Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year to all...and some bold predictions from the Frog

First of all, a happy New Year to all. Maybe 2014 bring you much joy and happiness.

Here are some bold predictions for the coming year from the Frog:

  • Bayern Munich will repeat as Champions League winners. The Bavarian steam roller is looking as solid as it did last season when it won the treble. Not only has this side remained fairly intact from last campaign but it has added Guardiola as well at Gotze - fresh thinking in the management chair and one of the best German players on the pitch. Granted they need to have Robben back at full strength and ensure they do not suffer any injuries, but that can be said for all the other clubs. But in the end I think we will see our first repeat Champions League winners since Milan did it in 1990 powered by their Dutch trio of Rijkaard, Van Basten and Gullit.
    Treble repeat?
  • PSG will repeat in Ligue 1 and make a deep run in the Champions League. The fat coffers of PSG make them hard to compete with in Ligue 1, and with this buying power I think that the Parisians will make some bold purchases this transfer window to ensure they stay atop Ligue 1 and gear up for a run in the CL. Even if they let go of the likes of Menez, Verratti and Pastore. I could envisage a run at Mata from Chelsea since the Special One does not seem to want to use him or targeting Cabaye at Newcastle (I know Arsenal might go back there, but will Pardew look to stick it to Wenger and ship the midfielder back to France?). Pogba is also in the target but not sure the Old Lady will let go so easily of their young midfielder. That might be a move in the cards for the summer transfer window. PSG have enough depth to hold off the likes of Lille, Monaco and OM for the Ligue 1 title. They also have the talent to make a push in the Champions League...and also a very motivated Zlatan who will want to show the world what they are going to be missing at the World Cup.
  • Arsenal will finally win some silverware...and make a big splash this January. The Gunners will win the EPL...if they make that big transfer splash. If Arsenal do not add to this roster they will fade away in the EPL. The fact they drew Bayern is a blessing since it should be a quick ending for their European title hopes. Maybe Wenger should just look at those matches as he would a Carling Cup game and blood some of his youth. Hahaaa. I do think that Wenger will have enough if he adds some muscle this transfer window. Another striker, regardless of what Giroud says, must be
    Red Devil coming to the Emirates?
    added. Benteke has been rumored and would be a great fit, Costa is also rumored but I don't see that move happening. A midfielder - Cabaye? Wenger has said he is no longer interested but we shall see. An interesting name that has emerged is Le Petit Velo - Valbuena from OM. He could be a very interesting fit, being able to play in the middle of the park or out on the flanks. There is also the possibility of Wenger adding to his stable of German players and signing Daxler, that would be a real game changer of a move. Of course there is also the possibility of Vermaelen leaving, but could Wenger should have cover with Flamini being able to slot back in an emergency. Bottom line - Wenger makes some of these moves and Arsenal win the EPL.  He doesn't and the Gunners fall back into the pack - not enough depth to sustain the run they are on.
  • Only one European nation will get to the World Cup semifinals. And it will not be Spain. The semi finals will pit Brazil vs Germany and Argentina vs Uruguay, a real Copa Sud America feel. South Korea will surprise some by getting of the group stages ahead of Algeria and Russia. Spain will fall in the 1/4 finals to Cavani and Suarez of Uruguay. Brazil will have to face a very difficult gauntlet of European power houses in Holland, Italy and Germany before getting to the finals. The US will surprise many by finishing second in the Group of Death but will crash out in the knock out round against Les Diables Rouge of Belgium...which also means Portugal will fail to impress and actually lose their game to the US and finish third in the group of death. Argentina will have an easier go at it facing the Swiss in the group of 16, then Belgium in the 1/4 finals then having to beat Uruguay and finally setting up an epic Brazil v Argentina World Cup final....where Messi, Higuain, Aguero, Di Maria, et al will win a third World Cup for La Albiceleste. Just think...Brazil v Argentina in a World Cup final...in Rio. Wow.
  • France will not entirely embarrass themselves at the World Cup. Les Bleus will win their group and beat Nigeria to get to the 1/4 finals...where they will get trounced by De Nationalmannschaft in the 1/4 finals. However Paul Pogba will emerge as one of the world's best midfield talents as well as the engine that will run the French midfield and team
    Surprise inclusion for DD as cover for Ribery on the left?
    for years to come. Deschamps will also lean heavily on the 4-3-3 and maximize the talents of his midfield depth in the likes of Pogba, Cabaye, Matuidi, Sissoko, Mavuba et al. He will also make a surprise inclusion in the national side - Schneiderlan, Niang, Griezmann or Zouma are all candidates for that surprise trip to Brazil. It will be interesting to see who Deschamps looks to bring to Brazil with him, with many of the U21 players that had been suspended by the FFF are now eligible to come back to international duty - that also includes M'Vila. Will DD hold their little visit to a night club against them, or have they paid for their errors? I am sure that DD will also have an eye turned to the upcoming European Championship which will be held in France. Something to keep an eye on.
2014, being a World Cup year, will surely be a great one for footy. What we have to hope for is not big name player get injured prior to the World Cup and they are not all too exhausted from an over flowing domestic season to not give us a great tournament in Brazil. It will be great to see the World Cup head back to South America for the first time since Argentina hosted the event in 1978 and that it has not been back in Brazil since 1950!

Happy New Year to all!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Champions League draw...yawn

Okay okay, I am being a little facetus, but my interest in the European club competition has been less than enthusiastic for many years now. I have made my view clear that I miss the days when the Champions League was really that...a competition for the clubs that had won their championships! And when the Cup winners Cup and the UEFA Cup both had significance. And yes I realize that genie has long left the bottle and we cannot unring that bell. But I am awaiting the day we have a time machine so we can go back and correct this ill. So let us look at what we do have for this year's version:

  • Manchester City–Barcelona: This is a mouth watering match up, the highlight of this round. Much will hinge on the health of Manchester City's Aguero who picked up a calf injury in his sides 6-3 dismantling of Arsenal (serves him right). They have a decent back up in Dzeko but not sure the big Bosnian striker can replicate the form of the Argentine. This match up will be an interesting confrontation between a team that wants to possess - Barcelona and one that is happy to sit back and hit on the counter - Manchester City. The key will be how former Barcelona midfielder Toure does against the likes of Iniesta, Cesc, Xavi et al. If Manchester City can absorb the pressure and hit on the counter this is shaping up to be a titanic battle. If Aguero is healthy I think Manchester City get through...otherwise I will go with the Catalan giants.
  • Olympiacos–Manchester United: Probably the best news an embattled Moyes could get. His team should be able to find a way past the Greek side. It will be interesting to see Carroll back at Old Trafford, maybe he finds a way to will the Greek side to defeat his old club...probably not. Manchester United should find a way through.
  • AC Milan–Atletico Madrid: An interesting match up between two teams that have flown under the radar in Europe. Atletico is overshadowed by its city rival Real. But with the likes of Villa and the turn coat Costa, they offer a powerful offensive punch that any side in Europe would fear. Milan will of course come in with their expected Italian defensive flair, but they also have their own offensive jewel in the mercurial Balotelli. They also bring to the table other Manchester City outcasts like Robinho as well as former Real Madrid player Kaka. Add to this youth like Niang and you realize that this Milan team has an interesting mix of experience and youth. I think Milan will surprise a few this year. Look for them to get past Atletico.
  • Bayer Leverkusen–Paris Saint-Germain: I have read some reports stating PSG will win the Champions League...let's not get to far ahead of ourselves. First this is not your father's Bayer, no Ballack to turn to, but the German side remains dangerous and should not be underestimated. PSG come with a comfortable lead in Ligue 1 and apparently clicking on all cylinders with Cavani and Zlatan both taking turns to score braces for the French club. PSG's form of late should make them a favorite to get through this tie. I think a motivated Zlatan has the potential of carrying the club very far. I am sure he is still grumpy about Sweden missing out on the World Cup.
  • Galatasaray–Chelsea: Never easy playing the Turkish giant, especially in Istanbul! Chelsea has been hot and cold this season. Just look at their recent form in the EPL. Losing to Stoke on Dec 7 and drawing with West Brom. Not exactly results you expect from a side with title aspirations. The Special One, however, is usually at his best in these types of situations. Of course he will he going up against a player most associated with his success at Chelsea - Drogba. I am sure the Ivory Coast captain will be highly motivated for this tie. Add to the mix the creativity of Sneijder and I see a very hotly contested match up. I think Chelsea will get through, but barely.
  • Schalke–Real Madrid: Not a friendly draw for the last of the Spanish clubs. The German club from the industrial region will face off against the glamor boys of Real. Too bad Raul no longer plays for the German giants, otherwise that would be the main story line. Regardless it should be a tougher match up than Real had wished for. In the end I think the mini-Galaticos will be too much for Huntelaar and company. Look for the pretty boys of Bale, Ramos, Ronaldo etc to come of out of this tie.
  • Zenit St. Petersburg–Borussia Dortmund: Last year's runner up got the second easiest draw, after Manchester United. The question is whether or not the German giants can hold on to their players during the January transfer window with the likes of Reus and Lewandowski both having major transfer rumors swirling around them. If the squad stays intact for the season, then I cannot see how Hulk and his Russian mates can bring down the German giant. Of course all bets are off if Borussia sell off some of their talent - but I would be surprised with Champions League games on the books for this season.
  • Arsenal–Bayern Munich: Ouch ouch ouch. Tough draw for the Gunners. Had to go up against the same side last year and ended up losing a tough tie. So what has changed since then? Well Bayern has added to their trophy case and Arsenal...well they have not. Granted the Gunners are sitting in first place in England, but how tenuous is that lead??? Oh and Bayern has added the likes of Gotze...wait wasn't he a Wenger target...oh right he was, another player Arsenal missed out on. So the Gunners have the challenge of facing a Bayern side that is clicking on all cylinders and that has improved from last season. Ouch. I think this is where Arsenal's lack of quality depth will rear its ugly head. I just cannot envisage the Gunners keeping the Bavarian giants at bay. Arsenal drop out of yet another Champions League...well at least that will allow them to focus on the EPL!
Let the games begin!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

World Cup draw part 2 - what is in store for France and the US?

I covered off the first half of the draw in my last post, now let us take a look at the second half of the draw. Might be some surprises with these groups.

Group E: The Khao group...reference to bland mushy rice they feed to babies and old people from Hangover 2. Might be the least competitive group. Talk about being fortunate, a few weeks ago after their visit to Kiev it looked all but certain that Les Bleus would only be going to Brazil as tourists next year. After 90 crazy minutes in Paris and brace from the most unlikely of players - Sakho - France were headed to Brazil. This is where France's good fortune continued - suppose to be slotted into one of the groups with a South American head of series (50/50 chance of getting either Brazil or Argentina) missed out on this and drew the softest head of group - Switzerland. The other sides drawn were also not the biggest fish...granted had it been Iran and Algeria it might have been even softer of a group. But a mushy group none the less.

  • Ecuador. The South American side is fancied by some to making a run into the 1/4 finals. Could happen, a very weak group, one where anything can happen. If Ecuador were allowed to play these games at home then I would absolutely say they would go through, but alas they will not be playing at elevation. I think they are getting a lot of "credit" because they are playing on their home continent. Reality is they have one real world class player, and that might be a stretch as well, Antonio Valencia. Granted they have a decent chance to get out of the group, just because it is the khao group.
  • France. Of course you know that the Frog will spend the next 7 months waffling back and forth on how this side will do next summer. Honestly I could see them finishing last with one point or first with the full complement of 9 points and then making a run to the semi finals...bottom line is France need to thank their lucky stars for getting this draw. Reality is their second team should fare well in this group. Seriously. Off the top of my head here would be your second side -  Carrasso - Tremoulinas, Mangala, Mbiwa, Jallet - Scheiderlin, Kondogbia, Gourcuff - Ben Arfa, Lacazette, Menez - I think this collection would be more than competitive in this group. Much will depend on the mind set for this team. If they play like they did against Ukraine in Paris, look out. If they play like they they did in Kiev, then enjoy the brief visit to Brazil.
  • Honduras. Finishing 3rd in CONCACAF gets them directly through to the World Cup. Honestly they should be a safe 3 points for all the other sides in the group - seriously one of their best players, Bengtson, plays for the New England Revolution. They have the "luck" of playing Les Bleus in the first game, France who are not always the best starters in tournaments. If they pull off the hold up and get a draw they might fancy their outside chance at sneaking into the next round....but I doubt it.
  • Switzerland. The worst top of group nation, that wasn't the home nation (South Africa as the #1 seed was worse...and yes I know they beat the French in that WC, Japan was also a week #1 but both were host nations). There I said it! All this noise around Switzerland feels like buzz that is being created to justify their seeding as well as ensure there is interest in watching these matches.Granted the Swiss have some talent - Xhaka and Shaqiri come to mind (both exiles from Eastern Europe).  But they qualified in the easiest group of Europe  - Iceland, Slovenia, Norway, Albania and Cyprus - seriously? Wonder if Platini did Sepp a solid by giving him native land this qualifying group and now Sepp returned the favor slotting France in this World Cup group! Last World Cup the Swiss did beat eventual champions Spain in the first game, but then fell to Chile and could not defeat Honduras and left third in the group. Again in the khao group any of the 4 nations can go through.
  • Predicted finish - France, Ecuador, Switzerland, Honduras. Again, the Frog will, guarantee, rearrange this order at least a half dozen times between now and next summer. As I stated in the beginning of this post, France could get only a draw against Honduras and lose the other two games or storm through this group beating every team. Who knows. But if Les Bleus do not go through to the knock out stage...they can all stay in South America. None of the other nations have the midfield to match up against a potential - Pogba, Matuidi, Cabaye set up....Allez les bleus, you got lucky, now take advantage of that good fortune.
Group F: The khao with some flavorful beef group. Mildly, at best, competitive group. Three so so nations, with one powerhouse. No surprise but this is Argentina's group to lose and really should be an exercise at who finishes second.
  • Argentina. Messi, Aguero, Higuain, Lavezzi, Di Maria...how is that is for some offensive talent? Not sure how any of the nations in this group will slow down this wagon. In addition, I feel as if Argentina and Messi are finally in sync. Messi is scoring goals and led his nation to a fairly comfortable qualification. Of course they might be the nation with the second most pressure heading into this tournament, after the hosts. Playing back on their home continent and the reality that the Albiceles have not had a good World Cup (for their standards) since the 1990 version in Italy where they reached the finals, since then it has been 1/4 finals at best. The pressure will build as we get closer to the summer, who knows if Argentina will live up to the
    Celebrating deep into the tournament?
    expectations...but they surely will not disappoint in the group stages.
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina. The former Yugoslavian nation has some talent - Dzeko, Spahic, Pjanic to name a few. No team should sleep on this nation. I do question how they will play away from the European continent. Tough draw for Bosnia from the stand point that they have to open against the favorite - Argentina. And they don't play the minnows - Iran until the last game. Bosnia must ensure at least a point from their first two games and look to win big against Iran if they hope to get through.
  • Iran. The middle eastern nation has a legitimate chance at being the last place team in the entire tournament, unless of course Les Bleus do what they did 4 years ago and take that spot! With a team made up primarily of domestic players, they do not necessarily have enough experience players that play in bigger leagues. Look for a three game visit for Iran.
  • Nigeria. The Super Eagles are always a dangerous team in these tournaments. They will be a dangerous opponent in this edition as well. Nigeria has the fortune that they will be facing Argentina on the last day, both nations may already be qualified. This team is one that is in transition with many players still playing domestically. One key for Nigeria will be the form of their keeper - Enyeama who has been the best keeper in Ligue 1 for Lille this season. The Super Eagles should be one of the danger teams in this tournament.
  • Predicting finish: Agentina, Nigeria, Bosnia, Iran. I cannot imagine how the Messi boys cannot find their way to the head of this group. The Super Eagles should take advantage of the schedule to find enough to get into the knock out stages.
Group G: Cyanide group. Highly competitive group. This is the group of death, no doubt...the main reason, the presence of the United States in this group. Groups B and D are tough, but they do not have the depth from top to bottom. The US will face a massive challenge to get through this group, but definitely not impossible.
  • Germany. The class of this group, one of the favorites for the World Cup title. With the creativity of Ozil, coupled with the likes of Muller, Gotze, Kroos, Daxler and Gomez and you have a scary creative machine. Question is do they still lean on the dinosaur Klose for goals? And is Lahm still going to be called on to hold down the flanks? Also a concern is whether or not Khedira is back in full fitness from a knee injury in time.
    Thumbs up on being ready for WC?
    Some of their short comings may come back to haunt them, but certainly not in this group.
  • Portugal. So Portugal fail to qualify directly and have to beat Sweden to get to Brazil, and all of a sudden they are in the top 10 for the FIFA rankings and pointed to as a favorite. Really? Yes they have talent, yes Ronaldo plays for them and yes this is still Portugal a nation that could easily go to the finals or crash out in the first round. In qualifying they drew against Isreal twice and Northern Ireland once...really? Yes they took out Zlatan and Sweden, but why are we to believe that the typical over-hyped Portugal isn't the team that is going to show up in Brazil? Portugal also has to open up against Germany, if the German machine steamrolls the Portugese, I could see Ronaldo and his mates just melting away and going home with their tails between their legs. Of course they could also man up and go on  deep run...anything is possible with this bunch.
  • United States. Poor Klinsmann, will have to face the nation he managed to the semi finals of the 2006 World Cup. He also inherits the group of death for the world cup. But hey, the US went toe to toe with Germany in their last match up and won 4-3 so clearly they have the upper hand. Ha. Okay so the US looks like they should be 3 and done, but not so fast. I do not expect but would not be surprised to see the US get out of this group. They open up against Ghana, and yes the Black Stars have knocked out the US the past two World Cups. But the US gets to open against the Black Stars, so we will see if this version of Ghana is similar to the ones that took out the US or if they are a team in transition. The US then goes up against Portugal, a team they have some World Cup success against. In 2002 when the US pulled off a huge upset it was against a much more balanced and overall talented Portugal team, one that was expected to be a real threat in the South Korea/Japan World Cup. Finally I would no discount the fact that Klinsmann does have vast experience and knowledge of the Mannschaft. Could he game plan that last game to getting some type of result for the US? Maybe.
  • Ghana. The Black Stars are becoming a regular at these World Cups, which is wonderful. Reality was it not for that cannibal Suarez and his blatant hand ball at the end of the Uruguay - Ghana game, then the Black Stars could have been the first African nation to have reached a World Cup semi final. I was looking over their roster and surprised at the ages of some players, players like the Ayew brothers, Gyan, Boateng, Muntari are all under 30. They are in their prime and have some creative and scoring talent. Question is how well does Essien play for the Black Stars? And how does this defensive core of the team hold up. There are a lot of question marks on that side of the pitch for me. 
  • Predicted finish: Germany, United States, Ghana, Portugal. Yup, you read it here first...or at least that is what I am going to say! The United States pulls off the upset of the first round and gets out of the group of death! The one thing for me about the group of deaths in prior World Cups is that one of the teams that goes through is usually one of the nations no one expects to get out of the group. As I stated above, I think the US has a decent chance, I think that Portugal is way over-hyped and I honestly think the US could get a result against all three nations (when I say result I do not mean a victory...no reason to think they cannot draw against a German team that might be resting all their starters in the last game)
Group H: Moules frites group. Mildly competitive group, but some tasty bits. For most casual observers this would be a boring group, but I think the Red Devils of Belgium might have something to say at this World Cup and just for that it is a group worthy of your attention.
  • Belgium. Not since the teams of Scifo in the 1980s has there been so much hope for a squad from Belgium. That hope is well grounded with the likes of Hazard, Lukaku, Fellaini, Kompany, Vermaelen, Benteke to name a few. This side has the talent and
    Ready to show the world their true colors.
    has been on from lately. They also drew a group that should be theirs for the taking. The question is can they handle this pressure? There are some in Belgium that are openly talking of this side winning the tournament. That is a tremendous amount of pressure for a nation that has not been a regular at major tournaments.
  • Russia. The next host of the World Cup will want to ensure a good showing this edition. This side is one of the old school national teams, with almost all their players plying their trade in the domestic league. This can sometimes be a massive advantage for a nation. It will be interesting to see how Shirokov and his teammate navigate a relatively simple group.
  • Algeria. Algeria fancied their chances in the last World Cup of somehow squeezing by and getting to the knock out stages. They did not show poorly, losing a tough game to Slovenia, drawing with England and losing a dramatic match against the US. The former French colony is built on a number of French born players - Feghouli, Taider, Boudebouz, Yebda, etc. They have been building on their last World Cup showing and won their qualification group with relative ease. They should fancy their chances this time around again, but they get to face off against South Korea in the second game. That match up may determine if either one has an outside shot at taking second place in the group.
  • South Korea. The South Koreans have long enjoyed status as the premier Asian footballing nation. This has not changed even with the arrival of Australia into AFC. The South Koreans are never an easy opponent to play. Look for them to rely on some of their European exports to lead this side. A second place finish would not be out of the realm of possibility.
  • Predicted finish: Belgium, South Korea, Russia, Algeria. Belgium is the class of this group, as long as they don't soil their shorts on this stage they should find their way of out the group in the #1 spot. I think that South Korea's experience in these tournaments, and the fact they do not have to face the Red Devils until the 3rd game means they do what it takes to get through.

Phew...so there is the draw! Of course as I keep stating, the Frog will most likely change his thinking on this at least a half dozen times between now and the start of the World Cup.

Let the debate continue!

Friday, December 06, 2013

Phew...France get lucky and other ramblings on the World Cup Draw. Part 1 (France talk in part 2)

Well now we know the groups for next summer's World Cup. As with every major tournament, some very interesting story lines, some scary groups and some ahem...weaker groups. So here are the frog's initial thoughts on the groups, these predictions will change only a dozen times between here and next summer.

One thing future posts will have to dive in deeper into the location of the games, the schedule etc...but for now this is a first take of the groups and draw.

Group A: The porridge group. Mildly competitive group, highlighted by the host nation. Some solid nations that can surprise. Games you will watch because you have to simply because of Brazil and it is good for you.
  • Brazil - Host nation with 5 stars on their kit, looking to win the 6th on their home soil. The only other time they hosted a World Cup had a monumental final in 1950 against Uruguay where they lost a dramatic game - in front of close to 200,000 fans. The pressure will never be greater on this side. Will they win it all, not sure, but I cannot see them not getting out of the groups. I do think they should not overlook Croatia - dangerous side and naturalized Brazilian Eduardo heading back to his native land.
  • Cameroon - Tough draw for The Indomitable Lions. Cliche, but their fortune maybe decided in their first game against El Tri. If they beat Mexico I can see Cameroon sneaking into the knock out round. Can Eto'o be this Cameroon's Milla?
  • Croatia - This side has some talent and experience, look at how many international caps some on their roster have, yes that might be an indication of an old team. But I do not think they will be intimidated playing against Brazil. Everything might come down to the second game when they face Cameroon. Winner of that game might be second place side.
  • Mexico - El Tri had an incredibly disappointing qualification, having to go to a play off round, where they showed some true footballing prowess. Or right, they were facing off against New Zealand. That match up was a bit one sided. It would the exact opposite if the New Zealand rugby team faced off against the Mexican rugby team. I actually think New Zealand should have looked at using some of their rugby players in those games. Anyways, Mexico is trick or treat, they could beat Brazil in this group or not win a single point. I think that there has been too much turmoil with this side to get their act together in time.
  • Predicted finish: Brazil, Croatia, Cameroon, Mexico. No major surprises, other than Mexico tanking. They have they talent but I just think they are still a complete mess heading into the tournament. Croatia are one of those sneaky teams that quietly find results in these tournaments.
Group B: The all night bender group. Hard drinking, hard partying, smoke some pot, no sleep group - very competitive group. This is a candidate for the group of death. Were the Australians' form more similar to 2006 then this group would clearly be the group of death.
  • Australia - Cannon fodder for this group. Unfortunately this is not the team from down under like 2006, a team that could be argued should have taken down the Italians. Unfortunately this version is a shell of those sides. Just look at that 6-0 drubbing they took against France! No chance on this group...at least their fans will enjoy the samba.
  • Chile - Dark horse team in the tournament. Too bad they get drawn into this group. With recent victories against England, a draw against defending WC champion Spain and having finished the qualifying run on a hot string. But they are drawn into a very challenging group. It will be crucial for this side to start the tournament with 3 points against Australia and then hope to get a result against either the Dutch or the Spanish.
  • Netherlands - Jup Oranje! Ah clockwork orange gets to kick off this tournament like they finished the last one...against Spain. Wow. Talk about some good drama.
    How does my boot taste?
    Unlike the finals of the last World Cup, I do not see the Dutch trying to goon line the Spanish (remember De Jong's karate kick?). This opening match should be much more open. Much of the Dutch success will hinge on the health of the likes of RVP and Robben.
  • Spain - No cake walk for the defending World Cup and two time defending European Cup champions, they cannot win a fourth major title in a row? Can they? If they do it will not be easy having to emerge from this group. It is not inconceivable that they finish third in this group! Lose to Holland, draw against Chile and beat Australia - Holland wins 2 and draws with Chile and Chile beat Australia...could happen. Some players on Spain are getting old (Xavi, Alonso, Villa and Puyol), but they still ooze with talent - Silva, Cesc, Pique etc. It will be also interesting if Costa goes and how he will be received back "home." I do think that central defense - who pairs with Pique? and the keeper issue might come back to haunt La Roja...I do think they will have a let down which will happen against Holland.
  • Predicted finish: Holland, Spain, Chile, Australia. I want to pick Spain third...but I know that will not happen. Chile goes in as a dark horse, but I do not think the whole "playing in south america" has the same impact it once had. So no major advantage for Chile. Holland and Spain just have too much talent. But I do think Holland get past Spain for first in the group.
Group C: White rice on toast group. Mildly competitive group. Could this finally be the year Ivory Coast wins their group and goes off on a deep run in the World Cup? Some solid footy nations in this group...but pedestrian in terms of wow factor.
  • Colombia - How far can Monaco striker Falcao carry his side? Not sure. As good as Falcao can be, can he carry his side? Maybe. Then again this group is like white rice on toast...bland. I think that Colombia just have a little bit too much talent and playing on their home continent will get them into the top two.
  • Greece - Why is it that I feel as if the Greeks are still living off the glow from their unexpected Euro victory in 2004? They qualified via the play off against Romania. Nothing too exciting there. I think that the Greece is happy to being there but just don't have enough talent to get to the knock out stages, even in this vanilla group.
  • Ivory Coast - This might finally be the tournament for the Elephants to make some noise. The Ivory Coast have tended to getting drawn into groups of death but this time they get the vanilla group. With Yaya Toure playing like a man possessed and a Drogba that still has something in the tank, look for the Ivory Coast to spring board from this group into the knock out stages.
  • Japan - Tough draw for Japan. A nation that has become a fairly regular attendee at World Cups will once again show up for a round of three games. Unless these games are somehow transported back to Japan (Japan did qualify for the knock out when the WC was played on home soil) just don't see Japan getting more than a point in this group.
  • Predicted finish: Ivory Coast, Colombia, Greece, Japan. Look for Toure to be the man of this group, I expect him to carry Ivory Coast. And having Drogba there as well remains dangerous for the other sides. For once Ivory Coast could be seen as the best side in their group. Colombia rides playing in their back yard and Falcao. Greece just do not have the star power to move on. 
 Group D: Bucket of nails. Highly competitive group. Even Costa Rica is a tough nail, just look at how they play in qualifiers. No easy games in this group. Hopefully Suarez doesn't bite off more than he can chew in this group...sorry couldn't resist. But this is a strong candidate for the group of death as well.
