Sunday, February 27, 2011

Champions League - Bundesliga moving up

One of my fellow podcaster and contributor to this blog - The Gooner aka Sam - favorite pet topic is starting to gain some momentum. With all the "excitement" of the Carling Cup...terrible loss for Arsenal...a story came out that Germany has surpassed Italy in terms of UEFA coefficients. Confused? Basically the coefficients are ways for FIFA and UEFA to determine the strength of leagues and nations, resulting in how many teams per league can qualify for the Champions League and Europa Cup as well as where national teams get seeded for qualifiers. For a more in depth explanation click here.

What is interesting is that for the past few years it was always the "big three" in Europe - La Liga in Spain, EPL in England and Serie A in Italy. These three leagues were seen as the top of the hierarchy allowing them to send 4 clubs to the Champions League, but Germany had been quietly creeping up and they have finally ousted Italy from the guaranteed 4 clubs ranks. A testament to Bundesliga clubs who have done well in both European Cup competitions and to some degree a reflection of he disarray in Italy. One has to wonder the impact of the 2006 Calcipoli scandal which saw the likes of Juventus and Fiorentina ousted from Champions League and Lazio kicked out of the then UEFA cup. Juventus was stripped of previous Serie A titles and sent to Serie B. Juventus was a force during those seasons and who knows how they would have fared in the Champions League - they had reached the 1/4 finals in 2005 and 2006.

Couple this with the Bundesliga and its concerted efforts to develop talent from the youth ranks and practicing fiscal responsibility and you get what we have today - Italy down to 3 clubs and Germany up to 4. The interesting fact is Italy's coefficient is closer to France in 5th place than they are to Germany. If Italy falls behind France it will be a true reflection of how far Serie A has fallen in Europe...seems like Sam was on to something!

Mvmt↓ League↓ 2006–07↓ 2007–08↓ 2008–09↓ 2009–10↓ 2010–11↓ Coeff.↓ CL places↓ EL places↓ Total↓
1 1 Disc Plain yellow dark.svg England England 16.625 17.875 15.000 17.928 15.500 82.928 4 3 7
2 2 Disc Plain yellow dark.svg Spain Spain 19.000 13.875 13.312 17.928 13.214 77.329
3 4 Green-Up-Arrow.svg +1 Germany Germany 9.500 13.500 14.333 18.083 14.333 68.103
4 3 RedDownArrow.svg −1 Italy Italy 11.928 10.250 11.375 15.428 11.000 59.981 3 6
5 5 Disc Plain yellow dark.svg France France 10.000 6.928 11.000 15.000 10.583 53.511
6 9 Green-Up-Arrow.svg +3 Portugal Portugal 8.083 7.928 6.785 10.000 11.800 44.596

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Arsenal - first day of the rest of the season for the Gunners

Well for a while I had a dream that some how Wigan would find  way to at least draw with the Red Devils....and then reality and a 4-0 thrashing set in. The Red Devils get back to a 4 point cushion atop the Premiership, which makes the game tomorrow that much more important for the Gunners. Why? It is a Cup final and has no bearing on the EPL title chase. But for the young Gunners it will mean everything. They have not tasted success since Patrick Vieira was wearing the #4 shirt - 2005 FA Cup victory over Manchester United (ironically the last PK was taken and scored by that very Pat Vieira, his last action under the Arsenal colors). Ever since that game in May of 2005, Arsenal have been chasing silverware, and unfortunately have not been successful at that chase. They have not really threatened to take the EPL title from Manchester United and Chelsea. They did reach a Champions League final the year after the FA Cup triumph, but fell short versus Barcelona. They also made the finals of this same Cup in 2007, but lost to rival Chelsea and witnessed any ugly bust up.

Now Arsenal find themselves in another Cup final, with a chance to finally add to their trophy case. They are facing a side they dominated earlier this season in league play winning 3-0. However Arsenal will be without captain Cesc and winger Walcott...meaning you will need to lean on Nasri for your midfield creativity and hope that Rosicky and Arshavin can find some glimmers of consistency. Birmingham will pose Arsenal some potential issues with their length and experience up front in the likes of Zigic and Martins.

Clearly Arsenal have enough to win this game and some silverware, but much will come down to the mentality of the Gunners. Will they think they can just waltz in and repeat their early thrashing of Birmingham? Feel overconfident after a mid week grinding success against Stoke as well as come from behind win versus Barcelona in the Champions League. They better not. The importance of this game cannot be overstated.

If Arsenal want to mount a serious challenge in the 2 competitions that REALLY count - Champions League and EPL - they must find a way to beat a team they should defeat and secure a trophy. The psychological effect of a win will carry the Gunners for the rest of the season. A loss could threaten to derail Arsenal, make them question their ability to close the big games. The Gunners beat Chelsea earlier this season 3-1, they defeated they must defeat Birmingham and bring home some silverware. This is the first day of the rest of the season for the Gunners, let us hope it is a good day.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

He's baaack - Domenech gives some insight into his "genius."

