Monday, May 31, 2010

France lackluster draw with Tunisia

Les Bleus played their second preparatory match yesterday in Tunisia and emerged with a very lackluster 1-1 draw. Not sure how much to take from this game but I will try:

The Good:
  • Hmmm not much to go on here...I guess the fact France did not lose is good. I realize I am grasping for straws here, but getting a boring draw is still better than a loss.
  • Ribery is showing his worth on the left wing. The Bayern player is clearly the offensive driving force for Les Bleus. His pace and flair off the left flank supported by Malouda is where the majority of the French offense seems to be coming from the left, the right side is completely deserted, more on this later.
  • First cap for Planus. The Bordeaux central defender received his first cap - congratulations.  He did not have much to do for his time on the pitch but nice to see him get his first international time on the field.
  • No injuries, at least we hope. Gallas did play the match (63 minutes) and appeared free from pain, even scoring the equalizer for France. Of course there are reports today that he had to leave training early due to pain in his right calf...not promising. 
The Bad:
  • Many questions remain from the Costa Rica game, namely how can Les Bleus bring more balance to the attack especially from the right side? With the likes of Ribery and Malouda the left side of the attack is well represented. Gourcuff has a natural tendency to drift back to the center of the pitch. Govou does not nor has ever really impressed me - and is not the type of player that can sustain one side on his own. If France hope to get out of the group stages and go a few rounds they must find a way to reinforce the right side and force teams to respect the ability to threaten from that side. As I have stated in prior postings - why not try Valbuena? Unlike Govou, he can take on defenders and is not afraid to run at teams nor hesitant to try his luck from the slightest opening. Just this alone will force teams to be more balanced in their defending of Les Bleus, otherwise you will start seeing teams just slide their defense to block the French left and trust their outside back to handle the right side of the French attack without too much fear.
  • France giving up an early goal. Once again Les Bleus found themselves chasing the game. They have to correct this very soon, because if they keep up this trend they will not be in South Africa for very long.
The Ugly:
  • Center forward remains ugly in the sense Les Bleus have not appeared to settle or find someone who can be a true center forward in the 4-3-3. Anelka? Hast the talent but seems to draw to dropping deep to receive the ball. Henry? Does not appear to be a solution as a starter. Gignac? The one player who fits the mold of a center forward - big and strong he understands the need to look to be as deep as the last defender and call for the ball once he has established that position. He can score with his head and right foot, left foot remains in question. However could be a good solution to play balls to where he can attack the goal or look to feed on rushing players such as Malouda, Ribery, Anelka (if he goes to the right wing), Govou or Valbuena
  • The questions around central defense remain ugly. Why? Abidal is not a natural central defender and Gallas remains an injury concern. With just over a week to the start of the World Cup the fact your central defense is not 100% set is a major concern.
  • The second talk about boring ugly football, neither team looked like it wanted to really attack and France seemed completely lost without Ribery on the left flank.
There remains one more match against China. It will be interesting to see if Domenech looks to play what should be the starting line up against Uruguay for more than 45 minutes. Also, what if anything Domenech tries to do to get more life to the right side of the French attack. The clock keeps on ticking.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

France v Tunisia - pre World Cup friendly #2

France will face Tunisia, in Rades, for their second warm up match for the World Cup. Much has been made of the recent 2-1 victory over Costa Rica - especially the usage of the 4-3-3 as well as the scintillating 20 minutes of the Petit Velo - Valbuena. This second match will be an important gauge of how the evolution of the "new" French system is going and what changes, if any, Domenech will make to the starting 11.

A few thoughts -
  • Stick with the 4-3-3. There is not much time before the start of the World Cup, 2 weeks actually, so every occasion France have to play with this formation must be maximized. We all know Les Bleus can always go back to a 4-2-3-1 with the only question being who would shoulder Toulalan as the second holding midfielder. The new system worked well against Costa Rica, granted there were some defensive issues, which are the ones that will take the most time to work out - another reason why Domenech must stick with this formation.
  • Give Valbuena a greater role in this match. Le Petit Velo showed a lot of flair in the time he had against Costa Rica, the question is can he show the same over the full 90 minutes or at least starting against a fresh defense rather than being the "joker" coming in later in the game to run at tired defenses? Much like in 2006 when Ribery was seen as a late game "super" substitute but played his way onto the starting 11 - Valbuena has a chance of animating the right wing of the French much like Ribery does for the left flank.
  • Allow Gallas to get at least 60 minutes. France must determine if the Arsenal defender can hold up to more than 45 minutes...I realize Domenech might want to ease his defender slowly into playing additional minutes. This will be a test of how far along this path Gallas has come.
  • Get Cisse into the rotation. The leading scorer in the Greek domestic league needs to get some run to figure out what he can bring to Les Bleus - whether it be starting up front as the lone striker or on the right wing - or coming in as a substitute. Leverage his pace and flair against tired defenders.
  • A final note, this game will draw Domenech even with Hidalgo in terms of 75 games in charge. Which is nothing short of flabbergasting - Domenech should have been sacked after the disaster of the Euro 2008. Granted Domenech qualified France for 3 straight major tournaments and overachieved in one and flamed out in the second - let us see which side of the ledger this tournament ends up on. 
I would not be surprised if the following starting line would be run out onto the pitch:

Lloris (I think he will get this start and Carrasso the last game)
Sagna - Gallas - Abidal - Evra
Gourcuff - Toulalan - Malouda
Valbuena - Anelka - Ribery

This line up should closely resemble the one that will start against Uruguay on the 11th. This game should resemble the atmosphere that will meet France in South Africa. I do think that Domenech was intelligent in scheduling a game against one of Africa's better quality sides - and playing in a hostile environment. Throw into this the history between both nations and you are guaranteed an animated crowd. A good test for Les Bleus.

Prediction - France 2 Tunisia 0 - Goals from Ribery and Anelka

Friday, May 28, 2010

See you in Paris in 2016!!!

 Today France was awarded the right to host the 2016 European Cup of Nations. This will be the 5th major football tournament the country hosts and the 3rd Euro, after 1960 and 1984. France beat out Turkey by one vote after Italy had been dropped after the first ballot. I am sure that the Turkey lost out due to the growing concerns over first time hosts Ukraine and Poland for the 2012 edition and all the logistical problems both nations are facing. In addition, this will be the first Euro with 24 teams rather than the 16 it currently invites. This will make it more along the organization of a World Cup than a Euro - last time France hosted there were 8 teams! Great news for France since there will be some much need upgrading of the stadiums that the games will be played in, not sure where the money will come from but let's not allow reality to infringe on our good feelings!

