Sunday, March 27, 2011

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.


Jeff said...

Can Blanc afford to have Malouda on the bench?

Well, Blanc can have 7 subs to choose from, so I think there's a case for including Malouda. He's fairly reliable, even if his impact usually minimal. He has sort of invented his own position: a holding winger. He's a player Blanc can call on if France are up by several goals and just need to see a game out.

GFC said...

I think that is the dilemma, can France afford to put either Malouda or Ribery on the bench? Not sure. Malouda needs to bring some of his Chelsea form to Les Bleus. Unfortunately, with Ribery's form picking back up and Malouda's slipping a bit, it might force the Chelsea man to the bench. I also think that because there are some real solutions for the right - Remy, Valbuena and Menez - there is no reason to "force" Ribery to the right. Why make two positions weaker?

Again a good problem to have! Just need to find the right solution.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Ribery was mostly ineffective on the right. That's surprising, given that he played in the right in WC 2006, but it seems that there are better options for the right side than Ribery (and I don't mean Malouda). Menez (or, if playing with 2 DMs, Nasri) would be better. At the same time, I would hate to start Malouda on the bench in favor of Ribery. Maybe the solution is to use Ribery as a sub for Malouda?

GFC said...

The main issue is the form of both players, Malouda has not been playing at a high level as of late while Ribery is clearly moving back into his Kaiser role with Bayern. The beauty and challenge of international football is sometimes you just have too many players for the same role and not enough for another. Look at France's left backs - Evra, Abidal, Clichy, Tremoulinas, Cissokho to name a few that is very deep.

I trust that Le President will make the right choice and having options is never a bad thing.

Adam said...

by the way, in "ugly," you neglected to include the french uniforms. All dark blue with red socks is not attractive. (The blue should be a shade or two lighter)The away uniforms are much better.

GFC said...

@Adam not sure I would call the kit ugly, bland yes, but not ugly. The shirt has grown on me, but I would think a bit more flair would be expected.

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