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!

Monday, September 10, 2012

One step forward...half step back - Les Bleus without Diaby for next match

Surprise surprise...well maybe not that surprising, but after a wonderful game both against Liverpool for Arsenal and most recently for Les Bleus against Finland, Diaby looks like he is out against Belarus due to a knock he picked up. Here we go again. So Deschamps heads into Tuesday's qualifier with a dilemma on his hands - without Diaby what formation and where will the creativity come from?

I think it is safe to say we know who will be lined up at the back -

Lloris in goal

Ready to take a big step with the senior side?
Back four of - Evra on the left, either Jallet or Reveillere on the right and what appears to be the future central pairing of Mbiwa and Sakho in the middle. After that it is anyone's guess. Will Deschamps stick with a 4-3-3 or go with a 4-4-2 and have two strikers? If DD goes with the former, it would appear that Capoue has every chance to start in place of Diaby. A good role, but not sure the TFC midfielder has the same volume in his game to animate the offense for Les Bleus. If DD goes with the later, look for Giroud and Benzema up front, with the likes of Ribery and Menez/Valbuena to animate the wings.

Without the presence of Nasri, Ben Arfa or even Gourcuff, France a bit light in the central midfield creative availability. What Diaby brought to the game last week was an ability to sit in that central midfield role and carry the play, distribute, drop deep and attack the goal. Not sure Capoue is ready to do all those tasks. If Deschamps looks to this formation, I would expect much more pressure to fall on the shoulders of Cabaye to animate the game as well as Ribery to drop deeper to assist...even though the Kaiser has been asked by Deschamps to on the contrary stay higher on the pitch.

Je préfère donc le voir dans les 30-40 derniers mètres car il a cette faculté d’accélérer, de percuter et d’obtenir des fautes aussi. Après, il faut trouver le juste milieu. - Basic translation is Deschamps wants Ribery to save energy and stay in the final third of the field...

Of course if Deschamps opts for the 4-4-2 this lack of a natural playmaker may be even more exposed - since one would believe he would look to pair Mavuba and Cabaye as the central 2 of the 4 midfielders, and his wingers would be wide, so who would sit in the hole behind the strikers? Or could a Benzema drop deeper, as he tends to do?

Regardless of the formation, Les Bleus should...I realize this is a big should...find a way to defeat the lowly Belarussians. Of course we all remember what happened in this same fixture for the last qualifiers.

Hopefully that memory will keep this version on its collective toes. Belarus did lose to Georgia, so they should be ripe for the taking. I will be interested to see what formation Deschamps leans on...Allez les Bleus

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Deschamps opens his account - France get the 3 pts from Finland

So the games count now. And Deschamps and Les Bleus leave Finland with the full 3 points in their bag. The essential was done. France could have won by a larger margin...or lost.

The good:
  • The win...yes I realize it is over simple, but getting the full three points to open the qualifying campaign is nothing to sneeze at.  After a lackluster draw against Uruguay, it was important for Deschamps to get his side to get a positive result. Mission accomplished.
  • Arsenal's #2 - Diaby - had a monster game. Clearly the former Auxerre midfielder demonstrated the talent and skill that are in those boots. What has always been maddening about the player is not his talent, it is his ability to stay on the pitch. Diaby controlled the middle of the park and provided the creative link between the defense and attack. He opened his account with Les Bleus as well on a wonderfully weighted pass from Benzema. Let's hope, both for France and Arsenal, that Diaby stays healthy and continues to demonstrate his skill. 
  • The French center back pairing of Sakho and Mbiwa did not dissappoint. While the PSG man was caught sleeping early on allowing Hämäläinen to break in on Lloris...of course that is also the play where Mbiwa came back to make a saving tackle. Otherwise both Ligue 1 players were absolute rocks controlling the back line. They covered well for the fullbacks' mistakes, were strong in the air and made the important tackles. Mavuba also showed well as cover for the back line. Makes one wonder if Rami has lost his place as a starter.
  • Once again the captain Lloris, demonstrated what a calming force he is for Les Bleus (I am shocked that AVB just said he was Tottenham's #2...). While the new Lily White did not have a whole amount of work to do, he made the saves when called upon. In particular his reflex save late in the game off a Finnish header - granted it hit him square but that is 90% of keeping - putting yourself in the right place. His presence in the French goal remains a positive and a consistent.
The Bad:
  • Someone needs to remind Benzema to stay higher on the pitch!  Once again I saw the French #10 drop deeper on the pitch. There were some string of plays that Benzema stayed high in the formation, that really opened up space for Ribery and Menez, but he did not do this enough. He did get some good service from the wings, but was not able to get on the score sheet. 
  • Both French wings did not show well. Menez and Ribery did not provide the consistent pressure and offensive punch off the wings.The PSG man in particular was invisible for much of the game. Ribery seemed frustrated in the treatment he received from Finland. The Finns were consistently double teaming him with both the fullback and a midfielder. One would think that would open up some space for the other players.
The Ugly:
  • France getting caught out...this could have made things very ugly for Les Bleus. Were France playing a more efficient team, say Spain, the mistakes and the breaks allowed would have proven much more deadly. Too often Les Bleus allowed the ball to turn over in the midfield and gave the Finns the chance to break. The midfield has to be tightened up.
  • French goal scoring. One goal gets three points but not necessarily a good feeling. Les Bleus had their chances to add to the score but once again failed to really threaten the goal. With Benzema floating deep, this clogs up the midfield and also does not create space on the wings for the wingers or overlapping fullbacks. Does Deschamps need to look at integrating a Giroud or Gomis to hold that #9 role? It worked well in the day with Trezeguet and Henry, Trez played at top of the formation while Henry would be allowed to cut in from the left or drop deeper. Granted they had a certain Zidane feeding them the ball. But Les Bleus need to solve this malaise soon...or we could struggle.
France will face off against Belarus this Tuesday. They need to get another victory, end this round with the full 6 points. It will be interesting to see what Deschamps decides to do against the Baltic nation. At least they head home with the full three points.

Allez les Bleus!

Friday, September 07, 2012

Les Bleus back to a 4-3-3?

Some interesting notes coming from the French camp about the starting line up for tomorrow's World Cup qualifier versus Finland. The possible formation -

The first thing that strikes me is the defensive pairing of Mbiwa and Sakho, both who go the full run versus Uruguay. To me both played a solid game against the South American nation, but there is a risk - neither has a large sample size of international games to judge what we might expect from them. A friendly in August is much different from a qualifier in Finland...

In a way, Giroud being a forfeit forced Deschamps' hand - no two headed strike force. Rather Deschamps looks to line up a 4-3-3 with Ribery on the left and Menez on the right, supporting the lone striker Benzema. The key will be the midfield - and if Cabaye and Diaby can carry the creativity and linkage from their midfield positions. Mavuba will most likely be called upon to drop deeper to provide cover to the back 4. Deschamps has gone with experience at his wide back positions with Evra and Reveillere.

What I will be watching for is can Benzema keep a high line, can he stay closer to the last defender's shoulder or will he drop deep looking for the ball? If the fullbacks, Diaby and Cabaye can get the ball up the field fast enough and keep the ball moving to the wide positions - high up the pitch - then Benzema should get the service he needs to increase his goal tally.

Les Bleus need to start fast, with a return game against Belarus, they need to target at WORST 4 points from these two matches, but really 6 points is what is expected.

Prediction: France 2 - Finland 0 goals from Menez and Ribery.

Allez Les Bleus!!