- Fresh faces - Once Laurent Blanc decided to leave the World Cup 23 at home we knew there would have to be an infusion of new talent. With Ruffier, Rami, M'Vila, Hourau, N'Zogbia, Menez, Cissokho and Cabaye getting their first caps it was refreshing to see a
teamwith the drive and effort that comes from new blood. A much better site to see than what we last saw from Les Bleus. Maybe the World Cup 23 can learn something from this match in terms of what it means to put on your nation's jersey.
- Speaking of fresh faces, the central defensive tandem of Mexes and Rami was very promising. The Lille central defender was solid in the back and was very strong in the air clearing a number of crosses and high
- Mexes as captain. While I am not sure this is a long term solution, the fact Blanc gave the arm band to Mexes was brilliant. To me it was a statement to Mexes who has long lived with the label of great potential for France but not living up to the hype. Blanc sent the message: "Act and play like a captain and you will have a chance to build with this
team, now is your chance, seize it." Clearly the message resonated with the AS Roma player, and it might be the very thing he needs to take the next step with Les Bleus.
- The generation 87, since winning the U17 Euros in 2004, much has been expected of this generation. For whatever reason, Domenech could not find a way of building around the likes of Menez, Benzema, Nasri and
team. Each brings his individual skill set that Blanc and Les Bleus can lean up. The qualities of Benzema and Nasri are well documented - although the Real Madrid man needs to demonstrate he is back on the path we saw when he was at Lyon as a pure goal scorer. Menez demonstrated his ability to play on the wing and bring width and pace to the attack. While Ben Arfa demonstrated his pure dribbling talents, breaking down the Norwegian defense and creating his own shots. Now up to them to demonstrate their value and worth for the national side.
- M'Vila, the Rennes central midfielder and U21 France captain provide a glimpse at his vast talents and potential. He played better in the first half as the lone holding midfielder, more on that later, but overall gave a slight glimpse of the potential he possess. He was strong in his tackles and linked well with the attack. At 20 years old the future for him is very bright.
- No more Domenech!!!!! All together now "The Domenech era is OFFICIALLY over!!!" Even suffering through a loss the fact that when the camera panned to the side lines I saw Laurent Blanc standing there and not inspector Clouseau, made me feel good. In just the past 3 days I feel a breath of fresh air has been infused into the FFF. You can see the difference in the press conferences, interviews, the tactics and the in game management. I saw a Laurent Blanc that took advantage of every minute he had with this squad, understanding that for him to do his job well he cannot afford to waste caps on players, waste a practice or a game. This is no more evident in the fact Blanc clearly wanted to work two systems in the Norway game, he wanted to allow his back 4 (especially the central pairing) to get as much real game action as possible and he wanted to ensure he used his substitutes wisely to have the combination of players on the field in the system that would allow him the most information. Unlike Domenech who in one of his last games in charge prior to the World Cup called up some new faces, but rather than put them on the pitch to at least see what they could do in game situations used the same old tired tactics that had gotten him ... nothing. What a novel idea, if you call up players...play them. Of course, and I am sure Blanc is well aware of this, France cannot afford to lose games come September 3rd otherwise this good will towards Blanc will rapidly evaporate.
- France lost 2-1. That is bad. No game should be seen as a throw away, where the result does not matter. Clearly Blanc is of the same opinion. France had their chances: a great 50 - 50 ball won by N'Zogbia in the 17th minute which he then put a perfect left footed cross on the head of a diving Remy, forcing an emergency save from Knudsen. Had the OGC Nice
strikerhit his shot a foot either direction it would have beaten the keeper. 13 minutes later the Toulouse midfielder Sissoko forced another strong save on a volley destined for the upper 90. Ruffier did make a strong save in the first 15 minutes to keep the game level. However overall the first half belonged to Les Bleus. Unfortunately the second half saw the Norwegians take advantage of two defensive errors leading to the 2 goals for the victory. Never good as a manager to start your tenure 0-1, but I am sure Blanc will build from the positive we saw today.
- 4-2-3-1 formation. Just when you thought the favorite formation from the Domenech era would be long gone...it makes another appearance. Blanc switched from the 4-4-2 diamond to the 4-2-3-1 in the second half. Clearly it was not a formation that fit well with the French side. Granted they held the lead briefly through a laser from Ben Arfa, but overall the formation seemed to cause more problems. First, it put Diarra and M'Vila together. M'Vila quickly seemed out of sorts compared to what he showed in the first half. And not sure what Diarra brought to the table. M'Vila was doing more than an adequate job in the first half as the sole holding midfielder, with a partner on his shoulder it appeared to stifle the young Rennes' game. He was not as free to roam as he had been in the first half. Second, Menez and Ben Arfa's tendencies at times were to drift too far into the center, thereby clogging up the lanes and the midfield. Couple this with the fact Hourau and then Benzema, as the lone strikers, drifted back to try to pick up the ball. This created at times, 3 players to be right on top of one another with little spacing. While I am sure this formation can work, Blanc, if he wants to use it, will need to make sure the personnel he runs out there is more appropriate.
- Defending set pieces. Well this problem has been around Les Bleus for a few years. Some teams just seem to have trouble with set pieces (see Arsenal). Rami seems to bring one element that could change this - his
The Norwegian bagged his brace
- Huseklepp's second goal. Not ugly from his stand point as the Norwegian striker bagged his brace, but what was Diarra doing? A botched pass at the center circle led to the Norwegian striker waltzing in one on one against Ruffier. My one area of nit picking is that I think the Monaco keeper should have held his ground for a split second more. Why? Rami was sprinting back to try and close down the break, had Ruffier forced Huseklepp to either shoot or take another touch it might have allowed the French central defender to get back into the play. Instead Ruffier went to ground quickly trying to guess where the Norway man was heading and instead allowed himself to be easily side stepped and the ball gently tapped into an open net. Again, nit picking I realize.
- Lack of finishing for France. Any game you approach 20 shots on goal, granted less than half were on net, and only show 1 goal for your efforts you need to consider getting some goal scoring lessons. The silver lining is that there were some quality chances and it was good to see players taking their opportunities. Too often you see teams try to pass and wait for the "perfect" shooting chance. However, France will have to improve on this aspect. Question is what striker or striker combo to remedy this? With Henry retiring, Anelka out in international Siberia, no Trezeguet and who knows if Cisse can replicate his scoring form for Les Bleus there are a lot of up and coming strikers - Hourau, Benzema, Remy, Briand to name a few - but no established international caliber striker. Of course it is difficult to fill the boots of both Henry and Trezeguet when you consider both are top 3 goal scorers all time for France, with Henry being #1. This will be an ongoing quest, it will be interesting to see how it gets resolved. The talent is there, but what is the right system and combination.
Good to see Les Bleus back on the pitch, rather have seen it end in a win. But we can truly put the Domenech era behind us! Let the healing begin. Let us just hope the winning shows up...and soon. But the signs point to a brighter future than a few months back.
The French goal, Ben Arfa shows why he can be so frustrating at times, so much talent yet needs to find the consistency: