Thursday, February 26, 2009

Is the Premiership the best league in the world?

After the first round of Champions League knock out games, all the "big four" are in good positions to be in the final 8, and giving the Prem half the slots in the final 8. That would be impressive. Since the 2003-2004 edition, England has always had at least one club in the Champions League semi finals. During that span, the Premier has secured two titles and had 3 teams earn runner up medals. So does this mean that the Premiership is the dominate league in footie?

It would be hard to argue against the Premiership's current form. Arsenal is the weakest of the 4 clubs from England and from all reports they dominated AS Roma (I have not had a chance to watch my DVR). Chelsea scored a famous victory against the Old Lady. Manchester United secured the essential, a road draw. And Liverpool scored a huge 1-0 win away to Real Madrid and will force Real to have to come to Anfield and win a game. I am not ready to crown one of the big four as this year's champion, but the odds are that one of them will be Rome in May. Of course Athletico, Real, Barca and Villereal could also turn their ties around and place 4 Spanish clubs in the final 8 as well!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Beckham saga

I keep reading, what appears every day, is that Beckham is on again off again to staying in Northern Italy. It would appear that the loan move to Milan is wanted to be made permanent. What a surprise. Which player would not want to stay at the San Siro playing against Lazio, AS Roma, Inter, Juventus, let alone the European teams in the Champions League? Seems a much better footballing experience than having to play in front of 8,000 fans in football stadiums like Gillette or Giant Stadium. Seems like a much better experience than toiling for the dysfunctional Galaxy. Seems like a much better experience for the entire Beckham brand name. Seems like playing for one of the best footy leagues in the world would be a better experience than playing for the MLS (just don't ask Lalas how he views the MLS in the grand scheme of football leagues). So I think that a the end of this dance between MLS and Milan that Becks will end up at the San Siro for a protracted time. Which will be somewhat remarkable - Beckham would have played for 3 of the most storied and trophied clubs in the world - Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan in the world's top 3 well as having played in the MLS in the midst of all these teams. So why is this interesting to me? Other than the fact Beckham has run back to Europe at the first chance he had, even though the MLS was supposedly a great place to be...oops. I think this move will determine if Gourcuff is brought back after his loan spell with Bordeaux is over.

With Becks in the mix full time at Milan, the midfield is once more packed and might not allow for a Gourcuff to get the time and run he needs. With Kaka and Pirlo pulling the strings in the middle of the midfield, Becks will slot out wide, so where do we slot Gourcuff? I think the writing on the wall is that if Gourcuff wants to get any time on the pitch he will either need to have Milan sell of some players - such as Kaka to Manchester City, or hope Milan builds around Gourcuff as the high central midfielder with Pato and Kaka up front, maybe Ronaldino on the wing and Becks on the other, with Pirlo Where would Gattusso play how about Seedorf???

I hope that the Beckham deal goes through and that this allows Gourcuff stay at Bordeaux.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Well well well...look who is challenging in France

My my my how much can change in one year. Last year I was convinced that PSG was destined to be relegated, I actually thought it might be a good thing for the Parisian club. The kick in the butt they needed to start overhauling the club. Of course, once again I was proven wrong. PSG is now only 4 points off the top of the table and have just taken out a solid option for the next round of the UEFA Cup defeating Wolfsburg 2-0 at the Parc des Prince. So can we expect PSG to really be the challenger for the Ligue 1 title, knock Lyon off their pedestal?

Looking ahead, PSG's season will really hinge on a stretch between March 15 and May 2, during that span they will face Marseilles, Lyon, Toulouse, Nice, Rennes and LOSC - the top 10 teams of the league. This span will challenge Le Guen and his ability to manage his players. With older players - Guily and Makelele - how will Le Guen ensure that he keeps his team competitive and not burn out his veterans. Also, will Rothen come back to form? His crosses against Wolfsburg appear promising, resulting in the first Hourau goal. But I question his ability to maintain this level of play. What is promising is the infusion of some of the youth - Sakho (who has been a mainstay for over a year) and Makonda - being two teenagers that Le Guen has leveraged. The other main issue will be if Sessegnon, Chantome, Clement, Makelele and the rest can keep up the high level of midfield play. The midfield play has been key to the success for PSG, and has allowed Hourau and Guily to succeed up front.

