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 - ) 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 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 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

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 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.

Yaya to Arsenal? 5 reasons why this has to happen!

So the rumors that the Toure brothers will reunite in North London are cropping up again...and here are 5 reasons why this is good for Arsenal -

  1. More muscle - Yaya will bring much needed muscle to Arsenal's midfield. With the lose of Flamini and Gilberto, Arsenal are in desperate need of a holding/defensive midfield and one with the power of Yaya would be a tremendous asset. The Arsenal midfield is already slight of stature, adding Yaya would give it some size and muscle. As well as protecting Cesc.
  2. Partnering with his brother - that would be cool to see...Yaya and Kolo on the pitch at the same time, plus it would give Arsenal a solid spine. Wonder which is Mommy Toure's favorite?
  3. Arsenal needs to show it has some money - So far this transfer season Arsenal is in a net loss when it comes to players. The biggest name they added was Nasri while losing such names as Hleb, Flamini and Gilberto. This would be a sign that Wenger still has some money in the kitty.
  4. Give cover for the backs - Clichy and Sagna have tendancies to push up and to be aggressive on their offensive runs. Arsenal will need someone in the midfield that can cover when the backs make their runs.
  5. Target Ronaldo - Yaya would be a good option to nullify opponents' midfield maestros and offensive players - Ronaldo, Bentley, Gerrard, Lampard, Ballack, etc. The back 4 are solid in covering the strikers, but Arsenal can use a player to break up the offense from the midfield.
Again these are rumors that have been out there for a long time. But I think Wenger needs to move on this one, Yaya has been talking about playing for Arsenal for a long time. Now let us get him in the Arse Kit.