Monday, March 28, 2011

France v Croatia - back to the future?

After a successful, albeit bland, win last week versus Luxembourg, France will play a friendly versus Croatia tomorrow at Stade de France. There are many questions as to what line up Blanc will roll out? He has declared that he will make some changes to the team that walked out last Friday, but what changes?

On defense, Blanc has already stated Lloris in goal and Mexes/Rami as central pairing. Wise move. While Mexes and Rami have developed a successful partnership, quickly, it never hurts to give them more games together - the partnership has only been in place since last Fall, not a long time by international standards. Other than these three positions, the other roles seem wide open.
  • Clichy back on the left? The Gunner could find himself back in the starting line up after apparently been pushed to third in the peeking order, alternatively I could see Blanc slotting Evra back at left back. Why? Inevitably there will be some strong reaction from the fans geared towards Evra and Ribery for their roles in the South African debacle, better to get it out of the way in a friendly than allow it to linger. Or maybe Clichy gets the start and have Evra come on as a substitute to suffer his slings and arrows.
  • Sagna on the right or give Reveillere some time? This one is interesting because the Lyon player is 31, so why does this matter? Not sure if he is in the long term plans for Les Bleus, while Sagna is 3 years younger and should be the French right back for a while to come. Does Blanc want to give a fringe bench player time or allow his starter more time to work with his defensive partners?
  • Midfield mixer - I will assume that Blanc will opt again for a 4-2-3-1 type formation, in which case the midfield might see the most change. Will Diarra find his place back in the starting line up? How about the Ribery - Malouda debate? And Gourcuff? I think that we will see the likes of Menez and Diarra out on the pitch. I would not be surprised if Blanc slotted Diarra and Gourcuff together as the deep lying midfielders, maybe playing along side his former Bordeaux team mate
    will be just the formula Gourcuff needs to get back on track. In addition, I think Blanc will slot Ribery on the left with Menez on the right and Nasri in the middle. Allow his team to function with a player who prefers the right (Menez) and one that excels on the left (Ribery). This would push M'Vila and Malouda to the bench.
  • Stay with the hot hand up front? Will Blanc start Benzema? The Real Madrid striker has had a great run of late, and could have added to his goal scoring tally against Luxembourg were it not for a slightly better effort 1v1 on the keeper. What about the other strikers? I think that Blanc will want to run Benzema out there for part of the game, see how he does with the likes of Menez, Nasri and Ribery behind him. However I would not be surprised if the other strikers did not get some run in the second half.
I think Blanc will go with a 4-2-3-1, but a more offensive line up than the formation would otherwise indicate.

Clichy, Mexes, Rami,Sagna
Gourcuff, Diarra
Ribery, Nasri, Menez

I see Evra coming on for Clichy in the second half, Remy in for Menez and Gameiro for Benzema.

Allez les Bleus!!!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Special One at PSG??? Yes Please...

In an upcoming interview, The Special One, discusses how close he came to managing PSG. Wow. That would have been...well....very interesting for PSG and Ligue 1. In the end he decided to go from Chelsea to Inter, not entirely surprising Ligue 1 does not really stack up to the EPL, La Liga and Serie A. What was very interesting is what Mourinho had to say about why he even gave PSG some consideration.

«J'ai déjà dit que je ne comprenais pas comment une des plus grandes capitales du monde pouvait ne pas avoir un club de dimension mondiale, a-t-il poursuivi. Paris est un cas unique. C'est quand, la dernière fois que Paris a disputé la Ligue des champions ? 2004 ? C'est impensable, dans une ville qui aime autant le football, qui compte autant d'immigrés, portugais et autres.»

 Basically what the Special One is saying is it is inexplicable why one of Europe's premier cities does not have a world class footballing club, especially considering the talent pool just within the city limits. I could not agree with him more strongly. Mourinho might be the master of the obvious, but that challenge and potential seems to have given him a serious pause for thought. Let us just hope that the powers that be at PSG recognize this and become serious about taking the club to the right level both in France and Europe.

France secure the essential - 3 points - style points do not count!

