Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blanc announces French list - Gourcuff and Nasri on the list but on the field?

Another round of Euro qualifiers are right around the corner. France will face Romania and Luxembourg, both at home, the first in Paris and second in Metz. After a dominating performance away to Bosnia last round, France will head into these two matches looking to equal that performance and not replicate the misstep versus Belraus. Laurent Blanc announced his list this morning:

GARDIENS : Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Cédric Carrasso (Bordeaux)

: Bacary Sagna et Gaël Clichy (Arsenal/ANG), Adil Rami (Lille), Philippe Mexès (AS Rome/ITA), Mamadou Sakho (Paris-SG), Benoît Trémoulinas (Bordeaux)

: Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille), Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid/ESP), Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Yann M'Vila (Rennes), Abou Diaby et Samir Nasri (Arsenal/ANG), Florent Malouda (Chelsea/ANG), Blaise Matuidi (St-Etienne), Yoann Gourcuff (Lyon).

: Kévin Gameiro (Lorient), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid/ESP), Loïc Rémy (Marseille), Guillaume Hoarau (Paris-SG), Dimitri Payet (St-Etienne)

Notable absentees - Ben Arfa, Toulalan and Menez. The Newcastle man scored a screamer earlier but has not be consistent, while the AS Roma player has not had enough time on the pitch for Blanc. Finally Toulalan is a shell of his former self and the move to central defense and back to the midfield has not helped his cause. He clearly has fallen in the pecking order behind M'Vila, ADiarra, LDiarra and Matuidi when it comes to defensive midfielder. How times have changed.

No surprise that Gourcuff and Nasri find their way back into the squad. Equal not surprising is that Payet will make his first appearance for the senior squad. How could he not, he is lighting up Ligue 1, 7 goals already and is one of the main reasons St Etienne find themselves in first place.

The big question for Blanc will be what to do with his midfield? The defense is straight forward:

Lloris in goal, Sagna, Mexes, Rami, Clichy on the back line.

But does Blanc go back to the 4-3-3 that worked with such success at Bosnia? Or does he tinker now that both of his play makers - Gourcuff and Nasri are back in the squad. If Blanc does opt for the 4-3-3 does he remove Diaby or ADiarra for a more offensive player - Nasri or Gourcuff? I could envisage the same 4-3-3 formation which might be more of a 4-2-1-2-1. M'Vila and ADiarra are the deep lying holding midfielders with Gourcuff pulling the strings, but from a deeper spot on the pitch. Malouda on the left and Valbuena/Nasri on the right supporting the lone striker - Benzema.

Gourcuff played a deeper lying play maker under Blanc at Bordeaux - similar to Pirlo with Milan - almost in between M'Vila and Diarra who are Gourcuff's "bodyguards" doing a lot of the dirty work recovering the ball and allowing Gourcuff to have more of the field to work with. Malouda and Valbuena/Nasri can bring more width to the pitch and if it is Nasri on the right he has a natural link with Sagna based on how they play together at Arsenal. Finally, Benzema has earned himself the right to build off his last performance against Bosnia to man the top of the formation on his own.

Blanc is starting to get his entire effective available to him for the France matches - only Ribery and Evra remain on suspension, plus the Bayern player is injured - the question remains as to what system Blanc looks to leverage with the addition of Gourcuff and Nasri.

France have to look to emerge from these two matches with the full six points. They will beat Luxembourg, there is no alternative...I hope I don't have to eat crow on this one! The key is the Romania match. Playing at home should give Les Bleus the full three points, although during the last round of qualifiers against Romania, France could only muster 2 draws against the same Eastern European nation. It will be interesting to see how things evolve as we draw closer to the matches, what formation Blanc favors. Let us hope they continue to build on the Bosnia match and not regress to the Belarus match!

Allez les Bleus.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Arsenal are profitable...but does that matter?

The last report out of North London is that Arsenal will post a record profit of £56m...impressive. Especially when you consider clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United are dealing with massive debt concerns every season or Barcelona who had to take a 150m Euro bank loan just to survive the summer. Chelsea would be facing massive financial problems if Abramovich didn't absorb all their financial shortfalls and they still could face huge financial problems if the Russian decides to move on from the London club. The reality is sports teams are not businesses, and while profitability and intelligent business practices are helpful, they do not equate to silverware. In the book Soccernomics, there is a great analysis that sporting teams that are run "like a business" - focus on cost control, profitability, controlling expenses to name a few do not lead to success on the pitch. Football clubs tend to be a status symbol for wealthy owners who want to show off their "toy" to other absurdly wealthy owners. Therefore they are not seen as entities that fall under the business umbrella. I am sure that when Abramovich or the Glazers buys a multi-million dollar yacht he does not worry about the maintenance cost or the business reason behind such a toy. Same thing for a football club.

The bottom line...pun that while this is commendable from a business standpoint, unless Arsenal reinvest the profits into the club and unless those investments lead to silverware, Arsenal fans will not be looking for a parade through North London with the title "most profitable EPL club." Of course I am sure that the alternative is not pleasant - see Leeds United - running your team well from a business stand point is not why fans buy seats, purchase replica kits and cheer your team every week. Granted there must be a balance between financial sanity and putting a competitive squad on the pitch. However when the best headlines for your club in the past few seasons is the fact you have been run well from a business stand point is not really what fans gravitate towards.

Makes you wonder why Arsene could not shell out an extra million or two million pounds into getting Schwartzer this off season. Of course the Professor is already responding to criticism around this topic!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wenger to manage PSG? Yes please!!!!

A recent interview with Wenger reveals that the professor might look to return home to continue his managerial career once his time is done in the Emirates. After some questions end of last season, Wenger did resign with the Gunners extending his contract until 2014 to stay in North London. If he sees out his contract that will have been 18 years with Arsenal and cemented himself as Arsenal's longest tenured manager (he achieved that in 2009) and one of the most successful. What is interesting about the interview is that he stated he would like to continue to "work with emerging talent." Interesting that he did not emphasis winning silverware! He does state that competing with clubs that possess bottomless oil wells of money is a bit of a challenge. Of course the 2 French clubs mentioned are Strasbourg and...PSG. Wenger has a very good working relationship with the powers that be at PSG and he is from Strasbourg.

However I could not imagine a better manager for PSG. He would have a healthy level of resources to run the team, be able to pull from one of France's largest talent pools (Paris) and run a club with no geographic challenger. Clearly competing in Ligue 1 he could continue to embrace his strategy - find and develop young talent - however he would have legitimate chances every season to win the league title. He would most likely have Champions League football every season, he would win silverware and he would be able to do so without needing to splash out huge sums of money to attract tier 1 veteran talent. He could mimic the success Guy Roux had at Auxerre but actually have resources to sign some more veteran players.

Come on Arsene! Go to PSG!!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Already the lost season for Arsenal?

More injury news out of the Emirates - Cesc is out for 3 weeks due to an injury picked up over the weekend. He will join Walcott, Van Persie and Bendtner on the injury list. Add to this the fact Song will miss the next match, Diaby is not 100% and Nasri is coming off an injury and you might have to say that Arsenal might find themselves out of the title race before we even start using the yellow Nike soccer ball...I realize that the Gunners are only 4 points back from league leaders Chelsea. However there looms a large fixture against the Blues at Stamford Bridge, if Arsenal drop that match and go 7 back it might be lights out...already.

Why? First the injuries are a bit disconcerting. I realize that teams need to deal with this during the season but the injury bug has struck the forwards and offensive players heavily. Couple this with the fact Arshavin has seemingly lost his goal scoring touch (at least in the counting FA Cup games) and you might have a situation that could prove too difficult to over come. Second, the inability of Wenger to sign a true #1 keeper means that the Gunners cannot hope to steal any games on the back of their keeper. Ironic that Given has recently come out stating he wants a transfer once the winter window re-opens so he can get 1st team time...maybe he should have thought about this when Fulham and Arsenal were linked to his services over the summer.

Teams need to deal with adversity, not doubt. However I do not see Arsenal with a strong enough base to fight through some of the adversity - namely having a keeper that can win a game or 2 for your club. It is unfortunate because I fear that we have seen the last of Cesc in an Arsenal kit. Wenger will need to find his midfield pillar to replace Cesc and that is not something easily accomplished.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nothing to see here....Gourcuff states there is no animosty between himself and Ribery

One of the worst soap operas from the summer - did Ribery lead a bullying of France golden boy Gourcuff? According to the Lyon player there was not animosity between he and the Bayern Munich winger. Does this matter? All that counts is what happens when and if Blanc calls up both midfielders to the French national team and how they co-exist on the pitch. The interesting situation is that neither player is guaranteed to have a starting role with Les Bleus. Malouda seems to be firmly entrenched on the left side while if Blanc sticks with a 4-3-3 I am not sure if Gourcuff slots in the middle of the midfield 3.

Will be interesting to see what happens when the next round of internationals come around.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Domenech lining up job opportunities? Really? Seriously?

According to Inspector Clouseau's camp he is currently considering between 20 and 25 contract offerings...huh? I am not sure what to make of this story. How could anyone let alone 25 potential employers be interested in hiring this bumbling buffoon? Then again the article does not really state contracts for what...maybe it is not managing a professional football team. Maybe they are job offerings for one of the following:

  • Fortune teller - he is a renowned astrologer...he could tell customers to avoid Scorpios like Robert Pires.
  • Public speaker - he did such a wonderful job reading the players' little speech in South Africa.
  • Professional mole - clearly all signs indicate that he leaked what happened in the locker room at half time of the Mexico match, I am sure plenty of organizations need a reliable mole.
  • Philosophy Teacher - based on some of his reasoning during his six years as head of Les Bleus you could see him confusing students in his explanation of the musings from Plato or Machiavelli.
  • Head of Public Relations - between not shaking a competitor's hand, proposing on live television, hanging up on former players during radio interviews...just to name few exemplary situations of wonderfully handling PR, one could see him taking these skills to many corporate settings maybe BP could use him - he would confuse so many of us that we would forget that the story is that BP's ineptitude spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Any other jobs that Domenech could be looking at? Again...25 opportunities? In what?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Breath of fresh air for Les Bleus - France can truly begin the healing

Le President can finally smile
France scored a famous victory today in Sarajevo defeating Bosnia 2-0 in a game that could have easily been 3 or a 4 goal victory. The win gives Blanc and France a huge oxygen boost. After two consecutive losses under Blanc, and 4 straight losses for France...the first time this has happened to Les Bleus in 73 years! SEVENTY THREE years!!!! If you go back further France have lost 5 of their last 6 games - against the football powers such as China, Mexico, South Africa, Norway and Belarus. France did draw against eventual World Cup 4th place team Uruguay 0-0!!!

So we can start rethinking that Les Bleus might be slowly turning the ship back to the proper direction. Such a victory could not come at a more crucial time for France. Heading into the hostile environment of Sarajevo and coming out with a dominate 2-0 victory can only be seen as an important victory and giant morale boost. As I stated in my previous post, I felt this match was going to be the most difficult on France's qualifying calendar and after dropping all 3 points against Belarus it only became that much more difficult. Bravo for Les Bleus to attacking this match with a level of concentration and urgency that it called for. So what to take from the game:

The Good:
  • The full 3 points - I cannot reiterate this enough. France headed into this match desperate to not lose the game, the draw and 1 point would have been seen as a moral victory. Due to the other results of the day Albania and Belarus are leading the group with 4 points - no team was able to grab 2 victories from the first 2 days. This places France right back in the chase to win the group. The next match for France will at home against old friend Romania - a vital match for Les Bleus to continue building on this success with Luxembourg as the second match, France head into these next 2 games with a great opportunity to take a commanding position in the group. Something I could not imagine 24 hours ago.
  • The 4-3-3 and the French pressing - After playing with a 4-4-2 against Belarus, Blanc demonstrated what the former French manager could never do...strategic flexibility. Blanc knew he could not afford to drop any points and due to his shortage in the offensive sector he decided to "beef" up his midfield and to defend first and foremost. With a defensive midfield of Diaby, ADiarra and M'Vila, Blanc clearly sought to snuff out any oxygen and space for the Bosnian midfield. France came out from the first minute looking to pursue every 50-50 ball, shut down passing lanes and pressure the Bosnian team into mistakes. With Malouda and Valbuena doing their defensive work back tracking and latching on to Bosnian lost balls, France showed a gear that we have been waiting to see for a few years. Blanc gave us a glimpse of what he brings to the table - tactical flexibility and an understanding that has been lacking for the past 6 years.
  • Rami and to some extent Mexes - the central defensive pairing was very strong in this match. In particular Rami demonstrated once again his quality. His personal battle with Dzeko was one sided, in favor of the French central defender, as one article noted he put Dzeko in his pocket. Not a simple victory when you realize that Dzeko is probably one of the best strikers in Europe that no one knows about - let us not forget that the Special One has been in hot pursuit of the German based striker. I have heard some French pundits criticizing both players for their showing against Belarus. However I would caution that these two have played 3 games together, and they will need more time to develop a working relationship which is crucial as a central defensive pairing. What I have seen so far is very promising in my eyes, but they still need time to continue to develop. Aside from Mexes' aggressive play sometimes giving away silly free kicks I am much more encouraged by this pairing than what Domenech had always rolled out on the pitch.
  • Le Petit Velo - Valbuena brought a tremendous amount of energy and creativity to the right side of the pitch. Hmmmm too bad Domenech never allowed Valbuena to showcase during the World Cup. The OM play-maker was very active on the pitch. He made sure the French attack was well balanced but also allowed himself to come back to the center of the park and at times to the left allowing Malouda to drift back to the middle as well. He created himself a wonderful chance to score in the second half forcing a save from Hasagic in the 78th minute.
  • Benzema - the much maligned Real Madrid striker came to play today against Bosnia. Basically slotted up front as the lone striker, Valbuena and Malouda were more offensive midfielder/wingers. His goal was a glimpse of his talent - controlling a pass in the penalty box surrounded by 3 Bosnian defender, a nice drag back with a quick release from his left foot - not the most perfect shot but the pure goal scorer's strike. He
    could have had a brace off a cheeky chip from Matuidi that forced a point blank save from Hasagic. Overall the Real striker had 6 shots on goal - including a sizzler in the 11th minute where he beat two defenders forcing a strong save and a free kick that beat the wall but could not dip in time. His showing was exactly what we have been waiting for from the former Lyon prodigy. The only question is can he string a few of these together for France? If so the question of who will take over the offensive duties for Les Bleus has found its answer. I am cautiously optimistic. His talent has never been questioned, just his desire and will. Maybe Blanc and Mourinho can get this type of effort out of Benzema on a regular basis, now that would be something truly special.
  • Speaking of maligned players, Diaby also showed very well for himself. In the 4-3-3 he was given the freedom and space to show off his talents. He was sharp on his passing and dribbling. He even gave us a little school ground trickery on the second goal with a deft little back heel to Valbuena. Were his touch a bit on the softer side could have scored a goal on a text book give and go with Malouda putting the Arsenal #2 thru alone on the keeper, only to have his first touch let him down. After a maddeningly quiet match against Belarus it was good to see the Arsenal man shine in this match. Much like Benzema, I hope that he too can string more of these together for France!
  • France's ability to finish strong. I do not take this lightly, that Les Bleus kept a clean sheet and finished strong after going up by 2 goals. They kept their composure and the insertion of Matuidi (his first cap, good for him) in place of Malouda was a clear signal from Blanc that he meant to preserve the clean sheet and that even up 2-0 with 10 minutes to go, the game was not over. The Saint-Etienne midfielder showed well for himself with a cheeky chip to Benzema that could have made it 3-0 as well as a diagonal cross to Diarra that the Bordeaux man could not tap in...his play was an example of the team concentrated on properly closing out the game. In past matches...Serbia in Paris during WC qualifiers in particular, France went up 2-0 only to give away a silly goal when they clearly thought the game was over. Or even the match against Romania during the same campaign at Stade de France - after going up 1-0 they seemed to take their foot off the accelerator only to see the Romanians come back and get the equalizer off an Escude own goal. If history is any indicator, every point counts, ever goal for and against is crucial, therefore nothing should be given away cheaply during qualifiers.
The Bad:
  • French finishing in front of goal, okay I realize they did score 2 goals which away to Bosnia should be seen as a positive however Benzema should have had a brace, Diaby's heavy touch let him down, Valbuena tested but should have done better with his effort in the second half...Every goal is vital in qualifiers and there were at least 1-3 clear chances for another goal that France should have capitalized on. Against strong quality opponents, Benzema will not get 6 good looks at goal, so he must be more clinical on those he gets, same goes for the rest of the team.
  • Sagna's crosses - I realize this is a pet peeve of mine, but for all his ability I constantly get frustrated with Sagna's poor service on crosses. Clearly he is a world class defender and does get up well into the offense but that does no good when his crosses fall sheepishly into the keeper's Nike clad mitts or fly harmlessly into touch. He must improve this part of his game for both club and country.
The Ugly:
  • Dropping the full 3 points to Belarus! I realize that match was last Friday, but after this victory those lost points loom large for France. Had they just drawn that game...then again maybe losing that match was what they needed to give us this performance.
  • Fans throwing fire crackers onto the pitch. At least Mexes could laugh about it, but it could have caused some serious injury...stupid. For a second there I thought I was watching a PSG game!
A great win for France. Of course I cannot get too far ahead of myself. While Bosnia is a very solid squad, especially playing at home, France did not just go into San Paulo and defeat Brazil 2-0. But a victory and a full 3 points on the road is crucial for France. There remains a lot of work ahead for the squad and Blanc. But France can head into their next match at home against Romania with much needed confidence, they will also have the return of Gourcuff and most likely Nasri.

As I stated before the healing from the disaster that was Domenech would not start in earnest until France won on the field. Les Bleus final have the breath of oxygen so desperately needed. France can leave this international break with a positive view and hope for the matches in September. Something that seemed like a futile wish only 24 hours ago.

The match highlights:

See you in September against Romania! Allez les Bleus!!!

Blanc and Les Bleus look to a 4-3-3 to take on Bosnia

Seems as if France will go back to a 4-3-3 to confront Bosnia:

France : Lloris - Sagna, Mexès, Rami, Clichy - Mvila, A. Diarra, Diaby - Valbuena, Malouda, Benzema. Sélectionneur: Laurent Blanc

Clearly if Blanc goes with this line up he is announcing his intent to beef up his midfield, play to stifle the Bosnian attack and is looking to not lose. Of course he could change his mind and insert Menez in the place of Diaby and shifting to a 4-2-3-1 looking a bit more offensive in the process. My gut tells me he will opt for the 4-3-3 more "muscular" midfield. With the likes of Valbuena - Malouda - Benzema up front, I think Blanc feels he has enough potential offense to steal a goal from Bosnia. Also, Diaby will be able to give some offensive punch from his deeper role. In addition, with Mexes, Rami, Diaby and Diarra there clearly an opportunity to try and get a goal off set pieces - as well as hopefully ensure strong defense on Bosnian set pieces.

It will be very interesting who comes out of the tunnel for France to start the game. Is Blanc going to be overly cautious to get 1 point or will he look to throw enough offense on the pitch to give France an outside chance at the full 3 points?

Monday, September 06, 2010

France v Bosnia - opportunity for the new France to show itself or more malaise?

Less than 24 hours until Laurent Blanc and Les Bleus head into what will surely be a charged environment of Sarajevo to face Bosnia. This match is proving to be as close to a must win game as has ever faced Les Bleus. After dropping 3 points last week against Belarus while Bosnia took care of their business beating Luxembourg 3-0 away, could have been a heavier victory since Pjanic and Bosnia were up 3-0 after 15 minutes. If Blanc and France leave Sarajevo with no points from 2 games it might be time to focus on securing the second place spot and hoping for a favorable draw for the home and away play off! Not what you would want after only 2 days of qualifying.

Blanc still searching for answers
When the draw was made it was clear that Bosnia would be one of the favorites to win the group with ahem France...the match in Sarajevo always figured to be one France's biggest challenge (the other one away to Romania). During the draw I figured France would hope to take a point away to Bosnia and win on the return leg. Of course I also expected Les Bleus to get at minimum 4 points from their 2 legs against Belarus - victory in Paris and at least a draw away. The situation has only gotten more difficult and challenging for Les Bleus. Add to all these challenges the fact Blanc has lost the majority of his offensive options - Hoarau, Remy and Saha out. Much will be expected of Benzema with regards to carrying the offense. Since we know France and Blanc cannot afford to leave without at least a point, will we see a France more focused on holding off any Bosnian threats. Look to stifle Dzeko, Ibisevic and Pjanic by leaning on a heavily defensive midfield - going back to a 4-2-3-1 formation? Two holding midfielders: M'Vila and Diarra. 3 offensive minded midfielders - Malouda, Menez and Valbuena with Benzema up front. Blanc might look for Malouda to drop deeper to help with defensive duties. Or could Blanc leverage Diaby in the middle 3 - more defensive than Valbuena or Menez...

As Blanc stated, the first goal is for France to defend and ensure at least 1 point from the match. So France find themselves as the underdog heading into this match. Bosnia smell blood in the water and know if they can knock off France they will strike a devastating blow to one of their primary rivals and put themselves in pole position to win the group. We will see if the saying is true - a cornered wounded animal is at its most dangerous. France has been backed into a tough corner, let us see how they react. I think France will defend defend defend to start the match and look to hit Bosnia on the counter. Much will depend on Benzema and if he can carry the offense to Bosnia, he has the ability to do so question remains can he regain that ability that he show cased for Lyon.

