Thursday, August 30, 2012

Champions League draw - could have been worse but PSG best chance for Ligue 1

The draw could have been much worse for Ligue 1, but I still do not hold out much hope for either Lille or Montpellier to advance. The draw.

Groupe A
FC Porto (Portugal)
FC Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine)
Paris Saint-Germain (France)
GNK Dinamo Zagreb (Croatie)

PSG and Porto should emerge, but Kiev will not be an easy task. And two Eastern European clubs are not easy for anyone.
Groupe B
Arsenal FC (Angleterre)
FC Schalke 04 (Allemagne)
Olympiakos FC (Grèce)
Montpellier  Hérault SC (France)

Giroud will face his old mates at Montpellier. The defending Ligue 1 champs do not have a horrible draw, but I still see them finishing last. Arsenal and Schalke move on.

Groupe C
AC Milan (Italie)
FC Zenit Saint-Pétersbourg (Russie)
RSC Anderlecht (Belgique)
Malaga CF (Espagne)

Lots of famous names in this group, but teams that are not at the "top" of their stature. Malaga could surprise out of this group and I would also not be surprised if Milan did not emerge. Malaga and Zenit move on.

Groupe D
Real Madrid CF (Espagne)
Manchester City FC (Angleterre)
AFC Ajax (Pays-Bas)
Borussia Dortmund (Allemagne)

Always need one...the group of death. But this should be a fantastic group. Will Manchester City avoid wetting their pants again? Not sure. Real will be chomping at the bit. I look for Dortmund to pull off the surprise and move on with Real Madrid. Sorry citizens.

Groupe E
Chelsea FC (Angleterre)
FC Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
Juventus (Italie)
FC Nordsjaelland (Danemark)

Should have been Tottenham's group...bahahaaaa. The minnow from Danemark will be fodder for the other clubs. I think Donetsk will prove to be a handful but in the end regular service - Juventus and Chelsea through.

Groupe F
Bayern Munich (Allemagne)
Valence CF (Espagne)
LOSC Lille (France)
FC BATE Borisov (Biélorussie)

No favors for Lille, they are fortunate to get Borisov but not so fortunate with the other two teams. Another interesting return home as Rami of Valence will face off versus his former club Lille. The dogues of Lille are not the same since they have been gutted of the likes of Hazard and Rami. Bayern and Valence through.

Groupe G
FC Barcelone (Espagne)
SL Benfica (Portugal)
FC Spartak Moscou (Russie)
Celtic FC (Ecosse)

Are you serious? Can any of these teams not named Barcelona give said Barcelona any trouble? It will come down to Spartak and Benfica for second. I will go with the Portuguese. Barca and Benfica through.

Groupe H
Manchester United FC (Angleterre)
SC Braga (Portugal)
Galatasaray AS (Turquie)
CFR 1907 Cluj (Roumanie)

Again, are you serious? Is it me or does Manchester United find a "way" to always draw an easy group?? Then again going to Turkey will be no cake walk. ManU and Galatasary through.

 Can't wait for the games to start. Should be another interesting Champions League season.

What could be - Champions League draw

The draw for the Champions League groups happens later, but looking over the pots and there are some intriguing potential match ups.

Chapeau 1 Chapeau 2 Chapeau 3 Chapeau 4
Chelsea Valence CF Olympiakos Celtic Glasgow
FC Barcelone Benfica Ajax Amsterdam BATE Borisov
Manchester United Chakhtior Donetsk Anderlecht Dinamo Zagreb
Bayern Munich Zénith Saint-Pétersboug Juventus Turin CFR Cluj
Real Madrid Schalke 04 Spartak Moscou Malaga
Arsenal Manchester City Paris SG  Borussia Dortmund
FC Porto Braga Lille Montpellier
AC Milan Dynamo Kiev Galatasaray Nordsjaelland

Of course looking at it from the PSG perspective, one could see a group of Barcelona, Manchester City, PSG and Dortmund...yikes. I think the best group for the Paris club would be Porto - Braga - Nordsjaelland....

One interesting note, Montpellier, the defending Ligue 1 champion, has the second lowest coefficient. No surprise. I would not be surprised if they ended last in their group, regardless of who they get drawn with.

