Monday, August 31, 2009

So Higuain and Maradona had a not 'cold' meeting

So the drama goes on, with Argentina heading into a huge show down with arch rival Brazil, and once again it appears that the Real Madrid striker, who tallied 22 goals last season, is not needed by Maradona, although they had a nice little "get together." Not really sure why Maradona does not see value in the player, he can obviously score goals, can play as the second striker or wide on the right. Of course Argentina does have a some solid offensive options - Messi, Tevez, Aguero, to name a few. Just not sure how you can leave a player who led Real Madrid in scoring and can give you some options offensively at home.

Hmmmm play on the right wing...he would look nice as the right winger in France's 4-2-3-1 formation....just a thought.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Look who is leading Ligue 1...PSG!!!!

PSG score a famous 3-0 victory over Lille, and move into a tie at top of Ligue 1. After 3 wins and 1 draw, an unlucky last minute equalizer at Montpellier during the first match. PSG have been able to score - 10 goals and defend - 4 goals against. I think that having Coupet in the back has added some necessary stability to the back line. With Makelele, Sessegnon, Clement, Chantome, et al in the midfield they have been able to control the play. And Guily and Luyindula are controlling the width of the pitch. Erding appears to be a great signing up front. Once Hourau returns to full strength, PSG will have a solid strike force.

Of course they could still use some offensive muscle and depth...uhhhhmmmm...clear throat...I guess Landycakes could be the answer....ahhhhmmmm

I will enjoy the start, it is a long season, but this is better than fighting for relegation.

Highlights of the match, watch for the set up for the last goal and how Sessegnon eliminates 3 defenders.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Arsenal unlucky

Tough tough loss for the Gunners. I was able to catch most of the second half of the match, which was slightly painful to see an own goal sink the gunners. Diaby, other than scoring on his own keeper, played a solid game. He exhibited a high energy level, took on Manchester United defenders and tackled well. Arsenal were unlucky they did not get a second goal moments before the Diaby gaff when Van Persie's free kick smashed against the cross bar, Foster having been beaten.

This was a difficult loss to stomach for the Gunners, a draw would have been the minimal for the efforts put forth by the Gunners. Unfortunately they will return to North London without a single point. Too bad.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

France's list for the upcoming World Cup matches

So Raymond releases his list of players for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Romania and Serbia, two matches that represent the key matches in France's World Cup campaign. So first the list:

Gardiens : C. Carrasso (Bordeaux), Lloris (Lyon), Mandanda (Marseille).
Défenseurs : Abidal (FC Barcelone, ESP), Clichy (Arsenal, ANG), Escudé (FC Séville, ESP), Evra (Manchester United, ANG), Fanni (Rennes), Gallas (Arsenal, ANG), Sagna (Arsenal, ANG), Squillaci (FC Séville, ANG).
Milieux : A. Diarra (Bordeaux), L. Diarra (Real Madrid, ESP), Gourcuff (Bordeaux), Malouda (Chelsea, ANG), Ribéry (Bayern Munich, ALL), Diaby (Arsenal, ANG), Toulalan (Lyon).
Attaquants : Anelka (Chelsea, ANG), Benzema (Real Madrid, ESP), Gignac (Toulouse), Henry (FC Barcelone, ESP), Rémy (Nice).

Nothing surprising, the main pseudo surprise is the absence once again of the captain - Vieira. However this makes sense, why? France will be playing 2 games in a week, both of which are crucial in determining if France qualify or at least keep their ability to qualify alive in Group 7. Vieira has started playing again for Inter Milan, but he is far from being 100%. He has not played the full 90 minutes in many months. He is really, at best, a super sub for Inter Milan and spot starter that cannot be relied up for more than 45 - 60 minutes. Domenech and Les Bleus cannot risk that what happened in Romania last year occurs again...Vieira gets hurt in warm ups and cannot play at all. This smells as if it is the end of Pat's international career, althought Domenech will not state this publically...which he cannot.

However I do not see how Vieira comes back. If France plays well over these two matches and puts themself back in the lead of Group 7 or at least secures their position as the runner up, can Domenech look to reshuffle a successful line up to make room for an aged and injury prone Vieira for the next games? And will Vieira regain a semblance of his old self over the next 10 months to get him to the World Cup? On the other hand, if France stumble over these next 2 matches, fall further behind Serbia and maybe back into a dog fight for the #2 spot, will Domench...or the new manager, want to rely on the same player for games that either will not matter or be of even greater importance? There will probably be a need for a major overhaul to attempt to either save the campaign or prepare for the Euros.

In both situations the likelihood of Vieira coming back and playing a crucial role for Les Bleus appear to diminish with every passing day. It is not as if you want to get Vieira back into the line up for Euro Qualifiers after the WC....I highly doubt that Pat even thinks he will continue to play internationally after South Africa next season one way or another.

I have never hidden my admiration and respect for Pat. He has been, in my opinion, the greatest defensive/holding midfielder France has ever had (my post on who the top 5 were)...but all great players move on. We will see the #4 strip grace the pitches for France again, but I fear it will not be Vieira carrying it on his shoulders.

