Monday, March 26, 2012

Ben Arfa - Le Petit Prince back in the picture for the Euro?

This past weekend, Hatem Ben Arfa, once again teased us with his talent. Leading Newcastle to a decisive 3-1 victory where each goal was influence by Le Petit Prince - one goal and 2 assists. Could he make a late surge into the roster for Blanc? Maybe. He would give Les Bleus a creative option that they continue to search for - Gourcuff, Nasri, Martin etc are all looking to stake their claims to the role...all with mixed results, meaning neither one if them has put their stamp on the role. Ben Arfa would add another element - his left boot. Let us see how Ben Arfa plays out the rest of the season for Newcastle. If the Magpies make a late push to get into the top 5 of the Premiership and if Ben Arfa continues his form, it will hard to ignore him for the Euro.

Nasri has not been consistent enough to be given the keys to Les Bleus. Martin remains too green when it comes to the international game. Ben Arfa has been away from the national team for a while, but he has experience at this level and the talent. Gourcuff has not captured his form from a few seasons ago.

I would say Ben Arfa has better than a 50-50 chance of getting on the squad...if his form continues.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Abidal - god speed with your recovery

Barcelona and France left back, Eric Abidal will need a liver transplant. He had surgery a year ago and made such a fast recovery he was able to lift the Champions League trophy for Barcelona. This is clearly a set back. I wish Eric the best and for a speedy recovery.

Clearly his ability to play for France this summer is in doubt. This will have some trickle down impacts:

  • Evra will most likely slot back in as the starting left back
  • If Blanc was hoping to gain an extra slot, but leveraging Abidal as both his left back and cover for center back, this is out. Does this mean Blanc takes 4 central defenders? That will get Kaboul and Koschielny back into the picture.
  • Who will provide cover at left back? Will Clichy find his way back to the side? Most likely Valencia left back/midfielder Mathieu will get some serious consideration, he also offers some cover at midfield (then again left midfield is crowded). How about Lass Diarra? He would provide versatility at holding midfield and left back (he showcased there for France in the past). How about a dark horse in former Blanc player - Tremoulinas? With the Bordeaux player on the left and Debuchy on the right and you would instantly get some real dangerous players covering the wide channels.
The most important is that Abidal recovers and is 100% healthy. Whether or not we see him on the football pitch is secondary to his overall well being. Godspeed with your recover Eric.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

France get the victory, but let's not get ahead of ourselves

Well at least I got the score right...just the wrong victors. Les Bleus get a famous 2-1 victory over Die Mannschaft in Bremen last night. Goals from Giroud and Malouda. France will head into the Euro preparation matches on a high note having defeated one of the tournament favorites. Of course, I am sure that the German supporters will point out that Germany were missing some key players...but so were the French. So what to make of the match?

1st Half - France were fortunate to not being down 2 or 3 goals. Ozil and his band of merry midfielders punished some sloppy French passing leading to quick counters. Were it not for Lloris, Les Bleus would have found themselves on the wrong end of the score sheet.
2nd Half - France seemed comfortable sitting back and hitting back at Germany on the counter and exposed some weakness on the German back line. Les Bleus could themselves, have scored a few more goals.

Let's dive in deeper:

The Good:
  • A win,  a victory is a victory, just ask Mitt Romney. France showed that they could go into a hostile environment and win a game that at times they looked like they were going to let slip away. I was a little frustrated that they were not able to kill the game when they had a two goal advantage, but that is not uncommon these days.
  • Who should be the new right back for France: Debuchy. The Lille right back was a surprise inclusion against the United States, but clearly has a little something extra the likes of Sagna and Reveilliere have failed to bring to the table - a regular offensive punch to the right side. Debuchy was incredible active all game making deep runs down the right channel and provided the assist on both French goals. He even had a cannon of a shot from distance forcing the German keeper to punch the ball to safety. France have been looking for a right back that can bring greater width and crossing to the game - ever since Sagnol retired. In my opinion Debuchy has not only punched his ticket to go to the Euros, but should be the starting right back for France.
  • Giroud was inserted in the starting line up and also did well enough to earn his ticket to the Euros. The leading scorer for Ligue 1 was very active on the offensive side and actually did his fair share defensively as well, at times he seemed to be sweeping rather than Mexes. His goal was a pure striker goal, no wasted motion, nothing fancy - take a cross and simply touch it past the keeper. This does not put him above Benzema or Remy, but it gives Blanc peace of mind that he has some decent depth up front.
  • France could have been down 2-0 were it not for the exploits of Lloris. He made some huge saves to bail out his defense who decided to turn over the ball for much of the first half. Saves on Klose from point blank as well as reflect save on a deflected Klose volley in addition to his command of the aerial game were more proof points of why his one of the world's best keepers. Blanc announced the Lloris would be the French captain this summer and he demonstrated why his coach had so much faith in him.
  • Seeing Mexes and Rami back together at the center of the defense. Both players seemed at ease with the other which is vital for central defensive pairings. Mexes is allowed to be more free - roaming, more or a sweeper while Rami is the pit bull that sits back to defend. Assuming both stay healthy and do not punch anyone, this should be a strength for Les Bleus.
  • Le Petit Velo - Valbuena - showed me something last night. He was the most dangerous and hard working attacking midfielder for Les Bleus. He could have and should have scored on two occasions for Les Bleus, had he done so I would have rated him higher. Overall I think he made a strong case for being the right midfielder for France something that he should have been allowed to do 2 years ago rather than Govou! He did pop up on the opposite flank and in the center from time to time, something that might be of service if the likes of Debuchy are behind him, this would give the Lille right back more space to run into and create some real defensive problems for France's opponents.
The Bad:
  • The Manchester City playmaker, Nasri, was not fantastic. I would even venture that he was completely invisible the first half. The second half he was at least visible! What is frustrating is the fact he has one good game one off game for Les Bleus. The lack of consistency is maddening. Many of the problems France had in the first half is that their playmaker was not gaining control of the game, unlike his counter part Ozil, who was controlling the pace of the match. Les Bleus need their playmaker to be able to slow the game down or speed it up depending on the situation, Nasri did not do this the first half and it could have cost France dearly. Blanc still has some work to do with regards to who pulls the strings for Les Bleus, could this open the door for Gourcuff? Surprisingly Martin did not make his way onto the pitch to see if he could fare better. Something to watch for.
  • Speaking of former Marseilles players - Ribery - wasn't exactly the Kaiser last night for France. After scoring a brace over the weekend for Bayern, he clearly forgot his good boots somewhere in Germany other than Bremen. Granted he picked up a knock early on in the game and did give it his all, but more is expected and needed from the left winger if France is to do more than site see in Ukraine - Poland this summer. He made some decent runs but just did not have the extra punch to really threaten the German goal.
  • The German defense. I realize they were missing some key players, but still they allowed some terrible scoring chances and turned the ball over themselves in terrible positions on the pitch. Germany is still a favorite but they better shore up the defense. 
The Ugly:
  • The French first half - Les Bleus looked awful in the first half...yes I am aware that they went into the dressing room up 1-0, but were it not for Lloris, a post and some wide shots, Les Bleus would have been down 2 of not 3 to 1 at the half. France cannot expect to go anywhere if they play like that at the Euros. Sloppy passes, silly give aways and poor defending will cost them dearly.   Had Germany been more clinical in front of the goal...it would have been ugly. In the second half Les Bleus seemed to calm down a bit and better control the game, the Germans then became a bit sloppy themselves.
Overall winning away to Germany is nothing to sneeze at, but Les Bleus need to take this in stride and realize that they did not dominate. The game showcased two talented teams, both with flaws. Both teams can cure these flaws, but France's might be more difficult to overcome...but if they can, they have the potential to be a real surprise this summer.

Allez les Bleus!
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