  • Costa Rica - Tough tough draw for Los Ticos. Cannot imagine how they sneak out of this group. But they should not be looked at as an easy 3 points, even if somehow they end up playing a freak snow storm...but I just do not see Los Ticos getting past the other nations.
  • England - Ah the three lions, still harping on 1966...if recent form is any indication look for the three pussy cats to flame out once again. As always the English head into a major tournament with the moniker of "favorite" not sure why. This team is getting old in key roles - Lampard, Gerrard, Cole to name a few. Rooney will not miss the first two games this World Cup, but is still likely to stomp on someone's private parts at some point...probably against Costa Rica. Much will be expected from England, but what else is new.
  • Italy - speaking of old...Buffon and Pirlo will be leaned on to lead this side. Is this one tournament too far? And does Balotelli keep his sh#t together? As always the Azzurri have the ability to go to the finals...or crash out in the first round like they did four years ago. If Balotelli comes to play and keeps focused I think they will avoid the latter.
  • Uruguay - The last time the World Cup was held in Brazil, La Celeste won their second world title. Not sure I am ready to say that lightening will strike twice. But lead by the cannibal Suarez as well as PSG striker Cavani, Uruguay have the talent to make some noise. They finished fourth in the last World Cup and did okay in last year's Confederation Cup losing on a late goal against Brazil. Uruguay always punch above their weight and I know they will not be intimidated by the two European powers in their group. They do start off against Costa Rica, which should be 3 points for Uruguay. After that all is to play for...
  • Predicted finish: Italy, Uruguay, England, Costa Rica. The schedule is going to dictate this finish with England having to open up against Italy and then face Uruguay. The three lions could head into the Costa Rica game sitting on zero points! Not out of the realm of possibility. I think that Italy demonstrated during the last Euros that they are back to their quiet success in tourneys. Uruguay is back on their home continent and in good form, even having to go via play off.
 Phew so there is part 1....again I am sure much will change over the next 6 months. Part 2 coming up. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Add Koscielny to the list heading to Brazil

We now know that Kos will only get a one game ban for his red card in Kiev. Which has already been served in the return game in Paris. With that in mind, I think we can move Kos to the going to Brazil for Deschamps. This makes me wonder what the status of Abidal will be with regards to traveling to Brazil. I might lean more on Deschamps bringing one of the younger talents at central defense, like a Zouma, now that he has his top three central defenders available.

We shall see.

Allez les bleus.

Who will DD bring to Brazil? Part II

Okay I covered the defenders and keepers in my last post, now for the midfielders and strikers. I had taken 3 GKs and 8 defenders, which leaves me with 12 more spots. Now I could see DD going with only 3 pure strikers and taking an extra defender (maybe Koscielny?) or beefing up his midfield with 9 midfielders. Granted, some players who I consider midfielders are sometimes categorized as strikers, but we are just arguing semantics. Without further babble from me, here are the midfielders and strikers:

Midfield: Whether DD goes with a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 (which I would much prefer), he will lean heavily on this group to carry the play. Those that are going to Brazil - Pogba, Matuidi, Valbuena, Cabaye and Ribery. Those that have a question mark -
  • Nasri. What to do with the former jewel of the French developmental system. The Manchester City midfielder is maddening in his inconsistency. Some games he looks like what many hoped he would become - a massively talented and creative midfielder. A player that carve up a defense with his dribbling and his passing as well as scoring key goals. Yet at other times he just seems to be getting in other player's way and does not seem to know what is going on. The fact he can play as a true #10 or out on one of the wings makes him difficult to ignore. Sometimes I feel as if we keep waiting for the potential to emerge...can we afford to keep waiting?
  • Mavuba. The Lille midfielder is a little snake bitten...he plays a role where France have some absurd depth. He is clearly behind the likes of Pogba, Matuidi and Cabaye when it comes to that holding/deep lying midfielder. But that does not mean he does not have the talent to start. I am sure there are a number of national sides that would love to have such a player...think England who cannot seem to find a natural holding midfielder. Their last great holding player was Hargreaves and he is Canadian! Mavuba has plenty of other players he needs to keep at bay, the likes of Capoue, Gonalons, Kondogbia and Guilavogui. And what if by miracle of all miracles Diaby gets back to 100%....naaaaaa.....that is just crazy talk, sorry. A real outsider could be
    Thumbs up to France...or England?
    Schneiderlin who plays for Southampton but has been somewhat ignored by DD. There is also confusion abound at whether or not he could actually play for England as well.
  • Grenier. The playmaking Lyon midfielder has found his way onto DD's list recently, but has not figured in any games. Would DD bring such a player with him to Brazil? Granted his playmaking ability make him an offensive option off the bench. But if DD already has the likes of Ribery, Valbuena and Nasri who can all carry that #10 role, does he have room for Grenier? What about the likes of Thauvin at Marseilles? He offers a left footed option in attacking midfield. Watching him for the U20 French World Cup winning side he was a real threat with his pace and guile in the midfield. He is a little bit of a head case - see the way he shot his way out of Lille. But if he has a good second half of season for OM he might force his way to Brazil. Another offensive midfielder that is forgotten is Ben Arfa. Le Petit Prince has been cast out in to the national team waste land, but watching him play for Newcastle and one wonders why he isn't in the conversation. He could play out on the right...a huge issue for France or as a the #10.
  • Sissoko. The Newcastle man has had somewhat of a resurrection under DD. After getting his start with Domenech he fell out of the picture under Blanc and only recently has found his way back into the mix. His power and pace make him an intriguing combination for DD. He can play high on the pitch as a more offensive minded midfielder or drift back and play a more traditional holding role. 
Heading to Brazil: Pogba, Matuidi, Cabaye, Valbuena, Ribery, Nasri, Sissoko, Mavuba and a wild card Thauvin from Marseilles. The U20 World Cup champion offers a left footed attacking midfield option that DD might look to groom and throw out on the pitch late in games. And yes he takes 9 midfielders, leaving only three strikers...

Strikers: After Benzema and Giroud who do we have? Gomis...no. Gignac? Please, he is terrible. Henry? Don't laugh I might take him...Lacazette? Not ready for prime time. I would take Remy. I do like him for his ability to play out wide on the right side as well as the lone striker. He offers flexibility that DD will need in Brazil. Granted Remy has not shown well for France in recent matches, but I think he is the best option Les Bleus have. Especially if, as I hope, DD goes with a 4-3-3. In which case Remy could play that outside role in the top 3 or even the top of the formation. But if DD goes with a 4-3-3 he will not need as many pure strikers as he would otherwise and probably a player of Remy's make up would suit the squad even more.

Heading to Brazil: Benzema, Giroud and Remy.

Outsiders that might have a chance:
  • Menez - the PSG winger has an outside chance since France remains weak on the right side. Menez, if he has a stellar second half of season, might force DD to consider taking him to Brazil.
  • Payet - same as Menez. But the Lille right winger just doesn't do it for me. He is completely invisible in the games I watch him play for France. There are better options than him. Granted DD seems to like him, but I cannot see him going to Brazil.
  • Gourcuff - the next "zidane" has failed to impress when given the chance. Might be a result of having too lofty expectations placed on him early on. Since his wonder season at Bordeaux he just has not seemed ready to regain his place. I fear that he has flamed out when it comes to the national side.
Of course all this could change with injuries and players not in form. I clearly expect DD to have a wild card that no one thinks of today, that could be a player like Thauvin or even Schneiderlin. I doubt that DD goes with a wild card on defense like a Zouma.

We shall see over the next few months. But at least France are heading to Brazil!

Allez Les Bleus!!

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Who will DD bring to Brazil...never too early to speculate! Part 1

To be honest I am still a little shocked that France will be heading to Brazil next summer, and not as tourists. That game in Stade de France still feels surreal. Of course we know that France will not be a head of series and if prior history is any indication, France will be placed in one of the groups with a South American nation as head of series. Meaning, France will be in the group with one of the following - Brazil, Argentina, Columbia or Uruguay. Need not be said that the first two nations are to be avoided. Then again France has some success against Brazil in World Cups...I would actually be more afraid of Argentina than Brazil, but really rather avoid both powers. Not to say that either Columbia or Uruguay would be cake walks. But to be honest, I am just happy to see Les Bleus in the World Cup and I have very low expectations for them. So who will go for Les Bleus? Let's take an early look.

The roster size will be 23 players, 3 of which are keepers so you have 20 outfield players. Let us look at the keepers to start. Of course these names all assume full fitness next summer...

Goalkeepers - Lloris and Mandanda can pack their bags for Brazil. Again short of injury or some massive drop in form with either player, they will both be heading to Brazil. Question is who does DD take as his 3rd keeper. If recent selection is any indication look for former PSG keeper Landreau packing his bags. Seems like DD has a soft spot for the former heir apparent to the French #1 spot in goal. Landreau will be 35 next summer so will be, most likely, his last major tournament. He does have a runner-up medal from the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but missed out from the South Africa debacle, probably a good thing. My question is, does it make the best use of that spot for DD to bring a 35 year old keeper? What about U20 World Cup champion, Alphonse Areola? Or even a Ruffier or Carasso, Going to Brazil: Lloris, Mandanda and Landreau.
Winning the U20 World Cup for France
younger options that might benefit from the experience? I would prefer to see the young PSG keeper Areola being taken to Brazil. He will be 21 years old, but the likelihood of him seeing any action is slim. He also backstopped the U20 French team to the World Cup title, so he has some high level international experience. The time spent with the senior squad will greatly help the young keeper. While I would bring him, I think DD will stick to his usual suspects.

Defenders - I am going with 8 defenders, 2 left backs, 2 right backs and 4 central defenders. The defenders I am sure will go - Varane, Debuchy, Evra and Sakho. The following are the question marks:
  • Abidal - Does DD take the aging Monaco player? The 34 year old defender has found a small fountain of youth back in Ligue 1 but that does not necessarily translate into a World Cup spot. Deschamps did bench him on the return leg against Ukraine, does that spell doom for the former Barcelona man? I do think that DD likes the veteran presence in the dressing room and in a pinch he could slot back to the left, granted he might not really have the legs for that any more. I think DD could take him more for his veteran presence than for what he has left in the tank.
  • Sagna - The Arsenal right back is a solid defender...but still hasn't hit a cross that makes any defense nervous. I much rather see PSG right back Jallet as cover, I think he defends as well as Sagna but is much more talented offensively. Then again his bad angle against Spain cost France that game, that might be something that DD can't get out of his head.
  • Clichy - Heir apparent for the left back role, has not been able to pry it from the veteran Evra. Clichy shows flashes of both good and bad. At times looking like a turnstile while other times using his pace to both defend and attack ferociously. The real saving grace for Clichy is that there isn't a natural left sided defender in the pipeline to threaten for playing time. Tremoulinas was seen as a potential national team left back, but hasn't been able to consistently play at a high level. While Mathieu has waffled too much between left back and left midfielder to really take control of a position. One player that might have an outside shot is Lucas Digne who was France's U20 left back during the
    Next time for the PSG left back?
    World Cup.
  • Koscielny - He is the real enigma in this. Not because his talent does not make him an obvious choice, but because of the potential that he missed the first two games due to the red card he picked up away to Ukraine. Would DD take a player he knows cannot contribute in the first two matches? And if he does, would have have to take an extra defender as cover? This could be one route if DD decides to only take 3 pure strikers, more on this later. If DD does not take the Arsenal man I could see Rami or Mbiwa getting the nod. Or even an outsider like Zouma from St Etienne. 
Going to Brazil - Debuchy, Varane, Sakho, Evra (most likely your starting back line) Abidal, Sagna, Clichy and Rami. I don't see DD taking a player who cannot play for 2 games with him to Brazil especially if he has a veteran player like Rami he can take along. Zouma might have an outside chance.

Those are my keepers and defenders. More this week on the midfielders and strikers.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

INCROYABLE...Les Bleus head to Brazil

What else is there to say? France do what seemed impossible and get the 3-0 victory to get past the pesky Ukrainians and head to Brazil next summer for the World Cup. Incroyable.

The Good:
  • Heading to the World Cup. What else is there to say? France have not missed a major tournament since the 1994 World Cup in the United States. They were able to come back after being down 0-2 after the first leg. Something that no European team had ever been able to achieve. The drama that would have swept over the nation had the failed to qualify, while good in a way, would have been a circus.
  • Sakho. What a beast. He only started because of the red card Koscielny picked up away in Kiev. The former PSG central defender put together the game of his life. He was a rock on defense and scoring a brace was something no one could have ever predicted. Did we get a glimpse of the future center back pairing for France? Varane and Sakho have the potential of
    Not a bad time to score your 1st...and 2nd goals for France
    being the bed rock for Les Bleus moving forward. Speaking of the Real Madrid center back, Varane demonstrated his silky smooth play. He demonstrated a level of calmness usually reserved for veteran players. 
  • Speaking of playing at a level beyond their age, Pogba, has quickly established himself as one of the core players for France. The captain of the U20 World Cup champions showed why he should be the foundation of the French midfield for years to come. Between his ability to break up any offensive threats coming through the midfield coupled with the offensive threat he offers, dare I say he resembles Pat Vieira? Other players have been given that moniker but the Juventus man seems to be the real deal. Couple that with his recent play for the Old Lady and one can only get a tad excited about his prospects.
  • The top 3 of the formation. The line of Ribery - Benzema -Valbuena were outstanding. Ribery looked completely different than the player that was bottled up in Kiev. Benzema looked like the striker he is supposed to be. And Valbuena was deadly on set pieces.
  • The formation: 4-3-3...as the Frog has been calling for, looked like a success for France. Especially since it allows Deschamps to field three of his better assets - Cabaye, Matuidi and Pogba at the same time. The key was to get Cabaye on the field. His defending and distribution were clinical. His presence also allows Pogba to jump up into the offensive end as well as, to a lesser extent, Matuidi. With the likes of Mavuba, Sissoko, Capoue to name a few, in the wings, I think that Deschamps should look at staying with this formation moving forward.
The Bad:
  • Tough loss for Ukraine. After doing the essential at home they seemed odds on favorite for going through. Has to be seen as a bad loss for the former Soviet state.
  • Offsides calls...so things balanced out in the end a Benzema goal disallowed for an offside call that didn't exist and then a goal granted when he was clearly off side. However, on the goal the side line official was screened by the Ukrainian defender and the ball does appear to come off a defender in which case there would be no off side as the defender played the last ball. But unlike what happened 4 years ago against Ireland, the "hand of Gaul" will not dominate the head lines...
 The Ugly:
  • France's consistency...where has this team been for the past few years? Is this the direction where the team is trending? Games like last night are why being a French fan is maddening. They can lay an egg like they did in Kiev and then turn around an look like a world class side last night in Paris. The French malaise in terms of consistent play continues to haunt this side. If they cannot remedy this they will continue to have nights like last night. Nights of unbelievable jubilation, but nights that were the product of their own maddening inconsistency. Les Bleus need to find a way to bottle the way they played last night, maybe not at that intensity since that cannot be maintained, but use it as a template for how they should approach their play moving forward. It is this inconsistency that could make France a 3 games and out next summer or one that surprises and goes deep in the tournament. 
And we celebrate...
 So I will enjoy this victory, one I did not expect to see. I fully expected the French to give up a late goal and to endure another Bulgarian fiasco.  Thankfully I was spared that fate. Now on to December 6th where we will see which group France get placed in. Since they will not be a head of series they could easily find themselves in a group with the likes of Brazil, Germany or Spain...but that rant is for another day. For now we celebrate!