Les Bleus come out of their match versus Luxembourg with the essential - 3 points. What matters is the score sheet, unlike Olympic figure skating, there are no points for beauty and style! Thankfully. Not that France played an ugly game, just could have been expected do to more with what they had. Les Bleus secure their spot on top of their group, but much work remains:

The highlights:

The Good:
  • 3 points....yes that is simplistic but that is the most important take away for France. Did anyone harp on the fact France defeated Andorra 1-0 in the 2000 Euro qualifiers? For those who have forgotten, France went on to qualify and win Euro 2000. After a poor start to the campaign, Les Bleus have won all their matches and have secured themselves at the top of Group D.
  • Le President thinking about tactics
  • It was refreshing to see the manager adapt his tactics to the opponent, what do I mean by this? Unlike Domenech who always stuck with 2 holding midfielders, Laurent Blanc was open to trying a more offensive side versus a nation he knew would park the bus in front of their goal. Granted Gourcuff was slotted deep, similar to a holding midfielder next to M'Vila, but that tactic had offense in mind much more than another midfield destroyer to slow down the opponent's attack. Similar to when France traveled to Bosnia and Blanc rolled out a 4-3-3 with 3 holding midfielders, completely snuffing out the oxygen for the Bosnian midfield. I understand a manager wants to find his tactics and stick to them, but being able to have some adaptability is also vital. You build on a core of players and allow the tactics to revolve around them depending on the situation.
  • Mexes and Rami, once again demonstrated how vital they are to France's aspirations and showed again why Blanc has given them the keys to the central defensive pairing for Les Bleus. Mexes added a goal as well and Rami was very present on free kicks putting on two decent headers on the Luxembourg goal. Unlike Domenech, Blanc understands the importance to allowing your central defensive pairing to take form and build. So far so good, keep it going. Les Bleus need to continue building on this success, it really is the key to how well they could do next summer.
The Bad:
  • Kick and run....even with a more offensive and technically aware line up, I felt that Les Bleus tried to mirror an old style England or Scottish team....thump the ball high and far and hope your striker latches on to the ball. Luxembourg played 9 players behind the ball, at times backing off deep into their own end not even pressuring at the half way line. This allowed the likes of Mexes, Rami and M'Vila to move the ball up from deep. Rather than look to string some short passes - on the ground - they would too often look to thump deep balls to Benzema or Ribery or Malouda. Too often these would go long, fall into harmless areas or find themselves in the arms of the Luxembourg keeper. France had too much technical talent on the pitch to revert to such tactics they should have looked to play short passes - square passes - keep probing the defensive shell. It is incredibly difficult for any team to consistently defend. At some point openings will show and diagonal passes will open up. Look at what Barcelona does....they are not afraid to knock the ball around, play keep away and once you show a seem put a through ball in for Villa or Messi. 
  • Because of the kick and run, the wingers did not get involved enough. Malouda and Ribery seemed invisible for much of the game. The full backs were also not as active as I would have liked it - Evra and Sagna did have some forays up the pitch, but more was required. The pace on the wings should have been better utilized.
  • France finishing, a 2-0 score line versus the 117th ranked nation would not be seen as a huge offensive success. It was not so much the lack of chances, granted there were few, but on the occasions France did have in front of goal they did not show the clinical finishing one would hope. Case in point, Benzema makes a de-cleating move on a Luxembourg defender to find himself 1v1 versus the keeper but shots poorly allowing another defender to come back and counter the shot. Must get that ball through to goal...and finish!
  • I am starting to wonder if Gourcuff will ever regain the promise he had a few season ago. The Lyon play maker was slotted deeper, which I think could work for him, but he seemed tentative and forced the game. Granted he did tally another goal and he did some interesting things. But he still seemed to be forcing his game. What made him integral to France a few years back was he was one of the few players with the vision and guile to try the last pass or flick it feels like he is looking to do this too often rather than allowing the game to come to him. He did the same against Brazil where at one point he tried to take on 3 defenders and step over himself to get through...rather than protect possession and look to recreate. In this match he tried too often to launch long through balls, looking to spring an offensive strike from 35 meters rather than contend himself with simple triangle passes, square passes and even back passes to reset. He still has the potential and talent, but must stop forcing his game.
The Ugly:
  • The Ribery effect...the first game back for Ribery and Evra after the South Afrian fiasco. So why ugly? The debate of where Ribery should play reared its ugly head again. Starting the match the Bayern winger was on the right and Malouda on the left. The last 20 minutes of the match Ribery found himself on the left, his preferred spot, and clearly his game moved up a level. It was his run that led to the second goal. He was very dangerous making runs at the defense whereas in the first part of the game it was almost invisible. So once again we have the ugly debate of where should Ribery play? Malouda seemed firmly entrenched on the left, but that is where the Kaiser does his best work. With Remy, Valbuena and Menez, Blanc has solid right sided wingers he can leverage...unlike Domenech and Gouvou, so there is no need to shoehorn Ribery on the right as a stop gap. Blanc could even opt to slot Nasri out to the right. I realize it is a good problem to have but it will force Blanc to wrestle with what is his best formation, and can he afford to have Malouda on the bench?
Les Bleus are sitting in a good position. They have not dropped points since they lost to Belarus to start the qualifiers. They won one of their tougher matches, away to Bosnia. However much work is to be done, France cannot afford to drop any points to the likes of Albania or Romania, neither will be easy. Especially considering they must travel to both - they also have to go to Belarus who already defeated France at Stade de France. They do have the last match against Bosnia at home, and they remain the biggest threat to France. But I hope that by then France have secured the top spot of the group.