I will see you all in France for the tournament!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Les Bleus win: 2-1 win over Costa Rica

So Les Bleus get the essential done - a victory over Costa Rica 2 to 1. The second half took on a dimension of creativity and flowing football with the additions of ADiarra, Diaby, Henry and especially Valbuena. Le Petit Velo not only got his first cap but also his first goal for Les Bleus on a nice build up between himself and Diaby. A quick analysis of the match:

The Good:
  • Le Petit Velo, Valbuena looked very good for the time he spent on the pitch. He gave the right side of the attack some bite and creativity. Clearly based on his goal, a strike from distance, he is not afraid to take his chances when afforded. Much like Ribery on the left, he is not afraid to take on defenders, look to create and take his scoring chances when he can. Could be the option on the right wing, to me the 25 minutes on the pitch showed much more than the time Gouvou spent manning the right wing. Something to watch for in the next two matches. Similar to 4 years ago when Ribery was thought to be a late game offensive substitute, but played  himself into a starting role, Le Petit Velo could repeat that history.
  • Abidal looked comfortable at central defense, although he backed off Hernandez allowing the striker to get a clean strike that found its way to the back of the net. The Barcelona man looked more sure of himself and aggressive in second half.
  • The play of Malouda and Gourcuff was very encouraging, he was able to co-habitate on the left side with Ribery. With Gourcuff he easily slotted in the middle of the pitch and allowed himself to come deeper for the ball - where clearly the additional space for Gourcuff was good for his passing. Both players also were not afraid to try their luck from distance, something I would like to see more of, forcing defenses to defend higher and therefore opening some space for diagonal passes and through balls.
The Bad:
  • France's center forward - At times I felt Anelka was lost not really getting the service necessary and not sure if he should drop deeper to pick up the ball. Making him a little bit of a non factor, granted he did seem to attract 2 defenders which opened up the wings for Ribery. Bringing in Henry at the half time did not appear to change much in terms of the positions success. Maybe Cisse could be an option?
  • Defensive gaps - we all knew that in a 4-3-3 without the usual 2 holding midfielders there might be gaps in the middle for Les Bleus, much was asked of Toulalan. He did his job admirably but at times it was clear the team was trying to figure out back tracking responsibilities and how to play with the space.  It is something to watch and that will need to be worked on, I am not saying go back to a 4-2-3-1 but France will need to be clear as to how to defend as a team.
  • Defending set pieces, once again France escaped after a wide open header off a corner end of the first half was only saved by Mandanda's cross bar. I still do not understand how a team of professionals cannot defend better on set pieces.

The Ugly
  • Gallas, not that his play was bad, but the fact he came off at half time is a little unsettling. Granted you do not want him playing 90 minutes in his first action, but I hope this was precautionary and not because he re-aggravated his injury. According to tomwfootball there is nothing to worry about...let us hope.
  • Not sure Gouvou did much today to warrant him being the starting right winger. He had moments but overall the right side was devoid of creativity or threat to Costa Rica with the Lyon man out there.
  • The goal Mandanda gave up was not pretty. Granted the ball took a tough skip on the way to the back of the net, but a professional keeper who can see the shot from that distance needs to do better. Of course the fact Abidal backed off allowing an open shot was not pretty either.
A victory, as minor as it can be, is a victory, I like the new blood infused into the side. I think that Valbuena showed something today and is a real option as the right winger. Let us see what happens this Sunday for the next match.

France v Costa Rica - mixed first half

At the half time 1-1 between France and Costa Rica.  Some good and some bad in this first 45 minutes.

Clearly Ribery on the left wing is good, he has been the genesis of much of the French attack and was the source of the French goal - granted it was an OG.  The Bayern man has given the attack much width by really forcing the ball wide and creating gaps where Malouda, Evra or even Gourcuff can fill causing some nice overlapping attacks.  The question remains, who to best bring some semblance of attack to the right wing? Gouvou has had some decent runs but clearly not the player that can create dangerous chances from that side. Wonder if Anelka would not be better served out on that wing with Henry or Gignac as the center forward? Gourcuff seems more apt in the deeper lying role, Malouda has had a good half showing a lot of energy and ideas. There have been some scares with Costa Rica pushing the ball quickly through the midfield - due to a lack of a second holding midfielder. The goal from Costa Rica should not have happened, not sure why but Abidal stepped up to stop the ball but then inexplicably backed off allowing for a clean shot, which Mandanda should have done a better job handling. Of course Costa Rica also had a clean look from a corner kick with only the cross bar to preserve the 1-1 score line.

Lots to work on in the second half.

Domenech's starting 11 - without Henry but with Mandanda

Interesting, Domenech decides to leave Henry on the bench and have Anelka hold the middle spot of the 4-3-3.  The starting line up:

Mandanda - Sagna, Gallas, Abidal, Evra - Gourcuff, Toulalan, Malouda - Govou, Anelka, Ribéry.

Not shocking that Mandanda gets the start, Lloris is the clear cut #1 and getting him some rest makes sense. I would not be surprised if Carrasso would start the next game against Tunisia. Somewhat surprising that Gouvou is in the starting line up, he will man the right side of the formation - it will be interesting to see how he works with Gourcuff, who will most likely be the midfielder behind him. Anelka up front is not entirely surprising, just not in the place of Henry. This is interesting in the fact that Henry has not had much playing time with Barcelona, and you would expect Domenech to want to get Henry's playing legs back under him as soon as possible.

What to watch for:
  • How does Gallas' leg hold up? Will he be able to play 90 minutes without any pain and how will he do back in game action?
  • Will the 4-3-3 be comfortable for the team? On the surface I would say yes, players like Anelka, Gallas, Sagna, Abidal and Malouda play in a similar formation at their clubs. One must watch to see how Toulalan handles the role of lone holding midfielder, he has the engine for the task that is not in question.
  • Who will take on the right side of the formation? Gouvou seems to have the first crack at the role but I am sure we will see Anelka, Gignac or Valbuena get their chances on the right wing.
  • What will Henry's role be? He is starting this game on the bench, is this an indications of things to come or just a chance to experiment with other strikers?
Allez Les Bleus

Final FIFA world rankings before World Cup

So the FIFA world rankings are out, the last ones prior to the start of the World Cup. The World Cup Blog does what we are all interested in - pulls out all the 32 teams that will participate and gives us the rankings:

The World Cup 32
1 Brazil
2 Spain
3 Portugal
4 Holland
5 Italy
6 Germany
7 Argentina
8 England
9 France
13 Greece
14 USA
15 Serbia
16 Uruguay
17 Mexico
18 Chile
19 Cameroon
20 Australia
21 Nigeria
24 Switzerland
25 Slovenia
27 Côte d’Ivoire
30 Algeria
31 Paraguay
32 Ghana
34 Slovakia
36 Denmark
38 Honduras
45 Japan
47 Korea Republic
78 New Zealand
83 South Africa
105 North Korea

Thankfully the hosts are no longer the lowest ranked team, okay that was mean and I know will come back to haunt me when they beat Les Bleus in the final game of the group stages. Speaking of Les Bleus here are the groups and their respective ranks:

Group A and their latest ranks:
South Africa 83
Mexico 17
Uruguay 16
France 9

Not sure what any of this means...probably nothing, especially since everyone wants to say Ivory Coast is heading to the semi-finals...and they are ranked 27th. What is frustrating about these rankings - the team that wins the title will not necessarily find themselves #1. Hmmmm. Not sure why that math makes any sense.

France v Costa Rica preview

France is heading to Lens to play their first warm up match versus Costa Rica - the team that lost to Uruguay in the playoff between CONCACAF and South America. Clearly this match will be watched to see if Domenech does actually go with a 4-3-3 formation slotting Malouda, Toulalan and Gourcuff as the middle 3 as well as who the French manager decides to use up front. It will also be a test for Gallas, can his calf hold up? Unlike other World Cup warm up matches, this one, and the next 2 are much more important for Les Bleus. Why? If Domenech is going to change his style of play these are the games where the system will need to be implemented and tested. I do think it is a move in the right direction, unfortunately it was an injury to LDiarra that forced Domenech's hand. Better late than never I guess!

Probable formation:

Sagna, Abidal, Gallas, Evra
Gourcuff, Toulalan, Malouda
Gignac, Henry, Ribery

According to Livesoccertv the game will be on TV5 as well as ESPN3.