Allez les Bleus!!!!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Deschamps' Waterloo? Going down fighting with a 4-3-3

Tonight at 9:00pm Paris time, Les Bleus will be looking to do the impossible - come back from a 0-2 deficit against the Ukraine to get into the World Cup next year. Mission impossible? Probably. But at least Deschamps and Les Bleus will go into this challenge with their boots on. According to reports, DD will employ the 4-3-3 rather than the usual 4-2-3-1.

The proposed line up: Lloris – Debuchy, Varane, Sakho, Evra – Pogba, Cabaye, Matuidi – Valbuena, Benzema, Ribéry

Getting Cabaye into the mix in the midfield, as well as employing an attacking trio of Ribery - Benzema - Valbuena might be what France need to stand a chance. Cabaye will also permit the likes
May we see this tonight
of Pogba to push up higher on the pitch when need be, as Cabaye can provide cover during those forays by the Juventus midfielder. What will be interesting to see is how disciplined Valbuena is with keeping the right side of the formation offensively threatening. The 4-3-3 could easily morph into a "Christmas tree" or 4-3-2-1 formation with Benzema pushing high on the pitch and Ribery and Valbuena pinching in more into the middle of the pitch. Of course that type of formation is usually reserved for more conservative efforts, aka defensive minded play. Not really what is needed in this game!

End of the day France need to get a quick goal, put some pressure on the Ukrainian squad and also give the crowd a reason for hope. If Les Bleus can get a goal within the first 20 minutes then we might have a game. On the other hand if we go to half time on a goalless draw or...gasp...with Ukraine up a goal then I expect the team to roll over in the second half. Since last week I have talked myself into believing that France can pull off the miracle. But I know objectively that this team does not have the make up to reverse the situation. In addition, Ukraine are no pushovers and are equipped with one of the most defensive minded sides in the qualifiers.

Prediction: 1-1 draw, Ukraine scores early in second half, leading to a frantic finish as France have to score 4 goals only to see a late strike from Ribery to earn the "draw" at home. Then the fun will begin as the long knives will surely come out on Wednesday.

Allez les bleus.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


What else can you say about that showing. Hats off to the Ukraine who shut down Ribery and looked the better side. I am still stunned by the outcome.

The reality is I should not be. France's last two showings against Australia and Finland were fool's gold.  Yes they opened up the flood gates on the goal scoring, but I should have know that what was a better indicator of this team's status was the horrible 0-0 draw away to Georgia when France had to win in order to keep pace with Spain. The same can be said about most of the game against Belarus, where France allowed 2 soft goals in and had to claw back to win the game 4-2.

Les Bleus have a fundamental malaise. A rot at the core of the team. I have finally come around to realizing that the future does not lie with the likes of Nasri, Benzema or even...gasp....Ribery. Wonderfully gifted individual players, but players that do seem to worry more about the night club they will be visiting or the individual awards they might be in line for, as opposed to the overall team.

Ribery was a great complimentary player when he burst one the scene with France in 2006. But he came into a very mature team, led by the likes of Vieira, Henry, Trezeguet, Thuram
Better days for Ribery and Les Bleus
and a certain Zidane. All players that had won the World Cup and European Cup, but also players that had a maturity about them that has been lacking recently. Maybe that is why Deschamps insists on keeping Abidal in the starting line up, as one of the last links to 2006. While Ribery has been a better citizen for France recently, he is still carrying the stench of what happened in South Africa. Same as Evra. A player who has done nothing about his image recently after going on a verbal tirade where he decided to "settle some scores."

France are at the edge of the precipice...they are looking down into the darkness one where they will drop in the FIFA rankings, thereby making it more difficult to qualify for major tournaments...which will then make it harder to uplifted their rankings...and so the circular spin into the abyss continues. Short of a miracle in Paris in 4 days, there might be some difficult times ahead. The saving grace is that France are hosting the next European Cup - so they do not need to worry about qualifying, will get a head of group seeding, playing at home and might just get past the group stages!

Not heading to Brazil will not be easy to take, but at the end of the day it might be better for the federation. A shock to the system to clean house and reassess what France needs. Same thing happened after the disaster of qualifying for the the 1994 World Cup where France moved away from the talents of Cantona, Ginola and Papin ... and built around a certain Zidane. Now I do not think there is another singular talent like Zizou on the horizon, but there are some players France can build around. More on that in another post.

I still hold out hope that France finds a way to win 3-0 and go to Brazil, but my head tells me this time does not have the internal fortitude to do this. Do they have the talent? Absolutely. Do they have the fire...no.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Deschamps going the safe route away to Ukraine

Latest from the French camp is that DD will go with his favorite 4-2-3-1 but will lean on a more defensive minded formation.

The expected starting line up:

Lloris - Debuchy, Koscielny, Abidal, Evra - Pogba, Matuidi - Remy, Nasri, Ribery - Giroud

No surprise in goal. I am a bit surprised to see Abidal in the starting line up, then again why should I be since the Monaco central defender has been manning that post for the past few games for France. I did think that Varane would find his way back along side Kos. The two deep lying midfielders - Pogba and Matuidi - tell me that Deschamps is going to play safety first before thinking about the attack. Not that either player is not capable offensively. But I would have rather seen a Pogba - Cabaye tandem, really looking to take the game to Ukraine and get those precious away goal(s).

The offensive trio of Remy - Nasri - Ribery is solid. Of course Valbuena could also showcase over Nasri. The key is how well Remy and Debuchy can link up on the right to give the French offense more balance. Remy has been of good form of late, let us hope that translates into some good actions against the Ukraine. Up front the player Deschamps has apparently given the nod too continues to be Giroud. Maybe DD sees Benzema as a powerful option off the bench late in games. The Real Madrid man did score in France's last two games, coming off the bench.

Clearly DD is approaching this game with caution. He is lining up his veterans - Abidal, Evra etc as well as going with a more defensive minded duo in Pogba and Matuidi. I would have preferred seeing DD put more pressure on Ukraine by rolling out Cabaye. For me the away leg is the time you push the game, try to get at least an away goal if not more. You do not want to lose the game of course, but you really want to go get some goals. Preferably more than one...

We shall see.

Allez les bleus.
loris (cap) – Debuchy, Koscielny, Abidal, Evra - Pogba, Matuidi – Rémy, Nasri (ou Valbuena), Ribéry - Giroud - See more at: http://www.football365.fr/coupe-du-monde-2014/bleus-ce-sera-finalement-un-4-2-3-1-1077636.shtml#sthash.1sVEOmbr.dpuf
Lloris (cap) – Debuchy, Koscielny, Abidal, Evra - Pogba, Matuidi – Rémy, Nasri (ou Valbuena), Ribéry - Giroud - See more at: http://www.football365.fr/coupe-du-monde-2014/bleus-ce-sera-finalement-un-4-2-3-1-1077636.shtml#sthash.1sVEOmbr.dpuf

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Which 11 to face Ukraine?

As the first leg of the home - away matches creep up on us, which starting 11 will DD turn to? While I would love to see DD go with a 4-3-3, I am sure he will once again lean on the usual 4-2-3-1. So who to fill out the spots?  I do not disagree too much with with EuroSports called out, click here for their formation. So what does the Frog see for France?

Goalkeeper - Lloris. The only thing that might keep him out is how he is feeling from his concussion. Other than that, he is in goal.

Right Back - There is some talk that Sagna needs to be there, and his recent form with Arsenal warrant his starting. But I am going with Debuchy. I just like the Newcastle defender's offensive ability. Especially on this team when the offense leans too heavily left. Having a right back that can push up offensively and has a legitimate threat to score a goal from time to time could be the difference maker.

