Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 5 Moments of 2012

As we wind down 2012, here are what I see as the top 5 footballing moments of the year. Enjoy!

  • Messi unstoppable -The Barcelona and Argentinian superstar broke Das Bomber's 40 year old record for goals in a calendar year. Messi finished the year with 91 goals compared to Muller's 85 in 1972. Yikes.
  • Manchester City winning the EPL. The Citizens finally captured a little bit of the glory versus their cross town rivals - United. They did so in dramatic fashion during the last game of the year. The question becomes, can City continue to challenge and have they built their team for the long run? Their early crashing out of the Champions League leaves some wondering what this means long term.
  • PSG being acquired by a bottomless money pit. Speaking of Manchester City, the Man City of the Seine has seen a similar level of cash made available. Leading to the signings of the likes of Ibra and Silva. PSG has even found itself in the conversation for the likes of Ronaldo. Much like City, PSG will have to see if this new strategy will pay off in the long term.
  • Drogba goes out on top. Before heading off to China to join his Chelsea buddy - Anelka, Drogba found a way to put his stamp on the season by pulling Chelsea to Champions League glory. His equalizer in the dying moments of the finals and then his cool penalty kick were the final acts, but his play during the entire Champions League showed why he remains a force in football.
  • Spain does the unthinkable. The only story that could be #1 for the year - La Roja winning another international title! And with such devastating effect. Spain completely took apart Italy in the finals and in doing so became the first nation to win 3 international tournaments in a row. Unbelievable. 
It has been a great football year, without a major tournament in 2013 things might be a little more quiet. Although I think that the Confederation Cup will be worth watching - Brazil, Uruguay, Spain, Mexico and Italy all present. What stories will you remember from 2012?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

OH MY ..... you will not believe what came out of Domenech's mouth

I read this little sound bite from my favorite former French national team here. For those that cannot read French what Dumenech basically said:

He would love to go on and manage the USMNT. That they always get to the World Cup, they only have two "real" games versus Mexico. You get to visit some nice warm islands. And in the end no one really cares...

I cannot believe that he would believe ANYONE would give him another job to run a national team. At least not a nation that is half decent. Although I would laugh if he came to run the USMNT, after all the grief I took from my American soccer fans during Domenech's reign of terror...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Champions League - Match ups we want to see

So we have slogged through the group stages of the Champions League and are finally ready for the real competition to start. Don't get me started on the fact the whole thing needs to change, especially now that the Europa League might get dissolved. Sorry but I think things were better when there were three cup competitions and the CHAMPIONS of the domestic leagues played for the Champions League title! It also made, the then, UEFA cup mean something. But I digress...will rant about that in an another post.

We know the winners and runner ups and can start making wishes for the match ups we would want to see.

Interesting potential match ups -

PSG v Arsenal. Much has been rumored about Wenger and his connection with the PSG leadership. Could it be a try out for the future manager for PSG?

Celtic v Manchester United. Now that would be a tasty tie...SAF anyone?

Bayern v Real Madrid. Talk about a heavy weight battle.

Of course I have a rooting interest for PSG, so here are the teams I would not mind drawing:
Shaktar and Celtic

Teams I want to avoid: Really all the other teams!

Group A

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
France Paris Saint-Germain 6 5 0 1 14 3 +11 15
Portugal Porto 6 4 1 1 10 4 +6 13
Ukraine Dynamo Kyiv 6 1 2 3 6 10 −4 5
Croatia Dinamo Zagreb 6 0 1 5 1 14 −13 1
Dinamo Zagreb 1–1 0–2 0–2
Dynamo Kyiv 2–0 0–2 0–0
Paris Saint-Germain 4–0 4–1 2–1
Porto 3–0 3–2 1–0

Group B

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Germany Schalke 04 6 3 3 0 10 6 +4 12
England Arsenal 6 3 1 2 10 8 +2 10
Greece Olympiacos 6 3 0 3 9 9 0 9
France Montpellier 6 0 2 4 6 12 −6 2
Arsenal 2–0 3–1 0–2
Montpellier 1–2 1–2 1–1
Olympiacos 2–1 3–1 1–2
Schalke 04 2–2 2–2 1–0

Group C

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Spain Málaga 6 3 3 0 12 5 +7 12
Italy Milan 6 2 2 2 7 6 +1 8
Russia Zenit St. Petersburg 6 2 1 3 6 9 −3 7
Belgium Anderlecht 6 1 2 3 4 9 −5 5
Anderlecht 0–3 1–3 1–0
Málaga 2–2 1–0 3–0
Milan 0–0 1–1 0–1
Zenit St. Petersburg 1–0 2–2 2–3

