Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Domenech makes his choices

So the list for the 23 is out....and once again Domenech has unveiled a few surprises. First the list-

La liste des 23 :
Gardiens: Grégory Coupet (Lyon), Sébastien Frey (Fiorentina/ITA), Steve Mandanda (Olympique de Marseille)

Défenseurs: Eric Abidal (FC Barcelone/ESP), Jean-Alain Boumsong (Lyon), François Clerc (Lyon), Patrice Evra (Manchester United/ANG), William Gallas (Arsenal/ANG), Willy Sagnol (Bayern Munich/ALL), Lilian Thuram (FC Barcelone/ESP), Sébastien Squillaci (Lyon)

Milieux: Lassana Diarra (Portsmouth/ANG), Claude Makelele (Chelsea/ANG), Jérémy Toulalan (Lyon), Patrick Vieira (Inter Milan/ITA)

Attaquants: Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea/ANG), Karim Benzema (Lyon), Bafétimbi Gomis (Saint-Etienne), Thierry Henry (FC Barcelone/ESP), Florent Malouda (Chelsea/ANG), Sidney Govou (Lyon), Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich/ALL), Samir Nasri (Marseille)

Some thoughts and observations:
  • Gomis - This pundit thought that he would be the first player "cut" from the 30, but that was before his two wonder goals during yesterday's friendly. If you missed them they are already on YouTube...no surprise http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFEXgqbZ6CQ. The last spot for striker was clearly down to Cisse and Gomis, and the thinking was Cisse with his experience as well as his strong end of season with Marseilles would give him the nod over the rookie Gomis. However, I think the theme of Domenech's pick was evident with Gomis, he went with the players that were in form and in health. Gomis was the revalation of Ligue 1 this season with 16 goals and his two strikes yesterday gave the French manager a front row to the ability of the Stephanoise striker. While I am not ready to say that Gomis will truly challenge for a starting role, I think he will offer Domenech an incredibly talented and dangerous offensive substitute.
  • Boumsong and Squillaci - Ugh, what can I say about Boumsong....other than he is slow, takes bad angles, and is really not worthy of being a full international. Hopefully he will only see the field in the 3rd game of the group stages, assuming France has wrapped up its place in the knock out stages and will rest Thuram and Gallas. The only thing I can see for Boumsong to be included on the roster is the fact Mexes was injured after the Italian cup finals and Escude was coming off an injury as well. According to what Domenech stated he wanted to go with players he knew would be healthy, not those that have question marks. Mexes had not even kicked a ball since the Italian Cup, not a good sign with the tournament starting in 2 weeks. Escude was also coming off injury. While on pure talent these two should be head and shoulders above "the donkey" Boumsong, if they cannot play rather have a healthy player....well maybe not. Squillaci is not a huge surprise, due to the above mentioned injuries. I hope that if he and Boumsong need to play, their time spent together at Lyon will help them anchor the middle of the defense. I must admit I am nervous about these two as back up for Thuram and Gallas.
  • Landreau - Always thought of as the #2 behind Coupet and most likely the future #1 the fact he was completely dropped is a little bit of a surprise...but not really. Mandanda was voted the #1 keeper in Ligue 1, ahead of Landreau. Landreau had a shaky season for both club and country (the goal against Scotland, while a wonder strike from McFadden should still have been handled by a keeper of that stature) and was not instilling the greatest confidence for any manager. The back up keeper roles are similar to the Vice President, completely irrelevant but still a "heart beat" away from being vital. I think that with Frey as the back up, France has no fear and getting Mandanda into the squad, allow him to train with the team and watch the games from the side line is more a selection for the future than for the actual tournament. The keeper spots were always thought as status quo - Coupet, Landreau and Frey - this sends a message to both Landreau and the rest of the squad. Landreau most likely would not have seen the pitch, but this might give him a kick in the pants remind him that nothing is a guarantee and he needs to earn each cap, each start. I do not doubt that Landreau will be back in blue and will be in competition for the #1 stripe for the World Cup 2010, but for now he will have to watch from his television, hopefully with an added hunger to improve and fight for his spot.
  • ADiarra and Flamini - No real surprise here, both players are victims of being in a midfield position that has a log jam of world class players - LDiarra, Toulalan, Makelele and Vieira. No shame in being second fiddles to these players. The time for both will eventual come, Makelele cannot go on forever, although he shows no signs of slowing down. The season both players had for their clubs entitles them to be in the mix for the long term for France's holding/defensive midfield role. Amazing how France can have so much talent at this position, yet a nation like England cannot seem to find 1 decent holding midfielder (Hargreaves is Canadian....)
  • Ben Arfa - The young Franco-Moroccan prodigy will have to wait his turn. I think he is deserved of a spot on the roster and the person I would have dropped was Gouvou, but Sidney is Domenech's binky (kind of like Boumsong) so no surprise he was a "protected" player for the roster. I would rather have seen Ben Arfa, being a natural left footed player to be able to slot on the left side of the formation, he would also would have been a strong joker to insert late into games. While Malouda had a good end of season, he remains a little off form compared to his scintillating form for Lyon. Again, this selection was more based on who the manager is comfortable with - Gouvou, rather than who has the most talent - Ben Arfa. I think that moving away from Lyon to either Villareal or Arsenal will do Ben Arfa wonders, allow him to develop and make him an "untouchable" for Les Bleus.
Other than Mandanda and Gomis, the list of 23 is not a head scratcher. There is a good infusion in youth - Nasri, Benezema, Gomis, and Mandanda to be added to the old guard. The one area of concern for me is right back. Sagnol is recovering over an injury that saw him played a limited role for Bayern, and Clerc is not even the #1 right back for Lyon. I would like to think that had Sagna been healthy he would have been given a serious look as the second right back. As of now, I am nervous about that side of the defense. I will be interested to see what formation and style Domenech looks to build, I would think his usual -