Allez les Bleus

Monday, May 24, 2010

The 23 for France and their numbers

So the forfeit of LDiarra also solves Domenech's problem with regards to cutting his roster down to 23...he need not make any changes.  Domenech will head to South Africa with 3 true "holding" midfielders - Toulalan, ADiarra and ADiaby (although I might argue the latter is not a pure holding player). To me this is a clear indication that he will need to also switch to a 4-3-3 formation, which is positive. The roster is also set with regards to their shirt numbers.

Gardiens de but
N.1 : Hugo Lloris (Lyon)
N.23: Cédric Carrasso (Bordeaux)
N.16: Steve Mandanda (Marseille)

N.3 : Eric Abidal (Barcelone)
N.22: Gaël Clichy (Arsenal)
N.13: Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
N.5 : William Gallas (Arsenal)
N.6 : Marc Planus (Bordeaux)
N.4 : Anthony Reveillère (Lyon)
N.2 : Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)
N.17: Sébastien Squillaci (Séville FC)

Milieux de terrain
N.19: Vassiriki Diaby (Arsenal)
N.18: Alou Diarra (Bordeaux)
N.8 : Yoann Gourcuff (Bordeaux)
N.15: Florent Malouda (Chelsea)
N.14: Jérémy Toulalan (Lyon)

N.21: Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea)
N.9 : Djibril Cissé (Panathinaikos Athènes)
N.11: André-Pierre Gignac (Toulouse)
N.10: Sidney Govou (Lyon)
N.12: Thierry Henry (Barcelone)
N.7 : Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich)
N.20: Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille)

Nothing really of note, except for Gouvou wearing the #10...sigh...let's see Platini, Zidane, and Gouvou....right. I would have given the number to Gourcuff or Ribery, send a message to these two players that they are the key to France heading into the world cup, but Gouvou??? Maybe even give it to Gallas...he does wear it for Arsenal (although that is also a head scratcher)! The #10 shirt does hold significance in the world of football and does not seem right on a player that will most likely spend his time on the bench....sorry Sidney.

LDiarra out for Les Bleus - Silver Lining for France?

The big news of the weekend...okay other than the Special One winning the Champions League and then immediately making lots of noise about his leaving Inter to manage Real Madrid...was the news that Lass Diarra has had to leave Tignes and forfeit his spot on the French National Team due to a stomach illness. The loss of Diarra will force Domenech to rethink his strategy and calls into question the list of 30 he put together to start with - 7 strikers but only 5 holding midfielders, one of which is the 19 year old M'Vila from Rennes. This is an interesting choice when you consider Domenech seems infatuated with always starting 2 holding midfielders and 1 lone striker.

However could there be a silver lining in this unfortunate illness? Yes. I have been a big critic of Domenech sticking so stubbornly to having 2 holding midfielders regardless of who France are playing. The qualifying campaign as well as the most recent friendlies demonstrate the lack of linking between the defensive line and the strikers. With two purely holding players - Diarra and Toulalan - in front of the back 4 you do not have a player, like Vieira in the past, who can be that link. For all their had work defensively, neither Diarra or Toulalan are "box to box" midfielders who can add some legitimate offensive support. This happened to Les Bleus in 2004 when Vieira was injured at the end of the group stages of the Euro and France played Dacourt and Makelele together against eventual winners Greece, both world class pure defensive midfielders, but offered very little in terms of linking with the offense. Without Diarra, Domenech might be forced to rethink his strategy and formation. The last reports are that he is experimenting with a 4-3-3. Lining up Toulalan, Diaby and Gourcuff as the midfield, with Ribery, Henry and Anelka up front - there have also been training sessions with Malouda in the place of Diaby and Gignac in the place of Anelka (that one is a little bit of a head scratcher since Gignac is not a winger).

What I do like the fact that Domenech seems to be willing to have Gourcuff play deeper, something I have been advocating for,  and also trying to figure out a way to have both Malouda and Ribery on the pitch - both on their preferred left side. The fact Diaby has been included more prominently is also encouraging. Diaby has shown well in the 4-3-3 at Arsenal and if he can carry over some of that success to Les Bleus he will prove a valuable asset. With this combination of player on the pitch you also have flexibility to moderate your formations as the game progresses. The 4-3-3 is much more of a 4-1-2-2-1 - with Toulalan providing cover in front of the back 4, Diaby/Malouda paired with Gourcuff as the offensive midfielders, Ribery and Anelka providing high offensive width and Henry at the point. Ribery could always slide deeper giving you a 4-1-3-1-1 or even go to a traditional 4-4-2 with Anelka and Henry up front. If you want to be more defensive Diaby could drop deeper and even Malouda could slot deeper (he used to be a left back and can play a deeper defensive role). Or Domenech could opt for a diamond in the midfield - Toulalan the deep lying player, Gourcuff the top of the diamond with Malouda and Ribery the wings - Anelka and Henry the strikers. The 4-3-3 also give France an interesting option with Valbuena - Cisse - Anelka as the high 3. All very intriguing options.

Of course it is never good see one of the players you counted on so heavily miss out on the tournament, but if it means forcing the "Stubborn One" aka Domenech to rethink his formation and maybe line up a system more in tune with the talent he has on hand, maybe it is for the best.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Champions League finals preview

One more club match before we can start turning our full attention to the World Cup, then again according to the Special One this game is bigger than that silly tournament that will be held in South Africa. Anyways, we all know that Mourinho is susceptible to bouts of delusional grandeur. Of course if anyone had wagered that these two teams would be in the finals...well they would have made a tidy profit today.

The question to me is whether or not Inter will be able to block Bayern, Robben in particular, as they did against Barcelona. We all know that Barca is a much more offensively prolific side than the German champions, so on paper one would think that Inter and their defense will have an easier time against Bayern. Without Ribery, I think that Bayern will be hamstrung against what we all know will be a stout Inter defensive system. Much like against Messi et al, I imagine that Mourinho will scheme to have Cambiasso and Chivu nipping at the heels of Robben all game, where ever he goes one of the defensive midfielders will be right there, whenever the Dutch winger gets close to the offensive 1/3 of the pitch I am sure one of the Inter defenders will converge as well - Maicon or Zanetti - I would think Zanetti might be tasked with watching Robben regardless of which wing he is one since Maicon is a little to offensive minded. Much will be expected of Lucio and Samuel to keep an eye on Olic and Muller down the middle.

Bayern will have to worry about containing the counter attacks which will most likely channel through Sneijder and be looking to spring Eto'o or Milito behind the Bayern defense. Van Buyten and the rest of the Bayern defense should be able to contain this threat, but I fear that Butt remains the weak link and could easily concede a soft goal.

I fear that this game will be a drab game with Inter defending and looking to counter with Bayern being frustrated to break down the defense. Had Ribery not been suspended I think Bayern would stand a very good chance in this game, not sure Inter could slow down the Ribery - Robben attacks down the wing. Alas, that is not the case. So who will win the match....

Inter win 1-0. Mourinho is seem running around the pitch screaming that he is the greatest and will actually keep the Champions League trophy for himself and not allow his players to have a victory lap. He will then announce that since he is so great Inter Milan will be entered into the World Cup representing his own ego which is about as big as a western European country.

Other side story - Robben and Sneijder will be back in Madrid where they had unsuccessful stints playing for the local side - Real Madrid, must be some level of revenge for both. Both clubs are also sitting on a treble having both won their domestic titles and cups.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Laurent Blanc costs the FFF 1.5m Euros...too bad he cannot take over now!

The worst kept secret of the past few months - that Laurent Blanc will be the next manager of the French National Football team will also cost the association 1.5m Euros to pry him away from Bordeaux. I would gladly see the sum tripled if they could get him to take over the squad today...a boy can dream.