Group D

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Germany Borussia Dortmund 6 4 2 0 11 5 +6 14
Spain Real Madrid 6 3 2 1 15 9 +6 11
Netherlands Ajax 6 1 1 4 8 16 −8 4
England Manchester City 6 0 3 3 7 11 −4 3
Ajax 1–4 3–1 1–4
Borussia Dortmund 1–0 1–0 2–1
Manchester City 2–2 1–1 1–1
Real Madrid 4–1 2–2 3–2

Group E

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Italy Juventus 6 3 3 0 12 4 +8 12
Ukraine Shakhtar Donetsk 6 3 1 2 12 8 +4 10
England Chelsea 6 3 1 2 16 10 +6 10
Denmark Nordsjælland 6 0 1 5 4 22 −18 1
Chelsea 2–2 6–1 3–2
Juventus 3–0 4–0 1–1
Nordsjælland 0–4 1–1 2–5
Shakhtar Donetsk 2–1 0–1 2–0

Group F

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Germany Bayern Munich 6 4 1 1 15 7 +8 13
Spain Valencia 6 4 1 1 12 5 +7 13
Belarus BATE Borisov 6 2 0 4 9 15 −6 6
France Lille 6 1 0 5 4 13 −9 3
BATE Borisov 3–1 0–2 0–3
Bayern Munich 4–1 6–1 2–1
Lille 1–3 0–1 0–1
Valencia 4–2 1–1 2–0

Group G

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Spain Barcelona 6 4 1 1 11 5 +6 13
Scotland Celtic 6 3 1 2 9 8 +1 10
Portugal Benfica 6 2 2 2 5 5 0 8
Russia Spartak Moscow 6 1 0 5 7 14 −7 3
Barcelona 0–0 2–1 3–2
Benfica 0–2 2–1 2–0
Celtic 2–1 0–0 2–1
Spartak Moscow 0–3 2–1 2–3

Group H

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
England Manchester United 6 4 0 2 9 6 +3 12
Turkey Galatasaray 6 3 1 2 7 6 +1 10
Romania CFR Cluj 6 3 1 2 9 7 +2 10
Portugal Braga 6 1 0 5 7 13 −6 3
Braga 0–2 1–2 1–3
CFR Cluj 3–1 1–3 1–2
Galatasaray 0–2 1–1 1–0
Manchester United 3–2 0–1 1–0

Monday, November 19, 2012

Domenech...back again

So our favorite French national team manager has found a way back into the spotlight with the upcoming release of his book - "Tous Seul." Translated, the title means "all alone," which is where I wish he had stayed. I will actually shell out some money to get the book, read about how Dumbenech was a victim in everything and he is not to blame. Sigh.

From some excerpts from the book, it sounds as if Domenech decides to blame everyone - Anelka, Henry, Ribery, Evra... for the terrible adventure in South Africa. While the players deserve blame, I cannot help but wonder what Domenech is complaining about when HE selected these players. This is not like a team that Domenech had to take over. He was the manager...he picked his team. Henry complained that he wasn't playing. Don't select him. Anelka was divisive. Leave him at home. Ribery was self-centered, don't bring him. I realize this is easier said than done. But seriously.

I look forward to reading what other pearls of wisdom come from Dumbenech. While it pains me to give him any of my money, I still want to read what it is like to be completely delusional. Must be nice.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ridiculous goal - Sweden v England

Some amazing goals yesterday, Valbuena's might have been the best one. Cutting in from the end line, dribbling two Italian defenders and then hitting the upper 90 from a ridiculous angle. Might have been...had this goal not been scored -

Unbelievable...pure audacity

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Have Les Bleus turned a corner? Come from behind to beat the Italians 2-1

Okay so I was not able to watch the game today...and even ESPN 3 did not offer the ability to see the replay. But I was able to find the high lights -

From the video, two fantastic goals from Les Bleus. Great way to end the international season for France. Let us hope they can continue to build on this success.

3 Holding midfielders? Maybe..or maybe 4-2-3-1

According to different publications, Les Bleus will either go with a 3 holding midfielder block or the old fashioned 4-2-3-1.

According to L'Equipe, we might see the 4-2-3-1, with Matuidi and Capoue as the holding players with, Menez, Valbuena and Ribery as the attacking three. Eurosport suggests the same.

And according to France Football, look for a 4-3-3 with Matuidi, Capoue and Gonalons as the holding players. It will be interesting to see who comes out of the tunnel later today in Italy.