What groupings would you like to see?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Deschamps second list, now it gets real for Les Bleus

Deschamps unveiled his second list as head of France, as always with these lists some surprises by who made the list as well as those off the list. The list:

Gardiens : Landreau, Lloris, Mandanda
Défenseurs : Clichy, Evra, Jallet, Koscielny, Rami, Réveillère, Sakho, Yanga-Mbiwa
Milieux de terrain : Cabaye, Capoue, Diaby, Gonalons, Matuidi, Mavuba, Valbuena
Attaquants : Benzema, Giroud, Gomis, Ménez, Ribéry, Payet

The surprises that were included - Landreau, Reveillere and Mavuba.

Landreau - the former French international appeared to be in purgatory after he was dropped for Mandanda just before the Euros in 2008. Landreau was always seen as the "next" keeper for Les Bleus, I remember watching him come up the ranks for Nantes back in the day. He had his moments but for France might always be remembered for giving up against Scotland in a Euro qualifier. It is an interesting move from Deschamps, I am not sure that Landreau will really threaten Lloris as the #1 and is he really someone you want as your #2, not that he is not up to the task, but he is also no spring chicken (granted 33 is not "old" for keepers). Or is this a move to shake things up, send a message to his team that no position or player is guaranteed a spot?

Reveillere - This was a surprise to me because I am not sure where the Lyon player slots. The 32 year old right back is behind Jallet and Debuchy, the fact the Lille right back is absent might be the main reason for this call up. Yet it appears to me that Deschamps will lean on Jallet to man the right side until Debuchy and Sagna are back in form, so where is the need for Reveillere? Why not call up a player such as Corchia for cover on the right side?

Mavuba - A surprise for me because he did not show case very well against Uruguay, I realize that was a small sample size. I am surprised that Deschamps went back to him rather than call back a Diarra or even M'Vila. I know on the latter DD stated that the fact the Rennes midfielder was in flux with regards to his club was what left him out...but that is a weak reason.

It is good to see Menez back in the list, I think he will shore up the right side of the offense. And if paired with right back Jallet, you might get some advantages since they both play for PSG together. The big question is whether or not Deschamps will look to roll out a 2 man attack again. It was just short of a disaster against Uruguay...but he also does not have a real #10 playmaker without the likes of Nasri, Gourcuff or even Ben Arfa. However, the return of Cabaye should have a huge upside for Les Bleus and the midfield.

At first blush I look for the following:

Lloris in goal.
Jallet on the right, Clichy on the left, with Kos and Rami paired in the middle (although do not discount Mbiwa getting a look)
Diaby and Cabaye as the holding players
Ribery on the left and Menez on the right...and this is where it gets tricky...I think he will roll out Giroud and Benzema again, looking to Benzema as a fake #9 and seeing him float deeper in the formation. If he does not go with 2 strikers could we see a three pronged attacking midfield of Ribery, Valbuena and Menez?

Lots of questions leading up to Sept 7th!

Allez les Bleus!!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Nothing to see here...carry on - France v Uruguay ends in a drab draw

First game down for new manager Deschamps...nothing gained nothing lost. France v Uruguay ends in a 0-0 draw. France had the most clear chances, but lacked a certain efficiency in front of goal. Not too much to take from the game, but here are some thoughts:

The Good:
Bright future for the TFC midfielder?
  • Ribery looked lively and was a real creative threat. There was a move in the first half where he was caught between three defenders some how pivoted off the first defender and tapped a perfect pass through the legs of the other defender while the third player was trying to find his jock. He stayed on his preferred left side but did float around the pitch appearing in the center and on the right. Let us hope that the Kaiser keeps this form, France will need him to get through qualifications.
  • The new kids - Mbiwa and Capoue - demonstrated some real interesting elements. The first was calm and cool for his first cap, considering the role he plays that is impressive. He made some very cool tackles around the 18 yard box that demonstrated a level of talent and a coolness under pressure necessary for the role. He was unfortunate to not open his goal count as well, calling for a fantastic finger tip save from Muslera. Something to keep an eye on. The TFC midfielder came on in the second half and I was struck by his dominating size but also his fluid play - dare I say a "box to box" midfielder a la Vieira??? Okay this might be a stretch, right now. Not sure if Capoue will have the offensive ability that the former Gunner had, but again something to watch in the upcoming France matches.
The Bad:
  • What to do with the strikers? There is much debate on how to get Benzema to play like he does for Real Madrid...or even how he played in the past for France. There was very little connection between Benzema and Giroud. However, Benzema, as we suspected, could not help but drop deep on the pitch. At least with Giroud on the field the Uruguay central defense had to respect this threat. Unfortunately, like what happened in the Euros, Benzema did a lot of work, but for few results. Frustrating.
  • Midfield linking players...or lack thereof. Not having Cabaye in the midfield was apparent. With Gonalons and Mavuba there was a lack of link between defense and attack. Something that we knew was a concern heading into the game. I realize this pairing was not necessarily one Deschamps will look to lean on, but it also emphasises how important the play of Cabaye is for France.
The Ugly:
  •  Finishing anyone? Anyone? Sigh, I think we were spoiled when we had the likes of Henry and Trezeguet patrolling the pitch with Zizou feeding them the ball...France has yet to really find players of that finishing level. I realize these types of players do not grow on trees. But Benzema clearly has the talent to put more goals in for France. Les Bleus need to get some results from all the chances they are creating for themselves!