I realize we have not even played game 1 of the World Cup, but here are some

  1. Be more PR savvy. One area that Domenech has been terrible with is his ability to communicate with the media and fans. Criticism will always come when you are managing a high profile nation such as France, but realize that the press and fans want to like you so make sure you do not give them a reason not to. Do not pull crazy stunts like propose to your girlfriend on TV after you and your team were embarrassed in a major tournament!
  2. Build bridges with club managers. Wenger and Mourinho are 2 high profiled managers that Domenech had open spats not intelligent. I realize there is always a battle between club and country, especially when clubs are paying astronomical wages for players who get injured playing for their national sides. First thing Blanc needs to do is ring the club managers where he will be pulling players from - develop a relationship with these managers. Blanc needs to be able to pick up the phone and have a working if not amicable relationship with the clubs.
  3. Give Domenech banished players a second look. Players such as Benzema, Nasri, Mexes, Mavuba to name a few. The current manager seemed to call these players into the squad and then drop them without any real rhyme or reason. Unlike Domenech, I hope that Blanc communicates more effectively about the reason behind his selection or non-selection of players (see point #1). I have no problem when a manager decides to not select certain players but I think it is the managers responsibility to give some understanding as to why said player is not included.
  4. Show flexibility when it comes to formations. I feel as if Domenech has fallen in love with his 4-2-3-1, granted many managers are using that formation at the international level. However managers need to be flexible especially when, unlike at the club level, you cannot necessarily acquire the type of players to fit your system. Sometimes you need to play 4-3-3 or 4-4-2, depending on the players you have available. What I do think will be better with Blanc is the fact he managed Gourcuff at Bordeaux, maybe you stick with  a 4-2-3-1 but the 2 deep midfielders could be the Gourcuff - ADiarra pairing that worked at Bordeaux, something to be said about players that have spent time together at the club level. Just a thought.
  5. Make better use of the time with your players. What drives me mad is when Domenech shows some creativity and calls up players such as Cheyrou or Remy for a friendly - see the Spain game. But then decides to use his usual rotation during a game that does not count! Monsieur Blanc, if and when you call up new players for a friendly please use them in a game, allow us and yourself to see what they can do in a real game. Also please do not be afraid to try different strategies and formations during these matches. Domenech, too often, seemed to use these matches haphazardly using his usual players, not trying variations of his formations, not blooding uncapped players and overall not appearing to have any strategy. 
Finally...just don't be Domenech. I guess that is already covered, therefore Blanc is already ahead of the game. Short of World Cup victory, I cannot see anyone shedding any tears seeing Domenech finally leaving the head of the national team.

The biggest goal of Blanc's career...still gives me chills watching the video.

    Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    Barcelona - the rich get richer

    The smoke is turning into a raging bonfire (I stole that line from Sam) around the departure of Cesc to Barcelona this summer which seems to be in the negotiation phase currently, the latest is that the inclusion of Yaya Toure in the deal is holding up the finalization of the transfer. However I think it will be highly unlikely that the deal does not go through whether more money be added to the transfer or another player be put in the deal - a list of those options. I personally would chuckle and cry if Busquets came to the Emirates...Sam might have to be restrained in his rage.

    Of course while this fire is picking up, the David Villa to Barcelona seems to have started and reached the negotiationstage in lightening quick pace - according to Sport.24 report - Valencia and Barcelona have agreed on a transfer fee of 40m Euros. With Henry leaving, probably for his retirement home in the MLS and with Ibra apparently on his way out of the Catalan side, the addition of Villa will fill the void at striker. This begs the question - where will all this go? With a midfield of Xavi - Cesc - Iniesta - Keita - Busquets (unless he is wearing the #4 shirt for Arsenal) and the attacking formation of Villa - Messi - Pedro you have a frightening offensive side, add Alves to the mix and you will be asking a lot of Abidal - Puyol - Pique to hold down the defensive side, but if you score 4 goals a game why play defense?

    This also begs the question - what will the response be from Real Madrid? After losing the title to their hated rivals one more time and now seeing Barcelona add two jewels from the transfer market - 2 Spaniards at that - to their stable of players what will the counter be from the Madrid? Could a major offer to Manchester United for Rooney be in the works? Ribery? Tevez? Lampard? Gerrard? Of course much will be determined on who shines at the World Cup. Should be an interesting transfer season to say the least!

    Look for the latest Frog&Gooner podcast where we spend some time discussing these potential moves for Real and Barca...the rich keep getting richer!

    Monday, May 17, 2010

    Domenech cuts down his list to 23 + Gallas

    So the drama from last week continues this week with Domenech cutting down his list to 24 players (one more player to cover for Gallas' injury). The list of players that were sent home:

    • Landreau - somewhat surprising since Domenech stated that the Lille keeper would bring some experience to the side over his Bordeaux counterpart. I think that it is more a disappointment rather than surprising that Domenech kept Carrasso since he has been his #3 during the recent qualifiers. However Landreau has been a good soldier for France during his career and deserved a trip to this World Cup not only for the season he has had but for what he has done for France.
    • Fanni - was beaten at the line but a resurgent Reveillere which is unfortunate for the Rennes back. He chances to play at a World Cup are slim - he will be 32 when the World Cup is in Brazil in 4 years.
    • Rami - seems to always be knocking at the door recently but is this time overtaken by the play of the Bordeaux man Planus who seems to be the cover in case Gallas cannot make the trip.
    • M'Vila - what was more surprising was to have the 19 year old on the first list, his time will come.
    • Ben Arfa - with Benzema and Nasri out, Ben Arfa makes it 3 from the 1987 generation (they won the U17 European championships in 2004 together) maybe under Blanc they will get their chances to carry that success to the senior squad.
    • Briand - always a Domenech favorite but not clear where he would fit in the grand scheme. With so many offensive players it was a numbers game.
    There will be one more player cut from the squad and that depends on the injury to Gallas. If the central defender cannot make it, then he will be the last player cut, if he can go I would think that Planus is sent home with LDiarra and Toulalan, Domenech does have some midfielders that could act as cover for the back 4 in a pinch. The drama continues.

    Sunday, May 16, 2010

    Les Bleus top 5 jerseys or strips

    Amazing that 20 years ago club teams and national teams rarely changed their strip, today they seem to have new looks for every season or major tournament - add to this home and away strips as well as 3rd strips (thank you American sports leagues). Not to date myself, but I remember when you could only have a handful of kits and I would order my France strip from my Onze magazine (at the time there was Onze and Mondial as competing footie publications they then merged into what is now known as Onze Mondial).

    So France will showcase a new strip in South Africa, the irony is had they lost the playoff to Ireland it would have been a kit worn for 2 official matches! I am not a huge fan of the look, I recognize it plays on a design that has served Les Bleus well through out the years. It is also the last time Adidas will kit out France until at least 2018 - Nike will pay 320 million Euros from 2011 to 2018 to provide the kit for Les Bleus. That will be some nice cash for the federation's coffers. I have bitter sweet feelings towards this move. Clearly it is a very rich contract for Les Bleus, Nike is spending 4 times as much as Adidas would have throw in the fact that Nike is a global powerhouse in terms of marketing and promotion (for some reason seem to be a little slicker than Adidas). Of course I have always been a fan of Adidas for my own usage. I have worn numerous Copa Mondials and Sambas during my footie career - I currently prefer the Adidas predator. The only other boots I have worn are Puma King for a season and Ligne 7 (see if you can find anyone who has worn Ligne 7!). However I am excited to see what Nike does for Les Bleus - hey my 2 favorite club teams are kitted by Nike - PSG and Arsenal!