This feels like the games away to Romania and Serbia during last qualifying campaign - both France found the intestinal fortitude to fight back and secure a draw in a hostile environment. I expect the same this time. Les Bleus will lean on their strong holding midfield players - Diarra and M'Vila to stifle the Bosnia midfield. Look for Mexes and Rami to counter Dzeko and Ibisevic. Set pieces will be vital for France to defend cleanly and successfully. If they can do so they could keep a clean sheet, but expect France to have to score at least a goal or two to secure the draw or even hope for a win. In the end I think we might see a similar game as to the one played against Serbia. Bosnia will come on very inspired by their home crowd and look to overwhelm France early. I see Dzeko scoring in the first 30 minutes. France will settle down and turn the tide in the second half. Menez - Valbuena - Benzema will be too much for Bosnia to stop for 90 minutes. Menez scores late in the game to grab a vital point for Les Bleus.

Bosnia 1 - France 1

Allez les Bleus

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Domenech fired! Witch hunt continues

The main culprit for many of the problems surrounding the French National team is finally getting some of his punishment - he was fired from the FFF. Granted this is probably 2 or 3 years too late, he should have been sacked after the 2008 Euro fiasco. Better late than never, but the action from the FFF feels a bit empty. Granted Escalettes never had the back bone to do the necessary and fire Domenech when he should have been sacked. Escalettes continued support of Domenech made it virtually impossible for Inspector Clouseau to be axed and created a false sense of support from players, former players and other France football pundits. We all know how that ended. To me Domenech cannot suffer enough embarrassment and disgrace, but the only thing that will allow us to move on from the Domenech era will be some success on the pitch. Let us hope Tuesday we enjoy that emotion.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

A double dip bottom for France? Les Bleus lose 4th straight match

Sigh...Les Bleus have not won a meaningful game since they defeated Ireland 1-0...that was last year - November 14 2009. The defeat of Costa Rica was a friendly. Otherwise France is on their 4th straight loss - Mexico, South Africa, Norway and now Belarus. Not exactly Spain, Argentina, Brazil and Germany in terms of powerful international sides....alas. So after a day to mull over what I watched here are some thoughts.

The Good:
  • Um not much good....but the play of M'Vila once again impressed. The young holding midfielder clearly earned more points and impressed with his pace, defensive presence, passing, intelligent positioning and overall game. As I wrote in an earlier post, this might be the tipping point with regards to Toulalan as an international. M'Vila's game could allow Blanc, once he has his full roster, to play a much more offensive midfield and rely on the young Rennes player to be the primary protection for the back 4. He was impressive starting the second half when he jumped a pass and unleashed a powerful shot, something you would not see from Toulalan.
  • Day 1 of qualifying. You have to point to the positives! As much as it is grasping for straws. However we must remember that the qualifiers just started, there are many many more matches to go. France got trounced 3-1 against Austria when they started World Cup 2010 qualification. If France cannot end second in this group then we have bigger problems...sad that finishing second might be the ultimate goal....
  • Blanc is running the team not Domenech. I realize that Le President is 0-2 as manager of France. However I still have much more faith in his ability to turn this around. Let us  not forget this was his second match in charge with important players missing. Granted the honeymoon is over or close to over, but at least the person pulling the strings is capable of getting France back on track.
The Bad:
  • Goals anyone? France's poor showing in front of goal remains a concern. We cannot forget first, that we are without the services of some important offensive players - Anelka, Henry, Ben Arfa, Nasri, Gignac, Ribery and Cisse. When it comes to the first two mentioned they have retired by choice or due to FFF. But even a nation with as much talent as France does not have a bottomless pit of players. In addition, the players leveraged by Blanc up front had 21 caps total amongst them and 4 goals....Saha 18(4), Gameiro 0, Hourau 1(0) and Remy 2 (0)....a far cry from the likes of the players mentioned.
  • The early strategy of playing short corners. Not really sure what the thinking was behind this. With the likes of Diaby, Hourau, Mexes and Rami in the offensive zone why not send crosses in directly from the corner kick?
The Ugly:
  • I have stated this before, but now it is getting a little much but Sagna and to some extent Clichy and their crosses. The Arsenal fullback duo are excellent when it comes to their defensive responsibilities - granted Sagna allowed a Belarus break early in the second half because he allowed a player on sides. However what has gotten a little ugly is their inability to provide consist quality in their crosses. Both Clichy and Sagna have the pace and