Other observations on the selection:

The Good:
  • Diaby - no surprise there. His two goal game against Portsmouth teased us again with regards to his worldly talent and potential, now if he can only stay healthy. What drives me crazy about Abou is that he could be a midfielder in the mold of Vieira - a box to box midfielder who can tackle, pass and score. Granted he is less talented defensively than Vieira but is more of an offensive force....but the injury bug visits him too often.
  • Clichy - joins his fellow Gunner on the side, a deserved call up, too bad there is Evra and Abidal competing for his post. But never a bad thing to have such depth.
  • Malouda - The Chelsea winger is back in form, he could be a valuable cog to Les Bleus just like he was during the last World Cup.
The Bad:
  • Goalkeepers - Domenech must determine who is the #1 for Les Bleus. All three keepers are solid, granted the #1 should be Frey...but that boat has sailed. Mandanda? Lloris? Let us figure out who it is and stick with it. Granted none of the keepers has stepped up and earned the role. But if this is not resolved it will be very bad for Les Bleus.
The Ugly:
  • Um no Mexes? Why oh why is he not being worked into the team? Granted when given the chances earlier during the campaign he did not shine. But he is too young and too talented not to be given another opportunity. Just having him work with the team in practice would be worth selecting him. I am not sure why Domenech teases us with calling him up and then not calling him, starting him then letting sit on the bench...ugh. What really drives me crazy is if any of the defenders need to drop out of the team guess who will get the call up???? The donkey Boumsong!

I will be very interested to see if Ribery starts, and if so where does he play? On the left side where he prefers? Or on the right to make room for Henry? Then what about Malouda? Here is how I think they should line up:

Abidal - Gallas - Escude -Sagna
Toulalan - LDiarra
Malouda - Gourcuff - Ribery

Let the Malouda - Abidal combination work on left side, they played very well together there for Lyon and for Les Bleus. Ribery might not start, so potential Gignac could slot in on the right side and Ribery be a late game sub. I opt for Henry over Benzema or Anelka because while he has not taken over big games in tournaments, Henry has stepped up in qualifiers - at Ireland against where goals were needed he got them.

France's World Cup is going to be determined during these games. 4 points at the minimum must be earned, but really the full 6 are needed if they want to avoid having to play the runners' up play in game. It is going to be a long few days.....

The need for an other ref on the pitch

I was not able to see the match, but this article gave me reason to call for another ref in professional football once again. As the Platini stated, having a referee behind the goal could and will most likely make these calls easier to make and penalty diving less prevalent. By why just have a ref behind the goal line?? Earlier this summer I was playing in a coed recreational soccer league and guess what? They had 2 refs!!!! Granted no assistant referees managing off sides calls, however, if a coed recreational footie league recognizes the need to have 2 referees how can professional and international level games not have the same amount of officiating? As I have stated in the past, having two on-the-field referees will not only add an other set of eyes to manage the game but allows the refs to be better positioned, one behind the play and one in front of the play. Once again Blatter is showing his complete stubbornness and lack of vision, he floated having the World Cup every 2 years but cannot budge on adding another referee on the pitch or leverage video for certain situations. Ugh.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Poor Rafa....

After dropping two games from the first 3 fixtures, it appears the sharks are circling Rafa. I do have to chuckle a little...first at the fact the heat is actually on him after playing 3 games!! This is a very long season, granted dropping points early is never a good thing, but to call Liverpool out of contention before the end of August is ridiculous. Of course this could not happen to a better manager, as I have stated over and over again, were it not for the 15 minutes of craziness during the Champions League Finals against ACMilan...Rafa would have been sacked a long time ago. I do not question his ability to strategize and execute tactics during a game, for that he is one of the best, I do question his ability to manage a team over a season and understand who to buy and sell. Best example for me last season when he brought in Keane let Voronin go out on a loan...then sells Keane back to Spurs in the winter and realizes he is a few strikers short....hmmmmm smart. Maybe Rafa could have used the 11 goals Voronin tallied last season....

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Manchester City keeps adding to its stable

So Everton finally succumbs to the Citizens and sells their central defender Lescott for 24m pounds. This is a big blow to Everton, Lescott was a key cog to their defense and seeing him leave with no real replacement and the transfer window closing in a week means that David Moyes will have his work cut out for him. He played in every Everton league game the past two seasons, chipping in with 10 goals over those seasons. But the lure of the petropounds was too much and the defender will now join what appears to be the new "Chelsea" what I mean is the new big spenders in the Prem, not sure if the titles will follow. Lescott should make a good central defensive pairing with Toure and or Dunne. The addition of Lescott brings City a solid back line rotation when you have Richardson and Bridge on the wings, and can rotate Dunne and Ben Haim at various positions in defense. With Given as the back stop, Manchester City have the making of a top flight defense in the Premiership. As for Everton, it will be very difficult to replace the central defender. Much will be asked of Yobo to take on the leadership role in the back.

