Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Does PSG have a plan, or are they just collecting toys?

The Manchester City of the Seine is at it again, with the winter transfer window a few weeks away, PSG is rumored to be involved in a host of big transfers;
  • Beckham from LA Galaxy seems like a done deal.
  • The Apache - Tevez - might be heading to Paris rather than Milan
  • Kalou could take the Eurostar from London to Paris
  • Kolo Toure might actually go from Manchester City in Manchester to Manchester City on the Seine.
  • Now there are even "rumors" of Villa and Higuain being looked at...
 Looks interesting on paper, for fantasy soccer and for L'Equipe, but does any of this really make sense on the field? As the article from Sports24 mentions, how would these players fit into the general direction of the club? Where would they play and who would be the odd man out?

I can't run that way anymore...
Beckham: Where would you slot him? Out on the right? Push Menez to the bench? Golden Balls can no longer play in the middle of the park, I know he did that with the Galaxy, but all due respect to the MLS, that is not the same as playing the role in Europe. But that would push out other players from the mix, and again not sure Becks can last 90 minutes in that role.

Tevez: Gameiro does not seem to be the issue, he is on pace to lead Ligue 1 again in goals. Granted having Tevez would be an upgrade, but does PSG really have a dire need there? They have Hourau coming back as well. And they currently choose to play with a lone striker, with Tevez, Hourau and Gameiro there will not be much time to go around.

Kalou: Unlike Tevez, could play other front line roles - lone striker, deep lying striker, winger etc so would give PSG more options, might be a good signing.

Toure: Getting a bit long in the tooth, but clearly PSG have struggled with their central defensive pairing, could the former Gunner be the answer to partner with Sakho? Not sure, but after signing a number of central defenders this summer why dip into that pool again?

Villa and Higuain...uh not going to happen so no need to discuss.

I will have this many assists if I can play deeper
Once again I feel we are seeing what we saw with Chelsea and Manchester City when they found new wealth - sign a bunch of names without any regard to your on field direction! Granted it is easier to figure things out when you have a collection of talent and are not concerned about cutting bait and absorbing costs, but with some thought you can avoid that step in the process.

This transfer market should be interesting for PSG. For me they need to add to the defensive back line, I would like to see them go after some better outside backs - someone like Tremoulinas from Bordeaux would be nice! The real issue that has to be worked out is what formation makes the most me Pastore is too high on the pitch, maybe look to a 4-4-2 offensive formation where Pastore and Matuidi would be the central midfielders, Matuidi responsible for the dirty work and Pastore would be able to pick up the ball deeper and carry the play. That would allow Nene and Menez to play wide and have two strikers, you could even stay with one striker and play a formation closer to a 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1.

I am sure that PSG and their owners will feel the need to add some new toys to their stable, but not sure that is what is needed. Oh well, having money to buy players is not necessarily a bad problem to have...

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The sun rising in the West? Goal line technology for footy?

I almost fell off my chair when I read this today about the idiot - Blatter - saying goal line technology could be adopted in a few seasons - click here. After being so opposed to the adoption of technology for football what has created this change in heart? Maybe after he made his asinine comments about no racism in soccer...maybe someone smacked him in the head and knocked some sense into the Swiss. One can only hope that more rational decisions are to follow.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Beware what you wish for - Les Bleus draw host nation again

Ooof oooof ooooof, so France avoided the really big fish in the shapes of Spain, Holland and Germany. They even missed the likes of Portugal and why does this group still make me nervous? It might be the fact that France head into the group as a co-favorite if not the favorite to finish top of the group. Gasp. Remember when France was drawn in what appeared to be an "easy" group for the South Africa world cup? Too bad the ended up in dead last of that group, after scoring one goal and securing one whole point...

So the French will face the following group and schedule:

Monday 11 June 2012
#7: FRA v ENG, 18.00CET, Donetsk
#8: UKR v SWE, 20.45CET, Kyiv

Friday 15 June 2012
#15: SWE v ENG, 20.45CET, Kyiv
#16: UKR v FRA, 18.00CET, Donetsk

Tuesday 19 June 2012
#23: ENG v UKR, 20.45CET, Donetsk
#24: SWE v FRA, 20.45CET, Kyiv

In a good way, facing their historical rival England in the first match will force Les Bleus to be on top of their game from game 1. Based on France's recent history as well as the fact England will be without their best player - Rooney - gives Les Bleus a decent chance to come out with at least a point. Facing the host Ukraine in the second game will be tough, it is never easy to play a host especially in the caldron of Donestek (Ukraine's heart of club football). Sweden will not be an easy opponent for the final game.

France have played well against all three nations they will face - defeating England 2-1 last year, won 4-1 in Kiev and lost to Sweden oh wait that was in the woman's world cup. Les Bleus have a winnable group, but at the least need to finish second. Granted I would be simply happy to see France win a group game after going 0-4-2 in the last two major tournaments. Lloris has already "punted" and put all the pressure on England saying they are the clear cut favorites. Good move Hugo! Deflect the attention!!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Euro 2012 Draw - Judgement Day

The Euro draw will take place tomorrow in Kiev to determine the teams that will comprise the 4 groups of 4 teams. Just a refresher - all 16 teams have been placed in pots based on rankings, with Poland and Ukraine in Pot 1 since they are co-hosting. The pots:

Seedings for Euro 2012
Pot 1: Spain, Netherlands, Poland*, Ukraine*.
Pot 2: Germany, Italy, England, Russia.
Pot 3: Croatia, Greece, Portugal, Sweden.
Pot 4: Denmark, France, Czech Republic, Republic of Ireland
* As joint hosts, Poland and Ukraine have already been allocated to Groups A and D respectively.

Each group will have one team drawn from each pot. By this time we all know that Les Bleus have dropped into the 4th pot and could be drawn with Spain, Germany and Portugal...yikes...that would be a serious group of death. For me this is really an indictment on the Domenech years once again. The horrendous showing at the last World Cup and European Cup have lowered the French coefficient to a point that they are dropped to the last pot. Of course we cannot forget that before the World Cup, France was also in a situation that might have been difficult and somehow drew South Africa as their #1 seed (avoiding the likes of Brazil, Spain and Argentina) lot of good that did! France went on to scrape together one lousy point versus eventual 4th place finisher and Copa America winner Uruguay - but poor losses to Mexico AND South Africa were ugly...thanks Dumbenech.

So just for fun I did my own draw and here is how it broke:

Group A
  • Poland
  • Italy
  • Sweden
  • France
Group B
  • Spain
  • Russia
  • Croatia
  • Denmark
Group C
  • Holland
  • Germany
  • Greece 
  • Ireland
 Group D
  • Ukraine
  • England
  • Portugal
  • Czech Republic
These would actually be decent groups, no really top heavy one. Group C would be tasty due to the Holland - Germany match up, but neither Greece nor Ireland would really pose a threat. Group B would be a walk in the park for Espana. Group A would actually give Les Bleus a chance to get into the knock outs! and Group D could see Ronaldo go against Rooney...oh no wait, the Englishman has already gotten a red card!