    desire to jump into the offense and get themselves into good positions, but the end result - the cross - leaves much to desired. I don't expect either to become Maicon or Ramos, but being able to provide at least 50% of crosses into a real danger zone would be a huge improvement.
  • Dropping 3 points at home. Qualifiers are always a long and grueling marathon, any time you drop any points at home it is not a good thing. Especially when it is against a side like Belarus. A draw would have been a disappointment but at least it would have been a point, but dropping all the points is very UGLY.
  • Still looking for a leader. It was clear to me that Les Bleus had more individual talent on the pitch, but there was a clear lack of leader. Not surprising. When Malouda is your most capped player with 57 and the next are all in the 20s for caps you have a very young and inexperienced team - average age 25. It will be interesting to see what changes when players like Ribery, Cisse, Nasri, Gourcuff and Evra are available to return. However Les Bleus must allow a leader to emerge, I think that Mexes and Rami are starting to show that they can provide leadership at the back, but the team will need the Zidane, Platini, Deschamps or Vieira style player that will take the reigns of the team as a whole.
Sigh, so France continues to have problems. Cannot score, lack a leader, still seem to be finding their style to name a few. After 6 years of Domenech we all knew that the rebuilding would be difficult. Inspector Clouseau left the squad in such upheaval that the work needed to bring things back to the proper level was always going to be a challenge. I am sure that none of us thought it would be easy, but clearly not this difficult either.

Big match in a few days against Bosnia. After Tuesday we will now whether or not Blanc and Les Bleus have Mt Blanc to to climb or something more reasonable.

Friday, September 03, 2010

M'Vila favored over Diarra - starting 11 for Les Bleus

The young French phenom, M'Vila, was favored by Blanc over his former Bordeaux captain Diarra. Not entirely surprising, the question remains will M'Vila be comfortable in a 4 man midfield? Or does this allow Diaby to push higher up the pitch with Malouda and Menez, essentially leaving M'Vila as the lone holding midfielder providing cover for the back 4. Also, the captain's arm band goes to Malouda, no surprise and a good move by Blanc. Giving the captaincy to a returning World Cup player but one that was not a ring leader and a player that suffered and persevered under Domenech.

Should be interesting.

The line up:

Lloris - Sagna, Rami, Mexès, Clichy - Menez, Diaby, M'Vila, Malouda (cap.) - Hoarau, Rémy

France v Belarus - the real work starts for Blanc and Les Bleus

International football has become a continuous series of high impact matches. Good or bad, but teams have barely had time to enjoy or mourn their experience in South Africa and they are back to work. Especially the teams in UEFA - with qualification for the Euro commencing today in earnest. Of course this is very good for Les Bleus, get rid of the malaise from the World Cup fiasco and more importantly from 6 years of Domenech.

Les Bleus kick off today versus Belarus in Paris. On paper this should be a full 3 points for France and it has to be a full three points. France are not in an easy group -  Group D : France, Romania, Bosnia, Belarus, Albania and Luxembourg. On paper looks easy. However France always struggles with the Eastern European nations...and there are 4 of them in the group. Traveling to all those locations is not an easy task. For that reason, France must maximize their points at home. With the start of the campaign against Belarus in Paris with a trip to Bosnia looming - Les Bleus must ensure maximum points today.

Mexes will be given another chance to shine
Without his play makers, Blanc will most likely go with a 4-4-2 leaning on the two wide midfielders for the creativity - who would appear to be Malouda and Menez. Hourau and Remy up front will be called upon to secure some goals against Belarus. The question remains - will Blanc look for a more offensive pairing in the middle of the park? Will he have one natural holding midfielder to act as the cover for the back 4 and allow the second "holding" midfielder to be more offensive? If he does go with ADiarra and Diaby it would appear that Diaby will be given the freedom to push higher up the pitch playing a similar style that he does at Arsenal. The back line will be anchored by the Rami-Mexes pairing, which I think has a very high ceiling - especially if Mexes allows his talent to come to the surface and plays without fear. He needs to force himself to realize that he is not playing for Domenech so does not need to constantly look over his shoulder. The return of Lloris in goal with Sagna and Clichy at the fullback slots should provide a strong defensive base. I will be very interested in seeing the quality of crosses both fullbacks can offer to a striker like Hourau. This aspect of the game will be key to the success of Les Bleus.