Group D


1France France520120040181712
2Belarus Belarus51101112213128
3Albania Albania52100112214408
4Bosnia-Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina41011102116427
5Romania Romania401001202225-32
6Luxembourg Luxembourg501200201408-81

Bosnia and Romania have a game in hand so the standings will look very different once those matches are played. Assume Bosnia win that match they are only 2 points behind Les Bleus, if that holds until the final game, France will not be assured of qualification until I said - Much work to be done.

Allez les Bleus.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Manchester United - losing money with the best of them

The latest from our favorite family owned business - Manchester United - has them losing a tidy sum of $171million. Yikes. Couple this with the shenanigans that went on last year with Barcelona just to ensure they could keep the lights on and once again we are reminded of how disjointed some of the business of football has become. I realize that the reality is you cannot run a sports team like a business, your goal is not to own a team to make money and gobs of profits. On the flip side you cannot run a sports team like a drunken sailor on 24 hour shore leave: completely disregarding financial responsibility. So the Glazers lost A LOT of money...and still need to service debt on the Red Devils. We all witnessed what happened when another North American partnership bought a storied English football side - Liverpool. Can this be far into the future for Manchester United? I, as are many Manchester United fans, am convinced that the Glazers never bought Manchester United for the love of the squad or the storied history, but because they saw an asset they could leverage. An asset they could milk for money and loans. An asset they could bleed dry to line their collective pockets. Thankfully for them, they have continued to win, but at some point the financial irresponsibility will catch up to them. We already started seeing some of this with the sale of Ronaldo to Real Madrid. Can further sales be far behind?

I certainly will not shed a tear over their hardship, but for the overall benefit of the game something must change.

Monday, March 21, 2011

France welcomes back Evra and Ribery...moving on

Okay I tried to publish a quick post over the weekend from my iPad but clearly it did not make it...I will blame the terrible wifi in my hotel. But I am finally back at my laptop with somewhat normal web connectivity so here are some thoughts on Laurent Blanc's latest list for France's up, first the list (to be noted that Diaby has already withdrawn to be replaced by Cabaye)

