Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ballon D'Or nominees - no Frenchies or Brits and only 3 from EPL

The list for the Ballon D'Or award, award to the best European footballer, meaning the player who plays in Europe....main reason why Donovan has not won three or four of these awards....has been announced. The list:

Xabi Alonso
  Dani Alves
Iker Casillas
  Cristiano Ronaldo
Didier Drogba
(Ivory Coast)
  Samuel Eto'o
Cesc Fabregas
  Asamoah Gyan
Julio Cesar
  Miroslav Klose
Philipp Lahm
Thomas Mueller
  Arjen Robben
Bastian Schweinsteiger
  David Villa
  Carles Puyol
Andres Iniesta
  Diego Forlan
Lionel Messi
  Mesut Oezil
Wesley Sneijder

Clubs represented: Chelsea, Arsenal, Sunderland, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich (funny seeing Sunderland in this company!)

Not entirely surprising that Spain dominates the list with 7 players after winning the World Cup. Germany's surprise run boosted some of their players while runner up Holland only have 2 nominees, but then again those are the only 2 that did not try to hack their way to a title! What is striking is the traditional soccer nations - England, Italy and France have no representation! Then again when you start looking at who could have been on the list it is difficult to find a player worthy of a nomination:

England - Rooney? did not do anything at the World Cup and his start of the EPL season casts a dark shadow over last season's personal success in the EPL. Gerrard and Lampard? Again did not distinguish themselves at the World Cup. Who else? Cannot think of anyone that is even in the conversation....maybe Ashley Cole? Interesting reflection on English footballers and the EPL.

Italy and France - their players both suffer from horrendous performances at the World Cup. The only player that might have had a chance to at least make the list was Malouda, based on how he has played with Chelsea could have warranted inclusion, but he would be the 23rd best on the list...at best.

Also what is interesting is only 3 players are currently in the EPL - Drogba, Gyan and Cesc - a telling story for what is thought of as the best league in the world. The majority are in La Liga, but concentrated in 2 clubs - Barcelona and Real Madrid, only Forlan is not part of this mix playing at Atletico Madrid.

So who wins this award?

One goal = Ballon D'Or
Iniesta - Partial due success over the past few seasons with Barcelona and Spain. The fact he scored the winning goal for his country will account for a lot of the sentiment to have him win the award. Zizou won the award in 1998, in my opinion, purely based on his brace in the finals. It is hard to separate Iniesta from Xavi when it comes to their Barcelona success so that might take away some of the shine, but scoring the winning goal for a nation long associated with World Cup failure coupled with all the success at club level and you get the award.

Sneijder and Forlan - tie for second. Both will get a lot of votes for what they did in South Africa as well as for their clubs, both winning European club trophies. The Dutchman will get much deserved credit for carrying his national team to the World Cup finals, he really was the main creative catalyst for Oranje. Winning the treble with Inter Milan was no small feat. Had Holland won the World Cup he would have been the clear cut favorite for the Ballon D'Or. Forlan won the UEFA Cup (I am still going to call it that...) for Atletico Madrid, led Uruguay to a 4th place finish, netted 5 goals and picked up the Golden Ball award as best player at the World Cup. All which make him level with Sneijder in second place.

Gyan - third place for the Ghanaian. Were it not for a missed penalty kick, Gyan might be higher on this list. He almost single-handily carried his nation to a first ever World Cup semi final. For Rennes he was pivotal in allowing the club to find success in Ligue 1. To me it was his sheer will that carried Ghana over the summer and for that he should be rewarded.

Other players that could finish on the podium - Muller, Xavi and Villa.

See you on January 10th in Zurich to learn the name of the winners!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Happy Birthday to the King - Pele

The greatest footballer turned 70 today...Pele. I realize there are some that would argue Maradona is the greatest footballer to grace the pitches, but clearly Pele is 1b if you follow that  line of thinking. Of course the game was very different when the Brazilian played - in the 1970 World Cup, Brazil at times seemed to be playing with 4 strikers a type of 4-2-4 formation. Pele's numbers are mind-boggling:
  • Won 3 World Cups - 1958, 1962 and 1970. Who knows, had the officials been more courageous in 1966, the "hack a Pele" strategy might not have been allowed to knock him out of the tournament.
  • At 17 years old, scored a hat trick in the 1958 World Cup semi finals...against France. Tallying 6 goals total in the tournament.
  • The player with the most team trophies - 32 official trophies.
  • Scored over 1000 goals in his career, his goal to game ration is almost 1:1
  • Was deemed a national treasure in Brazil, preventing him from being sold to a European club...by law.
  • Put soccer on the map in the United States when he joined the Cosmos.
There are many more statistics that support the argument his is the greatest ever to wear football boots. Of course the debate will rage on between those who think Pele is the best and those that believe Maradona was the greatest. A good debate. For my money here are the greatest footballers in no particular order:


Thought by some as the greatest goal - of course Pele is involved...although as the passer not the scorer. But still a thing of beauty:

With all that said, who do you think is the greatest footballer? And who else should be on the list of all time greats?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Rooney To Stay - Yawn

So now Wayne Rooney is staying in Manchester. I should be more specific, obviously. He's staying in the red-half of Manchester with United and with Sir Alex. I'll be interested to see how long it takes the fans and his teammates to truly welcome him back to the fold.