The next few months will be a huge test for PSG, I am not sure if they have the roster to really challenge Lyon, but I am glad to see Paris contending again rather than being in a relegation battle.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Les Bleus moving forward

So I have been reading one of my favorite blogs - . And I am struck at the desire to change the French team whole sale. Now I am by no means a supporter of Domenech, I would hope my prior posts have clearly demonstrated that. At the same point I am not ready to throw out the entire team after a 2-0 lose to one of the world's best football teams - Argentina. So after a weekend to digest this here are some final thoughts before we look towards the start of World Cup qualifying.

What seems to be working -
  • France seems to be finding some sort of rhythm offensively - Gourcuff appears to be able to pull the strings on offense. Granted, when he comes across world class defensive midfielders - Mascherano and Gago - he find the sledding a bit more difficult, but any player would have a challenge when faced with the steel of the Argentine midfield. The understanding between Gourcuff and Ribery is promising. Henry does seem comfortable on the left. There is some depth offensively, albeit some that is still immature. Being able to draw upon Gourcuff, Ribery, Ben Arfa, Benzema, Henry, Anelka, well as the Cisse, Menez, Sinama-Pongolle. The main challenge will be to figure out who the top 4 strikers are, which are the wingers and stick with them. Allow them to develop.
  • Mexes and Gallas - ok I am basing this on one game....a game they lost! But based on what I had seen the past few months I will grasp that straw with all my strength. However, I did see much promise in the Argentina game. Mexes was aggressive and attacked the ball and looked to control the aerial game while Gallas was well positioned and relaunched the offense regularly. To me this is a bright spot for the near term. If this partnership can hold together, it will bode well for Les Bleus.
  • The lateral defenders - Evra, Clichy, Abidal, Sagna, and Fanni - to name the recent players. With players like Clerc, Trémoulinas, Rami waiting in the wings, there is depth on the defensive wings. While Sagna struggled against Argentina, I am confident that the French will be well served by a combination of the above defending the wings.
What needs to improve -
  • Goalkeeping - are there some good options? Yes. Is there a clear #1? No. To me this goes back to Domenech, what a surprise. Prior to the Euros it appeared that France would look to either Frey or Landreau to assume the torch once Coupet moved on. Surprise! Domenech decided to jettison Landreau, not sure why, and add Mandanda to the roster. Then rather than allow Frey to become the clear #1, which he could be, Domenech jettisons the Fiorentina keeper and goes with Mandanda. Now the latest rumor is that Lloris is going to be the #1 keeper for Les Bleus....????? Not to say he is not deserving, but what happened to Mandanda? A poor game against Argentina? Does that take away your #1 shirt? If that is the case then how did Barthez keep his position with Les Bleus for so long? Bottum line - Frey or Landreau should be #1, with Mandanda as one back up. Too bad Domenech is too near sited and too stubborn to figure that out.
  • The holding midfield is a little in disarray and not due to lack of talent. With ADiarra, LDiarra, Flamini (although leaving Arsenal might have been a terrible decision for the midfielder), Toulalan, Mavuba, etc, there is depth at the position. The issue is - who is the right player for that role? The greater issue is, does France have a holding midfielder in the mold of a Pat Vieira? A "box to box" midfielder, one that can make the hard tackle, carry the ball and chip in a goal here and there? I would actually think that ADiarra might be that player, based on how he is performing for Bordeaux. Les Bleus might look to couple him a LDiarra or Toulalan, plus Alou would give you some much needed height. In its current iteration I fear that the holding tandem will not give the added dimension teams need to compete at the highest level, remember when Vieira was hurt during the France v Greece 1/4 final game in the 2004 Euros in Portugal - France. France lined up Dacourt and Makelele, both world class tackling, defensive midfielders, but neither player was capable to linking well with the offense. Les Bleus need to find that player that can allow the linkage between the defense and offense. A challenge, yes, but not unsolvable.
  • The team motivation, what do I mean by that? It is clear that some players' performances for their clubs do not carry over to their play for Les Bleus, why? I place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the manager. Domenech needs to find a way to get the most of his players, and unfortunately I think that is where he is the most lacking in terms of leadership. A great example for me is watching Maradona on the sidelines. You can tell he has his teams trust and ear, granted he is a hero in his home land, but one needs to know how to harness that stature, he has done that. Domenech on the other hand just alienates players and does not know how to motivate. Granted some may argue, hey Domenech has been able to get his teams to play well when they have to - world cup in Germany, qualifier in Ireland...but to me the times he cannot far outweighs the times he has. I fear I sound like a broken record, but not sure how much will change as long as Domenech remains at the helm.
The upcoming matches against Lithuania are, obviously, far more important than what happened last week. Let us not overlook the fact Germany lost at home to Norway, England was outclassed against Spain and Italy lost to Brazil in a game where Brazil could have scored 2 or 3 more goals. What will take place next month will be much more important, so before we decide to over turn the entire team and call upon young or fringe internationals - Sakho, Gignac, Hourau etc (granted some should be given a chance, but they are not the short term answer). Until Domenech is sacked we will constantly be having these discussions.