"I'm not a moron..."  

Good statement from a recent interview with Domenech....reminds me of Fredo from the Godfather - "I can handle things! I'm smart! Not like everybody says... like dumb... I'm smart and I want respect!"

So our good friend Domenech is slowly emerging from his shell and addressing some of the topics that have dogged him since that fateful day in South Africa where Les Bleus dropped a final game to the hosts. For the interview on L'Express click here. Overall he, no surprise, refuses to take on too much responsibility for the disaster that was the World Cup. He does call out his players for being spoiled brats for refusing to practice. What is surprising, is his admission that maybe he should have resigned or been sacked after the Euro 2008 fiasco - 1 draw versus Romania and 2 losses against Holland and Italy - that was the famous tournament where he decided to propose to his girlfriend at the end of the Italy match.

«Avec le recul, effectivement, je me dis: "Pourquoi n'as-tu pas démissionné?" Tout était faussé. J'ai manqué de lucidité. Je me demande même pourquoi personne ne m'a obligé à démissionner.»

With hingsight I told myself 'why didn't I resign?" Everything was wrong. I was missing some clarity. I even asked myself why didn't anyone force me to resign. 

Sigh, in hindsight I also wish he has left in 2008, maybe the trip to South Africa could have been a little more than an exercise in ineptitude. I guess not being a moron means one can be honest about one's past...first step to recovery is admitting a problem! Better late than never.

El Fenomeno retires - farewell to one of the game's most dangerous strikers

So Ronaldo, not the Portuguese one, will hang up his Nike boots at the age of 34. The kid that broke onto the international scene as an 17 year old on Brazil's World Cup winning side in 1994 he was always seen as the next big thing in football. Unlike so many others he lived up to that billing. Winning the FIFA player of the year three times - 1996, 1997 and 2002 - collecting 2 World Cup winners medals as well as a runner up medal, winning 2 Spanish league titles, a UEFA cup title and a Cup winners Cup title he is one of the more decorated footballers. Granted he never tasted Champions League glory, but he is the all time leading World Cup goal scoring leader with 15 goals to his credit.

# Date Venue Opponent Score Result World Cup Round
1. 16 June 1998 Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes, France  Morocco 1 – 0 3–0 1998 Group Stage
2. 27 June 1998 Parc des Princes, Paris, France  Chile 3 – 0 4–1 1998 Round of 16
3. 27 June 1998 Parc des Princes, Paris, France  Chile 4 – 1 4–1 1998 Round of 16
4. 7 July 1998 Stade Vélodrome, Marseille, France  Netherlands 1 – 0 1–1 1998 Semi-Final
5. 3 June 2002 Munsu Cup Stadium, Ulsan, Korea Republic  Turkey 1 – 1 2–1 2002 Group Stage
6. 8 June 2002 Jeju World Cup Stadium, Seogwipo, Korea Republic  China PR 4 – 0 4–0 2002 Group Stage
7. 13 June 2002 Suwon World Cup Stadium, Suwon, Korea Republic  Costa Rica 0 – 1 2–5 2002 Group Stage
8. 13 June 2002 Suwon World Cup Stadium, Suwon, Korea Republic  Costa Rica 0 – 2 2–5 2002 Group Stage
9. 17 June 2002 Kobe Wing Stadium, Kobe, Japan  Belgium 2 – 0 2–0 2002 Round of 16
10. 26 June 2002 Saitama Stadium, Saitama, Japan  Turkey 1 – 0 1–0 2002 Semi-Final
11. 30 June 2002 International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama, Japan  Germany 0 – 1 0–2 2002 Final
12. 30 June 2002 International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama, Japan  Germany 0 – 2 0–2 2002 Final
13. 22 June 2006 Westfalenstadion, Dortmund, Germany  Japan 1 – 1 1–4 2006 Group Stage
14. 22 June 2006 Westfalenstadion, Dortmund, Germany  Japan 1 – 4 1–4 2006 Group Stage
15. 27 June 2006 Westfalenstadion, Dortmund, Germany  Ghana 1 – 0 3–0 2006 Round of 16

So what to make of the wildly talented yet somewhat motivation-ally challenged Brazilian? Is he one of the all time greatest players?

In the overall pantheon of great players I cannot include him in the top 10, as some have...I would say there is an argument for his inclusion in the top 20. However a part of me feels as if we never saw Ronaldo living up to the massive potential he showed as a young 20 something player. He was dominant in 1998 until he faced Les Bleus in the World Cup finals, I realize there was a lot of controversy whether or not he was fit to play and there are rumor that the corporate backers of Brazil's team, namely Nike who kitted out Brazil as well as provided Ronaldo's boots, insisted he start. At the start of the match he walked out with his team, but was a shadow of himself on the pitch, I am sure his night time trip to the hospital did not help nor did the fact that Thuram et al. completely suffocated him during the match.
Barthez checks on Ronaldo's health - WC finals 1998

His true glory would come 4 years later where he helped carry Brazil to the title - teamed with Rivaldo and Ronaldino they Samba'd their way past the likes of England and Germany to capture their 5th title where Ronaldo scored a brace in the finals. He would play in a third World Cup (4th participation but he never saw the field in 1994) where he would set the all time World Cup goal scoring record, but once again run into Les Bleus who would end his World Cup career. He would finish his international career with 62 goals in 97 matches for a 0.64 goals per game average.