It will be interesting to see how the groups break. Until then it is just an idle exercise to pass the time!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the FIFA water - Blatter makes another ill advised comment

"There is no racism in the game...just shake hands...after all it is just a game." Just some words from the genius Sepp - see the interview click here.

Let's shake hands later...

Uh okay Sepp, what world are you living in? Racism, unfortunately, still exists in every day life so why would it magically disappear on the pitch? It is absolutely farcical and irresponsible for the leader of the world's game to so flippantly dismiss the issue of racism. I am sure that bananas being thrown at black players, or monkey jokes being bantered around (at their own players!), or the statements thrown about by the likes of Suarez or Terry, most recently, have not made it to Sepp's iPad.

Sepp has once again demonstrated a complete lack of judgement and of common sense: women wearing more revealing outfits to attract more fans, World Cups every 2 years, World Cup in Qatar, dismissing technology to assist the game, bribery scandals and the list goes on. But this is the worst of them all, but the accumulation of them clearly demonstrate that he has no place at the top of FIFA.

I am just one voice in the consistently growing army of voices calling for the Swiss to step down, and he should have done so years ago. I fear that in his world he will flash that smile and pretend that everything is okay. Fortunately the beautiful game is strong enough to survive with him, but just think of how much better it could become without him.

Sepp go

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tempest in a teacup? Blanc looking for clarity on his contract

The latest news out of the FFF is not about preparing for the upcoming match against Belgium but rather a small tempest that seems to be brewing around the contract for Laurent Blanc. Le President's contract expires at the end of next seasons Euros, and understandable he made some comments that he would like to know his future before heading to Eastern Europe. The head of the FFF, on the other hand, remains mum on the topic: basically stating that this is not something to think about today.

Thumbs up for Blanc - let us make sure we see this thru to 2014
I see both sides of this coin, give Blanc an extension and if he pulls a Domenech during the Euros you cannot sack him without financial penalty. If you do not sign him he might pull a Santini and sign with a club prior to the tournament. In this situation I am leaning towards avoiding the Santini route. Le Graet needs to focus on the big picture, after the disaster that was Domenech (something France is still paying for both monetarily and on the pitch) what France need is stability. Blanc has clearly brought a calm leadership with what appears to be a solid strategy with regards to rebuilding the national side. Unlike Domenech, Blanc has been willing to bring in new blood on a regular basis. He has built his system around a spine of Lloris - Mexes/Rami - M'Vila - Benzema, but will need to continue to build on this adding the creative element - Martin? France will most likely head into the draw in the worst pot - #4, meaning they could end up with a group with Spain, Germany, Portugal...ouch. Granted they could also get a group with the likes of Ukraine, Russia, Greece - much more manageable. France need to know they will have a steady hand at the tiller. Add to this the qualifying group that Les Bleus face for the 2014 World Cup and it is imperative that Blanc has the support and backing of the federation - keep his plan in action and maintain consistency.

Group I

The group of death!

I understand the federation's desire to take things cautiously and not lock themselves into a manager as they did with Domenech. One big difference in the two situations, Blanc is actually talented and intelligent, meaning he is a hot commodity on the market. Better lock him down before you lose control of his future.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Belgium game ... for how many places?

Unfortunately I was not able to watch the US - France game, the irony is I was in Paris on the 11th, but flew home that afternoon. Went through London...where the plane had technical issues therefore sat in London for an unexpected evening. I was hoping the game would be on, but understandably Sky Sports carried the Portugal v Bosnia and Ireland v Estonia from the first round of play-off. I did see the highlights of the France match, but did not see enough to provide any deep comments. Hopefully I will get a chance to watch it on ESPN3. Of course there is another match this coming Tuesday against a bigger fish - Belgium. I am sure Blanc will look to get as close to his A side as possible against a talented but underachieving Diable Rouge side. Of course the biggest question becomes which players get more time to make a statement ahead of next year's Euros?
Getting ready for a tour of Eastern Europe

So squads will carry 23 players to Poland/Ukraine, I am sure that Blanc has a list for his "core." But there remains a handful of spots open that will be up and this game will go a long way for certain players. First those players I think are part of the core:

Keepers, this is cemented. Short of injury or massive drop in form the three keepers heading to the Euros: Lloris, Mandanda and Carasso.

On defense, I think the following are assured a spot - Rami, Mexes, Abidal, Evra and Sagna.

Midfield will include - Nasri, M'Vila, Cabaye, Ribery and Malouda.

Up front look for Benzema, Gameiro and Remy to be heading to the Euros.

So that means 16 spots assured, 7 to fill.

  • Defense: Assuming Mexes - Rami is back in form, Abidal will slot left and Sagna back on the right (although I think that is not 100% certain) regardless, Sagna will be on the roster. Evra will be the second choice left back. That leaves a right back and most likely 2 central defenders:
    • For me Debuchy has a leg up on Reveilliere for the second RB slot. The Lille fullback gives a more offensive option for Blanc.
    • Sakho and Kaboul will find their way on the roster, the Gunner Koscielny will be odd man out, but could come down to him and his Tottenham rival Kaboul for that last center back slot.
    • Mathieu might have an outside shot at getting back into the squad - especially if Blanc decides to take one less CB and lean on Abidal as an option for center back, so having another natural left back would be cover in that situation, and one that could also play left midfield.
    • Outside looking in - Clichy and Koscielny
  • Midfield: M'Vila and Cabaye look very likely to be your holding/defensive midfielders, Ribery and Malouda will share left winger duty with Nasri either centrally slotted or playing wide right. So there remain a number of questions to answer - playmaker, holding midfield and right sided player:
    • Central/creative midfielder looks like it will fall on Martin's shoulders, since his explosive debut, he has steadily shown an ability to animate the game when on the pitch.
    • Right side to me will still be Menez, even though Valbuena has an outside shot. Menez can be maddening, disappointing at times and other times slicing through defenses with ease.
    • Gourcuff will make his come back, I was debating on whether or not the pretty boy of France football would be left at home. But I just do not see other options for the play making role. Now the OL player might not find himself in the starting line up, but having him available might be too valuable to leave at home.
    • I think Blanc will lean on his former captain - Diarra - over Matuidi as his last midfielder to provide some length and defensive acumen.
    • Outside looking in - Matuidi, Valbuena, N'Zogbia, Payet, Diaby (will we ever see him healthy enough?) and Gonalons
  • Stikers: Benzema is clearly top of the pyramid, with Gameiro and Remy apt understudies. Remy gives Blanc the flexibility of slotting him on the right side. However Blanc will need one more striker - the likes of Ribery and Menez could also be labelled as strikers.
    • Blanc will surprise and bring freshly capped Giroud to the Euros. I think there is a reason why Blanc gave the co-leading goal scorer of Ligue 1 a look friday - he is not convinced that his other options are that great: Cisse, Gomis, Hourau and the like have not excited Blanc. Hourau has not started training again, so difficult to see him get enough time to prove himself. Gomis has not seemed to give enough the few chances he has been granted with France and Cisse is maddeningly inconsistent.
    • Outside looking in - Gomis, Hourau, Cisse and Anelka (he has served his 75 game suspension!)
Of course all this depends on health and form. The game on Tuesday will give those on the bubble more time to convince Blanc they deserve a spot on the plane next summer to Eastern Europe.