GARDIENS : Cédric Carrasso (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Lyon), Steve Mandanda (Marseille)
DEFENSEURS : Gaël Clichy (Arsenal), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Philippe Mexès (AS Rome), Adil Rami (Lille), Anthony Réveillère (Lyon), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Mamadou Sakho (Paris SG),
MILIEUX : Abou Diaby (Arsenal), Alou Diarra (Bordeaux), Yoann Gourcuff (Lyon), Yann M'Vila (Rennes), Florent Malouda (Chelsea), Samir Nasri (Arsenal)
ATTAQUANTS : Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kevin Gameiro (Lorient), Guillaume Hoarau (Paris S-G), Jérémy Menez (AS Roma), Loïc Rémy (Marseille), Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich)

The biggest surprises, but not really surprises, are the inclusion of Ribery and Evra. The former would probably have been in the list last go around had the Bayern winger not been injured. The former is interesting. To me he was selected primarily due to Abidal's absence. The past few matches have seen the Barcelona left back, reestablish himself as the first choice left back for France. The question remains, will Blanc go with what he has established as the hierarchy at the position and have Clichy start or does the Manchester United and former France captain have a claim to his old role? I am not convinced that Clichy is an uncontested choice as the #2 left back for France so there is a chance that Evra finds himself back on the pitch.

The other question is what formation will Blanc look to roll out? With Nasri and Gourcuff back in the mix, will Blanc go with two play-makers together again as he did with success end of last year? Not that France should be taking Luxembourg lightly, they have taken points from other nations in qualifiers, but Les Bleus should win the match. The following will be a friendly with Croatia, which might be interesting from a coaches stand point since it was Bilic's dive that saw Laurent Blanc miss the World Cup finals in both men will face off from the side lines. However the game is a friendly so another chance to build, but not a concern with regards to Euro Qualifiers.

What might France's line up resemble? I think that Blanc might stick with his 4-2-3-1

Sagna, Mexes, Rami, Clichy
M'Vila, Diarra
Nasri, Gourcuff, Ribery

Ribery might be given some run on the left side of midfield with Gourcuff in the middle and Nasri slotting back right. Benzema has found his scoring touch again for Real Madrid so continues to be the first choice up front. The inclusion of Menez will also beg the question of whether or not he should get another shot out right, sliding Nasri back to the center and sitting Gourcuff. It will be interesting to see how Blanc plays this and how the returning players are integrated.

Allez les Bleus.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Best wishes for rapid recovery for Abidal - opens door for Evra and FFF?

The latest from Barcelona is that their left back , Eric Abidal, will be operated for a liver tumor. All reports point to his ability to have a normal recovery and will be back on the pitch in a reasonable time frame. That is the essential and we wish Eric the best of luck and speedy recovery. Of course his absence prior to Blanc's list for the upcoming matches against Luxembourg and Croatia opens an interesting question: will Evra be brought back into the fold?

Next FFF left back?
Blanc had clearly slotted Abidal as his starting left back, and I would assume that once Abidal is back on the pitch he will continue to assume that slot. However in the short term who will be in that position? Based on the prior matches it would appear that the Gunner's left back Clichy will be given the starting role. But what about Evra? Will the Manchester United left back find his way back onto the list. Other alternatives - Tremoulinas (played under Blanc at Bordeaux) or Cissokho from Lyon. I think that Blanc will take this as a chance to call up Tremoulinas and at some level I think that the competition for the #2 left back is open, I am not convinced that Clichy has a lock on that spot. Tremoulinas has more of an offense minded game and has more consistency when it comes to his crosses than his Arsenal counterpart. I do think that Blanc sees Evra as the center piece of what transpired in South Africa last summer and is not convinced he would be a welcome presence in the French dressing room. We will see tomorrow when Blanc unveils his list.

Best of luck to Abidal and wishes for a rapid recovery.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

PSG and Arsenal a tale of two cities...

After this weekend it dawned on me why I root for PSG and Arsenal...okay aside from the fact I am from Paris and Arsenal has become a French club in the EPL since Wenger has is the fact both teams have recently done their best to tease and then disappoint. Maybe more so with the London outfit than with PSG, let's face it, PSG have not been in real contention for the league title in forever and have not been a fringe European power since the late 1990s.