Overall a typical first international match of the season, cautious, lack of real extended flow, some bright spots ... but otherwise forgetable. Deschamps will have some things to think about, but there is also much work ahead for Les Bleus!

Allez les bleus!

France v Uruguay - let the Deschamps era begin

In about 30 minutes, Les Bleus will take to the pitch again, this time under former France captain Deschamps. The last time we saw France on the pitch it was a lackluster 2-0 defeat to the eventual European champions - Spain. So what should we expect? Not too much.

These friendlies are always difficult to navigate, especially coming on the tail of a big summer international tournament. Most clubs have not started up their seasons yet, only Ligue 1 has started it official games. Add to this the suspensions of Menez and Nasri and you have a situation where what we see on the pitch will be difficult to truly judge.

The expected line up -

Lloris - Debuchy, Yanga-Mbiwa, Sakho, Evra - Mavuba, Gonalons, Valbuena, Ribéry - Giroud, Benzema

No big surprise, we all knew that Deschamps was looking to start a 2 striker formation. Le Petit Velo, Valbuena on the right makes sense. It will be interesting to see how the two holding midfielders will do. Both Mavuba and Gonalons have played for Les Bleus in the past, but the reality is they are both seen as "newcomers." It will be interesting to see how they play and how they take on the responsibility of the position. Both will be called upon to carry some of the linkage between the defense and offense halves of the field. In addition, without Mexes, who is a very offensive minded sweeper, more pressure will be on their shoulders to push high up the pitch. This will be an interesting part of the match to watch.

The back pairing of Mbiwa and Sakho will also be something to look at. Both are young, could be seen as the future for central defense for Les Bleus. Let us see how they do against the likes of Forlan.

I have a feeling we will see a more timid side from France, trying to figure out what they need to do on the pitch. The veterans such as Evra, Robery and Benzema will be called upon to manage the field and the new blood.

Prediction - France 1: Uruguay 1

Allez Les Bleus

Monday, August 13, 2012

France v Uruguay...back to a two striker system?

The news from Clairefontaine is that Deschamps is leaning towards rolling out Giroud-Benzema up front. Hallelujah! If there is was one thing that was apparent during the Euros was the fact Benzema cannot help himself from dropping too deep on the pitch. This left too much space at the top of the formation, allowing the defense to pack in the space and snuff out any oxygen for the offense. With Giroud on the pitch, France will have a striker who will sit on the last defender's shoulder. This will allow for crosses to be more potent as well as opening up space for the midfield and finally give Les Bleus a "fox in the box" someone that can pounce on rebounds.

Hope to see some lethal crosses on Wednesday
So will Deschamps run a 4-4-2? Seems that way. But it may look more like a 4-2-3-1...stay with me on this. First let's look at what could be the following team Deschamps rolls out:

Debuchy, Sakho, Mbiwa, Evra
Payet, Matuidi, Gonalons, Ribery
Benzema, Giroud

This would be a "traditional" 4-4-2...but stay with me...look for Benzema to have the freedom to do what he did at the Euros - drift deeper. Look for Payet and Ribery to push higher on the pitch, playing the wide offensive roles. This would allow for Benzema to drift and fill the hole behind the striker. Matuidi and Gonalons will act as the holding midfielders (Mavuba might also be an option to start in that role).

