Thursday, October 22, 2009
Another Ligue 1 side is also surprising - Bordeaux. They too are sitting atop their group. The only points Bordeaux dropped were on the road to Juventus where they drew 1-1. Bordeaux will have to travel to Bayern for the next rounds of matches, where a draw would be a very respectable result. They will also have to travel to Maccabi, which will not be a simple match, but Bordeaux should be able to secure a draw. The key will be the return leg against Juventus back at Bordeaux, if Les Girodins can get another draw then they should be through.
Oh yeah the third team from Ligue 1 is Marseilles...they are 3 points behind Milan and Real. They will need to beat Zurich in the next round to have a chance before facing Milan and Real. It will be difficult but could be possible.
Anyways Ligue 1 is holding its own right now, but the true test will be if one of the clubs can get to the 1/4 finals or further. That will be the true barometer of the success of the clubs. Time will tell.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Portugal v Bosnia: Most likely the most lopsided draw. Even if Portugal are without Ronaldo they should find a way to beat the upstarts from the Balkans. Although Bosnia can put up quit a fight for the spot. They kept Belgium and Turkey out of the running in their group, and were it not for being drawn with European Cup Champion Spain, they could have secured a direct qualification for the World Cup. The key will be how the young Pjanic plays in the midfield. Can he control the flow of the game? The young Bosnian is quietly becoming the midfield cog for Lyon and is one of Europe's up and coming stars. This is just the type of matches that a young star can announce himself to the world. And will the Bosnia strikers find success against the Portugese? They have some quality strikers that play in the Bundesliga so are no slouches when it comes to high pressure matches, players such as Misimovic, Dzeko and Ibisevic. Portugal will lean on Deco to carry the rhythm of the game (assuming Ronaldo is out) to the Bosnians. While the Bosnians have nothing to lose, I think there is too much talent on the Portuguese side with Deco, Nani, Simao, Gomes, Tiago, Carvalho and Boswinga to name a few. It will not be easy but Portugal will go through. Portugal through 3-1 on aggregate.
Greece v Ukraine: This is an intriguing match up. Greece was in a weak group 2 where they finished 1 point back of leaders Switzerland. The former European Champs struggled, losing twice to Switzerland, losing to Moldova and only defeating Luxembourg 2-1. However the Greeks still play a difficult style, defending with 11 and looking to strike on the counter. While Ukraine is heading into this match up on a high, coming from behind in their group to take the runner spot from Croatia, including an improbable 1-0 Ukrainian victory over the 3 lions. They still have a deadly Sheva and can surprise. I can see this match up heading to PKs - Ukraine goes through 1-1 on aggregate 7-6 in PKs.
Russia v Slovenia: The Russians almost took the top spot from Germany, well maybe not almost but they had a serious chance to do so going into the match up against their old time rival in Moscow. However once again Germany did what it always seems to do...get a 1-0 win when it needed it. So now the Russians face a surprise team in Slovenia. They first surprised in the Euro 2000 when they qualified by defeating Ukraine to get into the tournament, where they showed well for themselves only losing to Spain 2-1 in the group stage. However they are playing a team in Russia who were the surprise last Euro and in a player Arshavin who can turn a game on its head. I just do not see Slovenia finding an answer to the diminutive Arsenal winger nor strikers such as Pavlyuchenko. Add into this mix Hiddink, a veteran manager who has 1 month to prepare for Slovenia, and I see it as the easiest qualification of the play off pairings. Russia through 5-0 on aggregate.
France v Ireland: Ok...the best for last...I guess. Ugh. This is not the match up I was looking for for Les Bleus. Ireland were the "1 point" team, getting only 4 wins for 6 draws during the qualifiers. A hard luck draw against the World Cup Champs in Dublin on a last minute goal. Least we forget the struggles France had against Ireland in the qualifiers for the 2006 world cup! A sheer act of brilliance gave Les Bleus a 1-0 victory in Dublin...