I still think it would be interesting to see Gourcuff as part of the midfield in a 4-3-3.

Allez Les Bleus.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Deschamps mum about starters...except for one

With 24 hours to go, it appears that Deschamps has been mum with regards to who will walk out for France to face their trans-alpine neighbors. One things appears to be, possible - Valbuena might be in the starting line up for Les Bleus. But in what role...not sure. Add to this the apparent knocks pick up by both Cabaye and Menez, and we have a thinning roster from which DD can select.

Here is what I think France will do tomorrow. Deschamps will continue to lean on his 4-3-3.

Debuchy, Mbiwa, Sakho, Evra

I think the defense will be what Deschamps will look to lean on as much as possible during qualifiers, giving them more time together will be valuable.

The midfield and up front is where things will get interesting:

Only player we know will start...or will he???
I think Deschamps will line up these three in the middle - Gonalons, Gourcuff and Matuidi.  I look for Matuidi and Gonalons to be called on to do the dirty work in the midfield, the PSG midfielder deserves another start after his fantastic showing against Spain. Gourcuff will be allowed to play deeper, a role that actually suits him and allows him greater visibility of the field.

Up front I will look for Ribery back on the left, Giroud as the central attacker and Valbuena on the right. With Menez out, this is a chance to see Le Petit Velo out on the right flank.

I expect to see Payet get some time on one of the wings at some point in the match. Finally I hope that Tremoulinas gets some time on the field. After getting a late call up to replace Clichy, it would be interesting to see the Bordeaux left back, who is very offensive minded, to get some run. I think that he, if given the chance, has a card to play with Les Bleus.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

France v Italy we meet again old friend...

This past week Deschamps unveiled his list for the upcoming friendly against Italy, our old foe. In the list we have much of the same with not too many real surprises. What is a surprise are some of the absent names. The list -

Gardiens : Lloris (Tottenham/ ANG), Mandanda (Marseille), Landreau (Lille)
Défenseurs : Clichy (Manchester City/ ANG), Evra (Manchester United/ ANG), Debuchy (Lille), Jallet, Sakho (PSG), Rami (Valence/ ESP), Yanga-Mbiwa (Montpellier), Koscielny (Arsenal/ ANG).
Milieux : Cabaye (Newcastle/ ANG), Gourcuff, Gonalons (Lyon), Matuidi (PSG), Valbuena (Marseille), Capoue (Toulouse), M. Sissoko (Toulouse)
Attaquants : Giroud (Arsenal/ ANG), Gomis (Lyon), Ménez (PSG), Ribéry (Bayern Munich/ ALL), Payet (Lille)

Back in the mix...but what role?
Somewhat surprised to see Gourcuff back in the side. The Lyon midfielder has not been able to live up to the scintillating form he exhibited a few seasons ago for Bordeaux. Suffering through injuries and a drop in form has made many question what his long term future would be for France. Deschamps' actions indicate that the door is not entirely closed to the former golden boy of France football. Question is where does he fit in the Deschamps 4-3-3? He could play a deep lying role, similar to a Pirlo. Something I was a proponent of for a while. Or he could play higher up the field supporting the two wide players, but that would leave Les Bleus without a true center forward. Or could Deschamps opt for the 4-2-3-1 again? We shall see.

As for Payet, not a surprise in seeing him back on the side. He can play both wing positions and gives Deschamps some real options.

What is surprising are the absent names - Nasri and Ben Arfa in particular. Both former Marseilles midfielders continue to carry the bad karma from their actions during the Euros. It appears that Deschamps is going to build his team around a more defensive minded midfield and look for the creativity to come from his wingers. Of course with Gourcuff that could change that philosophy. Mavuba is also absent, maybe he suffers from the showing that Matuidi had against Spain in the primary holding role.

Without Benzema, out due to injury, look for Giroud to feature up front with Menez and Ribery flanking him. The midfield will be interesting, I think Cabaye and Matuidi will be midfield the question is who else will feature? I expect we will see the Sakho - Mbiwa central defensive pairing with Debuchy and Evra/Clichy on the flanks and Lloris in goal.

Since the list was published - Jallet had to withdraw and Reveillere was brought in as cover.

It will be interesting to see what Deschamps does during training.