Deschamps could look to slot Martin on the right, but I think his tendency would be to drift back to the center of the park - potentially infringing on Benzema's space.

This formation would also allow Benzema to slot higher up the pitch, allow Ribery the freedom to drift to the middle in support of the two strikers.

If Deschamps does opt for the two strikers, it will be even more imperative for the right and left backs to push up and bring width to the attack as well as provide the adequate services of crosses to take advantage of the presence of Giroud. I will be interested to see how things work out during the training sessions.

Allez Les Bleus.

Friday, August 10, 2012

PSG...Ligue 1 theirs to lose?

So the Manchester City on the Seine has made a number of big time moves this transfer season. Doing some of their shopping in Italy, see below, as well as the top five most expensive transfers in Ligue 1:

Jul 12Thiago SilvaParis SG.Milan42
Aug 12Lucas MouraParis SG.Sao Paulo40
Jul 12Ezequiel LavezziParis SG.Napoli26
Jul 12Zlatan IbrahimovicParis SG.Milan21
Jul 12Marco VerrattiParis SG.Pescara11

With this new purchasing power, that puts PSG in the same level as the top clubs in Europe, it also puts expectations on a whole new level. One that PSG has seldom been able to live up to, even before the petro-dollars came pouring in.

Of course while PSG has been bringing in players, they teams that will challenge PSG are losing players - Lille lost their best player, and the best player in Ligue 1 Eden Hazard and they might also lose their right back Debuchy to Newcastle, Marseilles lost Diarra and their coach, defending title holders Montpellier lost Ligue 1 leading goal scorer Giroud and might lose young starlet Mbiwa.

Lyon has stood pat so far, but they are just trying to keep their key players, such as Lloris (who I still think would look very good in North London red) and Cissokho.

What me worry?
So it is PSG's title to some level yes. They came very close last season to capturing that elusive Ligue 1 title. Something they have not done since Weah and Ginola have graced the pitch at the Parc des Princes. The pressure does mount on Ancelotti now. How will he leverage all the assets he has?

What will he do with what appears to be a log jam at striker - Ibra, Hourau and Gameiro (I think one of the two French strikers will need to be sold). If Ancelotti sticks with his preferred formation of 4-3-2-1 he does not really need three international strikers. What about Nene? Will the Brazilian stay or does he not have a place on the field? Assume Menez, Lavezzi, Pastore and Verratti will be rotating for the two offensive roles...Nene seems odd man out. Especially with young Brazilian midfielder Moura coming in January. The three deep lying midfielders will most likely be a combination of Motta, Matuidi, Sissoko, Chantome and Bodmer - with the first three getting the bulk of the time.

The back line will also need some managing with a log jam at central defense, especially that Silva is now in the mix. He would appear to be a lock for one of the central roles. With Sakho seeming on the outside looking in, will he get moved? One area that is not a concern is in goal where Sirigu will continue to be PSG's #1, with Douchez more than capable as his back up.

PSG have a lot of options, a lot of money and a lot of expectations. With Champions League football as well as the expectations for Ligue 1 glory, much will depend on how the team is managed and how Ancelotti manages his players time and egos. PSG must get off to a good start and more importantly, they have to stop giving away points to teams they should beat. This has haunted them and cost them dearly over the past few seasons - two loses to lowly Nancy last season cost them the title....I think PSG will win the title this season and get to the knock out stage in the Champions League.

Look for Nene, Sakho and Gameiro to be moved before end of August or in the winter. Also look for PSG to make a big name signing over the winter as well.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

France v Uruguay - in with the old and new...

Deschamps released his first list this morning for the Aug 15th friendly versus Uruguay. Some new faces, old faces and new old faces...the list:

The list for France (notice all the typos!)

Some interesting names have come back into the fold as well as some names that have been left out.

First, no Menez or Nasri, due to the disciplinary ruling from the FFF. Deschamps also did not retain Ben Arfa and M'Vila from the Euro squad, while both escaped the wrath from the federation, with Deschamps not calling them up it could be interpreted as a message from the new manager as to his lack of tolerance for such shenanigans. It will be interesting to see how Deschamps deals with these players as qualification for the World Cup starts.