Coupet in goal
Sagnol, Gallas, Thuram, Abidal in the back
Makelele and Vieira sitting in front of the defense
Malouda on the left, Ribery on the right
Anelka and Henry up front

An interesting angle will be, does Domenech maybe look to play 3 holding/defensive midfielders by inserting Diarra or Toulalan to play along side Makelele and Vieira, freeing up Vieira to roam more. Play with one striker and allow Ribery to wander offensively, allowing him to play the right flank or as a true #10. The youth for France is on offense, maybe by playing a third holding midfielder he takes pressure off "veterans" like Thuram and Sagnol. Or perhaps he plays with three offensive midfielders, putting Nasri behind a lone striker. The options are there, the question remains will Domenech find the correct one?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Manchester United "wins" the Champions League


Ugh...The Red Devils win the Champions League after Anelka's penalty is saved by Van Der Old. So now we will have to watch SAF strut around as if he were god's gift to footballing....great. A few quick thoughts on the game:

  • Much like Italy in the 2006 World Cup, they goal posts should be getting a thank you note from Man U. Twice during the run of play Chelsea saw their shots die on the post and John Terry, on what would have been the clinching kick for Chelsea, saw his shot deflect off the post. The ESPN commentators predicted that the pitch might come into play since it became loose and slippery as the game dragged on...none more evident than when Terry went for his kick and slipped.
  • Chelsea, overall, were the better team. The Blues took the game to Manchester United. Other than a few moments of panic in the beginning of the game, Chelsea and Cech were not really tested. The Ronaldo goal was from a huge mistake from Essein who looked completely lost for spells of the match. Rather than mark Ronaldo tight on the cross he hesitated, looked to move forward towards the ball, and instead found himself in no man's land allowing the Portugese striker to easily head in the ball. Chelsea then faced a scare when Tevez and then Carrick were denied by huge saves from Cech. Otherwise, the game was clearly in Chelsea's hand. The entire second half Cech did not seem bothered one time by Manchester United.
  • Rooney looked lost, he was completely marked out of the game. The fact he was subbed off was an indicator that not all is right with the striker. Hopefully he will have time to recover for the Euros....oh wait England is staying home. Okay I guess he will have plenty of down time before the start of the season in August.
  • Essein was not his usual rock. Granted he was playing out of position at right back, but when he plied his trade in France he would often times find himself at right or left back and played the role with world class ability. I know he was marking Ronaldo, no easy task, but he looked pedestrian on at least 2 one on one confrontations with the Portugese.
  • Drogba vs Vidic. The central defender was clearly in Drogba's head, none more evident than a late game goading by the Manchester United player getting Drogba red carded. A good word of advise for Didier Drogba from Ryan - don't hit anyone. I want to see Drogba stay in England just to watch those two going at it again next season, there is no love lost there.
While the result is painful (I also placed a wager on Chelsea at the Venetian sports book...thanks John Terry), the overall game was very entertaining. And as always with PKs, the best team does not always win.

With the European season winding down we can start looking to June 7th and the start of the Euros...cannot wait.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Domenech announces his 30...Trezeguet's France career comes to an end, for now

At 11:00am this morning, Paris time, Domenech announced the 30 man roster he will choose from to head to the Euros this summer. Some surprises, but mostly par for the course. The list -

La liste des 30 joueurs :
Gardiens: Grégory Coupet (Lyon), Mickaël Landreau (Paris SG), Sébastien Frey (Fiorentina/ITA), Steve Mandanda (Olympique de Marseille)

Défenseurs: Eric Abidal (FC Barcelone/ESP), Jean-Alain Boumsong (Lyon), François Clerc (Lyon), Julien Escudé (FC Séville/ESP), Patrice Evra (Manchester United/ENG), William Gallas (Arsenal/ENG), Philippe Mexès (AS Rome/ITA), Willy Sagnol (Bayern Munich/GER), Lilian Thuram (FC Barcelone/ESP), Sébastien Squillaci (Lyon)

Milieux: Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Lassana Diarra (Portsmouth/ENG), Mathieu Flamini (Arsenal/ENG), Claude Makelele (Chelsea/ENG), Jérémy Toulalan (Lyon), Patrick Vieira (Inter Milan/ITA)

Attaquants: Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea/ENG), Hatem Ben Arfa (Lyon), Karim Benzema (Lyon), Djibril Cissé (Marseille), Bafétimbi Gomis (Saint-Etienne), Thierry Henry (FC Barcelone/ESP), Florent Malouda (Chelsea/ENG), Sidney Govou (Lyon), Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich/GER), Samir Nasri (Marseille)

From this list, Domenech will cut down his list to the magic 23 that will head to Austria/Switzerland this summer. Again, not too many surprises ... but any list will have some so here are the ones that jump out to me:

  • Gomis from St Etienne - the Franco/Senegalese players has been a goal scoring machine in Ligue 1, racking up 16 tallies this season....which is saying a lot in a league that sees its fair share of 0-0 draws. I highly doubt he will make the final roster but good experience for the youngster and a good opportunity for Domenech to look at this player. Although Domenech did pick Chimbonda out of the blue for the World Cup, he could do the same with this youngster.
  • Boumsong...um okay not a surprise since we are talking about Domenech. BUT WHY???? I recently was chatting with my friend Anant who said it best...he is a "DONKEY." You already have Gallas and Thurman firmly entrenched in the middle of the French defense, Escude will most likely be there since he is a central defender, but can also slot to the wing of the defense. So you are telling me that Boumsong is really in competition for a spot with Mexes and Squillaci???? Both these players are head and shoulders above than the former Ranger defender...again a DONKEY....
  • Speaking of Boumsong, surprised that Clichy was left off the roster. While he might be third in line for left sided defender behind Abidal and Evra, he is better to have in Tignes for a few days than Boumsong.
  • Leaving Sagna off, to me it must be due to the Arsenal man's injury not because Domenech truly feels he is not better than Clerc on the right side. I think the right side of the French defense might be its Achilles heal, why? Sagnol is coming off an injury where he missed a large chunk of the Bayern season and he is no spring chicken, Clerc is not even the undisputed #1 right side defender for his club. Without a healthy Sagna I think France might find itself struggling at this spot.
  • Trezeguet....okay no real surprise that the Juventus sniper was left off the roster. Clearly his career in Blue, at least under Domenech, is over. The French manager has made it clear since Germany 2006 that Trezegol would struggle to maintain his place on the national team, regardless of the constant success he enjoyed for the Old Lady. Sad day for Trezeguet, sad day for Les Bleus. I cannot understand why his regular goal scoring touch for Juventus all of a sudden does not translate when he put on the blue of France. All strikers go through tough spells, but it seems David was going through one since he lite up Germany many moons ago. As I stated in a prior post, I think David still has a lot to bring to the team and would be a great change of pace striker. Too bad Domenech does not see it that way.
Otherwise I think the players Domenech announced are those we all expected. Off the cuff the seven players that will not be going to the Euros from the group -