Ronaldo's moment of glory...first goal a true poacher goal after a terrible spill from Kahn. The second a pure strike of skill - taking a good square ball and realizing he had time to settle and pick his side but not being rushed in the process - coolness in front of goal another sign of a solid striker.

Of course his club football was marked by playing for the likes of Cruzeiro, PSV, Barcelona, Inter, Real, ACMilan and Corinthians. Clearly he played for some of Europe's biggest clubs, but for me it is surprising that he did not make a greater mark at any of these stops. Granted his time at Inter, when he was starting to make some noise with the club, was cut short by two knee injuries and 3 subsequent surgeries. He then moved to Real Madrid, but was a bit overshadowed as part of the Galacticos - Raul, Beckham, Zidane, Figo et al. I am not sure he fully recovered from his injuries either. Add to this a questionable mental discipline - he did get a little heavy and used questionable judgement in his private life (granted this was when he was at Milan but still...I am sure this was not his first rodeo).

When you look at his career you would say it was successful, however when you take into account the player many saw emerge from Brazil as a teenager and you would say there is something hollow about the career. Yes he is the all time leading World Cup goal scorer over 3 World Cups - but I did not feel he really took over any of these tournaments. There was no Maradonna 1986 or Platini 1984, when these two took over the World and European Cups for their nations. Nor was there a 1958 moment when another young Brazilian burst onto the world scene.

Ronaldo will be regarded as one of the greatest strikers the game has seen, but looking back at his career I feel that it could have been more - injuries cut his career short and maybe had he worked his trade more seriously when he was able we might be talking about a player that could be in the top 10 of all time. All the best in his retirement, I am sure many defenders and keepers are happy to not have to face him moving forward.

Friday, February 11, 2011

France v Brazil - a win is a win.

I was finally able to watch the France v Brazil match in its entirety - wifi came back - and will have to say it was an entertaining match. One can never discount the physiological benefits of defeating a side such as Brazil, even if they were a man down for 50 minutes. France are now on 5 straight victories with 9 goals for and only 1 against, including wins against England at Wembley, Bosnia at Sarajevo and now Brazil. Highlights of the game and thoughts from the Frog:

The Good:
  • As I stated above, a win over Brazil is always good. Truth be told, I think Les Bleus deserved the victory, man advantage or not. Les Bleus played a smart match - weathered the Brazilian storm in the first half allowing the Samba boys to control the tempo but really not giving up any chances. Alves did force Lloris into a "fumbly" save on a hard straight on shot early on in the game, but otherwise the only other real chance for Brazil was a Robinho shot that should have forced at least a save from Lloris but instead sailed high into the Parisian sky. The second half Les Bleus took what was given to them, a man advantage and the left side of the Brazilian formation vulnerable. Good for France to recognizing and taking advantage of this as the goal of the victory came from an attack off that side. 
  • Karim Benzema was very good. The second half seemed to be owned by the Real Madrid striker. After scoring the French goal on what was truly a simple tap in after Menez squared a beautiful ball, once again attacking down the left side of the Brazilian formation, Benzema within a span of 5 minutes forced some big saves twice from the Cesar - 56th and 61st minutes. Even his miss-hit cross off his left foot beat Cesar and almost found itself in the back of the goal. What was impressive to me, as well as other pundits, was the willingness of Benzema to take chances, run at defenders and not be afraid of failure. I realize that at the international level this is what you expect from players, however based on what is currently happening at Real Madrid, you might expect Benzema to take on the same attitude. You wonder what would happen if Mourinho, like Blanc, would stick with the young striker and let him get some run in rather than yo-yo between the bench and the starting line up. Quietly Benezema has been on a bit of a scoring run - 4 goals for Les Bleus in the last 4 matches. Granted he could have had a brace or more against Brazil, but the fact he forced 2 strong saves from Cesar to go with his goal and those are encouraging signs. Benzema now has 12 goals in 33 games for Les Bleus...not too bad: 0.36 goals per game (Henry was at 0.42, Zidane 0.28, Trezeguet 0.47 and Platini 0.57 - granted Fontaine had an absurd 1.42 goals per game...).
  • The other Frenchman that had a superb match was Mexes. The AS Roma defender was an absolute rock at the back. He made some aggressive tackles, was often there to clean up the mess and demonstrate a willingness to pinch up into the attack taking space when made available. His partnership with Rami, while not even 10 games old, has clearly stabilized the French back 4. He completely shut down his fellow Serie A player, Pato, making strong tackles and marking the Milan striker out of the game. Clearly his strong and physical play did effect some of the Brazilian attacks, truly being the enforcer on the back line. Much like Benzema, it is evident that this player's game greatly benefits with playing for a manager that respects him and will give him the opportunity to play and develop. Something Domenech could not figure out, never really understanding how to leverage Mexes. Alas what could have been....but better late than never.
  • I have to mention a Brazilian - Julio Cesar. I have been one of his biggest critics never really prepared to name him the world's best keeper but against France he demonstrated why he is in the conversation. He made some strong saves on Benzema in the second half as well as some strong play through out the game. On an early French cross that had eyes for both Mexes and Benzema was deftly parried away from an outstretched Cesar. Without the Inter keeper Brazil might have suffered a larger defeat at Stade de France.
  • Finally once again it is evident that having Laurent Blanc managing Les Bleus is good. I cannot reiterate what a difference 6 months makes. After 6 painful years of dealing with Dumbenech it is so brutally evident what a waste that time was when observing how Blanc goes about managing this side. Blanc is building back the side that Domenech so clumsily mismanaged. Blanc has given players like Mexes and Benzema the confidence necessary to begin to play up to the level we always expected they could all the while infusing some fresh blood - M'Vila, Remy, Cabaye and Menez to name a few. Granted, all this good will means nothing if France do not qualify for the Euros or crash out in the first round like they did the last two tournaments. Yet Le President is quickly making us forget Domenech as well as giving all France fans reason to hope for bright days ahead.
The Bad:
  • Jeremy Menez, okay he was not was his great move and cross that  handed Benzema the French goal on a platter, so why do I put him in this category? Because he was invisible in the first half! What was frustrating to me was watching him for a 15 minute span in the second half where he was aggressive and attacked the Brazilian defense. I realize the second half saw a Brazilian squad down to 10 men and more space, but that does not mean you have to be passive when facing 11 men...I am sure that when Roma plays they tend to face the full 11 men squads and Menez is aggressive then! The right side of the French attack remains a question mark - Valbuena seems to be the choice, but he is not a lock. Could Nasri be there, sure, but I think he will be used more in the center of the park. Therefore there is a good opportunity for a player such as Menez to make some headway. He did show me something during that second half, I just wished he had not waited 45 minutes before turning it on.
  • Sagna...not the player but his crosses. Overall the Arsenal man played well and was strong in his channel defending and supporting the attack. But his crossing remains a huge issue. He has the ability to get up into the attack, had some good moments with Menez, but once again could not provide consistent crosses. Frustrating.
  • Gourcuff and Malouda. Neither have been able to recapture some of their top level form from a few seasons ago. The Lyon play maker did have a superb flick on to Benzema in the first half (9th minute), taking a pass from Malouda, Gourcuff deftly flicked the ball between two Brazilian defenders onto the path of Benzema. The latter should have done better and forced some work out of Cesar. Unfortunately after that action Gourcuff went back into his frustrating form of late - appear to be pushing and forcing the game. The same with the Chelsea winger. Malouda worked hard and trying to be involved in the game but his touch let him down with sloppy passes and poor turn overs. These two players have too much talent in their boots to play this poorly.
The Ugly:

  • The red card! It was not ugly because it was not deserved but more for the act. Hernanes deserved the sending off with a very clumsy and reckless challenge - studs high right into Benzema's chest! What was really ugly for me was the fact it was equally egregious as the move by De Jong in the World Cup finals which did not get the Dutch goon a red card. In the end it did not cost the Spanish but what if Holland had won when they really should have gone down to 10 players!

  • The condition of the pitch was terrible! I realize Stade de France hosted a 6 nations match earlier this week, but that was not a pitch for an international match. I know this would never happen but when the federation knows that they will be following up a rugby match maybe they should go back and play at Parc des Princes. I realize the smaller capacity would reduce the gate, but at least the pitch would be of better quality.
  • What was up with that kit for Lloris??? The retro France look provided by Nike is growing on me, but the strip for the keeper looks like a fancy prisoner outfit with the stripes....or a misplaced sailor outfit.
  • Back to back defeats for the Selecao. Brazil has lost back to back against hated rivals Argentina and now France a team that they have not defeated in the past 7 games! The Brazilian manager, Menezes, is coming under heavy pressure with a few months to go before Copa America. I would say this for the Brazilian manager, much like his French counterpart he realizes that he must rebuild and get some of his younger players into the side now if they are too be ready for the World Cup in 2014. Brazil should do well at the Copa America, and unlike the Euros there is no qualifying and sides like Brazil and Argentina really should make the semifinals (since 1989 Brazil has made it at least as far as the semis). Granted it is a trophy and not one to ignore. But with the next World Cup being held on Brazilian soil and the fact Brazil have crashed out of the last two editions in the 1/4 finals, Menezes realizes that the World Cup 2014 is what really matters. I hope that the Brazilian federation allows him to see through his ideas and plan, regardless of what happens in friendlies and at the Copa. Otherwise Brazil might be scrambling to put together the right team to seek World Cup glory on home soil.
Back in French side soon?
A good win for France. Of course I am not ready to thrust France back into the elite. There remains work to be done. Blanc needs to figure out his midfield and who will be given the keys to the car. Gourcuff is forcing his game right now and seems out of sorts. Malouda has been shaky. Menez too timid. Could a healthy Ribery come back into the picture? Nasri is clearly an option, but one has to hope he can stay healthy. Valbuena will have something to say from the right side, but what combination clicks will be something Blanc must find. Benzema seems to be growing in confidence up front but he must make the most of the chances he creates and is afforded. One goal is nice, but not as nice as a brace or a hat trick! Defensively I think Les Bleus are solid - the back 4 for the past two games seems to be a pillar to build on - Diarra, M'Vila and Diaby are all strong options as the holding tandem. Finally in goal, Lloris is ready to be the France keeper for years to come.