Clearly Manchester City are announcing that they are serious about contending for silverware this season. I am not 100% convinced that the "sauce will take" this season, but over a 2 year span they have the resources to raise the bar in the Premiership.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Arsenal romps again

Another cake walk for the Gunners: 4-1 against Portsmouth. Goals from the Frenchies - 2 from Diaby and 1 from Gallas...oh and 1 from Kaboul for Portsmouth, another Frenchie. So the second straight week, and really the third straight match (that counts) where Arsenal looked very dangerous - interesting player ratings from the match from ESPN. What is very telling is that of the 10 goals they have scored in 2 Premiership games, only one comes from a striker, and that was a tap in for the 6th goal against Everton by Eduardo. Van Persie and Arshavin have not tallied themselves, nor has Bendtner. Vela remains sidelined. Nasri and Rosicky are still injured. Look out once they all return!! So should we give Wenger the title? Are we seeing another run of the invincibles? Um, no and no.

First of all, Arsenal have played a team they traditionally do well against - Everton and one that might be in a fight for maintenance in the Premiership this season - Portsmouth. So clearly we cannot get ahead of ourselves. Second, it is a long season. Cliche I realize, but true. Arsenal have started like gang busters in the past only to fade during the cold days of the winter. Nothing tells me that this can be avoided this season. Arsenal still need, during these last days of the transfer season, to find some more steel for the team. In addition, I think that Eboue needs to be kept. He will prove incredibly valuable, playing both in the midfield and on defense, especially if Arsenal stick with the 4-3-3 formation. In addition, I would like to see another central defender, Vermaelen looks like the real deal, but I would like some cover at that spot. What I would really like to see is another strong midfielder, of the holding type. Arsenal will need a player that can act as the "engine" and will be able to run hard for 90 minutes. Clearly Arsenal wants to play offense with their slick passing, overlapping runs, dribbling, and overall offensive talent. This means that they will need a player that can cover defensively and keep the pressure off the back 4. Not sure where that player is, with Vieira likely not coming back, Melo playing for the Old Lady, Yaya extending at Barcelona. So here is a name for everyone to chew on - Mikel.

Ok I realize he plays for cross town rival Chelsea...however, there is a regime change there as well. With Mourinho gone, there is not the same level of rancor that otherwise permeated the relationship between the clubs. Rumor has it that Ancelotti is also not entirely pleased with the Nigerian. It is also not clear where he will fit into the diamond formation Chelsea want to run in the midfield, where Essein would most likely be the first choice to be the base of the diamond. Granted Mikel has signed a new extension, but when has that ever stopped a player from moving. Mikel would slot in nicely into the Arsenal game acting as the holding player with Denilson. I could see Mikel getting the bulk of run against some of the more physical teams and when the pitches get heavy. I realize this might be a pipe dream....but who would have thought Manchester United would sell Silvestre to Arsenal??

Friday, August 21, 2009

Landycakes in Paris?????

If the rumors are to be believed, landycakes is about to sign a loan deal with my beloved PSG. Um ok. I guess. My distaste for the American has been clearly stated. So I am not sure how I feel about him coming to PSG. Granted landycakes has skill, pace, and a nose for goal. What I still question is does he have spine and heart. While Ligue 1 is a second tier league in Europe, it remains far superior to the MLS. Throw in the League and French Cups, you are looking at a full calendar as well, granted PSG is not in Europe this year so could be worse. Landycakes will have a chance to prove he can make it in Europe. If he does well for PSG it will be a spring board to England or Italy or Spain. Putting my disdain for him aside, he could help PSG giving them another offensive player with bags of pace. The stint should help Landycakes, he should see some action for PSG and will be in some serious derby matches like Marseilles - PSG. Who would have ever thought PSG would have Landycakes, it is going to be difficult for me to see the PSG Donovan kit when I am on the Champs D'Elysee at the PSG store.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Arsenal in a cake walk

Well well well, for the first game of the season it would appear the Arsenal 4-3-3 worked to perfection with a 6-1 drubbing of Everton. After going up 3-0 in the first half, the game was over, but Arsenal kept piling on, good for them!

What I liked about the formation was the pressure the high 3 players put on the defense. With a player such as Arshavin the formation is very deadly since the Russian can spring up anywhere on the front line. Add into this mix Vela, Eduardo, and Walcott, and you have 6 players that should rotate well up front. The midfield 3 looked solid as well. What I think will determine how well this formation will work for Arsenal long term is how will Sagna and Clichy hold up all season. I think much will be asked of them to defend as well as add extra width in the attacking half. Both players are very capable in those tasks, however the season is long and let us hope they can hold up. But for looks lethal.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Premier League starting up...4 tops again

It appears that the summer vacation and time off for the footie teams is shorter and shorter...I guess all the better for us soccer starved fans! To many out there, the true soccer season starts tomorrow with the beginning of the English Premier League (btw I like the old badge up top)...the other big leagues, Italy and Spain, start later in the summer.

So the first question, will the "big 4" remain the same? Answer...and I have been thinking about this all summer...will be yes. Second question, will all the big spending at Manchester City mean they will threaten for the title. Third question, will Everton or Aston Villa threaten the top 4. Answer...maybe. And finally, will Benetiz and SAF continue their war of words. Answer...ABSOLUTELY! Ok let us look at the the top 5 and some other observations before the season opener tomorrow.