For me, this is not particularly surprising. Their seemed to be an element of contract negotiation brinksmenship to the whole story (I know that's easy to say in hindsight). But it would have been hard for him to leave United and go anywhere but City, as they're in a financial position to outbid everyone else, and United are in a position of desperately needing cash.

Further, leaving Manchester United, but not leaving Manchester would have made his life miserable.

Also, when you compare Rooney and Tevez on form this year, Rooney doesn't make the starting 11 (City don't play with more than one striker). Tevez has been on-fire, Rooney has been slowed by injuries, and has lost his goal-scoring touch.

And finally, in my opinion, I think Rooney has actually entered the decline phase of his career. Yes, he's only 24. But Michael Owen was on the decline at a similar age, if not earlier. Rooney rose to prominence at an early age with Everton. He has a lot of games under his belt, especially when you think of all his England Caps (67 senior Caps so far). He's rarely had a summer off. And worse, he's had a number of major injuries. Games and injuries add up, especially with the all-action style in which he plays.

Are Manchester United better off with Rooney? Absolutely, for now, though I still think they'll struggle to stay in the Top 4 this year. But check back in years 4 and 5 of the new contract. He might end up being a millstone around their neck.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rooney wants 14 million!

 So Rooney wanted 14 million pounds in salary...well well well. He clearly wanted to be the highest paid player, good for him - and earn more than former teammate Ronaldo.

Is he one of the worlds greatest players? Maybe. Off the cuff - Messi, Iniesta, Ronaldo, Mullerto to name a few are in a top 10 list. Rooney deserves to be in the conversation...whether because of his on field talent or the perception of his talent.

He is still young - 24. He single handily carried the Red Devils last season and his drop off in goals this season is one of the main reasons Man U is not closer to first place.

Is player greed a primary reason why Rooney seems to be heading elsewhere? Yes...in part I am sure the Man U financial problems hamper their ability to afford Rooney and his salary but also other big name players. this combination is the reason why the former golden child will be elsewhere as early as early as this winter.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rooney soap opera - the tip of the iceberg for a Manchester United malaise?

After watching, and enjoying some schandenfreude, the Liverpool saga, I can only look to the Reds' historical rival - Manchester United - as a potential for a similar fall from grace. The Liverpool saga boils down to simple greed - Hicks and Gillett thought they could make a quick buck off a historical sports franchise. They purchased the club through heavy leverage and when the economy tanked and they could not service the debt they had to sell. They did not purchase the club because they were life long fans of the Reds or of football...now who knows what John Henry and his NESV group will do with Liverpool, but if what they have done with the Red Sox is any indication, they understand that the product on the pitch is what makes the value of the asset rise, not playing some financial shell games to make a buck. So how does this relate to Manchester United?

Happier days for SAF and Rooney
The Red Devils are in a very similar situation. They were purchased by the Glazers, another North American based ownership that acquired the asset not because of love of the game or the history of Manchester United, but because they identified what they thought was a good asset they could acquire...again via debt, and then leverage to line their own pockets but also keep the value high enough that when the need arose could be sold at a reasonable price - see profit. This financial structure has started to take its toll on the club. The sales of Ronaldo and Tevez over the past 2 seasons were the first signs that the financial burden the Glazer's have placed on the club were starting to take their tolls on the club. The latest from the Rooney saga only reinforces this brutal financial reality.  Why did Rooney not resign with Manchester United? Because he wants a big pay bump? Maybe. Because he wants out of Manchester United to escape the spotlights of the English tabloids? Um no where on this planet can get you away from that light...the reality it I think he has seen his mates like Ronaldo and Tevez leave with no one coming back in return. Rooney might need some lessons in maturity off the pitch, but his competitive desire and motivation to win on it cannot be questioned. Clearly he doubts the club's ability to compete in the transfer market and by extension on the pitch....so why should he look to stay?

Bottom line - the debt and business aspects of the club have started to catch up with Manchester United. Whether or not SAF or the Glazers want to admit it, the club no longer can look to go out and acquire top talent. Couple this with their city neighbors and their new bottomless pit of money as well as the Russian billions that are still in Stamford Bridge and one could envisage a similar situation that struck Liverpool happening at Old Trafford. Could SAF be close behind to Rooney?

Whoohooo! Les Bleus back in the FIFA top 20

Okay I say that tongue in cheek...I have always stated that the FIFA World Rankings are a bunch of malarkey aka means nothing....but it is nice to see the effect Blanc has had on the team as well as how it has been reflected in the rankings. France were ranked 27th and have jumped up to the 18th spot. The reality is all that matters for Les Bleus is that they are in first place in Group D for the Euros and that we have a real manager in place!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Barcelona vs Valencia: Sorting things out in La Liga

This weekend Barcelona plays Valencia in an intriguing game between two contenders for La Liga title. Here is a look at the teams and how they match up against each other.

Barcelona: After winning their first 5 of 6 matches, Barcelona has stumbled lately with two straight draws. For most teams this would not seem like a big setback, but we are talking about a team coming off a season with a record-setting point total to win La Liga and a semifinals appearance in the Champions League. The bar has been raised this year and anything less than multiple hardware would be a disapppointment. These expectations have put enormous pressure on the Catalan giant and it showed during their draws. They struggled to find the back of the net against opponents that are considered to be of lesser quality in Ruben Kazan and Mallorca.

Is pressure the only issue for Barcelona? The current lineup may not be sufficient for great success. The summer signing of David Villa appeared to provide an extra level of firepower. However, the defensive midfield position is an issue. The departure of Yaya Toure has left a void that has been difficult to fill. Javier Mascherano was brought in to fill this void with his wealth of experience in the Premiership. He provides a toughness and stability at the rear. But one wonders how well he fits into Coach Guardiola's system. Barcelona counts on their defensive midfielders to not only stop opponents but also convert these stops quickly into offensive strikes. In Mascherano's first games, he has played so far back that a gap has formed causing a slowdown in any potential attacks. It remains to be seen whether he can close the gap and assimilate to Barcelona's style.

Another issue for Barcelona is the health of its players, especially the Spaniards. With the heavy volume of games played including La Liga, the Champions League, and national team duties, it is taking its toll and is evident with the recent health problems: Xavi Hernandez is sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury. David Villa picked up a knee injury in a recent Euro 2012 qualifier. And it could be a matter of time for others: Andres Iniesta's slight frame leaves him constantly vulnerable. Carles Puyol is now on the other side of 30. One wonders if the team will be 100% throught the year and play the entire season together.

On the other hand, Barcelona boasts a tremendous lineup when they are healthy and running on all cylinders. Lionel Messi is a player capable of singlehandedly dismantling an entire team. Other internationals such as Dani Alves provide a great dimension of width on the wings. And a bench that can call on players such as Pedro and Bojan can be very intimidating. It will be interesting to see how the season unfolds for the Catalans.

Valencia: Los Che may have surprised many on the surface by rising to the top of La Liga with 5 wins and 1 draw in 6 games. A deeper look at the team reveals that they may have been underestimated. During the summer, they lost two of their best players in David Villa and David Silva. These two alone accounted for a large portion of Valencia's offense last season. However, Valencia's management quickly attempted to compensate the loss by acquiring Aritz Aduriz and Roberto Soldado. While these are not household names in La Liga, they have picked up the workload well with 4 goals and 2 assists between them in their first 6 games.

Valencia also has a group of young talented players that can be relentless in their offensive attacks. The likes of Juan Mata, Pablo Hernandez, and Ever Benega have been a nightmare for opposing defenses. Mata and Hernandez have already been recognized with call-ups to the Spanish national team and it may only be a matter of time before AFA is knocking on Benega's door. Youth in general is a strength as Valencia's starting lineup has only two players over the age of 30, and one of those players is the goalkeeper.

And if the starters aren't playing at a satisfactory level, Coach Unai Emery has other viable options. At his disposal are young eager players such as Jordi Alba, Alberto Costa, and Mehmet Topal. And veterans such as Vicente and Bruno are available for service. Coach Emery has been a master at pulling the right strings with his bench so far. An example is Valencia's recent win over Atletico Bilbao in which Emery brought in substitute Vicente in the second half. Vicente answered the call by scoring the deciding goal in the 90th minute.

Is Valencia a real number one in La Liga? There are some areas of concern for this club which makes one wonder if they can sustain the top spot. While youth is a strength at most positions, it is not at the goalie position. Cesar Sanchez is thirty-nine years old and he has a lot of mileage. The question becomes whether he will be healthy for the entire season. Also, Valencia's attacking style has left their defense very vulnerable at times. They provide opponents too many opportunities and have been lucky not to give up more goals. Finally, one cannot help but notice that 4 of their 5 wins have been against teams in the bottom half of La Liga, and none of the 5 are ranked higher than ninth place. It will be interesting to see how Valencia fares against stronger opponents such as Real Madrid, Sevilla, Villarreal, and of course, Barcelona.