So what do we have in store this time? Ireland have some solid players - Dunn, O'Shea, Keane and Given to name a few. Given is the one that scares me the most, he is a solid and reliable keeper. France's inability (until recently) to score goals means that Given and the Irish defense could hold France at bay and look to beat them on the counter or on set pieces.
Let us face it, France's Achilles heal remains dead balls...an area where Ireland excels. See the both goals they scored against Italy. The first was not a typical set piece goal, but I can see Les Bleus overplaying the potential pull back and then opening themselves up to a high ball into the penalty area.
I fear that Ireland will look to beat Les Bleus on the set piece, and why not! It worked for Scotland during the Euro qualifiers. Last time these two nations faced off in qualifiers, Ireland drew 0-0 in Paris and lost 1-0 in Dublin. The latter was after the "old guard" returned: Makelele, Thuram and Zizou. Those folks are not walking through the door at Clairefontaine! No reason to believe that the away and home series might not fall along the same lines.
The key will be the first match for France. I think they need to come back with at least 1 away goal in their back pocket, hopefully with a victory but at least a draw. Why? If Les Bleus come home down or with a 0-0 draw I fear the following scenario will play out - Ireland play a cautious first 15 minutes, defend and try to beat France on the counter. The play the rest of the 1st half more offensively trying to grab a goal. If they go into half time up or even with France they come out the second half and defend with 9 to 10 players behind the ball always looking to spring Keane, or looking for a set piece deep in French territory, see if they cannot sneak in a goal. Ireland will look for the away goal victory or get to PKs, where we know it is a complete crap shoot. For this reason France must go to Dublin looking to score at least 1 goal, how is that for strategy??? But I think Domenech should consider a 4-4-2 for that match align - Sagna, Abidal, Gallas, Evra in the back with Malouda on the left, Gourcuff and LDiarra in the middle and Ribery on the right (I realize Ribery does not like it there, but France need to bring some offense to the right side of the pitch and he played there very well in the past), and have Henry - Benzema (or Anelka) up front. The 4-4-2 will bring much more width and attack than the 4-2-3-1, you might open yourself to some risk of more counters, but if you force Ireland back into their defensive 1/3 that might block any semblance of organized attacks from the Irish.
I am not sure how this will play out, but I know it will be nerve racking to say the least...predictions on this match up as we draw closer!!!
Sunday, October 18, 2009
This drops Liverpool to 7 points behind league leaders Manchester United, who they have to face this upcoming weekend. Dropping points to Sunderland is not a way to challenge for silverware Rafa. Once again I call into question the Spaniards ability to manage a team for an entire season. There is no doubt he is a solid game to game manager in a knock out competition, but when it comes to managing for a league title, I question his talents especially on player movements. Granted Torres and Gerrard were out yesterday, but every team needs to deal with adversity of losing players. But I am not sure that even if they were on the pitch yesterday if they would have been able to defend against Bent who absolutely torched the Liverpool defense, and could have had a brace or hat trick had he been a little bit more clinical in his final touch.
Again, Rafa will live on the glory of 15 crazy minutes in Istanbul, without that improbable run he might have been looking for work a few years ago.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
- Once again, Benzema had a solid match. Maybe he continues to be motivated by his small verbal skirmish he had with his manager. Clearly he has demonstrated a willingness and desire to battle these last two games when wearing the blue kit. He scored a superb goal with the head early in the match, latching on to former Lyon teammate Malouda's cross. He was lethal making charging runs on the left wing (why does it seem all of France's offensive players gravitate to the left - Henry, Ribery, Malouda, Benzema...). He also razzled with his footwork, not hesitating in his one on one challenges of the Austrian defense. At times showing footwork that somewhat resembled another France #10 with Algerian roots. If Benzema can consistently demonstrate this drive and ability, it must make Domenech reconsider having him act as a substitute for Les Bleus.
- Speaking of strikers, Gignac also showed something in this match. The Toulouse striker scored a wonderful goal from outside the box, once again with his right foot, but the ability to strike from long distance is something that Les Bleus are missing.
