Sunday, May 27, 2012

France v Iceland a tale of two halves

Who would have thought this would be a hard fought 3-2 victory for France? A bad first half, from the scoreboard perspective, not necessarily from the play on the field. A much better second half and in the end a victory for Les Bleus.

The Good:
Le Petit Prince scored some points
  •  A win....a come from behind win none the less. Regardless of what the ranking is for Iceland in the world...131 if you are curious...going down 2-0 at half time and being able to come back in the second half to win the game has to be encouraging. France made two defensive gaffs in the first half and demonstrated what happens when professional football players are given a chance. But Les Bleus continue to press on and were rewarded with a victory.  Something to build on...the alternative would have been difficult to accept.
  • The right side of the formation - Ben Arfa and Debuchy. What was interesting with these two players on the field was that what tends to be a left heavy attack for France now switched to the right side. The Newcastle midfielder was constantly putting the Iceland defense on its collective heel, while the Lille right back was constantly making dangerous overlapping runs from his fullback spot. Debuchy even open his international scoring account, aggressively pouncing on a deviated ball in the box. I have a feeling this will be the right side for Blanc heading into the Euros and might be one we see for a few years.
  • Giroud once again showed why he is a viable option up top for France. While he did not score he got the assist on both Ribery and Rami's goals. Both times doing what a penalty box striker should do - receive the ball and distribute to cutting teammates. His ability in the air and to hold the ball deep might make him a valuable offensive joker during the tournament.
The Bad:
  • Going down 2-0 the way France did was not good...a tentative play on 50/50 ball by Mexes led to the first goal and some sloppy covering by Evra led to the second. The Manchester United defender was sloppy again in the second half forcing a terrific save from Mandanda. I think that part of the sloppy play was the fact Blanc did not align a true holding midfielder. This forced the back 4 of France to play higher on the ball than usual. Mexes was pushing up the field to challenge the Icelandic offense...only allowing space to be created behind him. I would hope that the introduction of M'Vila would alleviate this problem. But something to keep an eye on.
  • The left side of the attack. What has been the strength for France recently was absent tonight. Granted the usual starter - Ribery on the left wing - did not play until the last 15 minutes and when he did the dynamic on the left changed. There was little going on between Menez and Evra. The Manchester United left back at times was invisible offensively, not making any threatening runs. This left Menez alone to try and animate that side. I think the PSG winger did a commendable job, but was a shadow of what the right side was able to do. We shall see if that remains the case if Ribery is inserted back on his preferred wing. 
The Ugly:
About as fast as his game was going
  • I have to say Gourcuff did not impress me. And his play was not bad, I would say it was ugly. Why? When he was not on the pitch, it appeared that Les Bleus operated at a different speed. That speed was not slow. To the OL midfielders defense, he is still no 100%. He worked hard for the ball. However every time he came back to get it, the game appeared to slow down. He was sloppy in some of his passes, seemed to head backwards or sidewards too often rather than ahead and just did not seem to bring any offensive creativity or punch. I do not believe he should head to Ukraine in a few weeks.
  • Speaking of Gourcuff...the defending of set pieces was not pretty. Iceland's first corner kick went sailing to the back post where TWO Icelandic players were there and only Gourcuff to defend. He was not even in a good position! I am sure that Carrol or Crouch would salivate at being that open on June 11.
Overall it was an entertaining game, and the result can let us all sleep better! There remains a lot of work to be done for France. I do think that it is encouraging that the right side of the French formation is where much of the attack came until the introduction of Ribery late. I did like the fact Menez and Ben Arfa as the game went on starting popping up on opposite wings. Unlike other French teams, I believe the creativity will have to come from the wingers - Ben Arfa, Ribery, Menez and Valbuena. For that reason I think Blanc will keep all 4. Martin and Nasri were decent in the middle as outlets, I think that Gourcuff will be the odd man out. But we still have a two games and some training sessions to go before we determine who goes.

Next up - Serbia on Thursday. Should be interesting.


David said...