Friday, February 13, 2009

France limp into next month's WC qualifiers

Ok so I finally was able to watch the France - Argentina match on my DVR. I had to watch, not that I wanted to knowing Les Bleus lost 2-0, but based on some of the comments I was reading I had to see with my own eyes what happened. First of all, let us be clear, Les Bleus did not lose to some run of the mill chump team, we are talking about Argentina. Twice World Cup champ, defending Olympic soccer champ, with players such as Messi, Gago, Mascherano. I know they are ranked 6th in the FIFA rankings (which are a joke) but I believe they are one of the top 2 teams in the world currently with Spain. With that in mind here are some thoughts -

The Good:
  • Mexes and Gallas looked solid even though they lost. Both central defenders appeared to find their role during the match. Gallas was the calm presence in the back while Mexes dominated in the air and was aggressive and attacked the play higher up the pitch. The only minor mistake was early on the match when he allowed Messi to turn to the center of the 18 yard box and needed Gallas to block the young Argentina's shot that seemed destined for the right side of the goal. Otherwise both central defenders looked much more confident in this match than in previous. Something to build upon moving forward, and finally we might see the end of Boumsong in the middle of the French defense!
  • The center of the Argentine midfield - Gago and Mascherano - were formidable. As I had stated in prior blog entries, I was convinced that which ever midfield controlled the middle of the park would have the advantage in the match. The two Argentine holding midfielders were huge during the game. The completely shut down Gourcuff and were tireless in their work rate. They constantly attacked the French midfielders and strikers when they had the ball in the middle of the park. This duo allows Argentina to do so many things offensively, freeing up the likes of Aguero, Messi, Rodriguez and Gutierrez to be completely offensively minded.
  • Messi, what do you expect from one of the world's best players? I find it somewhat humorous reading some commentary that the second goal was Diarra's fault, or Mandanda should have done better, or 4 French defenders had the chance to shut Messi folks we are talking about one the world's best players (#1 or #2 depending on how you rank him with Ronaldo). Has anyone watched him for Barca or in prior Argentina games? He has done this to other defenses and will do it for many years to come.

Maybe we just need to applaud and realize there is no shame in giving up a goal to Messi.