- Malouda also impressed me. He was almost acting as the #10 for much of the match, drifting around the pitch, springing attacks, linking up the defense to the offense, and not being afraid to take his chances. He almost scored on a screamer in the second half only to see it go just wide of the far post, had a brilliant run end of the first half where he was able to deflected the ball from one foot off the other to ease around 2 Austrian defenders.
- The French defense was placed under too much pressure, however Fanni demonstrated that he has some strong talent in those boots. He tackled well, was very active offensively not afraid to fill in the space to support the offense and was not afraid to use his pace and dribbling to take on defenders. Even when he made mistakes, midway through the second half he lost a ball in his defensive 1/3 but used his pace to recover and smother the shot. I am not ready to say he should start ahead of Sagna, but I think there is talent and depth at that post.
- Ok this might be a first, but I will say that Domenech for once was good...barely. What do I mean by that? I am happy to see he did not simply run out the same team he has in the past. This match meant nothing in terms of the standings, but it was a great opportunity to see some players - the entire back line was different: Fanni, Squillaci, Escude, Clichy. The holding midfield - Sissoko and ADiarra. Offensively Malouda, Gouvou, Benzema and Henry. The playing of Henry and Benzema to me, signaled a test to see how the two could function together, could France head back to a 4-4-2 with Ribery and Gourcuff in the offensive roles in the midfield? Bringing in Gomis and Gignac was good, see what they can do offensively, because I am sure that during the playoffs you will need to, in at least one of the games, bring in some offensive substitutions late to try and get a goal.
- I hate to pick on him, but Escude looked terrible! The Austrian goal I place squarely on his shoulders. It was too easy for the Austrian striker to nudge him off the through ball which lead to an odd man attack on Lloris and Squillaci. He did not look at ease defending or positioning himself defensively. He did not inspire confidence in the center of the French defense.
- I praise Domenech, now I need to call out some bad! Why save his last substitution? Get another player out on the pitch. Maybe change your keeper, why wasn't Carrasso the back up? Get him in there to give him some experience, see how he plays for 45 minutes. What about Diaby? It would have been nice to see him on the left side, see if he and Clichy can carry over some of their work with Arsenal to Les Bleus. If you are selecting these players when you get the chance...play them! I would have been interested to seeing a diamond midfield with Sissoko the defensive base, Diaby on the left, Gouvou on the right and Malouda at the offensive tip - with Gomis and Gignac as the tandem strikers.
- The idiot fans that invaded the pitch late. Not good people, come on let's grow up. That cannot be good either for France as they bid for an upcoming Euro tournament.
- The fact Les Bleus need to play 2 more matches. Let us face it, this qualifying campaign has not been a thing of beauty. Starting with the ugly 3-1 loss to this same Austrian team, followed by lackluster draws against Romania and the brave but wasted effort in Belgrade. Throw in there 2 difficult victories against Lithuania and you have were France is today - heading to the 2nd place playoff. France might still make it to South Africa next year, Zidane thinks so, they might even do something other than site seeing while there...France have the talent as well as the depth - how many nations can leave a Mexes off your squad? I am still not convinced...no surprise...that Domenech knows what he is doing, what system really works for his talent pool and how to ensure he gets the most out of this collection of players. Making the World Cup or European Cup is no longer the goal for France, they need to contend at this tournaments, nations like Germany and Brazil, even when they are "down" know that getting to a 1/4 final or 1/2 final is the least of their expectations. Les Bleus are getting to that level, but with that comes the mentality that such success is the rule not the exception. The campaign was ugly and is far from over, however sometimes the ugliest qualifying campaigns lead to the best results - similar to Euro 2000 when France struggled mightily to qualify, doing so by the narrowest of margins - and we all know how the Euro 2000 ended.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
The question becomes, does France need David? To me the French system under Domenech does not lend itself to Trezegol's style. Since for the most part Les Bleus play with one striker and that is not Trezeguet's strength. He needs a partner up front that can draw attention away from him, allow him to be a "fox in the box." He is the best when there is a striker such as Henry that can run at defenders, take the ball deep and carry the game into the offensive end, allowing Trezegol to position himself for crosses, weak side runs, tap ins, headers, and all the usual goals that come from a "fox." As much as I think Trezeguet deserves a chance to wear the blue kit and retire from the international game the way he wants, I fear that France have moved to a style that will not suit him...unless Domenech leaves as well....