#5 Aston Villa. The Villians threatened to oust Arsenal last season from the top 4 late into the year, only to lose their steam. Probably the most English of all teams they are managed by one of the Premierships best managers in Martin ONeil. The loss of Barry will be difficult to overcome, but with the likes of Agbonlahor, Carew, Freidel, Sidwell, Young etc they have enough talent to maintain aspirations of being in the top 5. I also think that Heskey will prove important in this campaign, while not the striker some thought he might become, if he can chip in double digit goals and bring some veteran leadership to the side they will perform well enough to knock on the door of the big 4.

#4 Liverpool. Ok I have never made it a secret that I think Benetiz is an overrated blowhard. And had the Reds not had 15 minutes of craziness in Athens to win the Champions League, the Spaniard would be back in his home land looking for work. I think losing Garcia will be more difficult to over come than Benetiz thinks. I realize that Benetiz brought in Aquilani from Italy to replace Garcia, but not sure how he will acclimate himself to England. I think that he still has not addressed the goal scoring issue, can Torres and Gerrard still be expected to score the bulk of the goals for the Reds? If Mascherano ends up leaving as the rumors claim, then the Reds will be in real trouble.

#3 Manchester United. Whoooaaaaa you might say, the Red Devils, winners of 3 straight titles...fall to 3rd???? Um yes. Why? You cannot lose arguably the best player in the world in Ronaldo as well as one of the games top 10 strikers and expect to win a 4th straight title. Van de Sar is out for the first part of the season. Hargreaves, yes remember him, appears closer to being forced into retirement. Giggs and Scholes are one year older. Owen? Just because you gave him the #7 shirt does not mean he is the next Best, Cantona, Beckham or Ronaldo. Michael Owen has not been the same for a very long time. Not sure if the change of scenery will make him the young prodigy we saw score one of the greatest goals in the 1998 World Cup. I think that Manchester United are in a transition season and they will drop in the table.

#2 Arsenal. I have given the Gunners a lot of thought recently. For a while I thought they would be out of the top 4...and then I will admit I read Bobby's blog on Fox Soccer and it changed my mind. Now I am not ready to crown the Gunners league winners but I think they will improve on last season and that clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United will drop. A full season of Arshavin a healthy Eduardo the lack of headache from Adebayour are the keys. Of course this ranking will change if Cesc leaves for Barca. Also, Wenger still needs to bring in some defensive and midfield help before the end of the month. In addition, Rosicky needs to come back close to 100%, Nasri needs to come back, Diaby needs to find some health potion...again a lot of other ifs, but no reason to believe most cannot come to fruition.

#1 Chelsea.
Not much suspense here...but the Blues have the talent, manager, and deep pockets to regain the title. They were able to keep Terry and Drogba during the off season. Malouda looks like the Malouda from Lyon. Anelka could have a new contract to make him happy. Finally Ancelotti should bring some stability to the management role. Oh and let us not forget Shevchenko is back from ACMilan. I have a feeling the Ukrainian striker will have a nice season for the Blues. He will give some good depth up front and be a solid substitute during the season. Of course if there are any needs during the winter transfer window, we all know that Abramovich will not hesitate to splash out the cash. The Blues are too deep and talented not to regain the title this season. The one question mark is in goal, if Cech plays the way we know he can then no worries....if he plays the way he did for part of last season, they could be in trouble.

Other teams to watch -

Manchester City - How can you not keep a keen eye to the other team in Manchester. After dropping A LOT of cash this transfer season, they have, on paper, the talent to challenge anyone. However I question if there was any strategy behind the acquisitions or who you can to make us look like a contender spending. Adebayour...ok. But how will he fit with Santa Cruz and Tevez? Who will defend? Is Toure the Toure of old or the one we saw the past few months for Arsenal? The Citizens should still do better than last season, I think that Ireland will be shown as one of the best playmakers with the offensive additions he will be able to leverage.

Everton - David Moyes always has his team ready to play. Fellaini, Arteta, Cahill and a rejuvenated Saha are a solid foundation for the club. They will once again be one of the best teams in the second tier of the Premiership

Cannot believe the season starts tomorrow, I do not see anyone breaking into the top 4, but I do think that clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United will come back to the pack which should make for an interesting Premiership season.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Les Bleus secure the essential, but questions remain

Not much to say about yesterday's game between minnows Faroe Islands vs France...France secured the essential 3 points...barely. I was not able to watch the match but was able to see multiple highlights as well as follow it via the web, therefore not able to really give the game a true detailed analysis. However here are some highlights and some thoughts:

  • Offensively there remain many questions. Gignac looked good, scoring the only goal, but had other chances that he did not put away, not what an international striker does against a team of semi-professionals. Malouda looked very dangerous on the left, not sure why Ribery replaced him....why not take out a holding midfielder? Gourcuff appeared active and could have scored at least one goal for his efforts, but out of sorts when he does not have another wing player on his right. Bottom line is France remains floundering when it comes to determining who will be the goal scoring threat so sorely needed. I do not think all can be blamed on the absence of Henry and the late entry of Ribery. Without any outside shooting threat, and a substandard aerial game, teams know they can pack in the penalty box. With players like Malouda, Gourcuff, Ribery, et al speed and passing are strengths, however you cannot pass your way to goals if the defense sticks 6 defenders in the penalty box.
  • Defensively there was little to measure, however Lloris did not cover himself in glory. While he did not make any mistakes, he appeared timid and the few times the Faroe Islands threatened the penalty area he did not look sharp. Problem remains, Mandanda has the same issue when he plays for Les Bleus. Again...I think the #1 keeper for France plays in Florence...too bad Domenech has already booted him from the team, why? Not sure, maybe he has the wrong astrological sign. Unfortunately, I feel Mandanda and Lloris, while both incredibly talented and playing for big Ligue 1 clubs, do not seem to have the confidence when it comes to wearing the France kit. Not reassuring for the upcoming matches against must more formidable competition.
  • Of course I cannot write a post without making some comments on my favorite manager - Domenech. Once again I question his tactics. He starts 2 strikers, great....but a midfield that consists of 2 traditional holding players - Diarra and Toulalan - so naturally they sit deeper on the field. Then he has Gourcuff, who naturally occupies the high slot behind the strikers, but in the middle of the pitch. So the only natural wing player is Malouda, which means you have basically told your opponent that most of your attacks will come from the left (Malouda's natural wing). Hmmmmm, interesting. Maybe, if you want to have 4 midfielders you look to a diamond, and have another natural wing player to take on the right side of the pitch, allow your team some balance. Then you decide to bring in your other natural wing player - Ribery - and put him in for Malouda!! Why not take out a striker, give your team more width force the Faroe defenders to spread their coverage to the wings. Or, gasp, maybe take out one of your holding midfielders. Finally, why not insert Benzema in the game, replace Anelka, give the Faroe defenders a fresh set of offensive legs to contend with after defending all game? No law states you need to use all your subs, but if you have some strategic sense you plan on how to leverage your subs depending on the situation....seems like Domenech rather horde his subs for another day.
Anyways, France secured the essential. As I have posted about before, I remember in 1999 when Les Bleus barely beat Andorra - 1 to 0 - in a qualifying match for the Euro 2000, and we all know how that campaign ended.

So I am not concerned so much with the result as I am concerned with more malaise that Les Bleus have with regards to the overall team. I fear that the next few matches for Les Bleus is not the time for Domenech and his team to tinker...

Cesc to Barca?

The rumors of Cesc heading back to where he started keep coming up in the press. Similar to the rumors years ago about Henry leaving for the same squad, where there is smoke there is fire. Clearly the Catalonia team wants to see their once youth player come back to the Camp Nou. With their hated rival, Real Madrid, on a huge summer spending spree, Barcelona need to add some reinforcements to the squad. The pursuit of Cesc is not new, this is at least the 3rd season where there have been rumblings. The fact that Arsenal have placed a 40m pound price on their skipper demonstrates the fact that Arsenal is considering selling their Cesc.

If Arsenal sell Cesc they will struggle to remain in the top 4. I think being in the top 4 will be difficult enough, without their midfielder I think it will be close to impossible. How the mighty have fallen...come on Wenger, bring back the glory to the Emirates.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Domenech announces his starting 11

The starting 11 for Les Bleus:
Lloris - Sagna, Gallas (cap.), Escudé, Evra - L. Diarra, Toulalan, Gourcuff, Malouda - Anelka, Gignac.

Hmmm, interesting...Escude rather than Squillaci? Are we back to a 4-4-2? Granted Diarra and Toulalan are holding midfielders so they might slide deeper to sit in front of the back 4. Gignac might drift back to play on the right wing, so in reality we might find Les Bleus back to a 4-2-3-1...again if this line up cannot secure the full 3 points from the Faroe Islands they do not deserve to be in South Africa for the World Cup. Domenech should have played the central defensive pairing he will be using against Romania, rather than "testing" players. We shall see. I am not worried about this match, but very concerned about the upcoming games versus Romania and Serbia....

Monday, August 10, 2009

Henry out...yet no one to replace him

So Titi Henry has declared out for the match on Wednesday. Yet Domenech has not called up a replacement. And with Ribery being questionable on whether or not he can play, I wonder why some replacements have not been called up. Maybe Domenech does not need to see other players, or use this as an opportunity to try some new need....this team is clicking so well right now!

Players he should think about calling up - Valbuena, Sinamo-Pongolle, Obertan or N'Gog. Have a look at these players for at least a few practices in preparation. Come on Domenech, take advantage of these situations rather than sitting on your hands. Frustrating

Sigh, lost opportunity for PSG

Ugh so frustrating, PSG playing a 10 man Montpellier with over 60 minutes in the match, get a 1-0 lead and then decide to pretend they are Les Bleus and give up a last minute goal off a set piece. PSG looked very dangerous for the most of the second half, granted they had a man advantage, but they demonstrated an ability to attack, string passes together, defend counter attacks, and overall looked dangerous in front of the goal. Sessegnon was pulling the strings, Guily was dangerous on the wing, and Erdinc looked very dangerous up front. The Franco - Turk created himself a number of threatening opportunities in front of goal and was unfortunate to have not put a goal away. The main area of frustration for me was PSG's inability to put in a second goal after dominating the match. They seemed satisfied to have a 1-0 lead with a one man advantage, rather than going for the coup de grace and getting the second goal PSG sat back....and got burned.