Allez les Bleus.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The EPL, ready for prime time

$250m that is the rumored sum that NBC payed to get 3 years of EPL rights. Yikes. Fox Soccer had paid about $23m. It is a great testament to how much footy and the EPL has grown in the US market. What is exciting, is the power of the NBC networks to broadcast a large number of EPL games. What always frustrated me with Fox was, while they showed many games, at times I felt we were stuck watching Stoke City vs Swansea when we could have been watching Liverpool v Everton or Arsenal v Manchester United...from all reports NBC will be leveraging their wider network to make more games available. As much as their prime time Olympic coverage drove me crazy, I will say that they leveraged their extensive network to make a large number of events available through the likes of MSNBC, NBC, NBCSports and the like. Add to this their streaming options and I think we will enjoy a greater amount of coverage for the EPL.

So what about Fox? The EPL was their crown jewel. Smaller rival GolTV leaned on La Liga, but lost those rights and now really only have the Bundesliga.  BeIN has entered the market with the likes of La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1. Which leaves FoxSoccer with...the Champions League. And that is about it. Which remains a powerful asset, but not one that is broadcast every weekend. On the contrary, those matches are during the week, not really great timing for the US market. This could be a massive blow to the network. Could Fox Soccer go "back to the future?" Before it became Fox Soccer, it covered all types of international sports - especially rugby. Could this be in the cards for the network? Maybe pick up the likes of rugby again, maybe add F1? I could also envisage a bigger play for international matches - World Cup and European Cup qualifiers as well as international friendlies. Regardless of what direction it takes, this is a big loss for Fox.

Of course as fans and consumers of the beautiful game, having more networks means higher quality of service and more options. That is a good thing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Incroyable! Les Bleus pull off a "hold up" and leave Madrid with a point

Wow. I did not expect to see this out of Les Bleus. After Ramos scored and the way Spain were playing, I was ready to turn off the game. But what a swing in the second half. And at the ultimate last minute, France somehow leave Madrid with a 1-1 draw and a point. Unbelievable! The standings after this match:

The Good:
  • The draw. During qualifiers you need to look to draw away from home and win your home games, especially when faced with the defending World Cup champions and two time defending European Cup champions. Add to this the way Spain made you look in the 1/4 finals of the Euros and the fact France leave Spain with a point is huge. France and Spain are atop the group with goals being the difference. If, and that is a big IF for France, both sides hold serve, the group cold be decided when Spain come to Paris in March.
  • Hugo Lloris, the Tottenham #2 keeper was nothing short of phenomenal for France. He was unlucky that his defense abandoned him on the Ramos goal but otherwise was nothing short of spectacular. He kept his nerve on the Cesc penalty kick, saved well on numerous point blank chances and anticipated some Spanish through balls - especially late in the match saving at the feet of Cesc again. Without Lloris France would have been sunk.
  • France's persistence. I will admit I was surprised that the likes of Benzema and Ribery kept running at the Spanish. For once they showed 90 minutes of fire in their bellies and were rewarded for it. In the second half both Ribery and Benzema single handedly carried the attack to the Spanish. Benzema was unfortunate to not be credited with an assist on Menez's goal...which was NOT offside. But in the second half both attackers put the Spanish back line under tremendous pressure.
  • Oh what a goal can do for one's spirit!
  • Deschamps, unlike Blanc during the Euros, kept some modicum of offense in his line up. What was very interesting was how the game tipped in the second half. The French retained the ball more and attacked quickly down the flanks with late runs through the middle. This forced the Spanish fullbacks to sit at home more, play more defensively. In doing so the Spanish attack seemed to lose some steam. What was apparent was that the Spanish were doing a lot of damage early on by holding up the ball in the middle, allowing their fullbacks to make runs from deep and forcing the French to sag deeper and deeper on the pitch. Once those fullbacks were forced to sit in their half, the French began to have greater control of the ball.
  • This pains me to say...but Ramos was a rock for Spain. Not only did he score the goal but he held the Spanish defense together which at times looked completely out of sorts. He made some tough tackles and single-handily corralled Benzema on a few occasions.
  • Giroud...came in late for an injured Benzema, but did what a #9 is suppose to do. Almost latched on to a cross late in the game and did latch on to the last minute cross from the Kaiser to equalize. As someone on Twitter said - Arsenal needs to find someone to cross the ball to him!
Ramos - man of the match for Spain
The Bad:
  • French finishing...I realize that France scored two goals, yes one was not allowed, but it should have been. And France were playing Spain not Georgia, but they had other chances that had to be put away. Other opportunities that needed to be taken - in particular a streaking Sissoko that latched on to a Benzema cross inside the penalty spot and didn't even come close to the goal! Les Bleus still have trouble taking advantage of their chances. This must improve.
  • Deschamps substitutions. Taking Menez off the pitch and introducing Sissoko was a real head scratcher for me. The introduction of Valbuena in place of Gonalons made perfect sense - you were chasing a goal. But in the 68th minute, still chasing that goal, to take out your right winger and insert Sissoko, a holding midfielder was questionable. If you are going to make that move why not bring Capoue, also a holding midfielder, but one with more offensive punch than his TFC teammate. That substitution smacked of a Domenech also called into question some of the players Deschamps selected. Leaving the likes of Nasri, Ben Arfa and Remy at home deprived him of offensive options late in the game. He had plenty of defensive options on his bench. But very few offensive "jokers."
  • Set piece defending...when oh when will Les Bleus learn to defend set pieces! Ramos should have scored off his header, which was completely uncontested, and then was  left unmarked to roof in the cross! This has dogged France for too long now.
The Ugly:
  • The Koscielny challenge was AWFUL. He was fortunate to not have received a straight red...the official probably wanted to spare him the added humiliation! I was convinced his partner Sakho would have committed such a foul, but the Arsenal man completely butchered that situation.
  • Spain's defense in the second half was ugly and leaky. Where it not for Cassillas and Ramos, the Spanish could have easily lost this game in the second half. The chink in the armor seems to be, the ability to pressure the Spanish fullbacks, force them to sit at home on defense. This creates avenues from which to attack wide, there were a number of occasions where Ribery or Evra would push down the flank which would open up lanes for secondary runs to push through. Alonso virtually disappeared the second half - he seemed to be stuck deeper on the field trying to cover for the space that was being opened up. Clearly the Spanish missed their center back tandem of Puyol and Pique.
  • Busquets...and his flopping. If there is one player I cannot stand it is Busquets. Whether playing for Barcelona or Spain...he is the biggest flopper and diver next to Suarez. Every time he goes down it is as if he were shot by a sniper. Nothing compares to his play acting a few seasons ago in the Champions League against Inter, but he drives me nuts. Sad thing is he is a good player and doesn't need such theatrics.
 An unlikely point for France. But one that was well deserved. France really took the game to the Spanish in the second half and had they left Madrid with a 1-0 loss it would have been undeserved. Unlike what happened in the Euros, Deschamps did not stray from his game plan. His team absorbed the Spanish attack for the first 20 - 30 minutes. They really did not allow the Spanish to truly threaten the goal from open play (conceding on a corner). In the second half they started putting more pressure on the Spanish, particularly going after the full backs and forcing the Spanish backs deeper and therefore opening up space in the middle. France were the more dangerous team in the second half. Ribery and Sissoko both having clear scoring chances, until Giroud put his away.