Allez les Bleus.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Les Bleus - the next wave on defense

Blanc and Les Bleus have faced a number of injuries on the defensive side of the pitch - Abidal still with Barcelona, Sagna injured, Mexes injured, Evra personal issues, Clichy out of form, Kaboul non selected...this has opened the door to 3 players - good article about the players here. The players in question - Koscielny Mathieu and Debuchy. The article discusses each players opportunities in length so I will not rehash what is said, but to me I think the player with the best opportunity is Debuchy.

Mathieu is third in line behind Abidal and Evra for left back. While the Valencia defender offers some interesting offensive options, I do not think they are superior to what Abidal and Evra bring to the table. I watched Abidal play for Barcelona this weekend against Athletico Bilbao and the cross he offered to Cesc was a thing of beauty. Koscielny has a good future, but it will have to wait, I think that Blanc will go back to leaning (correctly) on the Rami-Mexes tandem. However I think the Gunner has a strong chance to find his way into the starting line up sooner rather than later, granted neither Mexes 29 nor Rami 25 are on the verge of retirement, but over the next 2-3 years there could be a place to be had.
Future starting RB for Les Bleus?

Which brings us to Debuchy, who I think has a strong chance to take on a greater role on the right side. Sagna has been the unquestioned started for France the past few seasons. I am not convinced his place is firmly cemented. One area I have always been frustrated with Sagna (as well as with Clichy, must have to do with being a wide defender for Arsenal) is his poor crosses and too often wasted offensive forays. Watching Debuchy for LOSC, he offers a much more solid and dangerous offensive repertoire (he has 16 career goals to Sagna's 3, okay I realize no one is going to mistake the LOSC player for Van Basten). The LOSC player brings a more lively attacking option for France. Something that is vital at the international level. His other competitor, Reviellere is a good option, but I think age plays against him (the OL player is 31).

Of the three mentioned in the Sport24 article, I think the LOSC man will be a mainstay with France and has the potential to be a starter for the next few years.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

As usual: Injuries to deal with for Blanc

Well so far no one that Blanc selected has officially withdrawn from the upcoming friendlies against Team USA and Les Diables Rouge. Yet it is clear that Blanc will have to deal with some walking wounded that will hamper his ability to field the starting 11 he might have otherwise wanted to see. Granted this might be good - allow some of the fringe players to get some playing time and thankfully France is not playing the "home and away playoff" otherwise this might take on a larger problem.

The likes of Nasri, Cabaye, Remy and Malouda are all in question, you already have Mexes and Sagna on the side line. Abidal has been asked to stay with Barcelona for a Kings Cup match, due to the South American contingent having to leave early for their matches, Barca is a bit short of first team players - the reason for Abidal being ask to stay in Barcelona (there is a La Liga rule about how many reserve players you may play, which again limits Guardiola's options). Blanc has also been asked by M'Vila's manager to take it easy on the Rennes midfielder.

So what does this mean for Blanc? Clearly he has already indicated to look to give some new faces some time on the pitch, starting with the game on Friday against the US. I think Blanc will tinker with both a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 (or a hybrid 4-2-3-1), I am leaning towards a 4-3-3 since he has been hit hard injury wise in the midfield.

For the US match look for the following.

Lloris in goal and wearing the captain's arm band.

Defense, I think Debuchy will be on the right again after a good showing against Albania with Mathieu getting his first cap on the left. Sakho and Rami will be paired in the middle.

Midfield, we will see Cabaye (if fully fit), Diarra and M'Vila

Up front, Remy on the right, Ribery on the left and Benzema up front.

Look for Koscielny make his France debut in the second half to pair with Sakho. Martin will come in for M'Vila. Menez for Remy and drop to a 4-2-3-1 with Giroud making his France debut up top of the formation.

Late on look for Ribery to give way to Malouda.

Blanc will want to give his team some run, maybe look to the game against Belgium as one to manage closer to a real match than a friendly.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Cédric Carrasso (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille)

DEFENDERS (7): Eric Abidal (Barcelona), Matthieu Debuchy (Lille), Jérémy Mathieu (Valencia), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Adil Rami (Valencia), Anthony Réveillère (Lyon), Mamadou Sakho (PSG)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle), Alou Diarra (Marseille), Florent Malouda (Chelsea) Yann M'Vila (Rennes), Marvin Martin, (Sochaux), Samir Nasri (Manchester City)

FORWARDS (6): Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kevin Gameiro (PSG), Jérémy Ménez (PSG), Loïc Rémy (Marseille), Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich), Olivier Giroud (Montpellier)

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Equipe de France, in with the new - last chance to impress?

Laurent Blanc unveiled his list for the upcoming friendly matches, a few new faces, some old faces and some old faces missing. First the list:

Gardiens de but : Cédric Carrasso (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille)

Défenseurs : Eric Abidal (FC Barcelone/ESP), Matthieu Debuchy (Lille), Jérémy Mathieu (Valence, ESP), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal/ANG), Adil Rami (Valence/ESP), Anthony Réveillère (Lyon), Mamadou Sakho (PSG)

Milieux de terrain : Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle/ANG), Alou Diarra (Marseille), Florent Malouda (Chelsea/ANG), Yann M'vila (Rennes), Marvin Martin, (Sochaux), Samir Nasri (Manchester City/ANG)

Attaquants : Karim Benzema (Real Madrid/ESP), Kevin Gameiro (PSG), Jérémy Ménez (PSG), Loïc Rémy (Marseille), Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich/ALL), Olivier Giroud (Montpellier)

One time wonder or could there be a long term place?
The new faces (relatively) - Giroud and Mathieu. The former is the co-leading scorer in Ligue 1 with PSG striker, Gameiro with 8 goals, with that earned himself a look. With the latter making another appearance for Blanc, and this time I expect him to see the pitch as the opportunity to be cover at left back remains open (thought I fear for the Valence player it will be Abidal and Evra as the two left backs next summer)

Old faces that are not on the list - Evra, Gourcuff, Valbuena and Kaboul. The most "surprising" might be the absence of Gourcuff. He is back in form, while still has not regained his "top" form, one might have considered these upcoming games as an opportunity for Blanc to take a closer look at his overall progression. The door on Gourcuff being at the Euros might be slowly closing. If the last few games are any indication, it would appear that Blanc is going to lean on the likes of Ribery, Nasri, Menez, Martin, Cabaye and Malouda for the creative engine in the midfield. Looking for pacey players out on the wings and a creative engine - Martin or Nasri - in the middle, two players who's style appear to be more on the direct attack and leverage pace rather than the more "Pirlo" type passing of Gourcuff.

Mexes is again absent due to a hand injury he picked up, might his window be closing as well? I doubt it, but I am sure that Blanc will be looking to finalize his central defensive pairing. But the Mexes injury is not one that should keep him out of next summer's tournament.