The latest set back from both clubs - Arsenal losing the Carling Cup finals, getting squashed by Barcelona in the Champions League and humiliated by Manchester United in the FA Cup 1/4 finals for PSG it is slowly sliding back down the table after mounting a legitimate challenge for Ligue 1 and at least a spot in the Champions League...oh yeah they also lost 2-1 to Benefica in the Europa League. We are not yet to St Patricks day and both clubs are once again on the outside looking in when it comes to legitimate trophies. So what to think about this?

In reality both clubs are very different. Arsenal, not only compete in the highest profile league in the world, they share their city with an array of other clubs (Chelsea, Tottenham, West Ham and Fulham just in the EPL in London - add to this the likes of Queens Park Rangers, Crystal Palace and Milwall). The Gunners have been able to find and attract some of the world's top footballing talent - Cesc, Vieira, Henry to name a few. In addition they are always in the conversation when it comes to top notch players - Essien, Hazard, Sakho to name a few from the past and current side. Now whether or not Arsenal actually make real efforts to secure these players is another story. On the other side of the channel you have PSG, they own Paris. Can you name me the next club in Paris? There is still RCF Paris and Paris FC, but if you can name me any of their players or have seen them play than kudos. PSG is not only the top dog in Paris but they are always seen as a potential top dog in Ligue 1. PSG have had some success in finding some top notch talent, most often early before that talent moves on to the bigger leagues - Ronaldino and Leonardo to name two. Recently that has not been the case, they have developed some of their home grown talent (again when you are the only team in a city like Paris you have a treasure chest of talent at your doorstep), with the likes of Sakho, Chantome and Makonda. In recent seasons PSG have been more successful in bringing in some veteran talent - Hourau, Giuly, Erding, Makelele and Nene to name a few. Clearly enough talent and youth to be competitive in Ligue 1. Yet both PSG and Arsenal seem to fall short every year from achieving their goals. Why? Neither team has the appropriate player strategy.

What do I mean? Wenger is the master of finding up and coming talent, raiding clubs' youth set ups - see PSG and Anelka or Barcelona and Cesc - he then nurtures and develops that talent. In past seasons he was able to add the proper mix of veterans to partner with that up and coming youth but he has recently avoided making the big name signings - rather than bring in a Wiltord or Pires to add that extra level of talent he rather sign a bunch of 18 year olds. So what he has is a talented team, but one that lacks that all important element of depth and veteran steel necessary to compete on the levels Arsenal aspire to. PSG on the other hand is schizophrenic when it comes to their player strategy - they have a good youth set up, but seem to grab whatever player is the flavor of the day to round out that roster. Sessegnon, sign him to run the team, oops Nene now is that player so the Benin player is out. Erdinc he will score, but wait let us get Hourau. Giuly, Coupet and Makelele, on the retirement heap so let's give them one more kick at the can....granted the revolving door that is the management seat does not help. Players such as Remy, Gignac, Gourcuff are available...we will pass.

Both clubs need to revise their player strategy, otherwise they will continue to fall short of their aspiration. Arsenal need to open the purse strings, take a chance on some big name veterans. Keep developing that youth, but do not rely on always uncovering gems. PSG needs to target the best talent in Ligue 1- they need to be aggressive for players such as Sow, Hazard, Matuidi, Payet, Martin and Sissoko to name a few and look to bolster that with one or two veterans from other European Leagues. Maybe then, both clubs will be able to get the silverware both are so desperate to gain.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

New France Nike road kit...prison or in the navy?

So Nike unveiled the away strip for the French National team yesterday...and it seemed to be a combination of sailor, prisoner or just eye sore. Good post about the kit read here. I am not really sure what to make of it.

If I stare long enough what will I see???
I guess you cannot fault Nike for taking a chance with this design. It does pull from the traditional French beach ware that comes from what French sailors used to wear. It also looks like something Jean Paul Gautier would wear, how about that - including fashion designers with football!

For all the plainness the home strip gave us, this one goes the other direction. Of course I will have to acquire one of the kits and will wear it proudly...

I do agree with what Blanc said: In this strip you will be noticed so you better be good.

Monday, March 07, 2011