Center Backs - I am not sure I want to see Abidal as one of the central defenders...not that I do not like the player, but there are better options in Varane - Kos. DD needs to give the keys to these two players (or could Sakho get back into the equation?) But I like the duo of the Real Madrid and Arsenal defenders. They were thrown out there against Spain, and they both play for two of the largest clubs in Europe. This stage will not intimidate them.

Left Back - France is starting to feel a little unstable at left back! With all the drama around Evra there was questions whether or not DD would even call up the Manchester United player. Clichy is too trick or treat. End of the day I do not see the former France captain not getting the call on the left side. Evra also has a good rapport with Ribery. Manchester United over Manchester City on the left side.

Holding/Defensive Midfield Duo - I cannot see Pogba not getting one of the starting spots. His form for Juventus has been world class, and since his first start for France it became clear that DD regarded him as the nearest thing to an unquestionable starter. So who to partner with Pogba? I think there are two directions DD could head. If he wants more offensive he will go with Cabaye. The Newcastle man offers a real goal threat from distance, something that might be very crucial in these games. Or if DD wants to ensure he locks up the midfield he might lean on the Parisian midfielder - Matuidi. I think Sissoko and Mavuba, both solid players, are unfortunately playing a position where France has ridiculous depth. I am going to lean on the offensive option and Cabaye.

Offensive Midfielders - Well on left we can assume Ribery gets the start. Question becomes who gets the #10 spot and who tries to animate the right wing? Until recently DD has leaned on the Petit Velo - Valbuena - to act as the #10 and the right side winger has been an enigma. But in the last few games the combination of Nasri either playing wide right or in the center has given France some new life. I would go with Nasri in the role of the #10. I am not a huge fan of him playing on the right, he tends to drift back to the middle too much and sometimes all the way to the left. Out on the right I want to see Remy back out there. I think he is one player that holds his channel, has the pace to disrupt the defense and has some characteristics of a #9 - only needs a half chance to score. I also like to see Remy and Debuchy link up as they do for Newcastle.

Striker - Titi Henry...oh wait that was 4 years ago against Ireland...never mind. DD will to give this some serious thought. Giroud's hot start for Arsenal has cooled off considerably. While Benezema has picked it up for Real Madrid and...on a two game goal scoring run for France. So to go with? I think DD will go with Giroud and expect to bring Benzema off the bench after 65/70 minutes. Not sure I would go with that player.

It will be very interesting to see how the formation looks like for France as well as what happens after the game before the return leg in Paris.

Allez les Bleus! 

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The list of the 24 to face off against the Ukraine

Deschamps unveiled his list of 24 players that he will take into the World Cup qualifier playoffs against the Ukraine. Not too many surprises - the list:

GARDIENS : Mickaël Landreau (Bastia), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham/ANG), Steve Mandanda (Marseille).
DEFENSEURS : Eric Abidal (Monaco), Gaël Clichy (Manchester City/ANG), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle/ANG), Patrice Evra (Manchester United/ANG),  Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal/ANG), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal/ANG), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool/ANG), Raphaël Varane (Real/ESP)
MILIEUX : Blaise Matuidi (PSG), Paul Pogba (Juventus/ITA), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle/ANG), Clément Grenier (Lyon), Samir Nasri (Manchester City/ANG), Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle/ANG), Rio Mavuba (Lille)
ATTAQUANTS : Karim Benzema (Real Madrid/ESP), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal/ANG), Dimitri Payet (Marseille), Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich/ALL), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille), Loïc Rémy (Newcastle/ANG)

The small surprise - the inclusion of Evra. After the soap opera that surrounded his recent interview where he takes to task members of the press as well as former players, where the Manchester United left back had to go the the headquarters of the FFF and explain himself, I was a little surprised that Deschamps selected him. Especially considering he has a viable plan B in Clichy. Will Deschamps want the circus that will clearly be around Evra leading up to the matches. What if Evra has a poor showing in the first match ... then what?  It will be something to watch.

Mavuba also makes his return. He will be looked at to provide cover in the holding midfield. The
Miss me?
reality is I doubt he will play a serious factor barring some injury. The reality to me is he is at best 4th in the pecking order for that role behind: Pogba, Cabaye and Matuidi. Sissoko might even be ahead of him. Regardless the Lille midfielder is a quality player and will be a valued asset in the preparation as well as in reserves for France.

What I will be keen to watch is who are the players DD decides to lean on? Will Nasri and Valbuena be seen together in the starting line up? What about the right flank? Will Deschamps look to use a natural right winger in Payet or go back to the aforementioned Nasri/Valbuena duo with one slotting out wide right. What about central defense, is Varane - Kos the duo that Deschamps will finally roll out or will Abidal keep his spot there? See you in a few weeks!

Allez les bleus.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Les Bleus escape the big fish, but no cake walk

So Les Bleus seem to get the best draw possible. Ukraine is only one spot ahead of France in the FIFA World rankings - France at 21 and Ukraine at 20. So this should be a match up of close to even squads.  The draws:

Portugal v Sweden
Ukraine v France
Greece v Romania
Iceland v Croatia
The away match at Ukraine on the 15th of November and 4 days later back in Paris. Ukraine is not to be underestimated, granted Les Bleus have had some success against the former Soviet satellite, most notably a victory in Ukraine at the last Euro. 

Not a shocker, but the away fixture will be huge for France. They need to go out and look not only for a win, but to score more than one road goal. I do not want to see a replay of what happened 4 years ago when they went away to Ireland and got the away goal, but gave back that goal at home. We all know that it was the "hand of frog" that then saw Les Bleus go through to the World Cup. If this fixture returns to Paris even I would be a little nervous. While France has shown some good form the past three matches, the stakes are much greater with these two matches. Let us see how far they have come.

I still think that the French midfield will be too much for Ukraine. With Ribery's current form I believe it should be too much for Ukraine to handle. Couple this with a resurgent Nasri and Valbuena and the attacking trio should be more than Ukraine can handle. The key will hinge around Pogba and Cabaye, if they can slow down any Ukrainian counter attacks while bringing an added offensive punch - see Cabaye's weekend goal for Newcastle - then I think that will be too much for Ukraine. However, let us not forget that Ukraine drew twice with England during the qualifications and could have gone through directly to Brazil (imagine if it were an England v France playoff...wow). Ukraine will not be afraid of where they are and will give Les Bleus all they can handle. Prediction - France go through 3-1 on aggregate. Win 2-0 away and draw 1-1 at home.

As for the other match ups.

Portugal v Sweden - The match up of the draw. Zlatan vs Ronaldo. It will be a shame that both will not be a the World Cup. But something tells me the big PSG striker will will his nation and his ego to get to the World Cup. Sweden go through 5-4 in aggregate.

Greece v Romania - Blah. Not really a wonderful match up of attacking football. Greece will get through on PKs after both matches end 0-0.

Iceland v Croatia - I cannot see the start ups from Iceland getting through, although it would be nice. But Croatia has too much creativity to stumble on Iceland. Croatia go through 5-0.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Les Bleus end on a high note, the real work begins

So Les Bleus end the World Cup qualifiers with a resonating 3-0 victory over Finland. The game could easily gone 4 or 5 nil, then again it could also have been a much closer match. The Finns had a good 10 to 15 minute run where they gave France some serious scares. So let's look at this match and beyond:

The Good:
  • Goals goals and more goals. Uh where has this side been? 13 goals in their last three games? Granted not against footballing powerhouses, but 13 goals is still a nice bakers dozen of tallies. What was encouraging is that most of those 13 goals have not been of the cheap kind, but have either been from taking chances from distance (Nasri goal against Georgia and Ribery's blast against Finland) or from great ball movement and creative play (Giroud's second goal against Australia or Cabaye's goal in the same match). It is also encouraging to see the forwards scoring as well as the attacking midfielders, even the fullbacks have chipped in. Let us hope this scoring becomes a habit.
  • Speaking of the strikers, both Giroud and Benzema have found the back of the net the past two games. Both strikers have two goals each in the last two games. Now both remain far from challenging Henry as France's all time leading goal scorer. But it is encouraging to see both getting back into the scoring column. It will be interesting to see if Deschamps continues with Giroud as his starter in the playoffs or goes back to Benzema.
  • Ribery...what else can you say about the reigning European player of the year. He is in top form. It is good to see that the Kaiser is carrying over his Bayern form to the French national side. If Les Bleus hope to get to Brazil, and gasp, do something more than try to win a game much will depend on the left winger. Ribery has been electric in the past three games. He saved France against Georgia when he netted a brace and carried over this form by tormenting Australia and then scoring a lightening goal against Finland. If Kaiser Frank's form holds then Les Bleus hold a fighting chance in the World Cup playoff.