    With that here is my list of the best kits Les Bleus have worn -

    Number 5: Ok I am little nostalgic but  I think the 1958 kit deserves to be a top kit for Les Bleus. Granted there was not much in terms of radical design during this era, however the blue three button kit with the crowing rooster is a classic. Worn during the 3rd place run for Les Bleus (they lost to Brazil and Pele in the semi finals) as well as by Just Fontaine who tallied 13 goals in the tournament, remains a single tournament record, one I am not sure will ever fall. Famous players that wore the kit - Fontaine, Kopa and Jonquet.

    Number 4: Surprisingly this one is not ranked higher in my mind, but the 1998 kit was fabulous. Granted it was also the one they wore during the winning World Cup run. The reason it is not higher in my estimation is the fact that it is really a replica of the #1 kit to further. Clearly it will always hold a special place in my heart and all fans of Les Bleus since it marked the first time France would raise the World Cup. Notable players wearing the kit - Deschamps, Petit, Zidane, Blanc, Thuram, Henry, Dugarry and Lizarazu.

    Number 3: The 2000 strip comes in at #3 due to its simplicity - blue strip with just one simple red line over the chest with white numbers and red piping. Clean and elegant. Matching the team that wore the kit during the Euros. With Trezegol capping off a great come back versus the Italians in the finals. The jersey was a nice continuation in design from the 1998 kit which had the red stripe across the chest. Will always be one of my favorites (the one I have has #10 Zidane...what a surprise). Notable players that wore the kit - Wiltord, Trezeguet, Zidane, Deschamps, Desailly, Blanc, Henry and Vieira.

    Number 2: Okay this is technically the away strip, but I think it was fabulous for the fact it had a faded French flag as the center piece. Les Bleus wore this strip all the way to the finals and along the way defeated Spain, Brazil and Portugal (and should have done so to Italy!) What I like about the kit is that it is a unique design and not simply the white version of the home blue kit. Notable players that wore the kit - Zizou, Ribery, Vieira, Sagnol, Henry, Trezeguet and Thuram.

    Number 1: This is my favorite due to the simplicity and the fact it influenced other France kits - see 1998, 2000, 2004, 2008 and current versions - the 1984 kit remains my favorite. With the prominent red band over the chest and 3 thin white lines below, it was sharp and had clean lines. It was also worn during France's Euro 1984 triumph as well as their gold medal winning team in the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. It also did not hurt that wearing that kit Platini had, arguably, the most dominating performance of a player in a major tournament - scoring 9 goals (in 5 matches), including 2 hat tricks, scored the last minute winner in the semi final versus Portugal, scored the opener in the finals and scored on a penalty kick, 2 free kicks, with his head and in from open play. Notable players that wore the kit - Platini, Giresse, Tigana, Fernandez and Battiston.

    Honorable mentions - 2002 kit (yes the one where France crashed out of the Japan/South Korean World Cup), 1982 strip and the away 2010 strip. Interesting note, I do like the 1978 story when they played Hungary and had to borrow the local clubs kit for the match since both teams had only brought their white kit, the only time France has worn green...and stripes on the pitch (hey they are 1-0 with that strip, maybe they should break it out again!)

    The list of 23 to be announced Monday

    Domenech will cut down his list to 23 this coming Monday before the squad meets at Tignes for their preparation. This is to avoid having the drama of past lists where players were helicoptered away from Tignes. I will stick with my list of players that will be left off the final list.

    Wednesday, May 12, 2010

    I knew France should wear red kits...

    Interesting article about the science of football. My favorites:

    "SEEING RED: Football clubs with red team stripes are more successful than rivals with other colours, according to a 2008 analysis of post-World War 2 English league data by experts from the universities of Durham and Plymouth. Red-wearing teams (such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal) won more often, while teams wearing yellow or orange fared worst. The theory: there's a psychological boost from wearing red, a colour which is often associated in nature with male aggression and display"....Explains why PSG cannot win anything....

    "DIGITAL FUTURE: Punters looking for a tip on this year's World Cup winners might be advised to take a close look at players' hands. John Manning from Britain's University of Liverpool suggests there is a link between the lengths of a footballer's fingers and his ability as a player. Looking at British players, Manning found that the footballing elite had longer ring fingers compared to their index fingers. Manning's theory is early exposure to testosterone in the womb is a key to heart formation and spatial judgement and finger length, which is why digits can be a telltale, but not a prediction, of prowess." ... my ring finger is longer than my index fingers!!!

    Escalette critical of Domenech...

    Interesting - Escalette (maybe the only man in France that supports Domenech) comes out and is critical of his manager. Basically what he states is that Domench did not need to be so "firm" prior to yesterday with his statements about giving the final list of 23, since he has until the end of the month to submit the final list.

    «Peut-être n'aurait-il pas dû être aussi catégorique avant, il suffisait de dire: On va voir, peut-être 23, peut-être 30. Mais ce n'est pas ça qui va faire que l'équipe de France va réussir ou non en Afrique du Sud», a estimé M. Escalettes.

    As Escalettes states "Maybe he should not have categorically been so outspoken about the 23..."

    Hmmmm, is Domenech's last champion starting to waver on him? There is still time for Blanc to take over now!!!

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Domenech announces the 30 for France...surprise surprise

    So the drama will continue a little longer. For a long time Domenech kept saying he would give us his 23 today and dispense with the drama associated with a preliminary list that then needed to be pruned. So much for that idea - rather he went with a list of 30 that will need to be cut down.

    Gardiens de but
    • Cédric Carrasso (FCG Bordeaux)
    • Mickaël Landreau (LOSC)
    • Hugo Lloris (Ol. Lyon)
    • Steve Mandanda (Ol. Marseille)
    • Eric Abidal (FC Barcelone)
    • Gaël Clichy (Arsenal FC)
    • Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
    • Rod Fanni (Stade Rennais)
    • William Gallas (Arsenal FC)
    • Marc Planus (FCG Bordeaux)
    • Adil Rami (LOSC)
    • Anthony Reveillère (Ol. Lyonnais)
    • Bacary Sagna (Arsenal FC)
    • Sébastien Squillaci (Séville FC)
    Milieux de terrain
    • Vassiriki Diaby (Arsenal FC)
    • Alou Diarra (FCG Bordeaux)
    • Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid FC)
    • Yoann Gourcuff (FCG Bordeaux)
    • Yann M'Vila (Stade Rennais)
    • Florent Malouda (Chelsea FC)
    • Jérémy Toulalan (Ol. Lyonnais)
    • Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea FC)
    • Hatem Ben Arfa (Ol. Marseille)
    • Jimmy Briand (Stade Rennais)
    • Djibril Cissé (Panathinaikos)
    • André-Pierre Gignac (Toulouse FC)
    • Sidney Govou (Ol. Lyonnais)
    • Thierry Henry (FC Barcelone)
    • Franck Ribéry (FC Bayern Munich)
    • Mathieu Valbuena (Ol. Marseille)
    Players in bold are those that are little bit of a surprise to me, but not shocking. The 19 year old M'Vila is clearly some youth that is being infused into the side. What is slightly shocking is the exclusion of Benzema and Nasri. The latter you could argue had a very poor season at Real Madrid but was always called upon during the qualifiers and based on raw talent alone deserved an invite. The former really makes no sense to me. Nasri has had a strong season at Arsenal and after missing the early part of the season due to injury has come back very strong - and he could solve the right wing problem at the same time providing cover for Gourcuff. Add to this the fact Domenech will play with at least 3 offensive midfielders he needed to bring more midfielders to camp rather than too many strikers (granted only 5 I would consider are true strikers Henry, Gignac, Cisse, Anelka and Briand)...strange indeed. I am glad that neither Boumsong nor Escude were included in the list of 30.

