story is that David Beckham is set to receive his 100th cap for England. Oh wait that is the big story for the Beckham spin machine. I think the big story, is for the team that is actually preparing for next summer's Euro - France. And the subplot to all this is the players Domenech has decided to bring with him into battle. He claims that he has the core team in mind and that players need to compete for the last 4-5 spots.

A couple of thoughts on the players selected for the England game and the Mali game (the JV team, going on now):

  • Boumsong....once again....why? Is he really the best option as a cover in the center of the French defense? I just do not understand what Domenech is doing as he continues to select the former Auxerre defender. I cannot imagine Boumsong replacing Mexes or Escude as the second options behind Gallas and Thuram....and in a pinch Abidal would be a better option to slot into the middle of the park. I am not even sure Boumsong should be ahead of Givet or Squillaci....so why select him? Why not take a young defender, someone like Kaboul and let him taste the big team...see if he is the future.
  • Trezegol - The leading scorer for Serie A and France's second highest active goal scorer finds himself back from Siberia after Benzema had to pull out of the squad. While I am happy to see David back in the mix, I think that his presence due to injury means that he remains an after thought. Domenech either needs to continue including this world class player or cut bait and start calling up younger strikers, someone like Gouffran or Payet. However this constant state of flux for the Juventus striker will not help him, the team or the younger players.

So here is the list for tomorrow's match:

Landreau, Coupet - Abidal, Clerc, Escudé, Evra, Gallas, Mexès, Thuram - A. Diarra, L. Diarra, Flamini, Makelele, Toulalan, Malouda, Ribéry - Anelka, Cissé, Govou, Trezeguet

Overall the list is what we are accustom to seeing from Domenech - his binkies LDiarra, Gouvou are present. Here is what I would like to see for a starting line up a 4-2-2-2:

Coupet in net - he remains the undisputed #1 for France.
Abidal, Gallas, Mexes, Evra - back four. We all know Thuram's quality and experience, but Domenech needs to figure out which central defender could slot in with Gallas in the middle of the French defense. Evra's form with Manchester United earns him a starting slot.
Flamini, Toulalan - This would be an interesting defensive midfield pairing. Flamini has had two great seasons at Arsenal, some have nickname him "the french gattuso" a lofty name to live up to, but he has been Arsenal's best defensive/enforcer midfielder. Toulalan has demonstrated his value in a similar role for Lyon, I think they two young midfielders will need to start learning to play on the same pitch together. I think it is clear that when the Euros start we will see Vieira and Makelele in this role, but friendly matches are to see what else you have on the roster.
Ribery, Malouda- Since the world cup these two midfield dynamos have been firmly entrenched on both midfield flanks. Other than dropping Gouvou to one of these roles. Moving to 2 attacking midfielders will allow Ribery to drift more to the middle of the park, allow his creativity and dribbling to create confusion in the English defense.
Trezegol, Anelka - Yes I want to see Trezegol given his chance up front with Anelka. They have worked well together in the past. Anelka is more of a floating striker...a player that is not afraid to drift back to pick up the ball and taken on defenders, hitting crosses into the box, flicking on etc. Trezegol is the perfect second striker to this system since he is a true "fox in the box" and can latch on to a half chance to score. I think with Ribery and Malouda running the flanks they should be able to serve nice crosses into the penalty box.

I think this match will give France a good test, playing against England is never a simple "friendly" add in the buzz around Beckham's 100th cap should give this game a bigger feel than a friendly and should allow some of the French players to get a good test.

Predictions: France 3 - England 1....I think Beckham will score an early goal off a free kick. Only to see Trezegol strike back with a brace and Cisse will score a late goal.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Trezegol back in the fold

Domenech once again surprises me and recalls David Trezeguet to the French side after Benzema had to forfeit. Hmmmm not sure what the French manager is doing these days. More comment later, but I will need to digest this.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Champions League 1/4 Draw

I am remiss that I have not given my $0.02 worth on the Champions League 1/4 final draw. So here are my thoughts:

Roma v Manchester United: The most interesting tie for the 1/4 finals. This draw takes on additional interest since these two teams met last year at the same stage where Manchester United slammed the Romans 7-1. This time around both teams are again in form, with ManU leading the Prem and Roma nipping at the heels of Inter Milan in Italy. I think that Manchester United has the advantage that they start the tie in Rome. Roma will have the pressure to head to Old Trafford with at least a two goal cushion, and will be under pressure to ensure the Red Devils do not score the all important away goal. I cannot envision Roma heading to northern England and coming out with a victory. SAF will need to ensure he avoids the trap in Rome where Roma will throw a variety of strikers/midfielders at you causing confusion in the midfield. Giggs and Scholes need not see the pitch, while they have the experience I cannot see them matching up with folks like Totti making runs through the middle. The key for AS Roma will be the play of De Rossi, can he control the midfield and be the enforcer for Roma? However I cannot see Ronaldo, Rooney, et al. being controlled by an at time erratic Roma back line...could Mexes be red carded for multiple silly fouls.... yes. Predictions: First leg draw 1-1, second leg ManU 2-1 victory, Manchester United through to the semifinals

