Friday, November 18, 2011

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

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

Let's shake hands later...

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

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

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

Sepp go

Monday, November 14, 2011

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

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

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

Group I

The group of death!

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

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Belgium game ... for how many places?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that means 16 spots assured, 7 to fill.

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

Allez les Bleus.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Les Bleus - the next wave on defense

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

As usual: Injuries to deal with for Blanc

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

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

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

For the US match look for the following.

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

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

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

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

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

Late on look for Ribery to give way to Malouda.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 03, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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