As I stated above, a win is a win, coming against Brazil one cannot complain. There remains much work to be done and France must continue to work and build on these successes. However, Blanc and his team must not forget that a few games ago they lost on this same pitch to Belarus. After 6 years of Domenech and of disappointment, the national team's psyche and mine, remains fragile - one slip up in qualifiers and much of the work accomplished could be damaged. I do trust that Blanc realizes this and will not allow complacency. Les Bleus are heading in the right direction, something that could not be said last summer!

Allez les Bleus!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

France v Brazil - initial thoughts - "small victory"

Okay I will admit I was only able to catch parts of the second half of yesterday's 1-0 victory by Les Bleus over Brazil. I was planning on watching the replay on but my wifi was terrible last night...I will be watching this evening so look for the Frog's detailed thoughts later today.
Some thoughts on what I was able to see and cobble together:

  • Benzema is looking stronger and stronger as he stays in confidence with Laurent Blanc. He scored again last night and could have added another. Unlike Domenech, who did not show any consistency with players, Blanc clearly gets the fact you need to settle on your core and stick with them - through peaks and valleys. Let them work themselves into form.
  • Same can be said about Mexes and Rami, under Domenech France had more center back combinations than a rubik's cube. Both Mexes and Rami have been paired together since Blanc's first game in charge and it shows. Both players appear to be building a strong working relation and both have elevated their game, Mexes in particular. Sad to say, but watching him yesterday is slightly frustrating when you think that Domenech never put faith in him and rather constantly forced a round peg into a square hole by slotting Abidal there.
  • Speaking of Abidal - solid work at left back....are you watching Domenech?
  • Lloris - steady as he goes, strong save end of the game at the feet of Hulk.
Look for deep thoughts from The Frog once I can watch the game in its entirety. I will take any win over a team like Brazil, even if they were a man down for 45 minutes! 

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

France v Brazil - some great memories

I am sure many of you have seen these videos over and over, but a few videos of memories I have of the Brazil v France match ups. Enjoy.

Just and insane goal from Carlos. I remember watching this game in a Paris bistro and thinking "there is no way that ball went did it move like that??" watching it again today I still have that thought. Amazing left foot from the Brazilian fullback.

Speaking of Roberto Carlos...I remember watching this epic battle and wondering how did Henry find himself alone on the far post. And then I realized that Roberto Carlos was suppose to be marking him...but clearly was thinking about getting a head start on the counter attack and decided he did not need to track Henry, even a slight little shirt tug, nudge or jogging next to Henry might have made the volley go over the goal.

Unfortunately I never saw this classic live, back then the US audience was limited...but I do recall seeing the highlights and reading about the game. I remember seeing Bats save the Zico penalty and (even thought I knew the outcome) still made me jump up from my seat.

Of course this is the ultimate memory! How can it be otherwise. Interesting note, many of the members of the other three mentioned memories were at this match - Roberto Carlos, Zico, Platini and Zidane...still gives me chills watching the video. Of course watching it makes me scratch my head as to why why why Guivarch was in the French side, let alone starting?? He wasted 2 clear goal scoring chances in the finals...awful. Clearly Les Bleus won that finals without a striker!

Dunga's influence on Brazil still evident.

After the World Cup one of the biggest criticisms of the Brazilian manager Dunga was that he was playing too defensive a brand of football, not allowing the Samba Boys demonstrate their flair and creativity. Upon his ouster it was hoped by many fans of La Selecao that they would return to a style of yesteryear. Surprise surprise, what appears to be the line up for today's match will feature a 4-3-1-2

L'équipe probable contre la France : Julio Cesar - Daniel Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, André Santos - Elias, Lucas, Hernanes - Renato Augusto - Robinho, Pato

In form with Brazil
3 deep lying midfielders? That is more of a Catenaccio of Italian fame....with 7 players lined up deeper on the pitch. Granted, the Brazilian fullbacks are really much more oriented to pushing forward than in defending - Daniel Alves being the more offensive oriented of the pair. Watch him play for Barca and at times it appears Barca have a 3 man back line with Alves constantly pushed high into the opponent's 18 yard box. However this is necessary if you are playing with a 3 man holding midfield - the fullbacks are expected to provide the width and flanking attack that wold usually be assumed by wide midfielders or wingers. Of course the front pair of Rohinho and Pato are lethal enough on their own, with Pato on quite a goal scoring run as of late for Brazil. Yet without Kaka to anchor their midfield, will the two front men be able to get the service necessary to spring the French defense? Of course Menezes could push up Augusto and play a more offensive 4-3-3 formation, however that might make Brazil very vulnerable in the midfield and open up a lot of space for Malouda, Menez and Gourcuff.