The Bad:
  • I do not want to completely throw Mandanda under the bus but you could make the argument that his poor angle work on the first goal changed the entire game. Granted, speaking as a keeper, the shot was much trickier than it appears. A low, rebounding shot to the near post, you are usually playing for a hard shot rather than one that takes a soft skidding bounce. But again, as an international keeper you should be expected to do better. The OM keeper did show himself more aggressive and in control of his 18 yard box when it came to crosses and high balls into his area. In prior France games he tended to be too hesitant too passive, this time he attacked the ball and took advantage of his physical presence. However overall he did not do enough to secure the undisputed #1 spot in the keeper pecking order. I still think that France's number 1 resides in Florence. Too bad Domenech has rubbed Frey the wrong way...what a surprise that is!
  • Gourcuff had probably his worst game in his short career with Les Bleus. He was completely shut down by the Argentine midfield. Every time he had a little bit of space to work with, he was quickly shut down by the defense. He did have one moment of brilliance, dissecting the Argentine defense with a diagonal ball springing Anelka 1 on 1 with Carrizo, otherwise he was well bottled up. It was clear that Maradona had targeted him as the primary Frenchman to contain, and it worked to perfection. Gourcuff will have to learn that as his role becomes more prominent for Les Bleus that he will start getting this style of treatment and attention, it is up to him to take his game to the next level. I believe he can and will. This was a sobering reminder that being dubbed the next Zizou is a heavy burden.
  • Anelka and Benzema, neither appeared too dangerous. The Argentine back 4 did a very good job shutting down Anelka and later Benzema. But neither man appeared motivated to really work hard against the defense. One two occasions I watched as crosses came in to Anelka where he barely worked to get free, allowing Demichelis to easily sit in the striker's back pocket. One the picture perfect pass from Gourcuff I felt Anelka should have taken another touch, tried to go around Carrizo rather than try to one time chip the keeper. Benzema did not really have enough time to do much, but never appeared into the game either.
The Ugly:
  • As good as Gago and Mascherano were, Toulalan and Diarra were not. The French holding midfield were the opposite of their Argentine counterparts. They committed an outrageous amount of fouls (I believe over 20 between the two of them), they were late on many tackles and just did not provide the proper platform for counter attacks. Toulalan was more of the culprit than his Real Madrid partner. But both men had ugly games that they need to put behind them.
  • And of course the biggest culprit...Domenech. Once again I seriously question the manager and his ability to motivate his team, to adapt a game plan, and as the ESPN commentator said "have a plan B." I really do not understand how you cannot look to do things differently, down by a goal in the second half. Maybe take off one of your holding midfielders who was not having a good game and insert another creative midfielder, say Nasri, to put more pressure on Gago and Mascherano, giving Gourcuff more space as well. Maybe you allow Henry to slide higher up the pitch shoulder Benzema. Maybe you take off the other holding midfielder and insert ADiarra who will give you more height allowing you to attack the Argentines through the air...just a thought Raymond. For me, a good international manager needs to have 3 attributes - 1) ability to select the right mix of players, no brainer. For a nation like France you have no shortage of talent, but getting the right mix is important and having the right players on the bench to change a game is what allows for success 2)understand the right system of play but have a Plan B, do you play a 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, do you have the right player to control your midfield? attack on the flanks? attack with long crosses? 3) motivate your team, you are managing a national team, the cream of the crop. But you need to ensure the team understands that they are playing for the nation they represent and a manager needs to instill that national pride and motivation, this usually entails strong interpersonal skills. Unfortunately I am not sure Domenech possesses any of the above. I question some of his selections - Boumsong? I think he has some clue about what system, but has no ability to change if and when that system stalls. Yes he took France to the WC finals, but I attribute that to Vieira's will and Zidane's immense talents, not Domenech. Domenech might be the worst when it comes to interpersonal skills. Look at how he handled the Coupet v Barthez question during the World Cup, he has alienated players like Trezeguet and Frey, he has completely shut out players like Landreau for no apparent reason. I really fear that Les Bleus will waste a crop of talented footballers because the FFF insists on keeping Domenech as the national team manager.
Overall, I do not think that Les Bleus were dominated by Argentina. There were some rays of hope - Mexes and Gallas - the primary one for me. However the real issue remains the man in the funny glasses. As long as Domenech is making the managerial decisions I think France will be hamstrung. He does not seem to have any creativity when it comes to selecting, managing or motivating the team. Watching Argentina, it was clear that they were unified that they were playing for Maradona, and that he had their trust. If Les Bleus do not want to waste the talents of Gourcuff, Ribery, Mexes et al it is time to find a different manager.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Squads announced for France v Argentina

Composition des équipes de France - Argentine (21h00) :
FRANCE : Mandanda - Sagna, Gallas, Mexès, Abidal - L. Diarra, Toulalan - Ribéry, Gourcuff, Henry (cap.) - Anelka.
ARGENTINE : Carrizo - J. Zanetti, Demichelis, Heinze, Papa - Mascherano (cap.), Gago - Maxi Rodriguez, Gutierrez - Messi, Agüero.