What will be interesting to observe is what formation Blanc looks to use - with the number of strikers on the list might he go back to a 4-4-2? At the same time he has not had Benzema in a few games and not sure he sees the Real Madrid man with a strike partner rather than being the sole high striker.

These games will go a long way to determining who will be on the list next summer. Much will also depend on which formation Blanc settles on as well. I am sure he has an idea of who the core should be, the question becomes who are the players that will be leaned on for cover.

Aie Aie Aie - Ligue 1 sides not up to snuff in Champions League

It is a tad sad that a 0-0 draw away to Arsenal from Marseilles is seen as the high light for Ligue 1 representatives in the Champions League. The other two French sides in the competition - Lille and Lyon were brushed aside by Inter and Real Madrid. I sat through the Real Madrid - Lyon match, and it was painfully clear the chasm of talent between both sides. All one had to do was watch the dual between Briand and Coentrao the Real Madrid left back - both players are internationals, although in the case of the Frenchman I will lump a gigantic grain of salt on that statement. But the contest was so one sided, Briand could not beat the Portuguese international, neither with skill nor pace, usually the latter is prerequisite for a good winger. When Briand did, somehow, get behind the defense the ball would invariably be put out of play or thumped over the 18 yard box to...empty space.

On the flip side, Real Madrid's attacking force of Di Maria, Benzema, Ronaldo and Ozil carved up the Lyon defense. They broke with such precision and ruthlessness that had it not been for some strong goalkeeping from Lloris, Lyon could have and should have been down 3-0 at half time. Alonso, Khedira and Diarra so overwhelmed their Lyon counter parts in the midfield it appeared that Real Madrid were constantly launching 4 on 2 attacks and doing it in all kinds of manners - long diagonal passes, cheeky little chips over the defense, one touch triangle passing, pacey runs on the wings and even an old English favorite kick and run from deep. Lyon looked a step or two slow, did not have the automatism that Real Madrid demonstrated and the main point just did not have the level of talent Real Madrid could roll out onto the pitch.

Couple this with what I saw from the Lille - Inter (in highlights) and the outlook for French clubs in the Champions League looks bleak. Lille is in last place of their group while Lyon sit third, 3 points behind Ajax (their next opponent). There is an outside chance that both could somehow string some good results together and get into the knock out stage, but I doubt it. This will be difficult for Ligue 1 and it is coefficient moving forward. Thankful there is PSG on the horizon!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Head high - Les Bleus du Rugby

Another World Cup final...another tough loss for Les Bleus. This time in New Zealand in the rugby World Cup finals versus the host and powerhouse All Blacks. France lost by the smallest of margins: 7-8. In a match that many saw as the coronation of the Kiwis, Les Bleus looked to prove all the pundits wrong. After what could only be described as a terrible groups stage: unconvincing wins over Japan and Canada, then losses to New Zealand and TONGA! France went on a North Hemisphere run, defeating fancied England and then eking out an ugly win against brave Wales. Heading into the finals it was assumed they would get rolled by the All Blacks, this was their tournament and they had been the best side in the world for the past 4 years. As the cliche goes, that is why they play the games, nothing is determined in the press or on paper.

While the end result is what most expected (the line was 7-1 against a French victory), Les Bleus almost pulled off what would have been a famous triumph. Bottom line is they lost, they can claim the official was swayed by the home crowd (that is what home field advantage is all about!), they can rue their missed chances. There is no shame in getting to where they got and losing. There is no prize for second place, other than the hunger and desire it can create to get to the top step of the podium the next go around.

Les Bleus will return to France heads held high, but they need to channel the disappointment and build on it. In 4 years the tournament returns to the Northern Hemisphere, can France build towards that?

Allez Les Bleus!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

No more relegation? Hogwash

A recent story from England that the foreign owners might look to get rid of relegation and promotion, click here. Are you kidding me? For what reason? So they can ensure their little toy stays firmly planted in the Premier League? First of all who would decide this? Would you set a date and say, by 2019 the teams in the Premiership will be there permanently. In recent history, storied clubs like Newcastle, West Ham, Leeds and the likes have been relegated. Some have come back to the Prem some, like Leeds, are still working their way up the ladder. But imagine shutting the door on such clubs from ever coming back to top tier football.

Taking away relegation and promotion is an abysmal idea. Construed by a bunch of owners who have little clue about the history of the game and all they worry about is the revenue stream being in the top flight guarantees. Sometimes I think relegation needs to be brought to US sports, maybe it would make the owners of the Kansas City Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates invest in their teams to make sure they stayed in the top flight rather than just collect the gate, shared revenue and TV money while their team toils in mediocrity.

There are problems with European football no doubt, but one of them is not the promotion and relegation system.

Friday, October 14, 2011

France - get ready for another group of Death!

This is what happens when you cannot even get out of the group stages in major tournaments...your coefficient drops and you have less of chance of getting out of the group stages! Side note, this is something that will haunt nations like Belgium and their "golden generation," they have not even qualified for a major tournament since 2002 in South Korea/Japan. This means that in qualification groups they are seeded low, meaning get slotted into groups with at least 2 big fish. Making qualification more difficult, hurting the coefficient...and so forth. Their qualifying group for the World Cup 2014 is no cake walk...but back to Les Bleus.

Based on the coefficient, France might drop to the FOURTH pot! To explain, there will be 4 groups of 4 teams, and to determine this you have 4 pots of 4 teams. The first pot has the hosts - Ukraine and Poland - and then Spain and Holland. Pot 2 has Germany, Italy, England (which is comical but regularly getting to 1/4 finals has its perks!) and probably Russia (or Croatia if they get out of the play off). Pot 3 will have Greece, Denmark, Sweden and Croatia/Russia...leaving France in POT 4!!! With the likes of the other 3 winners of the play basically Les Bleus could find themselves in a group like this:

Spain, Germany, Croatia and France...yikes. Of course Les Bleus could also have a group of: Poland, Greece, Russia and France. Then again France "dodged"a bullet in South Africa when their #1 seed of their group were the hosts...and still could not get out of their own way.

Oh well. We shall see what the draw holds!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the 4-2-3-1...surprise surprise

So Blanc springs another surprise on us - goes back to a 4-3-3 and gives us a new formula with regards to the players...the biggest surprise is to find Menez in the starting 11 and Remy as the point of the attack...

France : Lloris (cap.), Réveillère, Rami, Abidal, Evra, M'Vila, Cabaye, Nasri, Ménez, Malouda, Rémy. 

The back line is not a surprise as Abidal returned to fitness and Evra recovered from the knock he picked up. M'Vila and Cabaye also no surprise, Nasri earned another start and it will be interesting if he slots right or starts in the middle of the park. Up front is where things become interesting. Remy can play as the point, but with a fit Gameiro I thought he would be first option for that role. Menez on the right and Malouda on the left seems like a normal fit; however, I wonder if France have all of sudden become "right leaning." I do not mean voting for Le Pen and the FN, I mean with the likes of Menez, Remy and Nasri might the offense lean to much to the right channel? Could we see Remy drift into Menez's corridor? Will Nasri have the freedom he had during the Albania match to stay wide right and drift back in to the center? Could this right leaning formation allow Malouda more room to operate on the left flank and give Evra space to make runs from fullback?