The key for France will be how does Malouda and Menez deal with the marauding Brazilian fullbacks and will they force the French fullbacks - Sagna and Abidal to hold deeper for fear of the Brazilian flanks coming in from deep? With Brazil lining up two high strikers it will most likely force the French back line to also hold a deeper line - Rami and Mexes will need to look for Diarra and M'Vila to shadow one of the Brazilian striking tandem to allow a French center back some freedom to cover. Offensively it will be interesting to see how France will be able to get the space necessary for Benzema to create and hopefully put necessary pressure on the Brazilian goal. I could see the Real Madrid striker drift wide at times to take the space most likely vacated by Alves and look to make some runs from these angles, force the Brazilian center backs to have to move wide to cover. This could open some diagonal channels for the likes of Malouda and Menez to run into, and hopefully have a Gourcuff that has found his passing boots.

Should be an interesting tactical match. I see it ending 1-1, goals from Pato and Diarra.

Allez les Bleus!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Blanc to announce captain Wednesday - new candidates?

Ever since Titi Henry was relegated to watching games from the substitutes bench, there has not been a clear cut choice for captain with Les Bleus. Patrice Evra tried the arm band on for size during the debacle that was South Africa, then Laurent Blanc ushered in his reign by giving Mexes the arm band and then rotating it through a few players - Malouda, Diarra and Lloris.

Blanc has mentioned on more than one occasion that he does not have a clear cut choice to wear the arm band long term - but he has a group of players in mind that could assume the honor. So will he look to a different captain to lead out Les Bleus onto the Stade de France pitch tomorrow? I have a sneaking feeling that Alou Diarra will once again don the captain's arm band.
Anyone who can "stand up" to Crouch deserves the arm band....heheee

The Bordeaux man has assumed the responsibility of captain for the majority of France's European Cup qualifiers, not a small task. He was also Blanc's captain when the former France Libero was at Bordeaux. Diarra appears to have elevated himself in Blanc's long term plans as a pillar in front of the French back 4. His partnership with M'Vila would appear to be the holding duo that Blanc will lean on moving forward. We shall see who leads Les Bleus out against Brazil tomorrow.

Odds of wearing the captain's arm band:
  • Diarra 2:1
  • Malouda 4:1
  • Mexes 6:1
  • Rami 7:1
  • Lloris 7:1
  • Abidal 12:1
Allez les Bleus!

Les Bleus with a 5 man midfield? Might not be an option...

The latest news out of Paris is that Laurent Blanc might go with a 4-5-1 formation heading into the match against Brazil.

L'EQUIPE PROBABLE : Lloris - Sagna, Rami, Mexs, Abidal - A.Diarra, M'Vila, Ménez, Gourcuff, Malouda - Benzema

The keeper and back 4 are no surprise. Gourcuff seems to be slotted as the #10, even though his recent form has not been at the level he set a few seasons ago. The other players all make sense - 2 holding players in Diarra and M'Vila, Benzema as the lone striker and Malouda/Menez giving width. To me the real issue is whether France should hand the keys of the offense over to Gourcuff or should Blanc go with a "beefier" holding line - add Diaby over Gourcuff - and look for his front three to carry the offense?

A front 3 of Malouda - Benzema - Menez might be enough to give Brazil some problems, with the likes of Diaby creating some space in the middle of the park and this might be a good combination, much like what France did versus Serbia. In the end I think Blanc will want to get Gourcuff out there to see what he can do, figure out if he is back on the right path to living up to his potential or if the creative engine is really in the hands of Nasri.

Interesting dilemma for Blanc.

Monday, February 07, 2011

News bulletin - Qatar World Cup back to the summer...much to do about nothing

So the fearless leader of FIFA has once again flip flopped and is now saying, as we knew all along, is going to be held in the summer! Wow, how novel the World Cup to be played when it is suppose to be played. The fact we have dragged on this long waffling back and forth as to whether or not the tournament would be moved to the winter has been a monumental waste of time and effort. All this has done is demonstrate how ridiculous the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar is to start with. I have gone over this in prior posts so will not rehash my complaining...but I have to let out another sigh and need to scratch my head once again as to why the World Cup has been awarded to a nation who has little football pedigree and is really not a nation ready to host such an important sporting event.