The match-up: As visitors, Valencia has not scored a goal since February 2008 at Camp Nou. This year it is the home team that has struggled to score. Barcelona has scored only two goals in three games at Camp Nou. However, don't expect a scoring drought in this game. Both teams favor an attacking style with players that can make deadly runs on the wings or the middle of the field. Teams that have packed 10 men defensively in the box have experienced success against Barcelona, but will Valencia employ such a strategy? Probably not. Such a strategy would take Valencia out of its game. And right now they are licking their chops, as they see Barcelona as a weaker team without playmaker Xavi and possibly without Villa also. But don't expect Barcelona to be without offensive fireworks. Remember, they have Messi.

Prediction: 2-2 draw, with a late goal spoiling Barcelona's chance at getting their second home win of the season.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

France 2 - Luxembourg 0: Les Bleus head into the winter on a high note

Oooof, three straight wins, 6 goals scored, 0 goals conceded and sitting atop Group D for the Euros, all is good. Well all is better....with little surprise France defeated their small neighbor 2-0 yesterday to ensure they would finish 2010 in a much better position than was otherwise thought. Granted, Les Bleus still have one more match in London against England on November 17th before the end of the year (that will also be the last time we see Les Bleus wearing Adidas for at least the next 7 seasons). There is not a whole lot to say about the Luxembourg match, France dominated the match, out shooting their opponents 17 shots to 1...that pretty much says it all for the game. The video highlights:

Rather than go into the match, let us look backwards and project forward for Les Bleus based on their last few games.
  • The defense: no goals allowed over the last 3 games. Granted they have a post to thank for keeping a clean sheet against Romania, but no goals allowed remains no goals allowed. So what to make of what was once a weakness for Les Bleus? First appears that Rami - Mexes is working, maybe it is not the next coming of Blanc-Desailly but what Blanc has allowed is for the partnership to take hold. The true test will come over the next 2 matches against England and Brazil. Lloris is solid and remains a strength for Les Bleus. Question becomes are the fullbacks the best options for France? Or will the likes of Evra or Abidal find their way back to the side? Clichy has played well but still needs some fine tuning. Sagna likewise. Revelliere showed a good discipline these past 2 games but not sure he is the answer on the right.
  • France's greatest #10s
  • The midfield: clearly the strength of the squad, but that has always been the formula for Les Bleus during their successful runs. Carre Magique in the 1980s -  Platini, Giresse, Fernandez and Tigana. Or the more recent incarnation with the likes of Deschamps, Petit, Zidane, Vieira, Karembeau and Djorkaeff patrolling the midfield. This new generation has the appearance of finding their core: M'Vila, ADiarra, Malouda, Valbuena, Nasri, Gourcuff and Diaby are all making claims to be the players that will form the next great French midfield. It will be interesting to see if and when Ribery finds his way back into the squad. For now Blanc has a wealth of options to select from, challenge is how to pick the right players and correct balance in the midfield.
  • The strikers. What was once a strength for Les Bleus - Anelka, Henry, Trezeguet, Saha, Cisse to name a few, France had what appeared to be an abundance of offensive players. That is no longer the case. While Benzema is slowly starting back on the goal scoring path, but still needs more time at the club level there is a drop off down the list. Hourau? The PSG striker has not been able to recapture his form from a few season back. Payet? Potential yes, but still a work in progress. Gameiro? See Payet. Gignac? Never convinced he is a full international starter. Cisse? Seems to have been forgotten in Greece. Saha? Up there in age. Trezeguet? see Saha. There is some talent and potential, but the striker role remains one that needs to be watched. Benzema must continue to develop and a #2 and #3 striker must emerge for Les Bleus to take another step in the right direction.
Of course the overall feeling around this team is 180 degrees different that during the World Cup. For that we must all be grateful. What is also very encouraging is that Blanc has a clear strategy for how he wants to build the team, something we sorely missed during the Dumbenech era. Let us see what happens during the next two friendly matches before we start getting the champagne ready. The defense will face two stern tests which will go a long way to show whether or not the Mexes-Rami partnership is strong foundation as well as the fullbacks.

It is all encouraging...if there is any doubt just think back to this summer in South Africa and how that team made us feel!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

France go to the 4-4-2 diamond versus Luxembourg

Another day another formation, well the same one that Blanc used when he faced Norway in his first game in charge of Les Bleus. France will turn to the 4-4-2 diamond to face their neighbors later today in Metz.

France : Lloris - Reveillère, Rami, Mexès, Clichy - A.Diarra (c) - Diaby, Malouda - Gourcuff - Benzema, Hoarau

Hourau is slotted up front with Benzema with Gourcuff as the play maker and ADiarra as the lone holding player sending M'Vila to the bench. With the likes of Diaby, Diarra and Hourau, clearly Blanc wants to see if he cannot take advantage of size on set pieces and probably wants to leverage that same height defending set pieces since I am sure he fears conceding a goal on a set piece which would appear to be the best way Luxembourg can hope to get a ball past Lloris.