An interesting formation to say the least, in addition this is not a very big line up, that could prove dangerous on set pieces trying to defend the likes of Dzeko.

Once again Blanc tinkers with his formation and strategy, so far he seems to have pulled the right levers, let see if that is the case again today.

Allez les Bleus!

Zizou back with Les Bleus?

A story that made some minor waves were the comments made by Zidane around his future and the possibility of he becoming the French manager, click here. It would be nice to see the former captain becoming more involved with the FFF, of course there is no guarantee that he would be a good manager...but he has made some shrewd moves with Real Madrid, in particular spotting the young Varane and his potential.

Maybe if Zizou managed France there would be no questioning of where his son might play at the international level!

Lloris the default

Laurent Blanc has long avoided the question of who will become the captain for France. Instead he has rotated his captains amongst - Lloris, Mexes, Diarra, Abidal and Malouda (I might have forgotten one...). The latest to get the arm band on a regular basis is Lloris. The Lyon keeper does not necessarily fit the profile. His talent is unquestionable, but he is a quiet leader. It does appear that he is becoming the choice for captain, a but by default.

  • Malouda - he is one of the players that experienced the Berlin final in 2006, but he is not a clear starter (Ribery offers competition for the left wing slot).
  • Diarra - Blanc's captain while at Bordeaux but also not a clear starter for the French, plus his form has dipped as of late. Difficult to give him the arm band when you do not always pencil him in to the starting 11.
  • Abidal - some lingering South African clouds hang over the Barcelona defender. When healthy, he is a clear starter either on the left or in the center of the defense. But cannot seem to entirely shake that legacy from South Africa.
  • Mexes - I believe that the former AS Roma defender could have a strong case for wearing the arm band. In a strange way the manner in which he was handled by Dumenech makes him a great candidate - a player who has great ability but who understands what it means to fight through adversity. Unfortunately with his knee injury he has been sidelined allowing others to gain ground.
For the time being it appears that Lloris is the choice to wear the arm band, I think that he is a reluctant captain and the reality is he is holding the role until a true team leader emerges - M'Vila?

France v Bosnia, comes down to this...

 Okay maybe I am being a bit dramatic...but it really should not have come down to this. When France went to Bosnia and came out with a 2-0 victory, I was convinced that Les Bleus would be in the drivers seat going into Tuesday's last game of qualifiers. I realize that France is not in danger of pulling a "1993" when they had two home games, only needing a point and lost both matches thereby eliminating a solid team from going to World Cup 1994 (they had the likes of Petit, Ginola, Cantona, Papin, Deschamps, Desailly and a certain Laurent Blanc...looking back that was a stacked team). I think it would have been interesting to see Cantona/Papin on the US pitches during the tournament, alas we will never know what could have been.

Painful to watch....and what WHAT was Ginola doing crossing the ball??? Just dribble to the corner and look for Bulgaria to foul you!!! I also love the fact Bulgarian TV had the wrong score on the screen....even more painful!

But back to the present.

France did the necessary by defeating Albania last Friday ensuring at least being able to head to a home-away against another second place team, but do we really want to go there? I certainly do not. France head into the match knowing they only need a draw and they will win the group. But I think this might be disadvantageous for Les Bleus. Bosnia have nothing to lose, if they draw or lose they go to the knock out round, France finish first of the group. So why not go for the win, throw caution to the wind, you are playing on the road put the pressure on the hosts. This is why this match is going to prove to be a stern test for Blanc and his team. Can he ensure his players stay aggressive, focused and within the situation? If the games is level late will the French try to milk the clock looking for a draw?

I think that Blanc and the team are up for the task, they know that they do not want to open the doors to any comparison to the Domenech side that got to the World Cup via the back door and in dubious fashion. So how will Blanc approach this match, he appears to have Gameiro back in the fold as well as Abidal. Might he revert back to his usual 4-2-3-1, giving his midfield more defensive muscle? Or go back to a 4-3-3 which worked very well away to Bosnia where he actually put out 3 holding players - Diarra, Diaby and M'Vila. Based on what is reported from Clairefontaine it remains a mystery.

The man to watch for Bosnia
From what appears coming from training session, we can expect the back line to have Evra on the left, Reveillere on the right with Abidal and Rami in the central pairing. Of course Lloris in goal. The trick now becomes the rest of the formation. I think that Blanc will revert back to his 4-2-3-1, he will look to stabilize the midfield, try to choke off the service to Dzeko who is the main threat for Bosnia. Clamp down on the likes of Pjanic and co. I see M'Vila and Diarra having the holding responsibilities and Cabaye preferred to Nasri, even though the former had a stellar game against Albania. With Malouda left and Remy right, Gameiro or Cisse up front. I would see the former up front over Cisse...why? Because this formation can quickly morph into a 4-3-3 with Cabaye dropping deeper, Malouda and Remy pushing up high to work in tandem with the striker - Gameiro who is better in this system than Cisse.

This would allow Blanc to have 3 midfielders who can work the midfield, maintain possession and look to spring the wingers, with Gameiro ready to pounce in the penalty area. If Blanc is chasing a goal, he can insert Nasri to take up the right side, push Remy higher, or even have Nasri slot in the middle and have Valbuena come in for the right.

What Blanc fears, and rightfully so, is the Bosnian midfield getting the space needed to feed Dzeko who can be an absolute handful.

I look for a tense match, both teams will not want to back down. Bosnia will score first, but France will counter and find a late winner. France 2 (Malouda, Nasri) - Bosnia 1 (Dzeko)

Allez les Bleus!

Monday, October 10, 2011

France v Albania...some thoughts...a few days late!

I am remiss to have not had the time to post some thoughts on the France v Albania match from last Friday. It turned out to be a relatively easy victory for Les Bleus: 3-0, a score that one would expect when teams such as these meet. Some quick thoughts:

The Good:
  • Have to start with Samir Nasri, the Citizen has come under tremendous criticism as of late for his showings wearing the French stripe, and they have been deserved. He has not been able to replicate his Premier league form for France. Even being benched for the match away to Romania. However a new and apparently more at ease Nasri showed up this time around. He openly joked with the media about the scrutiny he was being placed under. Clearly this new attitude served him well as he played one of his better matches for France. He appeared more comfortable given the responsibility to manage the right channel.  He frequently cut back to the middle, dropped deep when he needed and even lend a hand defensively, no better image of that than seeing him at the top of the French penalty box late into the game when France were already ahead 3-0 working hard to win a ball. The goal by Remy was created by Nasri who shed no less than 4 Albania defenders who all were trying to take down the Manchester City player, he broke into the penalty area gave a neat little fake to draw the defenders before laying off a sumptuous little through ball on the running Remy. Blanc expressed his happiness with the way Nasri played, now it is up to the former Marseilles and Arsenal midfielder to build on this showing - if he does that is great for Les Bleus.
  • 14 caps and he is only 21, clearly M'Vila is one of Blanc's core players that he mentioned when took over Les Bleus. He was the metronome for France, sitting comfortably infront of the back 4, providing an outlet for the midfield when they found themselves in trouble and being a defensive rock when need be. With M'Vila, Blanc might have the luxury of playing with only one pure holding/defensive midfielder, similar to what Spain did in 2008 with Senna.
  • Remy is starting to come into his own as a footballer. His pace on the flank was something Albania had no answers for, he created the first goal by simply running by the defense event thought they were giving him a very healthy cushion. His goal was cheeky as he nutmegged the keeper and his work rate on the flank kept Albania on their back heel. One has to wonder what will happen with Ribery returns healthy, will Blanc look to unleash Remy on the right wing and Ribery on the left? 
  • Scoring early...cliche I realize, but one cannot overstate how vital it was for France to score early in this match. Against a team like Albania, you always get a bit concerned if you take too long to score that first goal. The longer the underdog keeps a clean sheet the greater their confidence grows and more stern their defending...and you can always get the "hold up" as we saw earlier in these qualifiers as Belarus sprung a late goal to take the full 3 points from France.
  • The crowd at Stade de France, recently the crowd at the Stade de France have been fickle, and with reason. They have booed the team and when Dumbenech was still there chanted requests for the coach to resign (something I wholeheartedly supported!). But this match there was something different the supporters backed up the team, the enthusiasm reverberated through out the stadium - even giving Cisse many standing ovations (he used to get booed!).
The Bad:
  •  French injuries, you never want to see them but you know they will occur but seeing Evra and Cabaye having to sub off due to injury is not good. With a big match coming up you want to keep what you have intact, especially since France are already "under - manned" due to injuries. Something to keep an eye on, especially since Evra and Abidal might be out, interesting to see who could be slotted in at left back.
  • Speaking of Belarus...coming down to the last game with qualification riding on the line is BAD, especially considering France dropped FIVE points to Belarus! A draw at home and a loss on the road are nothing but BAD BAD BAD...border line UGLY. I realize that France and Bosnia are both guaranteed to "play on" one will win the group the other will be put into home and away fixtures against another group runner up.  Now granted, France would go into the #1 Pot if they fail to win the group and therefore most likely miss potential opponents such as Belgium/Turkey, Croatia or Denmark (based on current standings)...but why go through that stress...remember France v Ireland to get to World Cup 2010?
The Ugly:
  • Did anyone get the number of that Albanian tackling machine? The Eastern Europeans clearly lived up to their reputations as a tough side, but some of their tackles were border line criminal. 
  • The Albanian keeper - Ujkani - did not cover himself in glory. Granted his defense at times let him down and trying to stop point blank shots isn't always easy. But he was beaten between the legs and to the short side...granted I have given up my fair share of goals in this manner but I have never represented my country! Ugly goals...
Overall happy to see the win, Les Bleus did what they should have done - beaten Albania with relative ease. Now onwards to the "mini final" against Bosnia...

Friday, October 07, 2011

No surprises - Blanc leans on a 4-4-2

France will come out in a 4-4-2 against Albania with a very offensively minded midfield. With injuries to the likes of Benzema, Gameiro, Abidal, Mexes, Ribery and Sagna, the team will have a very different look. Something that might be somewhat concerning heading into two matches that must be won.

The line up:

Le onze tricolore : 
Lloris (c) - Debuchy, Rami, Kaboul, Evra - M'Vila, Cabaye, Nasri, Malouda - Rémy, Gomis

Remplaçants : Mandanda, Cissé, Martin, Ménez, Réveillère, Diarra, Koscielny

Lloris once again gets the armband, more by default in this line up, he himself has admitted he is not the type to seek being the captain. Overall it is a very offensive minded line up, with the likes of Evera and Debuchy likely to push high up the pitch giving the team some width. It will be interesting to see if the formation morphs at times to a 4-3-3 with Malouda pushing higher up the field and whether or not Nasri will have some free reign to slide more to the center of the park.

Les Bleus should win this game, setting up the final match against Bosnia for the #1 spot in the group.

France 3 - Albania 0
Nasri (2), Gomis

Allez les Bleus!!!!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

France going with a new right back...surprise surprise

The latest news from Clairefontaine is that the LOSC right back, Debuchy, will be slotted to start at right back, over Reveillere (Sagna is out injured). It is a bit of a surprise that Blanc will go with a player earning his first cap to slot him in a big game, granted it is against Albania, but there is no room for error.

Otherwise it appears the starting line up will resemble what has been reported for the past few days. Question becomes does the formation look like a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 or even a 4-2-3-1...will Remy stay high on the pitch to shoulder Gomis or drop deeper, and will Malouda slot high to give 3 across the top? The final question is does Blanc go with a more attacking midfield with Martin or stay defensive with Cabaye or Diarra? If you see Martin in the midfield then we are looking at a very offensive minded 4-3-3 with Martin, M'Vila and Nasri in the middle, Remy, Gomis and Malouda up top.

I think Blanc should opt for such a formation, we are playing Albania...France should be able to win and do so easily at home, get out and there and put the offensive pressure on the Eastern Europeans from the start!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Aie Aie Aie - Les Bleus limp into last 2 qualifiers

I have been remiss in writing about Les Bleus - travel and work have gotten in the way! But with some airport time I can finally weigh in on what is happening with Les Bleus.  With 2 crucial games left in qualifiers, France find themselves in a precarious position. With the likes of Mexes, Benzema, Gameiro and Abidal out, France and Blanc will be scrambling to find the players and formation to face Albania and then Bosnia. When these qualifiers started and after France had defeated Bosnia away, I thought that they might be able to go into these last two games and already have their ticket punched for next summer. Unfortunately a draw away to Belarus (1 point from the two matches against the former Soviet state) and a lackluster draw away to Romania, finds Les Bleus clinging to a single point lead over Bosnia.


1France France8201320521113817
2Bosnia-Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina8301211512117416
3Romania Romania8220112332106412
4Belarus Belarus922111233365112
5Albania Albania8211013224610-48
6Luxembourg Luxembourg9113004117316-134


France should, that is the operative word "should," at least finish in second which would mean a home and away play off with another second place thanks. France should, again there is that word, defeat Albania in Paris while Bosnia will defeat Luxembourg, setting up a show down in Paris. Where Les Bleus would only need a draw to secure the top spot...sound familiar? Similar to the situation they faced in 1993 - 2 home games away from qualification...only to face Bulgaria and that 90th minute.

A repeat of his first selection would be nice!
Okay let's not focus on the past. Let us look at what we have moving forward. Blanc has mentioned going with a 4-4-2 since he does not seem to think he has a true lone striker without Benzema and Gameiro. Word from Paris is that Remy - Gomis might be leveraged with Nasri on the right and Malouda on the left, I would assume M'Vila and Cabaye would be the central, deep lying midfielders. The back line would most likely have Evra on the left (Abidal does not appear to be fit), Reveillere on the right and Kaboul - Rami as your central pairing. Of course Lloris in goal.

