Monday, May 24, 2010

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.


philip said...

I was glad to hear Domenech testing a 4-3-3 formation. Hopefully that will be the formation on Wednesday.

Also if they do play that way, not only do I think they will play better but they will also play much more beautiful football.

Adam said...

Sad for Diarra to miss out on the WC. I hope the illness isn't serious enough to cut short his career, but I read somewhere that it's sickle-cell anemia.

As for a 4-3-3, I don't see it working in a conventional sense. Anelka is not a winger. I suppose France could play an unbalanced 4-3-3 with Anelka and Henry at the top (with one of them as a second striker) and Ribery on the right wing (he did just fine on the right side in 2006). That would give Henry room to maneuver to the left, with Gourcuff (as a deep-lying RCM) moving into space on the right and Malouda (as LM) moving into space on the left, and Toulalan screening the back four.

GFC said...

I could not agree more. Moving to a 4-3-3 will solve a few problems: how to get Ribery, Malouda and Henry on the pitch at the same time. Take advantage of the strength in attack France appear to have - Anelka, Gignac, Cisse, Henry, Malouda, Valbuena, Gouvou and Ribery. Also it is a formation that the likes of Malouda, Anelka and Henry are used to playing at the club level. Finally I think it will allow for more flowing football.

With LDiarra and Toulalan as the pair of holding players you too often had space between defense and attack since both players could not easily link up with the attack. I just hope that Domenech does what he appears to be preparing for...but with him he might roll out a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-2-1 and be even more defensive!

GFC said...

@Adam don't forget that Anelka plays that role with Chelsea who use a 4-3-3 with Kalou - Drogba - Anelka up front. Granted Anelka will tend to drift back to the center, but is very comfortable as a deeper lying striker behind Drogba or for France, behind Henry. Also if you have Ribery on the left wing with Malouda as the left halfback, it will open up the right side where Gourcuff could find some space.

Adam said...

This article claims Gignac will be playing on the right wing in a 4-3-3 against Costa Rica.

Interesting experiment...

GFC said...

@Adam I heard that as well about Gignac on the right which is typical of Domenech - play someone completely out of their position but don't have him train there until the last moment! To me Gignac is a back to the goal top of the formation type striker. I do not see him playing wide and giving the attack any true width (how good of a crosser is he?) One story I had read was that Domenech is rewarding Gignac since the Toulouse man does not question the manager and just does what he is told. Sigh. I would rather see Gouvou wide, since at least he plays that role at Lyon. But really it should be Anelka, I know that there are rumblings that he drifts too much and at times takes Gourcuff's space, but if the Bordeaux man is playing deeper that should not be an issue. Oh well. We shall see.

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