Keeping the same back 4 is important as he has stated he wants to give them as many opportunities as they can get for playing time on the pitch as a unit, wise move. Not huge insight, but France will need to score early otherwise it will give Luxembourg the hope that they can get a draw or even a late goal. Unlike Scotland, Luxembourg will at least line up a striker or two, even if that player still sits behind the ball. However there will most likely be 10 players behind the ball most of the game. It will be up to Hourau and Benzema to break down that block. Look to Gourcuff to have a good day distributing the ball and being dangerous on set pieces. Diaby should bring some offensive flair from his flank.

Prediction - France 4 Luxembourg 0. Benzema (2), Gourcuff and Hourau.

Allez Les Bleus.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Boumsong no longer "obsessed" with Equipe de France...well that is good!

An interview today, Boumsong announced that being called up for Les Bleus is no longer a major obsession. Well thank goodness for all of us! I think the former Lyon central defender has realized that door to the French national team is closed, maybe not completely locked but closed. With Mexes and Rami cementing their partnership for Les Bleus as the first choice central pairing, with the likes of Sakho and Koscielny knocking on the door, clearly the opportunities for the likes of Boumsong and Escude are close to being shut.

Well at least Boumsong is aware of this....and unlike others stated that if called upon he would answer the call. Not sure you would hear such language during the Domenech era.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

2 in a row...Les Bleus are back on track and sit atop Group D for the the Euros

Amazing what 2 wins in a row will do for a team...after a missed Euro qualifying start where France fell on a last gasp goal versus Belarus, Les Bleus have found success away to Bosnia and home against Romania. France now sits atop group D with six points:

Looks a lot better than 2 games ago

Clearly the table looks much more reassuring than it did a few games ago! So let's get into the game:

The Good:
  • The win - it cannot be emphasized enough how important the full 3 points were to France. Not just for the qualifying campaign but for the team as a whole. With every victory the bitter taste of 6 years of Dumbenech as well as the failed South African campaign seems more and more like a bad nightmare. The primary goal is to qualify for the Euro in 2012 and being in first place after 3 games, albeit by 1 point, is still first place. The fact that your 2 closest competitors are 1 pt behind and consist of Albania and Belarus, should give France great hope to win the group. As I stated in a prior blog post, the win away to Bosnia gains that much more importance. I realize that Belarus got a famous victory at Stade de France, but a draw against Luxembourg means that advantage has been squandered...assuming Les Bleus do not fall into the same trap this Tuesday! Additionally, it was a breath of fresh air to see France not lose their composure against a team that was playing for the draw - and to get the vital goals in the last 10 minutes of the game.
  • The coaching from Laurent Blanc played a major part in the victory. There is a reason why France was able to break down the Romanians late, intelligent substitution. Something that always seemed to be missing with Domenech, something I had long criticized him for. Bringing in Remy, another fast winger, for Valbuena who had done so much positive work on the right flank (really could have had a goal were it not for a desperation save and a cross bar!) to wear down the Romanian defense led to the first goal. Inserting Payet for Benzema, a change of pace striker, clearly broke down the Romanian defense for the 2nd goal, scored by the other substitute - Gourcuff. Until the goal, Gourcuff had not had the expected impact on the game but being able to run out one play maker Gourcuff, for another Nasri, ensured that there was always a "#10" on the pitch for Les Bleus. As Blanc stated, you win games with 14 players - the starting 11 and your 3 subs in case Domenech is reading and cannot do the math.
  • I have to say that Clichy showed me something during the game, granted he had a counter that was too easily lost to Romania that almost led to a Romanian goal. Otherwise his pace and offensive minded runs created danger and opportunities all night for France. He worked well with Malouda and his desperation header in the 47th minute ensured that France keep their clean sheet. I will still ding him for his crosses, while improved still need to be more consistent and precise to take his game to another level.
  • Mexes - Rami looks like a good central defensive duo that France can lean on for years to come. Surprise surprise, both are natural central defenders! Wow what a grand idea, play players in their positions. Once again both players compliment each other very nicely. Mexes even had a good occasion to score in the 51st minute forcing a good save from the Romanian keeper.
  • The holding duo of M'Vila and ADiarra are also looking more and more like one of the pillars Blanc is looking to develop. It is amazing that M'Vila is all of 20 years old, he looks like a seasoned veteran. Strong in his tackles, great positioning and a calming presence. Diarra looks more and more like he wants to not only hold on to his starting role but also the captain's arm band. It was his clinical pass from deep that spring Remy in for the first goal.
  • The newcomers - Remy and Payet - both demonstrated the quality they possess. I realize that Remy has been in the side in the past, but always on the fringe. Clearly both demonstrated some values that could prove important for France moving forward. In the 10 minutes Payet played he grab himself an assist and almost opened his goal account forcing a good save from the Romanian keeper. While Remy's change of pace and coolness in front of goal were decisive, granted he really should have done better on Malouda's 88th minute cross that found the Lyon winger alone on the far post with, what appeared to be, the simplest of headers to give him the brace. I guess in that area he resembles the player he is sometimes compared to - Titi Henry!
  • Nasri also had himself a very strong game. He was unfortunate not to score when the Romania keeper made an emergency save with his rear end. Otherwise the Arsenal #8 was the maestro for the offense when he was on the pitch. Makes you wonder why he was left in France this summer.
The Bad:
  • Defensive lapses, I realize that at the international level there is always quality opposing you, but there remains some lapses for France that against better quality sides could prove disastrous. There remains some work to be done when it comes to the fullbacks bringing the ball out from the defensive 1/3 as well organizationally ensuring that the back line does not succumb to the quick counters. I hope that these are things that will work their way out as Blanc gives the team more time to develop.
  • French finishing, I realize they scored 2 goals, but they came late...still count...but France must find a way to do better with the chances they are afforded during the game. I realize that the Romanian keeper had much to do with the fact they could not score earlier, but with the likes of Malouda, Valbuena Benzema, Nasri et al there is ore than enough fire power to get a goal earlier than the 80th minute.
The Ugly:
  • The Belarus game...sorry but dropping 3 points at home to Belarus remains ugly in light of the recent success. Les Bleus could be up 4 points on Albania rather than 1 point up on Albania and Belarus!