Mandanda - the Marseille's keeper is the future for France but will not force his place into the top 3, but look for him to be there for the World Cup in South Africa.
Boumsong - um maybe hopeful thinking but seriously...is he better than Squillaci, Mexes or Escude???
Squillaci - With 4 central defenders on the team - Gallas, Thuram, Mexes and Escude...in a pinch Abidal can slot there, the Lyon defender is heading home with Boumsong.
Alou Diarra - The Bordeaux man is victim of a log jam of players that play the holding/defensive midfielder role: Makelele, LDiarra, Vieira, Toulalan, Flamini...
Flamini - See reason for ADiarra....
Ben Arfa - Domenech likes the winger even if he is club does not see the need to start him...his time will come for both club and country
Gomis - The StEtienne man is there to soak up the atmosphere and get a reward for a great domestic season, but will be one to watch for World Cup qualifiers

In a few days we shall see what Domenech has up his sleeve, knowing him we are in for another surprise or two....

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Good article from Sam

http://www.nysun.com/sports/europe-s-lack-parity-hurting-soccer

Sam has been witting some good stuff for the New York Sun. I found this article good and touches a lot of what I was touching upon in my last blog entry.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

ManU win another title....

Ugh so this weekend we saw the Red Devils win their 10th Premiership title and 17th overall domestic title...just one behind Liverpool and their 18 overall titles (how many premiership titles?). Manchester United continues to show their domination of the English league and the fact they are suppose to increase their coffers to purchase some "depth" this off season is down right scary. Who will they add? Benzema? Messi? Ribery? Yaya Toure? Landon Donovan???? I think this just demonstrates how the rich get richer and the chasm between those that have a chance to win the Prem and those that are just along for the ride continues to get deeper and wider.

Let us look at who ManU has bought last summer transfer season - Nani, Anderson, Hargraeves, and Tevez. Not a bad shopping list to add to an already stacked line up. The same can be said for Chelsea and Liverpool who spent like drunken sailors. Arsenal did some spending but do not have the coffers the other three clubs enjoy. The issue is, what can the second tier clubs do to compete? The Tottenhams and Evertons of the league can go out and look for bargains or table scraps but will that ever add up to enough to compete with the money machines of the top 4? With these teams struggling to keep up, how can bottom feeders ever hope to find themselves competitive?

While the 10th premier title is impressive, due to the financial structure, lack of salary cap and overall economic structure the fact Manchester United seems to own the title is more a result of the business side of the sport and not the scouting, managing, developement, team aspects of the game. I am a huge fan of the Prem, but I am starting to think something drastic needs to be done to try to level the playing field, at least give mid tier clubs reason to hope, reason to believe that one day they too could challenge for the title. I hear pundits say, well the league is competitive - but on different levels - 4 or 5 clubs compete for the title, 4 or 5 compete for UEFA spots and 5-6 compete to stay up.....unfortunately when it is the same teams in each category it gets slightly boring. Rather than adding another game, maybe the FA needs to think about making the league more competitive for everyone!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Flamini out, is Hleb next, and who will replace them?