Interesting Domenech has decided to align Anelka up front rather than Benzema, maybe Domenech wanted experience over youth, I do like seeing Henry and Ribery on the wings. Again the battle will be won between Mascherano - Gago vs Gourcuff - Ribery. Which ever one of these pairings emerges dominant will allow that team to find the edge. Heinze in the middle of the defense...scary for Argentina.

France v Argentina and other thoughts

Later today France and Argentina will face off against one another in Marseilles. The last time these two sides met, the south americans showed off their class and exploited a piecemeal French defense for a well deserved 1-0 victory. It could have been much worse and France never really threaten Argentina. Will this match be any different? For some reason I doubt it, I think the outcome will be the same....why? Because France has yet to solve the problems that haunted them when they met at Stade de France!

  • Defensive issues remain the down fall for Les Bleus. During that match France had to employ a little used defense of Sagnol - Escude - Squillaci - Abidal, the middle pairing was clearly not comfortable with one another at the time. This lack of experience with one another allowed for Saviola to score on what should have been a cleared ball by the defense. The issue, is that this problem still exists with Les Bleus! They continue to struggle defensively, on set pieces, and do not have the system and familiarity that a defensive alignment needs to succeed. While I hold out hope that Gallas - Mexes is given time to work, not sure 3 days of training will make this happen.
  • Tactically I think that Domenech is starting to see how the attack will be run - through Gourcuff. But what about Henry, Benzema, Anelka, Nasri? Where do they all slot. While I do not think this is a major concern, I do think that Les Bleus need to figure out very quickly if Henry is best suited on the left flank with Benzema up front, and if the young Lyonnaise can provide the goals the team needs.
  • General management continues to be an issue for me, and that all stems from Domenech. For the first time I was happy to see the list he sent out for the game....right up to the point he decided to bring in Boumsong. I still question his in game tactics. I do not think he substitutes well nor manages the flow of the game as a national team manager needs to do. This has definitely not changed since that last Argentina - France match.
So do France have a chance? Of course, playing in Marseilles will help since the velodrome is always a tough place for the opposition. I also think France can exploit one of Argentina's weaknesses - Heinze. I am not sure the Real Madrid defender can contain Ribery or Henry coming down the flanks. It will also be interesting how Argentina look to contain Gourcuff, will Masherano and Gago be ordered to mark the French midfielder? A task both are very capable of doing. In the end I just see too much fire power on the Argentine side - Messi, Tevez, Aguero, I think Masherano will shut down much of the French creativity by winning his battle with Gourcuff, and the French defense still has too many question marks. So I will stick with my earlier prediction of Argentina 2 - France 1.

There are some other games of interest today, in particular US v Mexico, one of the most heated international rivalries in international footie. This is the start of World Cup qualifiers for the CONCACAF region, and once again we know that the US and Mexico will make it and then a third team will emerge. So does this game have any real significance? The loser will not be out, and the winner will know they will most likely qualify. What is significant is this is the a good test for both teams, this is the only game that will really push both sides and the hatred is real. It is being played in America's heartland again, a move the US made a few years back realizing that playing a game against Mexico in a place like LA or Miami is more like a home game for Mexico, so why not have it in the an place where it might be 20 degrees and snowing. Because you know Mexico will make you play them at Azteca, where is it very difficult to breath let alone win for the US! I think the US will win, Mexico is looking a little disjointed recently and will not have some of their youth either due to suspension or because they are rusty from not getting enough game action for their clubs - Vela the former, Dos Santos the later. Still a good, entertaining match to watch. Especially to see if Landicakes mocks his Mexican foes!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Boumsong back again!!!! WHY????

Ok, my prior posting on Les Bleus gets an Ugly - Boumsong is in the mix. With Clichy and Escude withdrawing from the side, Domenech once again called upon his binky - Boumsong....again...why? I know he is playing ok for Lyon but this has to end.

On a better note, he also called up the young Dabo from St Eteinne. The young defender, who has been a mainstay on the French U20 side, is having a good season with Les Verts and appears to signal more youth in the French side as Domenech passed on veterans such as Armand and Mathieu to fill out the defense. What I find surprising, is that France is able to find solid young talent for the lateral defensive slots, yet always look to Boumsong as cover in the middle...the former Newcastle man must have dirt on someone at the FFF...