    At first blush I think the following will be the 7 dropped from the final roster:

    1. Carrasso
    2. Planus
    3. Fanni
    4. Briand
    5. Ben Arfa
    6. Gignac
    7. Valbuena
    I am very nervous that Domenech does not have someone that could take up the Gourcuff role, Valbuena/Ben Arfa/Ribery could do so in a pinch but they are all more wingers - another reason why the Nasri omission is slightly disappointing.

    Further proof that Domenech needs to go - Makelele?

    In a few hours we will find out who the 23 are that will head to South Africa to represent France and hopefully put on a decent showing for the world. Of course in the past 48  hours one of the more shocking news bits is the fact Domenech tried to get the 37 year old PSG midfielder Makelele to come to the World Cup. Um uh....what????

    When it comes to holding midfielders, France has no shortage of class players - LDiarra, ADiarra, Toulalan, Mavuba, Flamini, Cheyrou, Matuidi, or even Gonalans....if you want veteran presence just look to the Citizens and your former captain - Pat Vieira. The fact that Domenech was willing to call up a retired player, one who already tried to retire from international football once but was strong armed into remaining on the international scene. This move makes no sense to me, why try to call up a player that:.
    1. Has retired from International play.
    2. Is long in the tooth.
    3. Plays a position where you have numerous options.
    4. A player you have not used in 2 years....because he retired.
    Based on this story I am a little nervous to see what the final list will resemble. Hopefully someone has reminded Domenech that Zidane is still retired, Platini will be busy this summer with his job, Fontaine is 76 but Cantona might be willing to make an appearance on the pitch.

    Monday, May 10, 2010

    The France list of 23 according to the public

    The public has spoken! And an interesting vote indeed...the list from What is fascinating is the fact that Boumsong (not sure why) and Mexes (clearly the public is correct on this one!) was chosen ahead of Domenech favorites - Escude and Squillaci. The inclusion of exactly what this blogger has called for! Interesting list based on the popular vote -

    Votre liste des 23 Bleus :
    Gardiens : Lloris (93% des voix), Mandanda (86%), Carrasso (57%)
    Défenseurs : Abidal (90%), Sagna (87%), Evra (86%), Gallas (84%), Boumsong (49%), Mexès (45%), Fanni (36%), Réveillère (34%)
    Milieux de terrain : Ribéry (93%), Gourcuff (87%), Malouda (84%), Toulalan (73%), Nasri (71%), L. Diarra (67%), Govou (57%), Ben Arfa (43%)
    Attaquants : Anelka (91%), Henry (88%), Benzema (79%), Cissé (70%)

    I do like Nasri slotted along side Toulalan, lots of offensive firepower in this line up, it could even shift to a 4-1-4-1 much like Spain did in the Euros. Too bad Domenech would rather line up 3 holding midfielders...

    Another survey this time from l'Equipe.  Some similarities with the above survey the striking similarities are the inclusion of Mexes and Nasri in both votes. Maybe Domenech should let the people decide, they clearly seem more intelligent than the current France manager.

    GARDIENS : Lloris (Lyon), Mandanda (Marseille), Carrasso (Bordeaux).
    DEFENSEURS : Abidal (FC Barcelone), Gallas (Arsenal), Mexès (AS Roma), Squillaci (FC Séville), Evra (Manchester United), Sagna (Arsenal), Clichy (Arsenal).
    MILIEUX : Toulalan (Lyon), L. Diarra (Real Madrid), A. Diarra (Bordeaux), Ribéry (Bayern Munich), Malouda (Chelsea), Gourcuff (Bordeaux), Nasri (Arsenal), Govou (Lyon).
    ATTAQUANTS : Anelka (Chelsea), Henry (FC Barcelone), Benzema (Real Madrid), D. Cissé (Panathinaïkos), Gignac (Toulouse).

    France World Cup squad - Part 4 - Strikers

    Okay I have given you my keepers, defenders and midfielders now the final piece of the puzzle the strikers. Hopefully they can score some goals for Les Bleus! I will be going with 5 strikers I think France could almost opt for 4 or go with 6 why? Since there is only room for 1 true striker in the 4-2-3-1 do you really need 5? However since Domenech loves to play his strikers as midfielders/wingers...head scratch-er...then you might need more depth. I will stick with 5.

    Who should be on the plane to South Africa:
    • Djibril Cisse (Panathinaikos): The former Auxerre star has fought two devastating leg injuries (my advice, don't YouTube them they are not pretty) and has not found a club to settle in with since he left Auxerre. However how can one argue with the 23 goals in Greece, the double of the next leading goal scorer - he also shined in the Europa League play. He did get a call up last international break, but that was due to an injury to Saha. While Cisse can sometimes be maddeningly streaky with his goal scoring, no one will question his pace and lethality in front of goal, two traits that could serve well for Les Bleus as a substitute or starter. Clearly he is in form right now, so why not try and take advantage of that in South Africa?
    • Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea): The Incredible Sulk seems to have finally found inner peace. Anelka can slot at top of the formation as the lone striker or on the wing as he does with Chelsea (granted that is more in a 4-3-3 formation). He can create his own scoring opportunities but can also act as the "fox in the box." He should be starting up front for Les Bleus. He did score a huge goal in Ireland for Les Bleus as well!

    • Karim Benzema (Real Madrid): I do question whether he is worthy of heading to the World Cup based on his performance this season with Real - 8 goals. I have never doubted his raw talent, but wonder if his development has not taken a step back. I do think he still has it in him to snatch an important goal and force defenses to respect his ability to score at any moment.
    • Titi Henry (Barcelona): Sigh I am hesitant on whether or not he should head to South Africa, he has been firmly stapled to the bench at Barcelona and is clearly on the back 9 of his international career (he has already teed off on 18). I do think he should go because he is the captain and I think still has a few good performances in his boots. His inclusion will create problems with regards to who mans the left channel. While he is no longer the goal scorer he once was, he remains dangerous and his veteran leadership will prove crucial (this would be his 4th World Cup). Ahhh the good old days with Henry at Arsenal -

    • Loic Remy (Nice): The Arsenal transfer target is a natural right winger, so could solve that problem then again Domenech never seems to leverage him for this role even though  he consistently calls him to the squad.  Based on his ability on the wing or as a deep striker he should find his way to South Africa.
    Who Domenech will take:
    • Henry
    • Anelka
    • Benzema
    • Remy
    • Gignac (Toulouse): Domenech is infatuated with the Toulouse big man. Unfortunately I think he is an injury risk and not sure he is 100% after missing much of the season. I rather take a player (Cisse) who is healthy and has been performing.
    Others to watch:
    • Hourau (PSG) - the tall forward had a fantastic season...last year. He too has been injured and out for most of the Ligue 1 season. While his height and ability to play alone up front are intriguing I just don't think he did enough recently to warrant a call up.
    • Gameiro (Loreint) - the leading goal scorer in Ligue 1 might get a look, but I just don't see him taking any of the other striker's spots.
    • Saha (Everton) - second half season drop in form has moved him off the list.
    • Gomis (Lyon) - the surprise selection for Euro 2008 will not follow that with a World Cup call up, he has found himself as a super sub at Lyon which has clearly hurt his chances.
    • Ait-Fana (Montpellier) - the winger from the surprise French club of the year has many speaking of his future with Les Bleus. He could still decide to play for Morocco, but would appear he will seek to play for his natal France first. He might be a surprise pick from Domenech.