The concern I would have with this formation is who will fill the middle of the park? Will Cabaye slot higher to sit behind the two strikers? Or will Malouda and Nasri be asked to drift inside from time to time, if so this will place greater strain on the fullbacks to provide width to the attack. Or will you see a 4-2-3-1 at times with Gomis the lone striker playing very high, Remy drift out as a right winger allowing Nasri to drift back to the middle of the pitch? Could be a way Blanc gives his offense some flexibility to break down what is sure to be a rugged Albanian defense.

It is a bit of a patch work strike force, much of the creativity and threat will have to come from the likes of Nasri and Malouda, neither of which has been lighting things on fire for France. The talent is there for Les Bleus, it is now a matter of can they click the next two games? Otherwise we might be looking at an Ireland circa 2009 thanks.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Deja vu all over again...RVP tepid on long term commitment to Arsenal

Shhhhh, let's not talk about my future at the North London feeder club
Sigh, the theme from the past few seasons seems to continue as the latest story around Arsenal is that the current skipper and freshly minted 100 goal scorer - Robert Van Persie - is not sure about his future with the club. Sound familiar? Well it should since we went through this BS this past summer with Cesc and Nasri. Why do we not hear about players saying the same thing at Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham or Liverpool? Hmmmm, maybe because they try to win titles and bring in quality players every season.

The window for Wenger is rapidly closing, I think it might have already closed. This winter transfer window will be very telling, will he finally get off his hands and spend to make his club better or once again seeking out youth talent from all corners of the globe only to see them get farmed out on loans? While I am not a huge RVP fan, I think he is too fragile, it is telling that once again your captain is questioning the clubs commitment to winning. Regardless of all the last minute activity by Wenger, it was clear that Wenger was a dollar short and a day late.

If Wenger and the board do not wake up soon, players will continue to look at Arsenal with a dubious eye.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The International Dilemna - really doesn't need to be this complicated

I was reading this last article about another potential "issue" which with nation a player will represent at the international level, click here for SI article. The debate revolves around an American player born to a German mother in Germany while his American father was stationed there for the military. Timmy Chandler has already represented his father's nation, the United States, 4 times...however none have been "competitive" games, meaning qualifiers or FIFA tournament matches. Meaning...he could still be called up for Germany! Huh??? What???

Shifting to Die Mannschaft?
I know, but those are the FIFA rules. The basic gist of the international rule is that a player can switch national allegiance if said player qualifies for multiple nations and has not represented his nation at the 'A' level for a match such as Gold Cup, World Cup, European Cup or qualifiers. Which is a well intended rule, to allow players who could represent multiple nations be afforded the choice later on in their careers. But then you get a situation such as Chandler. The rule should really be - once you have been called up for the senior squad and accepted that call up, you have declared your eligibility for said nation. Let us take the Chandler situation and change some of the dynamics. Instead of of right back being an issue due to Lahm moving back to the left, lets say the situation is because Lahm has an injury that will keep him out for a few months. Low needs a right back for qualifiers so calls up Chandler, an opportunity the right back cannot pass up. So he plays for Germany, does okay, but once Lahm is healthy, he slots back at Right Back and Chandler no longer sees his name on the call up sheet, or at best a bench player. I realize this might happen with other players, but in the Chandler situation he has already PLAYED for the US National team! Why even allow the above situation to be contemplated?

Come on FIFA do something right, revise the international eligibility rule. My suggestion - player is allowed to play for his nation of birth, nation where he holds residency or parental nation. Eliminate the grandparent rule - under that rule my child could play for France, US, England, Greece, China, Bermuda or Canada...uh really? Institute the rule that once you have been selected for the senior national team and accepted that offer, you are now only allowed to play for that nation. Otherwise we might see more dicey situations as with Chandler.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The rumors were correct - Blanc turns over his starters

5 of his starting 11 will be different this afternoon when France face Romania. Granted, two of the changes are due to players returning from sickness in the case of Sagna or from suspension in the case of Rami. The other 3 are strategic changes made by Le President.

The starting line up:

Le onze français :
Lloris – Sagna, Rami, Abidal, Evra – Cabaye, M’Vila, Martin – Valbuena, Benzema, Ribéry
Remplaçants :
Mandanda, Koscielny, Nasri, Réveillère, Malouda, Diarra, Rémy

Not a big surprise in seeing Nasri sit, he has been given his chances but failed to impress, now it is Martin's turn to see he can finally find the maestro Les Bleus have been missing. Question becomes what happens if and when Gourcuff returns to health and form? Or has the train left the station when it comes to the Lyon play maker?

Cabaye with M'Vila is interesting as well, not that the Newcastle midfielder does not warrant a chance in the midfield, but more the fact Blanc starts his former Bordeaux captain - Diarra, and gives him the arm band, and then sits him. One would hope that the player that most readily gets the arm band would also be one of the core players on your roster.

On the right, I am glad to see Blanc giving "Le Petit Velo" his chance again. I feel every time Valbuena has been given a chance for France he has taken full advantage of it. The fact he is a natural right winger doesn't hurt either!

One aspect to watch is without Diarra on the pitch, Blanc has sacrificed some size, this might play a role on set pieces in particular defending them. Something France have not been very good at as of late.

Les Bleus escape Romania with a draw. France have trouble with the Romanians and they will be inaugurating a new stadium as well giving the home team and crowd a huge boost.

France 1 - Romania 1
Benzema scores again for Les Bleus

Allez Les Bleus!

Monday, September 05, 2011

The right wing - why so many problems for France?

Against Albania, Laurent Blanc decided to slot one of his left wingers on the right side. Unlike during the 2006 World Cup where the new kid on the block Ribery was slotted right with Malouda left, Blanc flip flopped these two against Albania. But why? Unlike under Domenech, Blanc has placed natural right wingers on his roster - Valbuena, Menez and Remy. So why do you have to try to force a left winger on the right side?

Valbuena strikes in Wembley
Blanc needs to put the best line up and the best players on the pitch. Is Malouda better than the likes of Menez, Valbuena or Remy on the pitch let alone out on the right side? Not sure. When all three mentioned right wingers have been given time on the pitch they have all shown what they can do - all positive. Is Blanc trying to placate the old guard? Is there a fear of an undertone of rebellion? I hope not. My sense is that Malouda is a professional and if he has to site and watch Ribery on the left then he will be fine. If he is not, then drop him from the squad.

Blanc could even slot a Nari on the right, give the central midfield baton to Martin, might make the Manchester City player more at ease with less "responsibility" of being the French #10. Heading into the Romania match I would like to see the following -

Slot Abidal back to the left, insert Rami back with Kaboul in the center of the defense. M'Vila deserves to start, he is rapidly becoming one of the core players for Blanc. Diarra can shoulder him again, if Blanc decides to continue with his "muscled" midfield. The three attacking midfielders - Ribery on the left, Nasri in the middle (give him another shot at pulling the strings) and Valbuena on the right. I think the "petit velo" should be allowed to run at Romania on the right, with his pace on the right it would be a scary compliment for the pace of Ribery on the left. With Benzema up front and of course Lloris in goal, another 2 key core players for Blanc.

Let's stop trying to tinker with the right wing and just start one of the many true right winger options Blanc has at his disposal!

Allez les Bleus.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Blanc plays it safe - 1 nil to Les Bleus?