Then again I guess petro-dollars trumps worthy bids any given day.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

France v Brazil - Blanc announces his first list for 2011

Laurent Blanc unveiled his list of players for the February 9th friendly versus Brazil. The question going into the announcement was whether or not he would recall Evra (Ribery was also eligible post suspension but injury made his inclusion moot). The answer to that was a non call up for the Manchester United left back, not entirely surprising.
The list:

La sélection contre le Brésil :
Gardiens : Carrasso, Lloris, Mandanda
Défenseurs : Abidal, Clichy, Koscielny, Mexès, Rami, Réveillère, Sagna, Sakho
Milieux de terrain : Cabaye, Diaby, A. Diarra, Gourcuff, M’Vila, Malouda, Matuidi
Attaquants : Benzema, Gameiro, Hoarau, Rémy, Menez

No surprises in goal, Lloris should be the starter at Stade De France. On defense it is good to see the Arsenal man - Koscielny called up. Between himself, Sakho and Kaboul I think we are seeing who will assume the mantel of central defense for Les Bleus in the not to distant future. Also I hope this first call up means that the Gunner will be committed to playing for France - he does have the possibility of playing for Poland.

The midfield will miss the presence of another Gunner - Nasri. Injury will not allow him to play for a few weeks so not available for the squad. Which is tough since he is one of the most in form players for Blanc these days and has emerged as one of creative forces for both Arsenal and France. His partnership with Gourcuff and Malouda brought a lot to the table against England and demonstrated how dynamic the French national team could be with a more creative midfield. One minor surprise was the inclusion of Matuidi, not that he does not deserve the call up but just how far have LDiarra and Toulalan fallen in the pecking order for holding midfielder?

Up front no surprises either, Blanc seems to have placed his faith in Benzema, even thought the former Lyon striker remains in the Mourinho dog house at Real Madrid. The return of Menez is a good sign, he brings the flexibility to play up front as a striker or drop wide and play as a winger or even outside midfielder.

Based on his options and the opponent I would not be surprised if Blanc decided to go back and play a 4-3-3. Without the services of Nasri, I think that Blanc will not look to play a 3 man attacking midfield, although he could with a certain combination.

  • Lloris in goal
  • Back 4 should resemble the one from Wembley, with Abidal back at left back, which is one of the main reasons we did not see Evra back in the squad: Abidal, Rami, Mexes, Sagna as the back 4.
  • 3 midfielders who I think Blanc will look to mimic what he did away to Bosnia - M'Vila, Diarra, Diaby.  You might even see a start for Cabaye in the place of Diaby. This would give Blanc 3 holding/defensive midfielders, but who have the ability to start the attack and contribute on the offensive side. Blanc would look to these three to try and snuff out any oxygen the Brazilian midfield would need to mount sustained offenses.
  • Up front a 3 man attack - Malouda, Benzema and Remy. The two wide players can easily drop back to help in the midfield while Benzema would be the point of attack.
If Blanc decides to go back to the 4-2-3-1, Diarra and M'Vila stay as the two holding players, insert Gourcuff in between Malouda and Menez with Benzema up top.

There are some interesting cards to play for Blanc. I think if Gourcuff plays much will be expected of him, without Nasri on the pitch it will be up to the Lyon midfielder to carry the creative side of the French attack. The back 4 seems to be starting to gel, especially if Abidal continues to regain his form at left back...which is really where he should have been playing all along. Blanc has a deep pool when it comes to the holding spots, the question remains can he find the right combination offensively for Les Bleus.

See you next week!
Allez les Bleus!!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Arsenal making a move for a central defender...too bad the transfer window is closed

Coming to the EPL
Reports coming out of L'Equipe points to Arsenal putting together a bid for PSG defender Sakho. Not a huge surprise that the Gunners are looking to add the young France central defender to their roster. Unfortunately they should have tried to add him this winter if they think they have a legitimate chance at the EPL title. Maybe their lack of movement during the winter transfer is an indication that they do not think they can win the title...or more of Wenger's stubbornness.

Adding Sakho will be a solid move for Arsenal, although I would be torn since he would be leaving PSG - however I always knew that his time in Paris was not going to be a long term situation. Yet will the move be a season too late? Having him for the second half of this season would have bolstered the Arsenal central defense and added depth to a position ravaged by injury - giving Arsenal a chance to challenge for the title. Instead we are left in a lurch, excited at the prospect of adding a young talent, but frustrated that we are penny wise and pound foolish.

I guess in the end that is our lot these days as Arsenal fans.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Some fiscal responsibility in the future?

I realize that is hard to believe after the spending spree we just witnessed in the EPL at the end of the transfer window...I am still flabbergasted at the fee Liverpool paid for Andy Carroll. £35m...really? I am not sure who advised John Henry on that one, but clearly the owner of the Red Sox and Liverpool is not shy to splash out the cash this year...see how much he has paid Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to play for the Red Sox (being a Red Sox fan I am not complaining mind you). However this latest spending spree has caught the eye of UEFA, who have come out and said that they will be serious when it comes to enforcing more sound fiscal policies for clubs.