This will be very interesting to see how the return leg goes in Paris. Both sides should have some of their key players back. Can Deschamps replicate this strategy back home?

Allez Les Bleus.

Gonalons given surprise start versus Spain

Deschamps pulls a minor surprise by inserting the Lyon midfielder Gonalons over TFC midfielder Capoue.

Le 11 de départ français :
Lloris – Evra, Sakho, Koscielny, Debuchy – Gonalons, Matuidi, Cabaye – Ribéry, Benzema, Ménez

Sightly greater pressure than his first cap for Gonalons
The remainder of the starters are not a surprise. It will be interesting to see how the young and inexperienced midfield holds up in Madrid against the Spanish midfield. I fear they might be overwhelmed and overrun. There is increased pressure that will fall on the "veteran" of the midfield - Cabaye - to keep the gaps between the defense and attacking players to a minimum. Otherwise I can envisage the inexperienced players - Gonalons and Matuidi dropping deeper for fear of being caught by the Spanish diagonal runs.

I do not have a good feeling about this game. Unlike a similar situation, when France traveled to Bosnia last qualifiers, where Blanc rolled out a muscled and defensive midfield of Diarra, Diaby and M'Vila, this midfield does not have the same characteristic. And they are facing La Roja not the Bosnians!

Nothing like a baptism by fire. If France can emerge without being embarrassed, this might go a long way to building up some of these players.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Can France come back from Madrid with a result? I fear not...

Even the Spanish press is not giving France much of a chance to give Spain much more than a sparing partner come tomorrow's World Cup qualifier. Pointing out that Lloris the French #1 keeper is the #2 for his club, that Benzema and Ribery have not made supporters forget Henry or Trezeguet when it comes to goal scoring, that the central defensive pairing of Kos and Sakho have played next to one another one whole game, that the midfield has been deprived of a number of starters...and the list goes on.