The biggest concern for Le President is who will be his right back, as Sagna is recovering from an infection. The Gunner cannot go, then the Lyon right back  - Reveillere will most like slot in on the right side of the defense. Not a big drop off since the Lyon player has regularly seen action for Les Bleus.

The other news for Les Bleus is that it appears Blanc will opt for "ole faithful" the 4-2-3-1. With the following:

Evra - Kaboul, Abidal - Reveillere/Sagna
Diarra - M'Vila
Ribery - Nasri - Malouda

Malouda will apparently slot to the right wing, which is a bit of a surprise to me considering Blanc has three natural right wingers on his roster - Menez, Valbuena and Remy. His two left sided players will be on the pitch at the same time - Ribery and Malouda. It would appear that starting both might limit his options or perhaps he assumes he will take out Ribery and slot Malouda on the left and bring in a right wing or just swap Malouda for a right wing. It just appears a bit forced to me that he has moved Malouda to the right side. Now it could be that with Reveillere as the right back, Blanc will hope that he and his former Lyon teammate, Malouda, have some degree of understanding. Couple this with the fact Malouda has greater defensive discipline that the other options at right wing, and Revelliere tends to push high on the pitch, Blanc maybe looking for a more defensively disciplined right side.

I am a bit surprised at the very defensive minded formation - 2 true holding midfielders - that Blanc appears to be favoring. Granted he might be thinking that if he can play this formation and score a goal on Albania, that he then has options to switch to a more defensive formation later on to protect the lead, or just rotate offensive players, knowing he has a strong defensive core. Alternatively, if he is chasing a goal after 60 minutes he could easily bring in a Martin for one of the holding players and switch to a hybrid Spanish: 4-1-4-1. Or even swap out Malouda for a Gameiro and push up higher on the pitch.

Les Bleus should win this match regardless of a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1, but I do not think the match will be easy. France have never found away trips to Albania to be picnics. Assume the pitch will be heavy, the supporters boisterous and the competition tough.

France 2 - Albania 0
Goals from Ribery and Benzema

Allez Les Bleus!!!

Monday, August 29, 2011

The English Patient - Arsenal

8-2...8-2.......EIGHT goals...a snow man in golf terminology. Just plain awful. The nice thing for me was because of hurricane Irene I had no power and therefore "watched" the game through my iPhone. Thankfully. Too bad Arsenal are no refunding fans who had to suffer through that match away from Old Trafford. Alas, after 3 games in the young season, Arsenal are just above the drop zone.

  Team P W D L F A W D L F A GD PTS
1 Man Utd 3 2 0 0 11 2 1 0 0 2 1 10 9
2 Man City 3 1 0 0 4 0 2 0 0 8 3 9 9
3 Liverpool 3 1 1 0 4 2 1 0 0 2 0 4 7
4 Chelsea 3 2 0 0 5 2 0 1 0 0 0 3 7

5 Wolverhampton 3 1 0 0 2 0 1 1 0 2 1 3 7

6 Newcastle 3 1 1 0 2 1 1 0 0 1 0 2 7
7 Aston Villa 3 1 1 0 3 1 0 1 0 0 0 2 5
8 Wigan 3 1 1 0 3 1 0 1 0 0 0 2 5
9 Stoke 3 0 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 2 1 1 5
10 Bolton 3 0 0 1 2 3 1 0 1 5 3 1 3
11 Everton 2 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 3
12 QPR 3 0 0 1 0 4 1 0 1 1 2 -5 3
13 Sunderland 3 0 0 1 0 1 0 2 0 1 1 -1 2
14 Norwich 3 0 1 0 1 1 0 1 1 2 4 -2 2
15 Swansea 3 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 4 -4 2
16 Fulham 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 1 4 -3 1
17 Arsenal 3 0 0 1 0 2 0 1 1 2 8 -8 1

18 West Brom 3 0 0 2 1 3 0 0 1 1 2 -3 0
19 Blackburn 3 0 0 2 1 3 0 0 1 1 3 -4 0
20 Tottenham 2 0 0 1 1 5 0 0 1 0 3 -7 0

The only funny part is who is in last place! Hey maybe next season Arsenal and Tottenham can battle it out in the Npower Championship, might actually make Wenger happy, he can start a bunch of teenagers all season!

I don' really know where this post will head so please bare with me...a couple of thoughts:

  • There are three entities that should shoulder the blame: Wenger the coach, Wenger the manager and the board.
  • Wenger the coach - cannot be sacked today, what could another coach do with this ragtag bunch of players? Can a new manager teach his defenders how to ... defend? Or somehow find a way to get the Arshavin of Euro 2008 to show up? Or get the likes of Walcott to live up to their over-hyped potential? Or keep Diaby on the field? Like or not we are stuck with Wenger the coach at least until the January transfer window.
  • Wenger the manager - to me he is the main culprit in this debacle. So you sell Clichy, Nasri and would think that with that cash windfall you would have some plan in mind on how to back fill these roles. Instead all Wenger does is talk about how the squad will rally behind this and close ranks. Rather than wasting our time telling us that Nasri and Cesc were going to stay, maybe Arsene should have been devising a plan on how to fill in these gaps. Maybe he did, in the back ground, but he seemed to keep saying that both players were going to stay that he convinced himself that it might be true! Feels like Rain Main - three minutes to Wapner...yeah....Wenger talks now of Hazard, well maybe making bids a month ago would have been good. M'Vila? Same thing...Kaka on loan, how about approaching your buddy Mourinho when the Special One was all but buying Kaka a bus ticket out of town? Instead Wenger the manager has stockpiled a boat load of cash and with 48 hour left in the transfer window would like us to believe that he will purchase 3-4 players. FAIL.
  • A lonely lonely man
  • The board -where have they been during this whole time? According to this post, Kroenke might not even care that his team will be lucky to get to the Europa League next year - click here. If that is the case then...ugh...not much one can do. And Manchester United fans think the Glazers are crocks, at least they SPEND and borrow and use ManU as a cash register, but they are winning and I am sure the value of the club is higher now than when they acquired it! If Kroenke and his cronies are satisfied to have a world class stadium that throws off cash then so be it, smells too much like the Boston Bruins under the Jacobs family, but at least they spent some money! If Kroenke really does want to win or at least feign competitiveness then what were they doing this summer??? WAKE UP!!
Wenger's time is coming to an end. His self imposed rules about not signing players over 30 to multi-year deals is asinine - you mean to tell me that the likes of Pires, Gilberto, et al could not have contributed to the team when they hit 30? Instead they were jettisoned due to the Wenger rule, of course until he decided to sign Squillaci.... What about the self imposed rule of running transfer as a business? I realize that the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester City and the likes have taken all semblance of reality and spending and thrown in into the trash compactor, but as far as I can tell they seem to be finding ways to survive and WINNING.

The season is young...Arsenal might surprise us and come roaring back with a collection of no names. Or they might toil in the middle of the table...more likely.  The sad part to this weekend's thrashing - Manchester United's starting line up was younger than Arsenals....sad day for the Gooners, could be a sadder day as the end of the Wenger era seems to be crashing to a abrupt end.