Overall I cannot be anything but happy after this match. Clearly France is starting something "new" and building something as Blanc and many of the players voiced.  There are players that are emerging as pillars - Mexex:Rami in central defense, M'Vila in the midfield, Malouda on the left to name a few. Unlike his predecessor, Blanc appears to have a much clearly strategy that he is actually sticking with! I will be curious to see if, ever, Ribery and Evra find their way back into this side.

Highlights of the second half, when all the action happened!

Of course all of this will be wasted if France do not take care of business this Tuesday against Luxumbourg! But for now all is starting to be right with Les Bleus.

Allez Les Bleus

Friday, October 08, 2010

I was Going to Start My Own Arsenal Blog But What Else Is There To Say?

The October wikio blog ratings are out in the UK, and Arsenal blogs dominate the Top 20 Football blogs. It's amazing really:

1. Zonal Marking (General)
2. Arseblog (Arse)
3. Young Guns (Arse)
4. Goonerholic (Arse)
5. Gunnerblog (Arse)
6. Who Ate All The Pies (General)
7. East Lower (Arse)
8. Off The Post (General)
9. caughtoffside (General)
10. Untold Arsenal (Arse)
11. BBC Sport – Phil McNulty blog (General)
12. Twohundredpercent (General)
13. The Goon Blog (Arse)
14. SoccerLens (General)
15. Goodplaya (Arse)
16. republik of mancunia (Man U)
17. Gingers for Limpar (Arse)
18. Studs Up (General)
19. Arsenalinsider (Arse)
20. Football Further (General)

10 of the top 20 are Arsenal blogs. Only 1 other team blog in the top 20. I looked back at September and it was pretty much the same.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Welcome to the Gooner! Another blogger for the BeanTownFrog!

As many of you have seen, my friend, fellow podcaster and football fan has joined the ranks of the Bean Town Frog. Truth be known that it is because of Sam that I started blogging. The Gooner wrote a blog many years ago, about Arsenal, that motivated me to start the Bean Town Frog so it makes perfect sense to have the Gooner be a part of the blog.

I look forward to having Sam authoring insightful posts and bring his wealth of knowledge to the Bean Town Frog. Welcome Sam, the Bean Town Frog is happy to have you as an active part of the blog!

Gooner's Football Views & Biases

First, thank you to Frog for generously agreeing to share his blog with me. We already share a podcast, Frog & Gooner Football podcast, (also available in iTunes) so why not share a blog? This way there will be someone to disagree with the Frog who is not just writing in the comments.

A few quick notes so you know where I'm coming from:
Big Arsenal Fan (hence the Gooner)

Thankful to Arsene Wenger for what he has done for Arsenal.

Wish Arsene would move on so that a coach that wants to win trophies could take over.

Love the Bundesliga, especially Werder Bremen

Hate International Football (Sorry Frog), except for the US and A

Guilty Pleasures: Transfer news and the Financial side of the game.

