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.