Much will be expected of the two French attackers - can they deliver?
There is much truth in this for Les Bleus. Deschamps heads into this game with more questions than answers. France remains in flux. Benzema seems to be stuck in neutral. Ribery has come to life in the past year, but at times feels like the only French player on the pitch trying to score goals...difficult when the other team knows this. When all one has to do is shut down one player and the offense sputters, that makes the task quit simple. France's right side still seems to be searching for someone to take ownership of it, Menez appears to have an inside track, but has not yet really convinced me.

Without the likes of Diaby, Diarra and Mavuba, Deschamps is going to be leaning on a very inexperienced midfield to counter the likes of Iniesta, Xavi, Alonso et al. Scary.

Deschamps seems heading towards lining up a 4-3-3, as he did against Japan (my apologies for no post on that match, I was not able to watch and after seeing the stat line could not bring myself to sit through watching the replay only to watch Les Bleus drop the game!). The back line should look familiar:

Lloris the Tottenham #2 in goal
Evra, Kos, Sakho, Debuchy a the back, it will be interesting to see how Kos and Sakho work together. I am a little nervous with Sakho, he can get in trouble at times when he finds himself chasing the game. With the Spanish tic-tac passing, the PSG defender might find himself late on a few challenges....let us hope that does not cost a card, PK or goal!

The midfield will be very interesting, I expect to see Cabaye, Capoue and Matuidi. I look for Deschamps to ask Capoue and Matuidi to defend first and foremost, Cabaye will be given a bit more free reign to carry the play up the pitch, but I am sure that leash will be short as well.

Up front look for a Ribery - Benzema - Menez front three. Much will be expected of these three to carry all of the offense for Les Bleus. What I fear is that with Spain controlling the possession, you will see a Ribery become increasingly frustrated and drop deeper, same with Benzema and a Menez that disappears for long stretches. Since the PSG winger is not likely to drop deep to either recover the ball nor defend!

France have a major mountain to climb, and unfortunately not all their weapons. Then again Spain are missing their two center backs and will most likely drop Busquets to shoulder Ramos as center backs, maybe the one area France might be able to exploit. In the end there is way too much fire power on the side of La Rojas. I do not see the French midfield nor back line keeping up with the pace and precision of the Spanish Armada. Silva, Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc et al will cause fits all night for the back line of France.

Les Bleus will defend well, but have no serious attacking options. I think the game will be very one sided in terms of possession (typical these days against Spain). The French midfield will hold better than expected, but in the end the French will leak goals.

Prediction - Spain 3: France 0. Brace from Silva, late goal from Pedro.

Allez Les Bleus

Thursday, October 11, 2012

France in a 4-3-3 for Japan friendly...hint of what to expect against La Roja

Deschamps appears to be leaning on a 4-3-3 in the upcoming friendly for France. When Les Bleus take the pitch Friday to face off against Asian side Japan, look for a very muscular midfield trio. The expected line up:

Le onze de l’équipe de France :
Lloris (c) - Debuchy, Koscielny, Sakho, Clichy - Capoue, Matuidi, Sissoko - Ménez, Giroud, Benzema

No real surprise in the back, maybe seeing the Manchester City left back Clichy over the Manchester United left back is a slight surprise. Otherwise Kos will shoulder Sakho, Rami back on the bench.  With Mbiwa suspended for the Spain match, clearly Deschamps wants to work a pairing for the 90 minutes against Japan. Makes one wonder why Deschamps called up Mbiwa to start with...I realize he might want to have him work with the others during the training sessions, but a risk none the less.

The midfield, again is not a real surprise. Deschamps has opted for a very defensive - holding midfield. Sissoko who has not been called up in years is right back in the starting line up. With Capoue and Matuidi, the midfield seems poised to play more of a "destroying" role than creative one. I wonder if Cabaye is given the time off, but we will see him back in the midfield come next Tuesday, probably in the place of either Sissoko or Matuidi.

No wonder you don't aren't even looking at the goal
Up front is a bit of a surprise to me. With Benzema being pushed into the Ribery channel on the left. Last game he was slotted on the right, where he did a decent job. That role is falling back to a more natural right winger - Menez. I doubt we will not see Da Kaiser back on the left when Les Bleus walk out on the pitch in Spain, but it is interesting to see what Deschamps is experimenting with. He is putting out there a true center forward - Giroud. Albeit one that has forgotten his scoring boots in Montpellier. Benzema has had some success being off set to the left at times, with Lyon and at times with Madrid. The Real Madrid man might be asked to drift (not that he really has to be asked) deeper on the pitch, at times even playing a more #10 role to bring some creativity to this formation.