    Sunday, May 09, 2010

    France World Cup squad - Part 3 - Midfielders

    So we have covered the Keepers and Defenders in my last 2 posts, now the heart of the team - the midfield. This is getting tricky, why? First there are some players that are at times considered forwards who I consider midfielders also there are some players that I think will be called up and could be looked to play some defense as well.

    Midfielders that should be selected: 
    • Yohann Gourcuff (Bordeaux): I will not start with the "next Zidane" line, because there is no next Zizou just like there was never a next Platini. However the former Milan player has clearly carved himself out an important role within the French national team, as well as domestically with Bordeaux. He is the one player that can play the #10 role - distributing the ball, taking responsibility for free kicks and adding a goal when need be. While he does not have the touch that Zizou had or the scoring flair of Platini he does have enough creativity and vision to be able to unlock any defense at any moment. The concern for me is whether or not he will be heading to South Africa in the best mental and physical states. His play this season has dropped off, not surprising after he logged the most games in his career last season. I also wonder if he is properly used by Domenech. I have stated that I think he should be dropped further back similar to Pirlo, Veron or Ballack, this would give him more space and time as well as force opposing defenses to respect his ability to use the long through ball to catch a defense napping (others agree). Let us hope he recovers and is 100% for the World Cup...and that Domenech uses him more wisely. A reminder of what he can do at any moment...

    • Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid): The Real Madrid of the more interesting choices for a player to wear that number, similar to Gallas a central defender wearing it for Arsenal (good article about this "mis-numbering") also not in top form. However it is hard to argue with his performances for Les Bleus. He has a great engine and is a world class holding midfielder and unlike the player he is so often compared to - Makelele - he does bring some offensive punch to his side. I would also include Lass on the roster because in a pinch he can slot back to left back.
    • Jeremy Toulalan (Lyon): The Lyon holding midfielder can never be criticized for his work rate and engine, the only knock on him is that sometimes he runs too much...without a purpose. To me he is much more in the role of Makelele - midfield destroyer. I would put him on the roster not only because he does his job very well, but like Lass in a pinch he could slot back defensively into a central defensive role. I actually think he would be better suited to convert, similar to Marcel Desailly, into a central defender.
    • Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich): I see Ribery as a midfielder/winger so will categorize him in this group.

      Next to Gourcuff he is France's most creative player, maybe the most. He has had an injury plagued season and now has had some personal issues command the headlines, but this should not prevent him from having a good World Cup, I am hoping. He has been constantly lobbying to be played at his preferred position of left wing/midfield, the problem for Les Bleus is that they have an abundance of talented players that would like to own that left channel - Henry, Ribery and Malouda to name 3. A good problem to have unless of course you have few options for the right channel!
    • Florent Malouda (Chelsea): Once banished from the national side, the Chelsea man has crept back into the discussion and team based on his performances with Chelski. With 12 goals and 8 assists this season he is clearly back to the form he had with Lyon. Similar to Lass and Toulalan, he could also slot back in an emergency (he actually started his career as a left back) he can also slot higher on the pitch as a deep lying striker. His form of late also warrants him potentially pushing for a starting role and at worst be a game changing substitute leveraging his pace against tired defenses.
    • Abou Diaby (Arsenal): I am sure this will get Sam's blood boiling a little, he and I have had many discussions on the Arsenal man's value and development. I do still believe in the former Auxerre midfielder as a natural left footed player he adds an element to this side in terms of flexibility. He is a hard tackler, sometimes reckless, but also has a decent offensive element to his game. At times I think he could develop into the main holding midfielder shouldering Gourcuff in front of the back 4.

    • Samir Nasri (Arsenal):The former Marseilles play-maker should be on the plane to South Africa. Why? First I think he is a valid option to man the right wing/midfield role. Second he can also slot back into a more central role in the midfield - which he has done for France and Arsenal. He has a good goal scoring touch and the passing ability to also spring a defense. Unfortunately Domenech has not called up the Arsenal man in a long time so maybe he has forgotten about Samir, which is unfortunate since he should be on the plane to South Africa and should be manning the right wing for Les Bleus.
    Who Domenech will take:
    • Gourcuff
    • Ribery
    • Toulalan
    • LDiarra
    • ADiarra (Bordeaux) - Domenech can never have enough holding midfielders....
    • Gouvou (Lyon) - One of Domenech's binkies...the brace he got against Italy in the Euro qualifiers has kept him in the French national team..not sure why. I have Gouvou as a midfielder, he is sometimes slotted as a forward.
    • MSissoko (Toulouse): I would not be disappointed seeing the talented midfielder head to South Africa. Again not sure why you would need another holding player, but Sissoko has a huge upside so I would not "poo poo" the selection.
    Other players to watch:
    • Benoit Cheyrou (Marseilles): The OM holding midfielder received a well deserved call up last round of internationals and of course never saw the pitch. He has had a superb season for Marseilles, unfortunately I think there are too many players ahead of him.
    • Ben Arfa (Marseilles): The former "prince" of French football also got another call up last international break. While he has yet to live up to his enormous raw talent he has played well this season and has the creative flair that France could use. I just do not think Domenech would leverage a roster spot for this mercurial player.
    • Mathieu Valbuena (Marseilles): Okay 3 straight OM players, but the "Petit Velo" has also had a very solid season for OM. He, similar to Nasri, could solve France's problems on the right wing as well as slot in center of the park if need be. He did get a call up a year or so ago only to have to forfeit the chance due to injury.
    • Patrick Vieira (Manchester City): The former France captain has not been within earshot of the squad for what appears to be a life time. Mainly due to his difficulty in staying healthy! While I will never question his heart nor what he has brought to the French national team, I am not sure Domenech can risk taking a player that has logged limited minutes and is at the tail end of his career.
    • Rio Mavuba (Lille): Again another holding midfielder where France seems to have an abundance of...once figured prominently in Domenech's system but has not been called up for in years. Has had another outstanding season with Lille, but too much depth for him to be called upon.
    • Jeremy Menez (AS Roma): The 23 year old has been somewhat forgotten once  he left France for Italy, partially because he found himself stapled to the bench. However this season he has become a vital cog in Roma's challenge for the league title. He too could be leveraged as a winger or play maker...too bad Domenech does not seem to want to have anything to do with Italy.
    I fear that Domenech will look to bring many defensive minded midfielders and leverage his strikers to fill the winger chasm, unfortunately he does not seem to realize the solution to his right wing issue lies in the midfielders he could already call upon. When does his reign of terror end?

      Wednesday, May 05, 2010

      France World Cup squad - Part 2 - Defenders

      Now comes the hard part...who should provide the line of defense in front of Lloris et I previously stated I will assume Domenech takes 8 defenders, I might opt for 7 since some of the midfielders I would take could slot back on defense in a pinch and I would rather have greater flexibility in my midfield/striker position. But let us go with 8 defenders...