France should win this match, Belarus will offer a good test with regards to breaking down a compact and organized team. However they really do not have a significant number of quality players - outside of Hleb and Kutuzov who both play in bigger European leagues. I trust that Blanc will have his team well organized and focused on the task at hand, he might even get the team to learn to sing! Les Bleus need to get the full 3 points before heading to Bosnia next week. If France can emerge from these two matches with at least 4 points, they will be a strong position to win the group. Clearly 3 of those 4 points would be easier to get at home against Belarus than on the road at Bosnia!

Prediction: France 3 - Belarus 0. Menez 2, Hourau 1

Allez Les Bleus!!!

Side note: what is interesting about Group D is that the young Lyon and Bosnia play maker Pjanic could have played for 3 of the nations: He plays for Bosnia, played for the youth Luxembourg side and qualified for and was recruited by France.

At least you can see Blanc practicing what he is preaching - singing during the anthems!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Blanc moving towards a 4-4-2: Menez on the right?

Without the services of his 3 "natural" play-makers - Gourcuff, Ribery and Nasri - it would appear that Blanc is moving towards leveraging a normal 4-4-2 with a flat middle 4. Opposed to the 4-4-2 diamond that was leveraged during the Norway game where M'Vila sat at the base of the diamond as the solo holding midfielder and Nasri at the top of the diamond as the play-maker. 

Blanc will apparently lean on his wide players to carry the play making role, with Malouda on the left and Menez potentially on the right. The other option for the right would be Valbuena. Remains to be seen how Blanc goes with the
right side of the midfield. ADiarra and Diaby will hold the middle 2 slots in the midfield providing cover for the back 4,  wonder if M'Vila will slot in rather than Diarra? Up front, it appears that Hourau and Remy will once again get the nod to start, partially due to Benzema picking up a knock and I am sure Blanc wants to see the tandem on the pitch again.

Finally the back will have the same center back partnership (Mexes - Rami) with the return of World Cup players on the wings and in goal: Sagna, Clichy and Lloris.
It will be interesting to see if the two wide midfielders can carry on the play making for France. The formation might make Clichy and Sagna less free to push high up the pitch. With a striker like Hourau the crosses from the wings will be crucial to unlocking the opposition allowing Remy to play off his position. If Malouda and Menez can carry the game and allow the wide channels to be opened at appropriate times permitting the fullbacks to push higher and send in crosses, this might create the necessary offensive push to bag a few goals.

Probably line up:
Lloris - Sagna, Rami, Mexès, Clichy - A. Diarra, Diaby - Ménez, Malouda - Rémy, Hoarau.

Domenech the mole from South Africa!

The story that will not die, then again why should it I think many are still looking for their pound of flesh from Domenech...myself included! The latest is that it was the manager himself that leaked the naughty words that were said in the dressing room during the half time of the France v Mexico match in South Africa. Not surprising. The rumors were circulating that Domenech was the mole from day 1. Who else was dumb enough to share this with the press? Not the players. Other assistants had nothing to gain. Domenech, however, clearly thought this could serve him to cover his pathetic failure that was South Africa. Maybe he thought this would sway public opinion to his side, demonstrate how childish and immature his team a team he selected and had been managing for 6 years.

Once again another example of the ineptitude of the former France manager. And once again, another piece of evidence that makes me scratch my head as why the federation stuck with this idiotic leader for so long.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Zidane back for France!!!

Zidane back with Les Bleus - training under the eyes for other 98ers
Zidane is back for Les Bleus!!! Okay okay it was just a visit from the French legend to Clairefontaine to train with the squad as they prepare for the start of Euro qualifiers. His presence was a morale boost to the players and a chance for many of them to be on the pitch with one of the all time greatest footballers. What is encouraging to me is the fact that Blanc is not afraid to have someone of Zizou's stature come to his training. Granted, they were team mates and won trophies together. But other managers might not be comfortable enough to allow this to happen 48 hours before they start qualifiers. I highly doubt Domenech would have ever even considered let alone permitted this to occur.

From the sounds of it, the presence of another World Cup champion did nothing but give the team an added morale boost and motivation as they prepare for Belarus. Good for them, good for Blanc and happy to see Zizou wearing the blue strip again...even if it is only the practice kit.

On another note, Cabaye had to declare forfeit and was replaced by Saint-Etienne midfielder Matuidi. After the forfeit of LDiarra, Blanc has shown his pecking order for the holding midfielder slot, does this push Toulalan as I had written in an earlier post, even further into international Siberia?