It will be interesting to see who Deschamps gives some time to as the game progresses. I would think we would see Rami at some point, as well as Valbuena. Le Petit Velo might see some time as a more traditional #10 sitting behind Giroud and Benzema. We shall see. An important test for Les Bleus, especially with what awaits them next week.

Prediction - France 1 Japan 0 goal from Giroud.

Allez Les Bleus

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Lass out for France...another Parisian in

Lass Diarra had to withdraw from the French side getting ready to take on Spain in the next round of World Cup qualifiers. An interesting move by Deschamps to call up another PSG player in Chantome. Even more interesting that Nasri, Ben Arfa, M'Vila, Gourcuff, Martin or a number of other options were, apparently, completely off the list. Of course Chantome is a more like for like replacement with Diarra since both are more defensive minded midfield players. But a team already with some many players of this type - I might argue all the midfield players are defensive minded other than Valbuena.

Clearly we should expect that the players selected from the midfield group will be to form a defensive midfield built to stop any offensive creativity from Spain. We shall see. Blanc tried something similar in the Euros and looked lost. I will be interested to see how Deschamps rolls out his formation during training sessions. To me this smells like a 4-3-3 with a very defensive mid-3...

Allez Les Bleus

Friday, October 05, 2012*t just got real. Head to Spain for qualifiers

Deschamps rolled out his list for the upcoming France v Spain World Cup qualifier. There are some very interesting names on the list and those that have been left off -

Landreau, Lloris, Mandanda
Clichy, Debuchy, Evra, Jallet, Koscielny, Rami, Sakho, Yanga-Mbiwa
Cabaye, Capoue, L. Diarra, Gonalons, Matuidi, Sissoko, Valbuena
Benzema, Giroud, Gomis, Ménez, Ribéry.

It is interesting to see Landreau again on the list, is he back to being the #3 keeper for Les Bleus? What happened to Carrasso? I have always felt the #3 keeper spot for a national team should be for a keeper you are grooming for the future. A keeper that can step in if there is a major emergency (how many times has the third string keeper been called on?) but gains experience during training sessions etc. That was what Landreau was doing when he first broke into the Deschamps wasting that spot now?

No major surprises on the defensive call ups. The question will be who starts on the right and left sides? The central pairing should be Rami and Sakho (Mbiwa is suspended). However on the right Debuchy is back, but Jallet has shown some thing last two games. And on the left can Evra hold off his local rival Clichy?

In the midfield there are some surprises when it comes to who remains off the list. No Diaby, no Nasri, no M'Vila ... and the return of Sissoko and Lass! Very interesting in deed. What next, Toulalan? Diaby is not a surprise, he is supposedly not 100%...shocking. No Nasri is interesting, makes one wonder where the creativity in the midfield will come from. M'Vila is playing with the Espoir Selection - amazing that he is that young he can still qualify. Deschamps has selected a very defensive oriented midfield group, with really only Valbuena listed as an offensive midfielder. Smells like he might look to roll out a 3 man defensive minded midfield.

Up front there is no surprise, I think we will see Ribery on the left and Menez on the right or even Benzema on the right supporting Giroud.

The names that have been rolled out might indicate that we will see a 4-3-3 with the midfield 3 being very defensive oriented. Try to slow down the Spanish attack. With the three offensive players tasked to counter. It will be interesting to see how France approach the friendly against Japan before heading to Spain.

Allez les Bleus.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Henry from a corner

You tend to see these goals on the playground or in a Sunday Pug League game...not at the professional level. A piece of skill and beauty by the Frenchman.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Good win for Les Bleus - sit atop group I with the full 6 points

So Les Bleus sit atop of Group I after day 2 of qualification...mind you Spain only played one game! More on that later. After getting a deserved 1-0 victory away to Finland, France returned to Paris to secure the full 6 points from 2 matches with a 3-1 victory. As always there were some moments of nerviness from Les Bleus, but they secured a much deserved victory over Belarus.