Final Thought:
Arsenal need to bench Alex Song until he gets his head straightened out. Bring in Denilson for a run in the side. I'd drop Diaby too.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Les Bleus back to the future...with a twist

The noise coming out of Clairefontaine is that Blanc is potentially going with old faithful the: 4-2-3-1. Yes that formation that Domenech stuck with doggedly for too long, however there is a twist! It appears that Blanc will align M'Vila next to Gourcuff as the 2 sitting in front of the defense. Well that is interesting. Something this blog has been advocating for!

Get Gourcuff deeper into the Pirlo role. M'Vila has demonstrated that he can shoulder the responsibility of being the lone holding player, with Gourcuff lying deeper they can work together to organize counters from deeper in the park. Add to this the offensive ability of Mexes and you have options for counters coming quickly from the French defensive 1/3.  The 3 midfield players would appear to be Malouda - Nasri - Valbuena. The two wide players bring pace and understanding to maintain and bringing width to the team. The question will be can Nasri and Gourcuff coexist in a formation that might find them in the same space during the game. Benzema up top as the solo striker worked well at Bosnia, let us hope it continues to flourish. The back line remains what we expect, other than Reveillere replacing Sagna on the right. Otherwise it will be Clichy on the left with Mexes - Rami in the center and Lloris in goal.

If this is the line up that walks out onto the grounds of Stade de France I will be very interested in watching a few things: how Nasri and Gourcuff coexist, can M'Vila hold up the holding role or will someone lying deep, but is not defensive minded, distract him from his task (see how M'Vila's game dropped off a little in the second half of the Norwary game when Lass shouldered him deep), will Valbuena offer a constant offensive threat from the right flank and finally can Benzema continue to build on his Bosnia performance.

I am very encouraged to seeing Blanc looking to get his most talented offensive players on the pitch together. I think what M'Vila has shown on the pitch, gives Blanc the confidence that the young midfielder can handle the responsibilities of being the lone holding midfielder. With a deep lying Gourcuff, an inform Nasri and Malouda, the counters and offense can be initiated from a variety of locations on the pitch.

The Romania game will be very interesting to watch!

Allez les Bleus

Toulalan closer to Siberia than to Clairefontaine?

As the French national team approaches their matches against Romania and Luxembourg they get hit with the injury bug again - Diaby still recovering from a tough tackle this weekend during the Arsenal v Chelsea match and ADiarra had to leave practice after picking up a knock to the leg. So who does Blanc call upon as cover for two of his defensive/holding midfielders? Toulalan? No instead his Lyon teammate Gonalons and Toulouse midfielder Sissoko. The latter is not a surprise he has been part of the set  up in the past, but the former is a bit of a surprise not because he is not talented. I have always been a fan of the Lyon midfielder, but it is a surprise that he gets a call up over his club mate who has much more experience at this level.

Indicative of how Blanc feels about Toulalan?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The circus continues in Anfield...the rest of the EPL chuckles

So dumb and dumber, aka Gillett and Hicks, have supposedly turned down two offers for the club and are also trying to purge the board...apparently to give the two idiotic owners more control. What is going on with Liverpool? Mounting debts, trying to determine a new ground to play on...maybe with hated local rival Everton and on top of this they are in the relegation zone!!! Clearly the current owners have been trying to unload this asset for at least a year while piling up a large amount of debt. This might be the best course of action for Liverpool, clearly if the club can find an owner that will bring the financial heft to clear the books of debt, or at least bring it under control and add some stability at the ownership level that is only the way Hodgson and the club can climb their way out of the relegation zone.

I cannot hide my feeling of schadenfreude when it comes to the down fall of the Reds. I am sure there are plenty of others that feel the same...maybe even the current Inter manager.

Monday, October 04, 2010

de Jong dropped from Dutch national team after horror tackle on Ben Arfa

Good for the Dutch national team manager to drop the Manchester City hard man from the Dutch squad after what transpired this weekend. For those of you that do not know about the incident - it occurred in the 4th minute of the Manchester City v Newcastle match where the Dutch international went in very hard and with bad intent on Ben Arfa which resulted in a badly broken leg for the Newcastle man.

Video of the tackle - not as graphic, thankfully, as others we have seen on the pitch:

Clearly de Jong's intent was to stop the man and not the ball. I realize that football has elements of violence and these things happen. There is also room and at times needs to be "hard" players on the pitch. Players like Keane, Gattuso, Vieira, Essien or past players like Terry Butcher and Claudio Gentile are vital cogs to any team that can find such talents. Why? They do the dirty work, go after all 50-50 balls, stick their heads where boots are flying, are asked to shut down the opponents creativity and are expected to run hard for 90+ minutes and take a physical beating.

To be successful these players have to push the boundary with their physical play, but that is part of the job description. Will an opposing forward stick his boot somewhere if he knows he might get chopped down or go for a cross if he fears he might get an elbow to the ribs? Of course not, fear of pain and to some extent injury gives players pause and gives the defender an edge and therefore the advantage.