The Bad:
  • There remains lapses in the French defending. For a brief 15 minutes the French appeared leaky allowing Finland space and to get some potentially deadly passes to slice up the back four. It did not help that often it was a result of the fullbacks pushing up high and not having cover. But against a more clinical team, like Portugal, France will not have these lapses go unpunished.
  • Matuidi did not look like the player we expected.  The PSG midfielder was not the dynamic midfield presence we have become used to. Not sure if he was not 100%. Granted of all the spots on the pitch I am not as concerned with the role - Cabaye should offer a natural replacement if need be.
  • Not 100% bad, but something of concern - the balance of the attack. At times it was not pretty watching Valbuena and Nasri trying to coexist. Nasri was suppose to hold the right channel but to often found himself drifting into Valbuena's space. I might argue that Nasri should be slotted in the middle and put Valbuena out on the right. He seems to have more of the profile to hold his spot out wide. It has been argued that Debuchy found himself without support on the right without the winger holding their spot. Some truth to that. But overall the French attack still leans too much to the left. Deschamps will need to figure out if he needs to go back to a Payet or Remy on the right.
The Ugly:
  • Nothing too ugly in this match...except....where was this team earlier in qualifiers? I am not sure if they would have found a way to get above Spain in the group, but the way France has played the past 3 games is what we all expect from the collection of talent. They dropped a game to Japan in a friendly, lost to Germany and Brazil and Uruguay. Played admirably against Spain home and away, but could have been better served against Spain at home. Hopefully Deschamps has this team building up to the World Cup, but France has to get there first.
So France will head to the World Cup qualifying playoff, and have the potential of finding themselves facing Portugal...

The reality is that none of the teams, in either group would be easy for France. Granted, facing Iceland might have been okay. But as what happened 4 years ago against Ireland proves, once you go to this format all the teams have a chance. I might regret in saying this, but part of me feels that France would do well playing Portugal, the other three sides play a defensive/counter attacking style that could frustrate Les Bleus and I could see France losing a one goal home and away set up.

It is encouraging to see France head into the playoff on a high note. But all of this will not mean much if France get knocked out.

Allez les bleus

Friday, October 11, 2013

6-0 where has this team been? France roll over the Socceroos

Wow, 6 goals...3 of which came from strikers. One of which was Benzema. What is going on?!?!?! The Socceroos did not look like one of the better Asian sides today, but seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. After putting up 4 goals last match these are just the types of games that France need ahead of their World Cup qualifier play offs. Just like we should not take too much from losses, let us not get too far ahead of ourselves after this drubbing. But there is a lot of good that game from this game...so we should at least enjoy it!

The Good:
  • 6 goals...anytime you can score 6 goals in an international game that is good. And this wasn't some minnow like the Faroe Islands. Australia has become one of the better Asian sides, but looking nothing like those sides in Paris. After opening the scoring
    First half of his brace
    early on a penalty kick, Les Bleus kept on pressing and really took it to Australia. The score line could have easily been more severs had Remy not missed on two golden chances in the second half. But I will take the 6 goals.
  • The attacking midfield - I have to say that I liked what I saw from Ribery - Nasri - Remy. As I thought, the presence of Remy on the right, especially with Debuchy behind him, allowed for the French attack to be much more balanced. Australia could not simply overload the left side. Nasri in the middle looked like the Nasri of old. He made some great passes, took on defenders when the opportunity arose and pushed the attack. Mid-way through the first half he dribbled to the end line, took on three defenders...who he beat...and drew a dangerous free kick. He also combined very will with Ribery on the third goal, the two former Marseilles midfielders using their pace and passing to break down the Australian defense and then Nasri put a simple square ball right into the path of an on rushing Giroud who was more than happy to get his brace.
  • Speaking of Remy...his work with Newcastle teammate Debuchy was a sight for sore eyes on the right. The Newcastle right back was dangerous all night jumping up into the offensive zone, making runs from deep, offering good crosses and working well with Remy to bring life to the right side of the formation. Oh and Debuchy put away a wonderful left footed volley in the second half. Not sure Sagna would have had the creativity, let alone the talent to put that shot away. Debuchy almost found himself a brace on a header late in the game. The French right has been an enigma for too long. Let us hope that this promise gets fulfilled.
  • Benzema...okay this might be a little tongue in cheek, but the fact the Real Madrid striker got himself a goal, albeit in a one sided game can only be seen as good. It was also a pure striker's goal. Ribery made a pacey run on the left and Benzema did what all strikers are taught to do, make a hard run to the near post. And he was rewarded. I hope this gets him back on the right track.
    Make a near post run and you will be rewarded
The Bad:
  • Remy lack of finishing. Yes I am being picky. But Remy had two wonderful chances in the second half to get himself a goal. The first one he found himself all alone in front of the Langerak, it was clear he opened up the hips to fake going far post and tried to drag his shot back to the near post. Unfortunately he smashed his shot wide, not even calling upon the keeper to make a save. Some are calling into question whether or not he looked at ease enough on that side, but I think he deserves another look. Especially if you keep Debuchy at right back (which I think Deschamps needs to do). 
The Ugly:
  • Australia...the Socceroos just did not look like they came to play.  They were letting the French look like Spain with their passing and counter attacks. The score line could easily have been 7 or 8 nil. At one point in the first half it felt like France might even score double digits. Just not what I expected from a decent national side.
Finally a game that we did not have to pull our hair out about. A game where France gave us a reminder of the talent they do have on the side. I forgot to mention but the duo of Cabaye and Pogba looked fantastic, with the Newcastle midfielder bring more offensive punch to that deep lying midfield (scoring himself on a bullet of a shot). Now Les Bleus need to head into their final match against Finland and look to build on this. I doubt they will get 6 goals, look for Finland to be much more organized and disciplined on defense. But France clearly have to have an eye to the home and away play off. The question becomes - does Nasri get another shot at the #10 role? What about Remy, I think he deserves another look but does DD go back to Payet? And up front, Giroud seems to be making it difficult to not start him. Time will tell. But for now let us enjoy this win.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Deschamps tinkering with the right side. As he should.

Deschamps has not unveiled how he will roll out his starting 11 tomorrow against Australia at Parc des Princes. However based on the "first team" that DD leveraged during training, it would appear that he is going to be focused on making the right side of the formation stronger and therefore balancing out the French attack. What the line up my resemble:

Lloris - Debuchy, Abidal, Sakho, Evra - Pogba, Cabaye - Rémy, Nasri, Ribéry - Giroud.

If this is indeed the line up, some interesting notes.

  • Giroud in the place of Benzema. The struggles of the Real Madrid striker have been well documented. The fact that DD might not start him for a second straight game could be a sign that he has dropped in the pecking order. Benzema might need a change of scenery with club if he hopes to regain his place with country. The once prolific goal scoring machine seems a shell of himself. Alas, I am not sure if this is a "rough passage" feels more like wasted talent. 
  • New right side of the formation. Well not entirely new, Debuchy and Remy had been regulars in the past. With Sagna injured the door is open for the Newcastle right back to get back into
    Better offensive option on the right than Sagna?
    the formation. I also feel that Debuchy brings a much more consistent offensive punch than Sagna. Remy, to me, has always been one of the best if not the best option for France on the right side. He is a natural right sided player. Has the pace and touch to control the right channel and actually bring some offense to that side. The fact he can also slot in as the lone striker gives him a powerful profile for the side. I hope that Deschamps gives this right side time to develop. It has much more potential than the Sagna - Payet right side that DD has leveraged the last few matches. 
  • Nasri given the keys to the kingdom. Well maybe not the keys, but being slotted in the middle as the #10 would be a refreshing and interesting move for DD. He has been leveraging the "petit velo" Valbuena in that slot recently, but I don't think the Marseille midfielder really fits that profile. Nasri's talent does. Now it it up to him to show it on the pitch.  
  • Pogba and Cabaye as the holding tandem. Not an area I am too concerned about for France, whether it is Matuidi or Cabaye or Pogba, there are plenty of options for the holding tandem. I will be interested in seeing how Cabaye, a bit more offensive minded than Matuidi, does next to Pogba. Regardless it should prove to be a powerful tandem in front of the defensive back 4.
Of course all this could be pure speculation and DD could roll out his usual side with Payet on the right and Valbuena in the middle...but DD needs to figure out his right side. Currently it is not working from the stand point of offering offensive threats. With Ribery on the left the game tends to lean that way, a little too much. It has become predictable - stack up your defense towards that side and you will slow down the attack. The likes of Remy and Debuchy should offer some better options on the right and force teams to defend both channels. The real question becomes - can Les Bleus get any goals out of their forwards?

We shall see.

Allez les Bleus.