Schalke v Barcelona: On paper this would be a win for the Spanish giant, but without Messi for the first leg and possibly second that might make one rethink. The German club will be without Rakitic which will cause some issues for their midfield. I think Schalke can win this tie, they play very well as a team and have some fire power up front with Kuranyi and co. But, Barcelona have more, even without Messi. Eto'o, Henry, Ronaldino, and Bojan will be too much to handle for the Germans. Barca showed in their mastery of Celtic in Scotland that they can travel. Prediction: First leg Barca 1-0, Second leg Barca 3-0. Barcelona through to the semifinals.

Fenebache v Chelsea: Just like the last match up, on paper this would appear to be an easy win for the Londoners. But the Turks showed me something last round winning a crazy tie with Sevilla. After being down 2-0 and then 3-1 they found a way to push the game into extra time and won on PKs. The first game being in Istanbul will be a blessing for the Blues, they should be targeting to escape the Turkish calderon with a draw. Even if they head back to Stamford Bridge down 1-0 they should feel confident they can get to the next round. However I think this tie is the most ripe for an upset. Fenebache showed no fear in their last tie against Sevilla so I do not think they will fear having to go to London. They can score goals and Grant has not shown the tactical knowledge that "The Special One" had during his time on the Chelsea side line. I have a feeling that the Turks will find a way to win at home and then go back to Stamford Bridge and hold the Blues....not sure why....but I just think there will be an upset. Prediction: First leg Fenebache 2 - Chelsea 0, second leg Fenebache 1-Chelsea 1....

Arsenal v Liverpool:
Hmmmm the biggest of all the ties...at least for EPL fans. One thing is true, at least England will have one team in the semi finals...These teams obviously know each other very well and will only get to know each other even better. Benetiz and his team will be 100% concentrating on this competition since they are out of the chase for the Premiership title. I can never bet against the Spaniard when it comes to 2 game knock out competitions. But I also believe his craftiness might be negated playing a club and manager that know him well. The main question will be can Arsenal control the red hot Torres?? The second question will be can the Arsenal strikers find the back of the net again?? Unfortunately....for a Gooner fan like myself I think no and no. I think Torres will give a currently shaky back line fits. Gallas has been off his game the last few matches and Toure is getting his legs back. Clichy has disappeared the last month. I think Torres is too hot to handle right now. The Arsenal strikers are not finding the back of the net either, maybe Adebayour should have left his long locks intact! Liverpool is the hot team right now, Arsenal appears tired. Prediction: First leg 1-1 draw, Second leg Liverpool 1 - Arsenal 0.....

Knowing my predictive skills I will be entirely wrong and we will have three English clubs in the semis and an Arsenal v Chelsea semi finals and then Arsenal v Manchester United finals...if that is the case someone please make sure Sam has medical supervision....

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Liverpool through, Benetiz safe for now?

Ugh, somehow Liverpool once again get through to the final 8 in the Champions league. And once again Benetiz has saved his butt for another season. All the more extraordinary that with Liverpool in to the final 8 makes half the teams left from England. I will be interested to see the draw and if the English clubs will face each another.

But once again Benetiz shows that he can manage for knock out competitions but not for the long haul of the championship....

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Arsenal's big big big win

Arsenal score a big victory by going into the San Siro and coming out with a 2-0 victory. It is safe to say that this victory is a huge boost for the team. A couple of thoughts:

The Good:
  • Fabregas - What a wonder strike from distance. The Spaniard played a solid game in the midfield controlling the pace of the game. But that 30 yard strike was sheer genius. Arsenal finally took a chance with that strike, taking what Milan was giving them, which was acres of land in front of the penalty box but no room after that, just tempting long range efforts.
  • Sagna - The Arsenal left back played a solid game shutting down that channel and using his pace to back track and cover the back line.
  • Adebayour - The large Togolese striker demonstrated his ability to take on the defense 1 on 1 as well as in the air forced the Milan defense to sit very deep. I will admit to have doubted his talents since he came over from Monaco, not that he was not a quality striker but I never thought he could be a #1 striker.
  • Arsenal's attack - I love the fact Arsenal looked to attack from the opening, they were not shy in sending up players into the offensive zone. Granted they tried to make too many pretty passes into the box, looking to put together one their patented 7 pass master pieces only to spring the last man for a simple tap in for a goal....but Arsenal were clearly not looking to go to shoot out, or simply looking to strike on the break.
The Bad:

  • Pato finishing - The Brazilian has been very hyped since coming over to Milan. The "Duck" was seen as some fresh blood being infused into an aging Milan side. Granted he has some solid goals this season, but is not lighting the world on fire at least not compared to the hype he has been getting. He had a golden chance in the first half where he found himself alone in front of net and inexplicably tried to pass the ball into the goal...only to pass it to Almunia.
  • Inzaghi diving - The Italian diver was flopping all over the place, once again demonstrating he is the king of seeking cheap fouls and cheaper goals.
The Ugly:
  • AC Milan Defense - Okay not ugly because they gave up two goals...but more an reflection of the ugly side of Italian football. The football where you regularly find 5 defenders just inside the 18 yard line and three defenders in front of the 18 tracking the ball....and sometimes another player dropping back to trap the ball. I was watching the game with Brett and we both observed that this was so typical of Italian football...defend defend defend. What happened to the days when AC had Gullit, Van Basten, et al and played flowing football???

Monday, March 03, 2008

Champions League regular service resumes

The Champions league will have its return legs starting tomorrow. The usual suspects are, of course, on the docket. A few thoughts -

Barcelona v Celtic: Barca come home with a 3-2 victory in their pocket, meaning Celtic have to win at least 2-0 to move on. Doing this at the Camp Nou....will be close to impossible. Barca will be able to keep enough pressure on the Scots to ensure that Celtic does not and cannot throw 10 players against the Barca goal. Barca has WAY too much fire power...even if they sit 2 of the their big 4....prediction Barca 2 - Celtic 0

Lyon v Manchester United: SAF keeps hyping up the young French prodigy, Benzema....rightfully so the young French striker is on fire this season. Benzema had almost given Lyon a 1-0 home victory, only to see Tevez give the Red Devils a crucial tie and away goal.

But Benzema might be the key to the return fixture in Manchester. No on is giving Lyon a chance to defeat the all might Red Devils....but there is a slight chance. Many of the injured Lyon players are back - Cris, Coupet, and Juninho. Fred is also in form (scoring again this weekend)...giving Lyon another option up front. Ben Afra offering Lyon a super sub to change the games complexion late on. Having said all that, this is still the Red Devils with a plethora of attacking and midfield options. But something tells me that the match will be a cautious one between Manchester United protecting their away goal and always fearful of Benzema's strike ability. The game might drag on 0-0 until middle of the second half, where I think Lyon will throw on Fred to partner with Benzema...to find a precious goal. Predictions Lyon 1 - Manchester United 0

Fenebache - Sevilla: No clue here....but I think Sevilla will find a way to put two goals past the Turkish club - Predictions Sevilla 2 - Fenebache 0.

Arsenal - Milan: This the second big fixture for tomorrow. The game in Northern London ended in a difficult 0-0 draw giving the advantage to....not sure. Milan are going home and can hope for an early goal to sit on...or will they be wary of an Arsenal goal .... the precious away goal? Arsenal are in a difficult position, with Eduardo's horrific injury and tough battle for the Prem they will need to refocus for this match. A couple of points, first Senderos, I realize he was not entirely at fault for the OG, but he looked totally over matched. Milan will pick on the Swiss relentlessly all game. Second, not sure who will partner up front for Arsenal...I think Adebayour and Walcott would make a great pairing up front. Walcott would give the aging Milan defense fits with his speed, and Adebayour's height would play well in the box. Bendtner would be a good sub off the bench and Van Persie, if healthy could be a joker. I think Arsenal will put Flamini on Kaka while Milan will put Gattuso on Fabergas. The question is who will pick up Pirlo? For that I would go with a 3-5-2 with Gilberto and Flamini as holding/defensive midfielders. Fabergas in front of them, with Hleb and Rosicky (if healthy) on the wings. This would be a very offensive team, but Fabergas can fall back deeper to support the defense. I just don't trust Senderos anchoring the defense with Gallas. This game will be a tight chess match - AC Milan go up early, but late subs by Van Persie will see the Dutchman score a late equalizer...only to injure himself again and be out for another month! Predictions - Arsenal 1 - Milan 1....Arsenal through on the away goal.
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