I realize it is the first game of the season, and this game was on the road. So any time you get a point from the road you need to be satisfied. But when you play a team that was in Ligue 2 last season and have a 1 goal lead, need to bring home the fill 3 points! And please put a defender on the far post!!!! It does leave a bad taste....

Ah great defending....come on! Last minute of the match, PSG should have had every player DEFENDING!!!! Then again Coupet should be very accustomed to this, since Les Bleus could not defend a set piece for him either.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Ligue 1 gets under way! Meet the new boss same as the old boss

Ok a gratuitous quote from one of my favorite songs and bands. But it is somewhat appropriate...granted Lyon did not win their 8th straight title, however the new boss is one of France's storied clubs who has 6 titles to its credit. They will head into these season as one of the main favorites to secure the title again and repeat.

This season should be as competitive as it was last season, while the league might not be as sexy as the big 3 leagues - England, Spain and Italy - it remains one of the most competitive so worth taking a look.

So who will be the top 5 teams this season?

#5 - Toulouse. The TFC held on to two of their most important players - Sissoko and Gignac - at least for now. They played very well last season securing a place in Europe. Gignac was the leading scorer in France, although if you asked him to do something with his left foot or head he would have scored ZERO goals. Toulouse did lose wing back Mathieu who was always a fringe international but gave TFC a good balance in the back. Additionally they will be with a new keeper - Yohann Pele from Le Mans. I think they have enough talent and balance to make a run at the top 5 this season. Of course if they lose either or both of their stars before the close of the transfer window that will drop them to the middle of the pack.

#4 - Marseilles. The second place team from last season made some serious moves this off season. Adding a new manager in former favorite son Deschamps. Adding players such as Heintz to bolster the defense. Morientes to add some veteran presence up front - let us not forget that the Spaniard played for Deschamps when Monaco made a run to the 2004 Champions League finals. Also adding Cisse (Edoaurd not Djibril, who also, like Heintz had played at hated rival PSG) and Gonzalez to the midfield. It will be interesting if Valbeuna stays with Marseilles. Deschamps does not appear to have any interest in the French play maker, at least does not seem to see him in the long term plans for Marseilles. I think if he leaves the club, Deschamps will be very disappointed in his decision. With Zenden leaving as well, granted a shell of his younger self, Marseilles will be without their midfield creative forces if they are without Zenden and Valbeuna. Yes Ben Arfa remains, but he has a lot on his shoulders this season. After coming over from Lyon last season, his first campaign with Marseilles was littered with pouting incidents, injury, and overall disappointment. Much will be expected of him if Marseilles is to do well this season. I think there are many question marks around OM and they will slip down the pecking order.

#3 Lyon - The 7 time champion lost their mojo last season. After leading much of the season they fell apart at the end and watched Marseilles and Bordeaux leap frog them in the standing. This off season many of the parts that led to their success have left - Juninho and Benzema - being the two biggest fist. Granted the Brazilian had lost much of his effectiveness but he was still a valuable player. Benzema of course was the jewel of the squad but could not resist the pull from Los Galacticos of Real Madrid. They did add Bastos and Gomis, that will add some muscle to the squad. Bastos today is probably a step up from Juninho. Gomis, while still a raw talent, will not come to the levels of Benzema, however he should shine for Lyon with the improved talent around him. The key player for me will be how 2 of the youngsters step up - Pjanic and Mounier. The two young midfielders were sitting on the bench last season watching the veterans now it is their turn. Pjanic was one of the best young players in France a few season ago playing for Metz. Mounier is looked at as one of France's up and coming players. Now is their time to shine. I think they are still one season away, but they will show progression.

#2 Bordeaux. The defending champion should have a strong squad this season. Without the constant questions swirling around whether or not Gourcuff would stay is no longer hanging over their heads, will mean even greater stability to the club. However they are rumored to lose Chamakh to Arsenal and have already lost Oberton to Manchester United, wonder where the goals will come from? If they do lose Chamakh, much will be asked of Gouffran who was a disappointment last season. I wonder where the goals will come from for Bordeaux. They still have enough talent and fire power to secure a top 3 finish.

#1 PSG. Ok I know...crazy....maybe a little too much of my bias as a PSG fan coming into play. However, PSG have not lost some of the key players I feared they may loose - Sessegnon, Clement, Chantome or Sakho. They did switch French keepers, seeing Landreau move on and adding Coupet. What I think is promising is that PSG have a full season under their belt with the majority of the effective, least we forget that heading into their late season match up against OM, PSG was 2 points out of first place. They then spiraled out of contention. I think that having UEFA cup games in concurrence with these matches weighed heavily on PSG. Falling out Europe might be a blessing in disguise for PSG this season. The midfield is solid with Sessgnon, Chantome, Clement, Guily, Makelele, and even Rothen. Hourau should continue to grow up front. Luyindula has rediscovered his form. Kezman will hopefully bounce back and contribute to the offence. The addition of Erdinc is intriguing, if he plays to the level he did at Sochaux, PSG will have a lethal offensive strike force. Armand, Sakho, and Camara are solid in the back. And in veteran shot stopper Coupet, you have a solid veteran back stopping the defense. The question is around the depth on defense. PSG are a veteran team, so the window to grab a league title might be open for 1 - 2 seasons. Without Europe, I think PSG will be focused and ready to take a run at the Ligue 1 title. I am going to go out on a limb and say that PSG will bring the Ligue 1 title back to the capital!