A nice goal from the newest member of Les Bleus -

Big Phil is out

The latest from Stamford Bridge is that after barely half a season Big Phil has been sacked. Not entirely surprising since Chelsea has slipped to 4th in the Premiership, lost its unbeaten streak at Stamford Bridge, and have only secured 1 point in 5 meetings against the other "big four." Not exactly a record that was world beating. The question becomes did the Brazilian deserve this fate? I mean Avram Grant had Chelsea in a better position this time last year...ouch. The following article captures much of what went wrong -$1267791.htm

For me there are a few reasons for the failure -

  • First the ground work for failure go back a few seasons. When the Siberian billionaire, Abramovich started butting heads with the special one over players, it laid the ground work for team of superstars but a team without a soul. A few summers ago, Abramovich brought in the likes of Sheva and Ballack, but no one was convinced that Mourinho wanted either continental star - where would the aging Shevchenko play? And did he have the style of game to play in England? How about the German captain? Wasn't he redundant with Lampard? The special one had his hands full and it was clear that all was not well at Stamford bridge, coming off back to back premier titles the blues found themselves chasing Manchester United and never really demonstrating the clinical form they had the prior seasons. It was at the this point that the machine started to break down. Abramovich became too meddling, forcing Mourinho out, putting in a figure head in, in the form of Grant. Grant almost made his role permanent when he allowed Chelsea to make a run at a Champions League title as well as a Prem title. However, having failed at both, Abramovich had the perfect excuse to sack his manager and seek, what appeared to be, the most prestigious name out there - Scolari. However the damage had been done, Abramovich seemed to believe he could pick the players based on name and reputation alone, not on if they fit the system or specific need.
  • The second issue was too many players for the same role. Big Phil was hamstrung with a team that was poorly put together, aging, and without any apparent youth. While it still contained bags of talent and veteran leadership, there was not enough diversity. There were many players that filled the same roles - Lampard and Ballack being the best examples. Then Deco was added (that was a Scolari move) adding another aging middle of the park playmaker to go along with Lamps and Ballack. And what about Joe Cole? Was he a winger, striker or attacking midfielder, again redundant with the above. Anelka was added in the mid season transfer window to cover for Drobga, but what happened when both were healthy? It was clear their games were not good matches and they have both suffered because of it, again too much overlap. Now some of this Scolari could have remedied during the summer transfer window - jettisoned Ballack, moved Drogba - but these were huge names with huge fees associated with them and there are few teams out there that would have taken them on, so by default Scolari had to hold on to them.
  • The final issue, which I think is what truly hurt Chelsea this season was the loss of Essien and in some part at the transfer of Makelele to PSG. In these two players, Chelsea lost their engine. Of course I am not naive enough to believe that Makelele would have given Chelsea the silverware this season, but the double loss is what truly impacted the Blues for the worse. Last season was perfect, Essien did the bulk of the playing as the holding midfielder, while the older Makelele was used for the "big games" and rested for the less significant fixtures. Mikel was also thrown into the mix and Chelsea had themselves a nice rotation of players for the holding midfield role. This allowed the offensive minded midfielders to roam freely as well as alleviated pressure on the back four. Scolari walked into Stamford Bridge down one of those players - Makelele to PSG - and soon down 2 players once Essien went down for the bulk of the season. Without a realiable engine, Scolari started the campaign severly hamstrung. It has shown recently when Chelsea have not had the midfield presence that Makelele and Essien so aptly brought the side the past few seasons. Mikel, alone, was not able or willing to shoulder the burden, or maybe did not have the talent...
So Big Phil is gone and now Stamford Bridge is clamoring for the former star Zola to return to manage the side. Or maybe another name will emerge, but in the mean time it appears that one more contender has truly slipped into the list of pretenders and unless the Red Devils make a tremendous gaff the title will be theirs once again. By no means was this only Scolari's fault, he deserves some of the blame, but unfortunately he was dealt a not so good hand which he did not improve upon. Such is life managing professional sports.