Monday, October 12, 2009
With France qualified for the play offs, and with many players hurt or beat up....what should Domenech do? Well other than resign...I think he should put out a squad of the younger players, let them get some first team action.
I would like to see Clichy on the left and Fanni on the right, I would even experiment with Toulalan as central defense...too bad there is no Mexes because he needs to be integrated into this squad soon, but the Toulalan experiment might be too much. So let say we see Escude and Squillaci in the middle of the defense. Midfield, let Diaby control the left, ADiarra play the role of holding with Sissoko on the right. I would go with 3 strikers - Benzema on the left, Gomis in the middle and Gignac on the right (I know the Toulouse man score a brace over the weekend, but I still think he needs more time wearing the Blue kit). If you go with 2 strikers maybe slot Malouda behind them, allow him to wander the offensive zone.
I think without your regular play makers - Gourcuff, Ribery or Nasri - you cannot really use this match to see how to run your team against whoever you will face in the play off...plus maybe you do not want to show too much either! I think you need to get some players on the pitch, allow yourself to see if Escude-Squillaci would work, at least how individually they play. You want to get a sense of where Diaby could slot, left midfielder, deep lying holding midfielder? Sissoko got his first cap, but let us see what he can do for 80 or 90 minutes. Having him on the pitch with Gignac will also give you some insight into if they can give you some answers to the right side of the pitch, similar to what they do for Toulouse.
Give Benzema a game to see if he can demonstrate the offensive will power as he did on Saturday. Slot Gomis up front allow him to show whether or not he is the offensive option France could use coming off the bench.
This is much to ask from a team in 90 minutes. However running out the same formation will not show you much, let us get some fresh legs in there and see what they can do.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
- The win - ok the result should never have been in question, but the fact that Les Bleus have not been shining during these qualifiers - only getting a simple 1-0 win away to the Faroe's - and the fact the Faroe Islands just secured their first win of the campaign over Lithuania 2-1. There was a undertone of nervousness heading into the game, even some of the French players were questioning if they could some how find a victory having to play on the smaller pitch at Guingamp. So France secured the essential, getting the 3 points, scoring goals, and assuring themselves that the game against Austria is a friendly...albeit an important one with the 2nd place playoffs looming.
- Titi Henry once again demonstrated that he will lead this side. His work rate in the second half was outstanding, he was basically playing the role of the #10 for Les Bleus. He was not afraid to use his pace to take on defenders but was also clearly seeking his teammates out with a number of clinical passes. His free kick at the end of the first half should have resulted in a goal from Gallas, who tried to make his attempt too perfect only to see his header skim off the cross bar. He did find Gallas again later for the third goal. In the second half, the Barcelona man was at the center of most of the offensive action. While he still attacked mostly from his preferred left side, he drifted to the middle truly looking like a #10.
- Scoring a brace means that you did something well...Gignac clearly likes playing this nation, since he opened his account with Les Bleus when France first met the Faroe Islands in August. The first goal today was a true predator's goal, getting a nice square pass from Anelka, he pivoted and fired a shot that caught the Mikkelsen wrong footed. The second goal was a pure individual effort, after a long distribution from Mandanda, Gignac took on, what appeared to be, the entire defensive back line, raced to the 18 yard box and hit an unstoppable right footed shot that nestled right inside the far post. He had a few opportunities to get his hat trick only to have the Faroe keeper make some solid saves. Has the Toulouse man solidified his place in the hierarchy? I think that to Domenech he has...meaning Benzema is condemned to being a super sub. Does he deserve this? To me Gignac is a solid stiker but I am not sure he has the ability of a Benzema. Gignac has a deadly right foot...but not sure he trusts his left foot or has enough of an aerial game. I read a statistic that all but one of his league leading goals he scored last season for Toulouse was with his right foot! I do like him playing for Les Bleus, but I have to see him doing this against more formidable opposition. But for this match...very good.