It should be another interesting and entertaining season in France. While the league might not have the star power found in Spain, Italy or England it is competitive and should prove a title that will come down to the end of the season to be decided!

Looking forward to the start, and with TV5 and Sentanta I will have plenty of matches to watch.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Ribery taking a vacation in the Faroe Islands

Clearly Ribery is not ready for the opening of the Bundesliga season nor France's game versus the Faroe Islands. So my question is, why does Domenech insist on having him part of the France group? Maybe it is to build camaraderie? Or to integrate Ribery? Okay the last one was silly. I am just not sure what keeping the Bayern man around does for the squad. Maybe it would be better to bring another player in who might play, but more importantly is fit enough to train, allowing Domenech to see the player with other members of the French national team. There are whole host of other offensive players that Domenech could have taken a look at - Hourau, Menez, Briand, Sinama - Pongolle, Luyindula, even Savidan or maybe another defender - Mexes or Clichy - or maybe even a youngster - Feghouli, N'Gog....Appears to be a lost opportunity for Domenech to take a look at a player that might help at some point during the last push for qualification. Alas, sometimes Domench's methods leave me wondering...oh wait...not sometimes, almost all the time. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Higuain....for Les Bleus???

Hmmmm very interesting little note about Real Madrid's Higuain. The Real man who tallied 22 goals for Real last year seems to be absent from all of Maradona's plans for Argentina. Maybe that is because the young Franco-Argentine used to play for River Plate and not Boca...France and Higuain have been down this road before, Domench calling him up for a match against Greece where Higuain turned down Les Bleus saying he did not feel French (the land of his birth but where he did not even spend an entire year!) and that he always wanted to play for his father's native land. Cannot really fault him for that....however now that he is not getting called to the senior Argentine squad he is stating he might switch to France. While I would love to have the option to select him, and with the World Cup around the corner I am sure he wants to ensure he will be in South Africa (then again neither France nor Argentina are guaranteed to qualify!) as a player.

However, I think that this is a smoke screen, that Gonzalo is just trying to stir Maradona to select him and tie him to Argentina. If I were Domenech I would find a way to speak to the Madrid player, see how serious he is, and if he appears him up and get him on the pitch for the Faroe Island game!! Lock him down with Les Bleus!!!!

WC qualifing on the horizon, Domenech announces his squad

Just when summer descended on Boston...World Cup qualifiers started again reminding the Frog that summer lasts about 2 weeks in the world of footie as well as in New England! France will be heading to the Faroe Islands on August 12th. Outside of fans of Les Bleus and the Faroe Islands, this game will be back page material since the US will be in Mexico City! But I am a fan of Les Bleus! So I do care. So let us take a look at the squad:

GARDIENS : Carrasso (Bordeaux), Lloris (Lyon), Mandanda (Marseille)
DÉFENSEURS : Abidal (FC Barcelone), Escudé (FC Séville), Evra (Manchester United), Fanni (Rennes), Gallas (Arsenal), Sagna (Arsenal), Squillaci (FC Séville)
MILIEUX : A. Diarra (Bordeaux), L. Diarra (Real Madrid), Gourcuff (Bordeaux), Malouda (Chelsea), Sissoko (Toulouse), Toulalan (Lyon)
ATTAQUANTS : Anelka (Chelsea), Benzema (Real Madrid), Gignac (Toulouse), Henry (FC Barcelone), Rémy (Nice), Ribéry (Bayern Munich)