Chelsea may be facing difficult times ahead. There are rumors Abramovich wants to sell the team. The team is getting older without any real youth stepping up (maybe Chelsea and Arsenal should merge, combining the veterans from Chelsea and the youth from Arsenal!). And there remains some difficult personnel questions - Drogba and Anelka, Ballack, Malouda, Alex, who will manage to name a few. Next season will be a telling time for Chelsea, either they will be an example of why a club cannot find long term success from a quick cash infusion or they will continue to build on what Abramovich gave them in terms of funding and Mourinho gave them in terms of management.

My guess it will be closer to the former.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Benitez and his wisdom

So I was looking at the transfers and got to thinking, Robbie Keane is back at Tottenham after what can only be called a poor stint at Liverpool. I think this will be a good move for the Irish international, he was not a fit at Liverpool....then again lots of players Benitez purchases do not seem to fit. However, even if he was not a great fit he is a veteran who has a track record to score goals. Um, with the heavy dependence on Torres and now with Gerrard out for a few weeks, is Benitez not concerned about where the goals for the Reds will come from? According to the BBC story, between Torres and Gerrard, Liverpool has enjoyed 77 goals in the past 19 months. That is not something you replace with Babel, NGog, and Kuyt as your primary offensive options.

After moves such as this, I start to understand why the team does not want to completely hand over total player control to the Spaniard. I have always questioned his ability to manage a club over a season, he appears to be much more attune to managing for a knock out competition when he can strategize for one team. But when it comes to the long and grueling odyssey that is the Premiership his skills and ability to manage a roster leave much to be desired. Maybe letting Pennant and Voronin out on loan was not the wisest idea.

Thankfully I am not a Liverpool fan (yes I do have a Liverpool to guess the player?) and I am even less a fan of Benitez so overall I find this humorous. Unfortunately this means that Manchester United have another cake walk to another title, and that might make me even angrier than seeing the Spanish manager find success.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Domenech announces his list for the Argentina match

Domenech finally announced his list for the upcoming match up against the Albicelestes. Here is who we will be seeing on the Marseilles pitch -

GARDIENS : Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Cédric Carrasso (Toulouse)

DÉFENSEURS : Eric Abidal (FC Barcelone/ESP), Gaël Clichy (Arsenal/ANG), Julien Escudé (FC Séville/ESP), Rod Fanni (Rennes), William Gallas (Arsenal/ANG), Philippe Mexès (AS Roma/ITA), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal/ANG), Sébastien Squillaci (FC Séville/ESP).

MILIEUX DE TERRAIN : Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid/ESP), Jérémy Toulalan (Lyon), Yoann Gourcuff (Bordeaux), Samir Nasri (Arsenal/ANG), Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich/ALL).

ATTAQUANTS : Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea/ANG), Karim Benzema (Lyon), Jimmy Briand (Rennes), Thierry Henry (Barcelone/ESP).

At first pass I like this list...primarily because no Boumsong! Thank goodness. But I know what will happen, one of the defenders will bow out because of injury and Domenech will decide call up the Lyon defender as a replacement and then will play him the full 90 minutes. Ugh.

The Good:
  • No Boumsong.
  • Carrasso is the only fresh face on the team, but a deserved call up. He has been playing very well for French side TFC. Having looked at Pele from LeMans during the last go around, I will give Domenech credit for using these opportunities to look at different keepers. He clearly will give the keys to the team to either Lloris or Mandanda, but is covering all his bases. As he demonstrated during the Euros, he is not afraid to use the third keeper slot on an up and coming talent.
  • Strength at central defense while that is usually not something I will say is the case for Les Bleus recently, having Gallas, Mexes, Squillaci and Escude all together is good. Why? I see the natural pairings of Gallas and Mexes, Squillaci and Escude (both at seville now). Hopefully Domenech will have enough time during the training sessions to see if these two pairings work well. Again no Boumsong makes this a possibility.
  • I like the fact Nasri is back in the fold. He has been playing well for the Gunners and deserves the chance to make a case for him to be on one of the wings for Les Bleus.
The Bad:
  • No Savidan, while this is not completely unexpected, after his first appearance for Les Bleus you would think he deserved another look. I am not sure that Briand is a better option up front.
  • No Vieira, this is not really bad, since Pat has just started training again with Inter. What might be bad is that we may never see Pat again playing for Les Bleus.
  • Abidal, I am not sure where he will slot for the team. I have lost faith in his ability to play central defense let alone on the flanks of the defense. I realize that with Clichy, Fanni and Sagna, Domenech goes 2 deep for both the left and right side of the defense. However since this is a friendly and in a pinch he can slot Diarra on the right or left of the defense why not take this as a chance to look at another defender, maybe Adil Rami from Lille.
The Ugly:
  • Surprisingly I do not see any real ugliness with this selection. Of course this will change if anyone drops out and Domenech decides to call up his binky - Boumsong.
Overall there are no real surprises on this roster. I think the team will have a very familiar feel, with a 4-2-3-1 formation -