European teams will need to be fiscally sound if they hope to play in European competitions. Sounds good. It will be difficult to enforce - example what if a billionaire Russian buys a London club and basically uses his own piles of cash to subsidize the team's books to ensure there is no "debt." I realize that this does not construe breaking even on "soccer business" however I am sure there will be ways around that. Maybe this Russian's other holdings will magically spend an inordinate amount of money to have some sponsorships with the club. Or maybe many of the non-player expenses will be "outsourced" and covered by a holding company, therefore moving the costs off the club's books.

In light of what happened over the past few days, this is a good sign, but UEFA better be crystal clear as to what they mean by "soccer" business as well as how they will be scrutinizing the books. Otherwise we will just make more lawyers and accountants wealthy as they play shell games with the finances and books associated with football clubs.

Winter transfer window closes - the crazy season for Liverpool

Um okay, £50m for Torres...making it the 4th biggest transfer in history. Wow.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo (£80m)
Man Utd-Real Madrid (July 2009)
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (£56.5m)
Inter Milan-Barcelona (July 2009)
3. Kaka (£56m)
AC Milan-Real Madrid (June 2009)
4. Fernando Torres (£50m)
Liverpool-Chelsea (Jan 2011)

Not bad for a player that Liverpool spent £20m for - 81 goals over 142 matches while playing for the Reds - a good return. With the acquisition of Suarez and Carroll, for a combined £57.7m, Liverpool is still at a loss during this transfer window. I am also not sure that spending £35m for Carroll was a wise purchase. I realize that the former Newcastle striker earned a recent cap for England and has scored 31 goals over his 81 game career with Newcastle, but is he really worth such a large transfer sum? For another 10m pounds Liverpool could have pried away Aguero from Atletico Madrid...who would you rather have? I would opt for Maradona's son-in-law. The acquisition of Suarez appears like a wiser purchase for Liverpool, while the Uruguayan striker might not be as much of a "star" as Torres, he remains one of the games deadliest strikers - same number of goals as Torres, 81 but in 32 fewer games...that is efficient. Seems like the Liverpool moves were questionable at best...a deeper look at the numbers:
  • Carroll 0.38 goals per game - £35m
  • Torres 0.57 goals per game - £50m
  • Aguero 0.38 goals per game - NA
  • Suarez 0.73 goals per game - £22.7m
Looks like Liverpool made a smart purchase on Suarez and very questionable with Carroll. I am not sure the Reds needed another striker after acquiring Suarez.

Not overpaid -

Could they have been better served getting another midfielder to help shoulder the creative midfield load from Gerrard? Maybe another play making midfielder such as Honda. Rumor is CSKA was willing to shop him this transfer season. Or a defensive minded midfielder, something that Liverpool has been severely lacking since Mascherano and Alonso both left - I am sure that Rennes would have been willing to part with their starlet M'Vila, which was rumored to be in the works - and for far less much money (£15m +). This would have been a better move for Liverpool than acquiring two strikers, one of which was way overpaid for!

Coming to Stanford Bridge
What about the move from the Chelsea side? £50m for Torres was a lot of money to spend for the Spanish striker. Granted, when it comes to Chelsea there is no such thing as a "budget" or financial constraints. Taking the amount of money spent aside, add to this the £25.5m spent on defender Luiz from Benefica and the "old" drunken sailor Chelsea is back, however from a football stand point I think the moves were wise. Chelsea are an old team, the addition of two high level players who are 23 and 26 years old (Torres being the older of the two), will add some much need youth to a team desperate to infuse their talent base with younger talent. I think that Torres' time at Liverpool had run its course - I think the Spaniard's form dipped when his countryman (Rafa) was ousted as manager. The change of scenery will benefit Torres as well as being part of a solid strike force of Drogba, Anelka and Kalou. As well as having the likes of Lampard and Malouda feeding him up front. The addition of the young Brazilian center back, Luiz,  will infuse some youth in an aging central defensive pairing of Terry and Alex. These moves might thrust Chelsea back into the title race, especially since Arsenal and Manchester United did not do much during the transfer window.

Finally, not surprising that Wenger and Arsenal basically did nothing...other than loaning out a disappointing Vela. No center back, no keeper, no striker....oh well.

The transfer window closes, with some moving parts in the EPL it will be interesting to see how this impacts the race. Chelsea clearly realizes it had to do something but will it prove to be too little tool late? Liverpool splashed some serious cash, but not sure their purchases were 100% wise...Carroll...seriously? The other contenders - Tottenham (rebuffed in their advances for the aforementioned Aguero), Arsenal and Manchester United stayed pat.

Of course cannot overlook Manchester City who splashed out £27m for Dzeko - who has a 0.59 goals per game yet comes in cheaper than Carroll!!!!  Just makes you wonder what Liverpool is thinking!