An interesting collection. So let us get into the roster

The Good:
  • Consistency, Domenech seems to have a rhythm to who he is selecting. His strike core is built around Henry, Benzema, Anelka with flyers on Gignac, Remy. Ribery to me is a midfielder in the French system. The keepers have been consistent, granted I still think the French keeper is playing in Florence - Frey. Midfield will by built around Toulalan and Lass as the holding midfielders with Gourcuff pulling the offensive strings. The one area with lack of consistency is the central defensive pairing...but more on that later.
  • Staying with Malouda is the right move. After being sent to international siberia, the Chelsea winger has found his feet again for both club and country - notice he received and extension at Chelsea and has been called for the past few games for Les Bleus. He offers Domenech a true left footed winger and coupled with Gourcuff and Ribery could be a solid line of three offensive midfielders sitting behind the strikers. He was the quiet man for Les Bleus in the World Cup 2006, and his veteran experience is key. Something else that is a positive is his experience playing on the same side as Abidal during their times at Lyon. Both men have an understanding that cannot simply be developed over a few weeks at Clairefontaine.
  • NO BOUMSONG!!! Whoohoooo. Ok....granted...I know that if any of the French players are injured, the first player called up will be Boumsong, and then he will get a start. Ugh. But for now I am going to enjoy the fact that Domenech left his binky at home.
The Bad:
  • Um again, what is up with no Mexes? Not sure what his role is within the team, granted Squillaci had good showings the last few matches, but Mexes should have been included in the team. Domenech needs to decide what his central defensive pairing is and STICK with it! The clock is ticking. Teams that have success start with strength down the spine and that really starts at the back with the keeper and the central defensive pairing. France won in 1998 because Blanc and Desailly were rock solid, this carried over to Euro 2000. France's run in 2006 was in large part because of Zizou, but also because of Thuram/Gallas in the back. Since Thuram has retired, France does not have a clear defender to shoulder Gallas. Mexes, on paper, is the most talented player and the one that should find himself there. Squiallaci and Escude are both solid central defenders, but sure they give what a Mexes can bring to the table. Then again maybe sticking with Gallas is where the problem also stems from....what about Mexes - Squiallaci? Mexes is more in the mold of Desailly, roaming central back, takes chances, and is a bull. Squillaci is more like Blanc. Smooth, solid, and knows how to position for thought.
  • No Clichy, well not really bad, just an indication of the depth and competition at the position - Abidal and Evra - hard to argue that Clichy is not the 3rd option. Too bad France could not leverage some of that depth and trade with another country for a new central defender or new manager.
The Ugly:
  • The situation with Pat Vieira, why is this "ugly" mainly because I fear that we have a situation similar to Desailly, Thuram, Sagnol, Petit....and the list is long, what list is that? French internationals that have overstayed their usefulness in the international team. All these players were crucial during different times of France's successful tournaments. The World Cup will be held just under a year from today, that means another 10 months of wear and tear on Pat who recently has shown much difficult in staying healthy for any significant stretch of time. Les Bleus need to get their core established early this international season, first they need to do so to have the best chance to qualify, and second they need to be ready, if they do qualify, to have a core of players who know they are heading to South Africa. I am not convinced hoping that Vieira somehow discovers a rebirth is a good strategy. Domenech needs to determine if he has a player that can act as a Vieira, a box to box midfielder that can shoulder a more traditionaly holding/defensive midfielder. Could Sissoko be the answer? Maybe, but he is only a tender 19 years old, a lot to ask of a young player.

Then again if he can replicated these types of runs, get him in the line up now!!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Arsenal rumors abound!!!!

Oh my, Pat Vieira coming back to northern London??? Really? As every article mentions, and I will as well, the last time Pat kicked a ball wearing the #4 for Arsenal coincided with the last time Arsenal won silverware - the 2005 FA Cup finals, literally the last kick of the game when Vieira struck the winning PK against Manchester United.

What struck me from watching the video was the number of seasoned players Wenger had at the time on the squad - Ljunberg, Vieira, Pires, Edu, Lauren....granted not all of them needed to stay, but wonder if Arsenal would have fared better had Wenger kept some of his 30+ players.

I digress, back to Vieira, on the surface I like the idea. I am a huge Pat Vieira fan. He was at the core of the success of those Arsenal teams in the 90s. He was a "box to box" midfielder a player that could win the ball on his end with a hard tackle and then carry it into the other side of the pitch with ease. He would even chip in a number of goals on his own. More importantly he was the steel of the Arsenal teams, all one has to do is look back to his encounters with the other hard man of the EPL during those days - Manchester United's Roy Keane. However the Vieira of today is pales in comparison to that combative Gunner. Age and the rigorous of his position have taken a toll on him. So what would he bring were he to return? Clearly he is no longer the galloping force he once was, and he really needs to be managed in order for him not to break down. Could he play a similar role Makelele did during the last few seasons for Chelsea - playing in the big games, being rested as much as possible? To me that is the best for Vieira. Wenger would have to manage his appearances very cautiously, and really look to Vieira to be a manager on the training ground to be a leader in all facets of the game for his young Gunners. If Vieira is expected back in Arsenal to once again control and dominate the middle of the park, I fear that we will all be disappointed. If Wenger looks to Pat to play 50% to 70% of Arsenal's games and use his experience with the team in the dressing room and training pitch, then it might work.

On another note, interesting that the rumors around Wenger signing De Rossi. While the Italian has pledged his future to AS Roma, sometimes those are the signal that the player is on his way out. Glad to see Wenger read one of my earlier posts about players he needed to sign! I hope that Wenger is serious in the pursuit of the Italian. I also think that should not preclude him from pursuing St Etienne's Matuidi nor Vieira. De Rossi could be used higher up the pitch, shouldering Cesc, allowing a rotation of Vieira, Matuidi and Denilson in front of the back 4. When Arsenal want to milk away a lead or play more defensive, De Rossi could slot back and becoming a second holding midfielder. With a De Rossi and Vieira on your side, you do not have to concern yourself with where does the "toughness" come for your team...again maybe too much to hope for, but one can always dream!

Question is....if Vieira comes back to Arsenal will Cesc give him back the #4 kit???