Keeper: Mandanda (or Lloris) - both are solid, neither has solidified his role as #1.
Defenders: Clichy, Gallas, Mexes, Sagna - I think it makes sense to play 3/4 of the Arsenal defense. It will be important to see if Mexes and Gallas can work together in the middle.
Holding midfielders: LDiarra, Toulalan - this should be the holding duo for the next few years for Les Bleus. ADiarra, Flamini and eventually Blaise Matuidi will be capable second in commands.
Attacking midfielders: Nasri, Gourcuff, Ribery - I would like to see these three on the pitch together, althought I can also see Henry slot back on the left wing.
Striker: Benzema - This might be a tough call, Anelka could easily slot in this spot or Henry, depending on whether or not Titi will slot back to the left side. However I think that the young french star should be given the chance to lead the attack.

This will be a very difficult game, Argentina is bringing their big guns - Messi, Tevez, Aguero, Gago, Mascherano, Zanetti to name a few. The test for Les Bleus will be how will the defense hold up against the dangerous Argentine attack. This will start with Toulalan and Diarra, if they can hold the midfield and slow down the attacks through the midfield the back 4, which is shaky, will have less pressure. I also think this will hinge on how well Gourcuff can hold the ball up front and control the tempo of the game, I am sure he will be matched up against a Mascherano, this will be a stern test for the young Girodin.

I think this is a good test for both sides. Unfortunately for Les Bleus I still think there are too many questions of the defense. Facing such South American fire power will see a similar result as last time they faced off - Argentina 2 France 1 - Messi and Tevez for Argentina, Nasri for France.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Titi to leave Barca?

The latest out of Barca is that they Catalan giants will look to move Titi Henry in the off season, possibly to make room for another frenchie - Gourcuff or Ribery. This would be a surprising move for Barca, since Henry has settled in nicely on the left flank of the Barca attack.

Going after "Kaiser" Ribery would make sense, since he is a natural winger and would slot in nicely on the wing, shouldering Xavi and Iniesta. Ribery would be allowed to roam one of the wings with Messi on the opposite wing. That move would make sense. The move for Gourcuff would make no sense to me. First I think Gourcuff needs to stay at Bordeaux, regardless of who comes calling. Second, his role would be redundant based on the presence of Xavi and Iniesta. Finally, if the rumors are true, that Barca might also go after Cesc, Gourcuff would fall even further down the pecking order.

Big names in football will always be linked to the big clubs like Barca, but sometimes just because the name resonates does not mean the player will fit. I think that Barca should keep Henry, and if they are to seriously pursue anyone look to Cesc. He would slot in nicely in support of his Spanish midfield companions.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Sagnol retires...merci

Willy Sagnol has announced his retirement from professional football, for the most part this was not by his choice. A nagging injury has caused the Bayern man to leave the scene. A converted winger, Sagnol always gave Les Bleus an extra element when he would come up the right wing supporting the offense. I also think during France's run in 2006 in the Germany World Cup, he was the best crosser of the ball France had. He almost got the assist when his cross to Zidane forced a terrific save from Buffon late in the finals.

Sagnol was an important part of France's success during that run. Unfortunately we might remember him more for staying longer with Les Bleus. During the 2008 European Cup, it was evident that Sagnol and the rest of the old guard could not keep up with speed from teams such as Holland. That should not be his legacy.

Sagnol was a solid international defender. You could always see the influence he carried over from his early days as a winger. He will be missed, but I think that his retirement will allow Domenech to move on, go with Sagna as France's right back.

Merci Willy