The Good:
Jallet gave France some much needed width on the right
  • I realize I might sound like a broken record, but the victory and full 3 points is good. France clearly was the better of the two nations, but you still need to finish and get one more goal than the other side! Les Bleus were able to put 3 past the Belarus keeper. Had Sakho been more clinical on two clean headers from the 5 yard box the score line could have been more flattering. But in the end, maximum points secured.
  • The play of the Kaiser Ribery dictated the flow of the match. He scored the final goal to boot, but was very active on his left flank as well as drifting to center of the pitch. His pace and passing put the Belarus defense on its heels much of the game. The French game tends to lean heavily on the left side and no surprise why. Of course for Les Bleus to take the next step there must be a balance...
  • Which brings me to another good mark from today the play of Benzema on the right and Jallet. I was skeptical of having the Real Madrid striker align himself to the right of the formation. However what I saw was positive. He actually did keep himself fairly tight to the right wing, allowing space for Giroud and attacking off that flank. More encouraging was the fact that when he cut into the middle, Jallet was making his runs down the right side to support the attack and provide additional width to the attack. He also scored what was a fantastic strike, but really appeared to be a cross gone wrong. But who cares! The result was a goal. While I think Debuchy remains the #1 choice right back, the play from Jallet and the return to health from Sagna as well as the steadiness of Reveillere allow Deschamps some choices for that role.
  • Another solid game from the central defense of Mbiwa and Sakho. I realize that the Montpellier captain gave up a penalty, but overall both players demonstrated why Deschamps is entrusting them with securing those spots. Both players seemed to always be perfectly placed on the pitch, anticipate well and are strong in the air and in challenges. Now if only Sakho could learn to finish better! Add to this the play of Lloris, who made a brilliant save at the start of the second half and was unlucky after stopping the PK not to keep the ball out of his net. This trio is a solid back foundation from which Deschamps should be able to build upon.
The Bad:
  • I realize it might be a head scratcher, but the poor French finishing remains bad. You might say, but Frog they scored 3 goals! They should have had more. Sakho missed two wide open headers from inside the 6 yard box. Not only that, but too often I felt the French looked to make a pass rather than take a shot on net when they got into the 18 yard box. They have to, especially against a team such as Belarus, test the keeper, look for rebounds or a keeper mistake to score more goals. Against a higher quality side you will not be afforded as many chances, so when you are presented with a clear shooting chance, take it.
The Ugly:
  • France's drop in concentration was a tad concerning. After going up 2-0 on a wonder goal by Jallet....okay it was really a cross gone bad...but still was a great goal, Les Bleus seemed to just ease off the accelerator and drop in concentration. This led to the PK and subsequent Belarus goal. Unacceptable! Against any team, once you go up 2-0 you need to look for the 3-0. Or if you are going to play defense, then lock things down. You cannot let a player just make a run within the 18 yard box causing a foul which leads to a PK. Again, against better opponents this will not be allow to go unpunished!
So France end the first round of qualifiers with a full complement of 6 points. Next stop...Spain on the 16th of October. A big match for France to say the least. Could have had even greater implications had Spain not found a last moment winner away to Georgia. Spain could have even lost that match, Georgia hit a post late in the first half! France will have to look to come out of Spain with any type of result - a draw would do them just fine. While many, including myself, think that France will still have to get through a play off to go to World Cup 2014, there is a chance...albeit a small one. Spain cannot feel great after struggling against lowly Georgia, might France be able to take advantage of this? To be determined in 5 weeks.

Allez les Bleus!

Les Bleus: 4-3-3 but who will make the link?

So Deschamps rolls back out with a 4-3-3, but without Diaby in the middle. And he will put together two natural strikers - Giroud and Benzema in the top 3 of the formation.

Le onze français :
Lloris - Jallet, Yanga Mbiwa, Sakho, Evra -  Cabaye, Capoue, Mavuba - Ribéry, Giroud, Benzema

A couple of questions:
  • Who will provide the offensive linkage? Without Diaby, more of this will fall on the shoulders of Cabaye. Mavuba and Capoue to me are much more traditional holding players. The Newcastle midfielder will be looked to replicate his game that he demonstrated against the Ukraine. Playing a more offensive role.
  • Up front, what will it look like between the offensive three? We all know of Benzema's tendency to drop deep and roam, this might be okay in this formation with Giroud up front. But if Benzema is expected to hold the right wing as well that might make the offense lean even more to Ribery's side. I just do not see Benzema playing a traditional right wing role. I could also imagine Ribery slotting more centrally at times and really playing a 4-3-1-2 style formation. Of course that would require that Benzema and Giroud stay high on the pitch.
  • Will Jallet bring some offense to the right side? The PSG fullback will be asked to hold that channel and bring some offense to that side of the formation. With Benzema, most likely, not being able to play a traditional right wing role. Look for the right back to be asked to do a lot of running tonight.
France should win this game. I realize that Belarus sprung the surprise last trip to Paris, and hopefully that is fresh in this team's mind. But just Ribery - Benzema - Giroud should create and finish enough chances to get the full three points. Anything less will be a bad failure.

Prediction - France 3 : Belarus 0. Ribery (2) and Benzema

Allez Les Bleus!