- Speaking of Gignac and Benzema, the young Real Madrid striker responded well to the clouds that were gathering in the press between himself and Domenech. Once again coming in late in the match, to replace the above mentioned Gignac, Benzema played with pace and power that we have come to expect from him when he plays for club. In the last quarter hour he played he had an assist and a goal. However more than these statistics, Benzema was very active on the offensive end, clearly wanting to show his desire and ability. Maybe wanting to give Domenech something to think about!
- One Faroe player to point out was Mikkelsen, the keeper. Yes he gave up 5 goals, but made a number of outstanding saves to keep the score line where it was. He made emergency saves on Gignac on a first half break away, against Anelka one on one in the second half, on a point blank effort from Henry in the second half, just to name a few. Without his heroics the game might have ended 7-0 or worse.
- It was good to see Malouda and Sissoko getting time on the pitch. The former used to play for En Avant Guingamp, so being able to play for Les Bleus on his old pitch was a well deserved honor. The latter made his first appearance for the A side. A much deserved honor. He did not have much to do, so was not able to show of his skill set, but I hope this match is the first of many for him under the Blue kit.
- From France's point of view nothing bad...other than this offensive punch should have been seen earlier in the World Cup qualifiers!
- Even when Les Bleus win by 5 goals...I must point out Domenech's lack of managerial ability. What do I mean by this? I realize without a true #10 (no Gourcuff, no Nasri, no Ribery) that the team went back to a 4-4-2 formation...but why have TWO holding midfielders in that formation? I realize that Toulalan played a solid game, but neither he nor Lass were really needed to "stem the tide" of Faroe attacks! What was telling was watching Gallas dribble at the Faroe defense, in their own 1/3 of the field on more than one occasion...if one of you center backs is pretending to be Messi, then do you need 2 holding midfielders??? France were basically playing a 4-3-3 at the end of the match, with Henry-Benzema-Anelka up front, being supported by Gouvou-Diarra-Sissoko, clearly the Faroe Islands had no answers to that formation. One might argue that it was the 70 minutes of defending they were forced to do that allowed this formation to have success, to which I would say...BS....if France had employed this formation it might have been 5-0 at half time...there is no way this team could have defended against those three French strikers up front. However, once again Domenech demonstrates a complete lack of vision. I am sure some might say - they did win 5-0 so he was doing something right. But to me this is a reflection of what is wrong with the French manager, and inflexibility and unwillingness to change his style even though the players at his disposal may warrant such a change.
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Back before Chelsea became a spending machine due to the Siberian Money Bags - what I liked about Chelsea was the fact that players such as Deschamps, Petit (who also made the cross town switch from Arsenal to Chelsea), Zola, Gullit, Vialli and Desailly to name a few would end their careers in the Chelsea blue. If Vieira heads to Stamford Bridge that would just add to the retirement home concept. Maybe Chelsea can bring back the kits with "Coors" as the sponsor!
Monday, October 05, 2009
Domenech did call up Gomis from Lyon, who we have not seen since the European Cup. I find that interesting since Gomis is a traditional high striker. He is more in the mold of a Trezegeut, so very different than Ribery. He certainly cannot slot back into the midfield. This seems to me that France will need to switch to a 4-4-2. Similar back line - Sagna, Gallas, Abidal, Evra. I think the midfield will switch to a flat 4, but really 2 deeper holding midfielders with two wide wings - Malouda/Henry on the left, Lass, Toulalan, Gouvou in the midfield. With Henry and Anelka up front - allowing Henry to slot left and drift back to the middle.
There is not necessarily a true #10 on this team so the creativity will need to come from the wings - Gouvou and Malouda, as well as the individuals up front - Henry and Anelka. The question becomes, can Les Bleus bridge the gap between the defensive back line and the attacking half of the pitch? Can Malouda, Gouvou or even a Diaby hold the midfield together and link the offense and defense? This will be the key to France's success...no surprise there. Again, France should have no problems with the Faroe Islands and really should be able to at least get a draw against Austria. However without either #10 option, France may find it more difficult to make a push to get the full 6 points and goal difference to over take Serbia.