      Who should go to South Africa:
      • Patrice Evra (Manchester United): The left back has become a vital player for the Red Devils and has demonstrated incredible maturity and talent...much different than the player that once controlled the left flank

        for Monaco, for a while his attitude saw him banished in international footie waste land. However now the veteran player is a constant and gives France a legitimate attacking wide full back. Barring injury will start on the left side of the defense.
      • Bacary Sagna (Arsenal): The former Auxerre defender has established himself as a constant in North London for the Gunners. He is a tireless worker and much like Evra brings some additional width when it comes to the attack, pushing up from his defensive slot. His ability to add some offensive punch will be crucial since the right wing for France remains such a question mark. Sagna has received some criticism over his ability to provide quality crosses, while he might not have the ability in that sector as did Sagnol, his crossing has much improved and he gives France two dangerous fullbacks.
      • William Gallas (Arsenal): The man that actually scored the goal to sink Ireland (the Hand of Gaul only allowed Henry to cross the ball) is the closest thing Domenech has to a solid central defender. The former Chelsea man has been battling a nagging leg injury for most of the season, but has declared he will be fit for the World Cup. The question is will Domenech select him since he has not played since the Champions League match versus Barcelona on March 31st and the French manager has stated that he will not take any injured okay....what about Pat Vieira in 2008?? The problem is Domenech has no sure thing at central defense other than Gallas, injured or not. He will be on the plane to South Africa.
      • Eric Abidal (Barcelona): Abidal will most likely shoulder the central defensive responsibility with Gallas. Abidal is not a natural central defender - he tends to man the left fullback role. However he has become the pairing with Gallas by default, I blame Domenech for that gaff - Domenech should have said "Gallas and player X " are my central defensive pairing, and allowed them to evolve over the past few years. Instead he has used some random lottery system to pair the likes of Mexes, Squillaci, Escude, Boumsong, Tresor, Battiston, Boli....along side Gallas not allowing any type of chemistry to evolve....and now we will have to pay the piper. I think Abidal could be a good central defender with Gallas...too bad he has not had enough time to develop any long term understanding.
      • Aly Cissokho (Lyon): The Lyon left back has evolved in leaps and bounds over the past season. Rising from the shadows when he played at Porto, attracting the attention of Milan only to end up at Lyon the player has demonstrated this season why he gained so much attention. He brings bags of pace and has a good offensive side to his game. He should be the cover for Evra.
      • Rod Fanni (Rennes): He is consistently chosen as Sagna's back up, with due reason. Fanni would be better known if he played for West Ham or Everton, 2 clubs he is linked to. He is a strong defender and has a good engine. The one downside is if he is called upon, does he have enough experience at this level? He does have some European experience but clearly not the level of play as does Sagna or Evra. Regardless a solid right back.
      • Sebastien Squillaci (Sevilla): To me the former Lyon central defender should really be the one paired with Gallas. When he has played he has shown a good sense of the game and composure necessary to play the central defensive role. He is strong in the air and would help Les Bleus defending set pieces, alas, while he maintains his place in the French squad he does not seem to have the faith of Domenech to be the starter paired with Gallas.
      • Mamadou Sakho (PSG): How about that for a wild card? However the 20 year old central defender from

        PSG has been knocking at the door of the senior squad. He is incredibly gifted and has matured beyond his young 20 years (he even captained PSG when he was a teenager). Granted he still makes some mistakes on defense, something that you do not want to risk on this stage, but his upside outweighs the risks associated with youth. He may not contribute much on the pitch in South Africa, but what he would gain in terms of experience will serve him and Les Bleus well into the next decade. Henry and Trezeguet were 20 year old call ups in 1998, and both played integral roles in France's run to the title, so why not get Sakho into the mix?
      Who Domenech will take:
      • Evra
      • Sagna
      • Gallas - assuming he is healthy
      • Abidal
      • Cissoko
      • Fanni
      • Squillaci
      • Escude (Sevilla) - For some reason Domenech did not see the Sevilla man struggle mightily against Spain or butcher the game against Romania...Escude has the talent but for some reason is a shell of himself when he plays for France.
      Others to watch:
      • Boumsong (Lyon) - Ugh for some reason this bad habit of Domenech, I fear, might come back for a finale. I would not be surprised if Domenech somehow decided to bring his binky to South Africa.
      • Ciani (Bordeaux) - The Bordeaux central defender got his first cap against Spain, a tough assignment to say the least. He did an credible job against a very difficult task - Villa et al. He does deserve to be part of France's long term plans but might not be on the plane to South Africa.
      • Tremoulinas (Bordeaux) - Ciani's Bordeaux teammate has been compared to former Bordeaux, Bayern and France left back - Lizarzu. A lofty comparison to say the least. His time will come but not this World Cup.
      • Clichy (Arsenal) - I have always liked the player that replaced "cAshley" Cole, unfortunately the Gunner has been a little injury prone and has slowed down slightly in his progression. However with the likes of Clichy, Evra, Abidal and Tremoulinas the left fullback role has plenty of world class candidates.
      • Mexes (AS Roma) - The enigma of French Football. He has bags of talent yet for whatever reason cannot translate this to the national side...granted Domenech is so schizophrenic that he has never really allowed Mexes the room and time to develop. Alas I fear that the Roma defender's ability and talent will have been wasted.

          Tuesday, May 04, 2010

          France World Cup squad - Part 1 - Goalkeepers

          And away we go....first part of what should be 4 parts on who should head to South Africa for Les Bleus. I will break up my discussion into who should go and who Domenech will call up on the 11th. The basics:

          • 23 total players
          • Probable breakdown - 3 keepers, 8 defenders, 7 midfielders and 5 strikers
          • I categorize players such as Malouda and Ribery as midfielders, they are wingers which to me is a midfield position
          • I will assume that Domenech will favor the 4-2-3-1 formation
          So with these ground rules let us jump into who the keepers will be for Les Bleus -

          Who Should Go:
          • Hugo Lloris (Lyon): Can you really argue with the Lyon keeper? I will admit I had doubted him when he was first called up as the France #1, I felt that Frey was the deserved #1 for Les Bleus. However the matches against Ireland in the play off as well as how he has played for Lyon, clearly makes him the undisputed #1 for France and I would argue one of the top 5 keepers in the world currently. He can steal games on his own and with a questionable defense in front of him might be called upon to do so! A no-brainer.
          • Steve Mandanda (Marseilles): He was the surprise call up in 2008 for the Euros making the squad as the #3 keeper behind Coupet and Frey. This was a major surprise since Landreau was always seen as the 3 member of the France goalkeeping roster. Post Euro he was given the first shot at securing the #1 spot, while his performances were not terrible they did nothing to cement himself in that role. He is a strong shot stopper but I question his ability to command his area. While I do not think he could cost France a game he will not win one either...making him a #2 at best or the out right #1 for England were he British.
          • Mickael Landreau (Lille): The aforementioned former France #3 should be back in the squad as the #2...he has had a very solid season for Lille the reason why the Northern France club is sitting in 3rd place. Let us face it....the only reason Landreau was dropped from the national team is only known to Domenech, the play on the field did not diminish to a point that he should be banished to the waste lands. Maybe he did not have the proper astrological sign for Domenech.  I think the 30 year old would welcome a trip to South Africa, even if it means he will be sitting in the stands or on the replacement bench. However since his days at Nantes he has been nothing but the consummate professional and his experience will be invaluable for Lloris and Mandanda.
          Who Domenech will take:
          • Lloris - Even Domenech knows that the Lyon man is France's clear #1
          • Mandanda - No reason to change now...
          •  Carasso (Bordeaux) - Domenech will probably forget to read the papers to learn that the Bordeaux keeper has a number of injuries keeping him out of action. At least this is the #3 keeper spot and if Les Bleus need to play him ... well they have bigger problems!
          Other keepers that might get a look:
          • Ruffier (Monaco) - he has been outstanding in a number of matches this season. Watch what he did against PSG earlier in the season as well as this past weekend in the finals of the France Cup. He is also getting scouted by some big European clubs, he should be in the conversation for the national team.
          • Janot (St Etienne) - the 32 year old is probably too "old" to get his first call up for France to head to South Africa, but the tattooed headed keeper has played very well the past few seasons.