Mathieu Flamini has signed with the Italian giant - AC Milan leaving North London. After a season where the Frenchman has come to his own, playing the role of holding/defensive midfielder for Arsenal. After being stuck at right back out of necessity, and allowing Arsenal to make a run to the Champion's League finals, his game moved to another level forcing Wenger to push Gilberto to the bench. Rather than signing Flamini, Wenger let his contract to run out and now he must allow the player he developed to walk away for nothing.

Might another Arsenal midfielder also be on his way to Milan, but to the black and blue - Hleb. This is not a good direction for a club that is already thin, painfully demonstrated this season as the Gunners crashed out of the Premiership race as well as the Champions League after starting both competitions so promisingly. With other rumors of Hleb following the Frenchman out of town what does this mean for Arsenal and their midfield? And will Wenger open up the purse strings this off season? Here are some options that Arsenal should look at -

Tiago - The Portuguese has found himself in no mans land in Serie A. After a few good seasons at Lyon the move to the Old Lady proved to be a step backwards. Will he be tempted to go back to London and see if he can rebuild his career under the red of Arsenal? Tiago would fill the need for holding midfielder vacated by Flamini. I am sure he would jump at the chance to get out of Juventus and back to London.

Sessegnon - The young Benin midfielder has been a revelation in Ligue 1 this season and already counts 8 international caps. Wenger is the master of poaching his native land for players that are on the verge of stardom. The rumor has already been written about on Gunner blogs - http://thegoonerforum.wordpress.com/2008/05/04/stephane-sessegnon-to-replace-flamini/
Le Mans has been on the surprise teams in Ligue 1 and much can be attributed to players like Matsui and Sessengon. The defensive midfielder has also chipped in with 5 goals this season. At 23 he could be on the verge of stardom, could he reach that level at the Emirates?

Gattuso - It is a nice rumor to see the Italian pit bull coming back to London to replace Flamini. However, I am not sure the pit bull will find his way to England, I think Wenger will not look to spend money on a player he might see on the back 9 of his career.

Mavuba - The highly touted French midfielder found his career in a bit of a tail spin after he left Ligue 1 for Spain and Villareal. He has been seen as the replacement for Makelele in the French midfield. While he has demonstrated flashes of this level he needs to be more consistent. Not sure if he will head back to Spain, stay at Lille or maybe look for a complete change of scenery.

Gourcuff - One of the players touted as the next "zidane" has been lost on the bench at AC Milan. Prior to moving to Italy the rumors were rampant that he would end up in North London. The latest thinking is that he might end up back in France with Olympique Marseilles. Yet, it Wenger shows interest might he decide to go to the Gunners? Realizing the reputation Wenger has to turning around players and making them internationals. Plus he would be much less expensive than he would have been a few years back.

Diego - A wild card, but lots of heat around the Brazilian leaving Germany for one of the big three leagues, the most likely destination seems to be Real Madrid....but what if Wenger decides to jump in and lure the creative midfielder to the Emirates. He would add creativity and flair to the midfield, and would make a formidable duo with Cesc. Main problem, he would not add much size to the squad.

Nasri - Another "Next Zidane" the young midfielder from OM is seen as the heir apparent to run the midfield for Les Bleus. Could he be had? I think he could, but it will a long shot. The player from OM that Wenger wanted was Ribery and we all know where he ended up. Maybe a target for Wenger in 2 seasons but not for the next campaign.

Pjanic - The young Bosnian - Luxumbourgious player is a rising star for Metz. With Metz heading down to Ligue 2 next season the rumors are rife that he will not be long for another team. His father is said to be pushing the youngster to stay in France, but would a call from the "professor" change his mind?

Just a few options that Wenger might be interested in, of course had he held on to Diarra I think he would not be overly concerned with finding a replacement for Flamini...or had he just signed Flamini when he had the chance....Let us all hope that Wenger opens the purse strings and adds some experience and talent to his midfield. Arsenal will need it to contend next season.
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