Gourcuff is so unfairly judged! It is actually getting ridiculous. Why? Because the media has "taught" most of you how to judge him: A good performance is average and an average match is poor. When other players play at the same level they are left alone but poor Yoann is labelled a failure over and over. The reason France improved is die to Girouds outstanding play and the fact that a more balanced side was substituted in for the later stages of the match. The starting 11 was so heavy on attacking players that players were literally running into each other in the box. Too many cooks in the kitchen. Cut Gourcuff some slack and don't let media created expectations dictate your judgement like it has so many others.

Jeff said...

David - I know where you're coming from. People get really worked up about Yoann - we want him to be at his Bordeaux-era best. I can accept that he could be at a lower level than he was a couple years ago, but still at international level. So in that sense, I think you and I agree.

Yesterday, though, I thought he was poor, so in that sense I agree with the Bean Town Frog. I thought he didn't look good enough - his touch was all wrong - the odd heavy touch into touch, if you will.

I like Yoann. I retain hope that if he plays in the Euros that he could come up with some good contributions, but based on the Iceland friendly, I would understand if Blanc cut him.

GFC said...

David - I agree that Gourcuff has been held under a major microscope. Fairly or unfairly, it is the reality. Why? He has been deemed the next Zidane (which I think is a completely unfair label, there is only one Zizou just like there is only one Gourcuff) his early rise and move to Milan and his outstanding season at Bordeaux have given the media and fans a glimpse of what his potential is.

Unfortunately the past 2 seasons that play has dropped. Injuries have played a major role. His recent scrutiny is also linked to the fact that a player who has not showcased most of this season is being called up for a major his old club coach.

I hope that Gourcuff returns to his old form, that would be a vital piece for France - a true #10. However...I think that will take a few months not 2 weeks. For that reason I do not think he should head to Ukraine.

I do agree that Giroud had a vital part in the French success yesterday.But don't forget that Blanc substitute like for like yesterday, at the end of the game he had Giroud up front with Malouda, Martin, Ribery, Valbuena and Diarra at again only one "non-offensive" midfielder. Granted Diarra is more of a pure holding player than is Cabaye. But it wasn't as if Blanc put in M'Vila - Diarra - Matuidi!

Let us see what happens in a few days.

David said...

I didn't see Martin or Nasri look outstanding yesterday. The funny thing is, they didn't play any better than Gourcuff but who has been getting raked over the coals? It's just getting bizarre because I'm hearing the same things from so many people.

Jeff said...

Martin and Nasri were not outstanding yesterday (or Valbuena) - I think where I was disappointed with Yoann's game against Iceland was that, whereas these other guys also weren't creating enough, Yoann was losing the ball in dangerous positions, losing the ball generally, when it looked like there wasn't pressure to be losing it. That was my impression - that he was looking like a borderline liability. And I'm speaking as a fan of the player. I stop short of GFC: I wouldn't say Yoann should not be in the final 23 - like you said, David, one of these others (Martin or Valbuena) could be dropped instead, and I would understand Blanc's decision.

GFC said...

Nasri wasnt outstanding but he had a couple of interplays with Benzema and Ben Arfa - one in particular that was, dare I say, Barcelonesc. Nasri can also slot right if need be.

What I saw from Martin was a work rate and pace that Gourcuff doesn't have. The Sochaux man pushed the game and pace deep at the Iceland defense.

Gourcuff just hasn't had enough time to come back to full health. I agree that he gave up the ball too easily, did not look crisp in his passing and wasn't even taking set pieces .... For these reasons he was dropped. But I think, if healthy, he will play an important role for World Cup 2014

Jeremy said...

Gourcuff just wasn't ready. Had he come back from injury a few months earlier he probably would have been fine. But you can't rush some things, and a major tournament after a rebuilding period is no time to rush a player or try new things.

With that said though, yoann definitely suffers from mentality problems. He's a good player, we all know it and we've seen it. But for some reason it just doesn't come out as often as we'd like. Something needs to be figured out, because you don't play like he has simply by accident or on a hot streak. It's in him somewhere, just gotta get it out again.