What about other players left off the list? Rami, Mexes, Cabaye, Diarra and Malouda are all missing from the Euro 2012 squad. Rami and Cabaye have been left off the list because of rest/injury. The door might be closed on the likes of Mexes and Malouda. The AC Milan libero struggled in the last games we saw while his replacement Koscielny was one of the only players to have shown up against Spain. Malouda has no club right now and is getting a tad long in the tooth. Diarra played for Deschamps at OM but is currently refusing to show up for training with his club (forcing his way to West Ham), could Deschamps be sending a message?

Let us look at the players that Deschamps did select. Many on the roster are to be expected - both keepers, Clichy, Evra, Debuchy, Koscielny, Martin, Matuidi, Valbuena, Benzema, Giroud and Ribery. All main stays. So what about the new faces.

None of the players on defense that are new are a huge surprise. Yanga-MBiwa was one of the last cut from the Euro roster and deserves another call up. Jallet was in the running for the Euros as well and with Revelliere getting up there in age, look for the PSG right back to compete with Sagna and Debuchy to be on the squad. Sakho was left off the Euro squad but has always been in the conversation for central defender for France.

Have not seen Mavuba in Bleu in a while
In the midfield - Gonalons was called up by Blanc, he deserves to get another call. No surprise. What is interesting, and positive is seeing Capoue getting the nod. The TFC midfielder has leap-frogged his fellow Toulouse midfielder Sissoko to be in the conversation for Les Bleus. Finally, the call up for Mavuba. The player born at sea, was call up as a 20 year old, but been stuck in purgatory for France for the better part of the past 6 years. As the captain of Lille and the way he has played, the call up is over due and well deserved. He is the engine room for Lille, down the road could he partner with Cabaye? Recreate what they did with Lille?

The strikers, this where I was a tad surprised. Briand, Gomis and Payet all called up. All three have been in and out of the squad over the past few years. Payet makes sense to give Deschamps the winger he needs without Ben Arfa, Nasri and Menez on the squad. However Briand and Gomis, coupled with Giroud and Benzema is interesting. Does this indicate that Deschamps is going to look for a two striker formation? Or is he just vetting who would be his depth at striker.

As we approach the 15th a couple of questions I will be looking for Deschamps to shed some light on:

  • Who will be the captain?
  • What formation will Deschamps look to lean on?
  • Who are Deschamps' core?
We shall see if we get more information on these questions in the upcoming days.

Allez Les Bleus!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Another reason why FIFA rankings are rubbish...

The latest FIFA rankings are surprise Spain keeps its position atop the ranking. After winning the European Cup and holding three straight titles there is no way it could not be atop the rankings. The teams that come after that is all hogwash. The rankings:

Aug 2012
RnkTeamPts+/- Pos
1 Spain16050Equal
2 Germany14740Equal
3 England12941Up
4 Uruguay1236-1Down
5 Portugal12130Equal
6 Italy11920Equal
7 Argentina10980Equal
8 Netherlands10530Equal
9 Croatia10500Equal
10 Denmark10170Equal

Someone remind me what place England finished in the Euros...oh that's right...knocked out in the 1/4 finals by the #6 team, who then ended up reaching the finals. But no, the Azzurri stay at 6 behind Germany, who they defeated fairly soundly in the semi-finals. As well as England another team they defeated. What about Holland...didn't they lose all three of their games???

Anyways, all hogwash!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

DD - The new sheriff is in town or is it meet the new boss same as the old boss?

France's new manager had his first press conference, after the sanctions were handed down last week. Nothing out of the ordinary...except for once again France is faced with some players facing sanctions based on their comportment at the last tournament. With Nasri getting 3 games and Menez getting 1 game, the sanctions and the like are not the same as after the South African debacle.

Deschamps emphasized that players need to remembered that playing for the national team is an honor and should be seen as the ultimate achievement, regardless of what club they play for. This is easier said than done. With the whole club versus country row this will only continue to be a hard sell for any national team manager...especially when they are not paying the salaries! The other challenge is, will Deschamps be viewed differently from his predecessor...Blanc. They are both 98ers. Deschamps was Blanc's captain. They will forever be linked. With this association hurt Deschamps as he tries to take over a side still suffering from the same malaise as during South Africa? Only time will tell.

Much will be seen based on who Deschamps calls up for his first match...list expected on the 9th of August. It will also be interesting to see who Deschamps looks for as his captain. Much will be determined over the next week or so...

Allez Les Bleus.