However de Jong has demonstrated that he regularly crosses this line when it comes to be the enforcer for his teams. Remember the karate kick for Holland in the World Cup finals, for which he should have been shown the straight red! I am still surprised that Alonso didn't crack a rib or worse! This latest incident falls into this category of crossing the line. Do I think his intent was to break Ben Arfa's leg? No. But his tackle was clearly meant to send a message, no intent of winning the ball just an opportunity to go after a creative player's legs to tell him "be careful dribbling around me because you might get hurt." No surprise that the tackle was early and targeted one of Newcastle's more creative players.

The fact at de Jong did not get a foul let a lone a card given, just as it happened in the World Cup final, is what is most criminal about the situation. As I stated, there needs to be some aspect of tough play in football, always has been always will be. However plays such as what happened needs to be policed whether on the pitch by the official or after the fact by the league. If reckless fouls are permitted on the games creative players how can we expect the game to be played as it was intended? I would rather see a Van Basten's career continue than be cut short because teams constantly hacked his ankles and legs to slow him down. The FA has been mum on this, to no surprise, the EPL has always been regarded as one of the most physical leagues in the world. However the money flows into the EPL because talented players come to play in the league, if they begin to fear for their safety that tide might shift elsewhere. I am glad the Dutch national team manager took a stand and dropped the player. Now up to the FA to do something about it.

Broken bones, sprains, bruises and tears will happen, it is part of the game. But blatant attempts to injure and egregious goon like tactics must be curbed.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Blanc will announce his captain before end of the year.

Mexes, Malouda and Diarra have all worn the captain's arm band for Laurent Blanc's France squad. However there is not a clear cut favorite to carry the arm band long term. Blanc did come out and said the captain will be named before December. Question is, who is the favorite? The three players who have previously worn the arm band are all in the conversation. How about Sagna? Or Gourcuff? I know the latter has always stated he is not ready for the responsibility. The former might have a case to be made but he has always struck me as a quiet leader not someone that will speak up. With regards to ADiarra, is he an unquestionable starter? Blanc also stated he is still searching for his core for Les Bleus, the undisputed group of players that he will build around - son noyau. I am sure once Blanc has more clarity with regards to this he will be prepared to give the arm band to one of these players for the long term.

Here is a name that might be a dark horse - Rami. He has shown very well since the Norway game, a pillar on the back line. To me he is one of the players that is on the very short list of being one of Blanc's noyaus. He was also not part of the World Cup nor the Domenech era so would give a fresh start to the role.

Who do you think Blanc might look to as his captain?

Friday, October 01, 2010

CONCACAF takes a step back

A great article from SI about the proposed new World Cup qualification process from CONCACAF. The main take away - with this new system it will be very unlikely to see Mexico v USA matches played during qualifying. Both nations are head and shoulders ahead of all the other CONCACAF nations and will never be paired in the same group. The argument for this format is to give a number of the smaller nations more matches to play and develop their talent pool, a worthy goal but one that seems to be skewed. You want these smaller nations to get more World Cup qualifying games? Then create a pre-qualifier tournament for these nations, for example:

  • Take the top 5 CONCACAF nations and they are in the final group.
  • The remaining nations are broken into groups - 5 groups of  6 nations. The winners of each group move on.
  • The 10 nation group then plays home and away to determine the ranking.
  • Top 3 go to World Cup, 4th team goes to playoff.
I realize this might not work from a time perspective but there should be a way to make this work. This would give smaller nations more games that count, while preserving the competitive aspect of CONCACAF qualifiers - aka Mexico v USA.

The real issue for me is that CONCACAF does not need to give the minnows more games but needs to get their big 2 more serious matches. I have always thought CONCACAF should work with South America to merge their qualifiers. I realize this is a pipe dream, but for nations like Mexico and the US, being forced to play regular qualifiers against the likes of Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Chile, Peru, Uruguay and the rest of the South American nations would help their teams develop. As Wahl points out in the article, CONCACAF does not have the equivalent of the European Cup of Nations to bridge World Cups. While I am not convinced the US and Mexico will ever move to the level of Germany, Italy, Brazil and the rest who are legitimate World Cup contenders on a regular basis, the ability to play more serious, more competitive matches on a regular basis are the only ways they will move the needle when it comes to competing on the world stage.

I realize that Gulati will never want to jeopardize the US' ability to qualify every 4 years to the World Cup. As it is currently constructed the US and Mexico are both almost 100% guaranteed to qualify, under the new format they will be 101% guaranteed. Merging with South America will drastically drop that percentage, but it would give those squads more serious international matches and potentially make the US and Mexico legitimate contenders for international silverware. Alas, I am sure that the revenue from attending the globe's biggest sporting event every 4 years is too important to sacrifice for an opportunity to truly develop your program.