Then again maybe Domenech will go with a 4-3-3!!! Put Henry - Anelka - Gignac up front. Have a midfield of Diaby on the left, Lass in the middle and Sissoko on the right. He did state he wanted to "cartonner" against the Faroe's - meaning get a pile of goals! Stranger things have happened.
Assuming he sticks, and why would he change now, to his preferred style of play: 4-2-3-1. The back line stays somewhat the same: Evra, Gallas, Abidal, Sagna.
Holding midfield - Lass and Toulalan (although I would like to see Sissoko get a start).
Offensive midfield - Henry, Ribery, Gouvou....yup Domenech's former binky, Gouvou will get the start I can just feel it. Henry will maintain his left sided position, and I would not be surprised if Ribery is slotted in the middle something he has expressed interest in at Bayern. With Ribery in the middle he could drift left when Henry pushes higher up the pitch, or drop deeper and run at defenders.
Up front I am sure Gignac will find himself, although I think Anelka should be the point.
France should be safe for the second spot in the group, a 4 point lead on Austria which should be maintained heading into the last match. Domenech needs to focus his troops on the 2nd place playoffs, that is where missing Gourcuff will hurt.
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Cédric Carrasso (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Nicolas Douchez (Rennes)
Gaël Clichy (Arsenal), Julien Escudé (Séville), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), William Gallas (Arsenal), Bakary Sagna (Arsenal), Sébastien Squillaci (Séville), Eric Abidal (Barcelone), Rod Fanni (Rennes).
Milieux de terrain :
Abou Diaby (Arsenal), Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Florent Malouda (Chelsea), Moussa Sissoko (Toulouse), Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid), Jérémy Toulalan (Lyon), Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich)
Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea), André-Pierre Gignac (Toulouse), Sidney Govou (Lyon), Thierry Henry (Barcelone), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid).
Just to clarify the situation, France sits on 15 points, in the determination of the best 2nd place teams the number of points taken from the last place team in the groups with 6 teams will be taken away from the total points - to make it even with the last group which only has 5 teams - so Les Bleus, would right now already be better than Norway and Scotland who are on 10 points with no more games to play. France also sits 4 points ahead of Austria for 2nd place in their group. If they win against Faroe Islands, France will head into the last game against Austria still 4 points ahead and therefore qualified for the 2nd place playoffs.
So not having Gourcuff is not crucial, it is much more important that the Bordeaux playmaker is available for the playoff. Why I am slightly concerned is that these two games need to be approached with the play off in mind, allow Domenech to determine how France will approach the home and away matches. Having Gourcuff would have been good for this. Allowing the team to figure out how they need to approach the next round and how to utlise Gourcuff - Ribery et al on offense. Withou the Bordeaux playmaker, Domenech will be deprived of this opportunity - assuming he would even know what to do with the chance.
I do like Sissoko being included. To me he is the natural replacement for Pat Vieira - he had a high motor, strong tackler and adds some offensive punch. I think this would be a good opportunity to see if he cannot be the player to partner with Diarra in the defensive midfield role, maybe move Toulalan back to central defense...hmmmm. Or maybe, gasp, play 3 holding fielders a la France 1998 - Toulalan, Sissoko and Diarra - sorry to even suggest that.
A nice highlight of Sissoko from the past weekend. Great acceleration and finishing:
I will also be interested, as will many of us, to see what the central defense pairing will look like. Once again no Mexes in the squad. Not surprised to see Gouvou back in the line up, he could actually be a good option on the right side, although I think that Remy should be given a chance to be in that channel. I also think that Luyindula would be an option to hold the right wing.
Ok Domenech, your list is not a huge surprise, you need to get ready for the play off games...you better use these two matches and training sessions well. I have little doubt that Les Bleus will get at least 4 point from the next two matches and therefore position themselves for the play off.