Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Les Bleus fall to Espana...but not all is lost

A loss is a loss, whether done with fighting with honor or by just giving up. France did the latter when they lost to Spain in the Euros 2-0, they did so with the former on Tuesday. Unfortunately in both cases, France lost. At least in this situation not all is over for Les Bleus.

The Good:
  • France fought hard and created some chances that they could have done better with.  I realize that this and $4 gets you a venti coffee at Starbucks. But I am focused on the good aspect, France showed some fight. France didn't just sit back and let the Spanish attack. They took chances when it made sense and had some legitimate opportunities.
  • Valbuena has become the new "patron" for the French offense. The OM midfielder proved once again that he is the lynchpin of the attack. Right from the get go he demonstrated his willingness to take offensive chances: attempting an audacious bicycle kick from 20 meters out. Le Petit Velo was all over the pitch, not really holding his right side, but created havoc whenever he could. It was his cheeky long ball that sprung Ribery for a 1v1 against Valdes that the Barcelona keeper did well to keep out of his goal. Les Bleus have been struggling to find who could assume the role of the
    Outplayed his counterpart - Alonso would appear that Valbuena might be that player.
  • The youngsters - Varane and Pogba. I realize the Juventus midfielder picked up 2 yellow cards within minutes of one another for a subsequent red. That not withstanding, it appeared that both were not overwhelmed by the moment. Varane played a solid game and almost had the equalizer late. While Pogba was an absolute beast. He was strong in his tackles, even allowed himself to take the ball past three Spanish players in the first half. Dare I say he looked like Pat Vieira on that play? Yes the second booking was harsh and maybe he should have been more aware of the situation. But he (hopefully) will learn from this experience as will Varane. The future for these two youngsters is bright, France might have some solid options right down the spine. Hey when M'Vila comes back (assuming he is still on form!) France could have a powerful midfield duo of Pogba and M'Vila.
The Bad:
  • French finishing...again. France didn't score because they didn't create was because they could not FINISH. Jallet made a fabulous run, from a Valbuena feed, in the first half. The PSG back laid off a perfect pass to an on rushing Benzema, who had position on his defender. Rather than taking a touch, one timed it...into Row ZZ. Ribery, on another wonderful Valbuena pass, finds himself 1v1, his first touch alludes him and rather than finishing what he would do 9 out of 10 times, he sees Valdes save his attempt. Matuidi had a clean look from within the 18 and tried to guide it into the net. Evra gets on the end of a free kick but cannot put pace on it. Varane has the 1-1 ball drop to his feet but cannot get his shot off fast enough. Les Bleus needed
    A bit harsh...good example of Spanish diving as well
    to finish one of these chances...
  • Pogba's red card. The second yellow card, in my mind, was harsh. I think that Xavi "sold" the severity of the foul. I guess that if you really scrutinize the play, Pogba did go in studs "high." But it felt like a harsh call by the official. Of course Pogba needs to also be aware that he was on a yellow more savvier with your challenges.
  • Jallet's defensive error. I would give the PSG right back a decent rating for the game. He defended well overall and was very active pushing up the pitch to support the attack. Something he had to do to ensure the right flank wasn't ignored - because no surprise, Valbuena roamed freely away from the right. However, on the goal it was Jallet's poor angle that allowed the play to break down. Rather than play the space he attempted to play the ball which was played just over the top, this mistake forced Varane to come over and shut down Monreal who was able to cross and find Pedro streaking in. Had Jallet taken a better route, he could have checked Monreal's run and who knows...
The Ugly:
  • What is wrong with Benzema?? His goalless streak for France is getting slightly ridiculous. He worked hard during the match, had some nice actions but he clearly is pressing. The "one timer" he launched from a tasty pass from Jallet exemplified in form Benzema might have taken a touch and opened up his angles. France need to get their striker in form and soon. Otherwise this will get super ugly.
  • Deschamps' substitution...or lack thereof. The first substitution made sense and was aggressive - bringing on Menez for Cabaye, adding some width and offensive punch. But after that...what was DD doing? I realize his substitution strategy was thrown off with Pogba's red card. But you are down a goal!! Taking off Benzema for Sissoko? Your striker for a defensive minded midfielder? When you had the likes of Remy, Giroud and Gomis on your bench! Finally...Giroud finally comes on with...injury time left. What??? Difficult to comprehend when France was chasing the equalizer. 
  • Spanish flopping, diving and embellishing....Okay I realize that I might be bitter and annoyed. But watching the likes of Xavi, Pedro et al flop all over the place is getting tired. Even Cesc gets into the game and starts with the antics. So annoying.
So France drop to second place in the group, 1 point behind La Roja. With 3 games to go, France are close to guaranteed to qualify for the home/away playoff...likely opponents could be - Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary or Albania. All sides that France should be able to handle, although I would not be happy to have to face Croatia in a home and away series. Of course if Spain drop any points, France could sneak back into first place. But this is unlikely, Les Bleus have two road matches and finish at home against Finland. While Spain will be at home for 2 of their last 3 matches. The likely hood that France win their last three games and Spain draws one of their last three is unlikely.


Yet going into these qualifiers, most pundits expected France to finish second. The fact that Les Bleus have the possibility of finishing first in this group, this late, is a positive.

Les Bleus need to focus on their next game. Find victories. Hope that some how Spain slips.

Allez les Bleus.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Last minute surprise: 4-3-3 with the youngsters and Kos!

Raphaël Varane et Paul Pogba
Back in the starting line up...youth is served

Just when it seemed we knew how Deschamps would roll out his squad on Tuesday we get what appears to be a last minute change with one surprise - Koscielny to start in central defense.

The supposed line up:

Le onze probable :
Lloris (cap) - Jallet, Koscielny, Varane, Evra - Cabaye, Pogba, Matuidi - Valbuena, Benzema, Ribéry.

Interesting to see Deschamps go with a 4-3-3 which in a way is another way of positioning the Christmas tree! Since I see the wide players: Valbuena and Ribery, dropping deeper to recover the ball while Benzema will (hopefully) sit on the last defender and force Spain to defend deeper. Therefore eliminating some of the space La Roja need to control possession. The other surprise is to see Kos in the starting line up and the PSG defender Sakho on the bench. Seems out of the blue, in particular because during his tenure, Deschamps seemed to lean on Sakho as one of his core players. The last change is Evra in for Clichy. I am not surprised, since the Manchester City back is more offensive while the Manchester United back is stronger defensively. Makes sense when you look at who they are facing.

Overall I like the line up. Clearly Deschamps is going to look and win or at worst create a stalemate in the midfield. Then counter with the pace he has available on the wings. I think we will see Jallet look to assume a greater burden in animating the right flank - with Valbuena roaming the field. The left side will clearly be the responsibility of Ribery. So do not look for Evra to need to push as high up the pitch.

I am not sure how I see this game turning out...but I will be realist and say we get another 1-1 draw between the two sides.

Allez les bleus.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A disguised Chrismas tree for Deschamps tomorrow

No I am not trying to say that Christmas is coming to Paris tomorrow. But from the rumors coming out of the training session I have a feeling we might see a disguised Christmas tree formation for Les Bleus. The noise is that Deschamps will not lean on a 4-4-2 again, as he did against Georgia, which is really not a surprise since France will have to be concerned about defending and the midfield. Which means that DD could lean on a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1. France went to a 4-3-3 in the first half in Spain, but switched to a 4-2-3-1 in the second half. That game was a tale of two halves, with the second half being the better of the two. Does this mean we should look at the second half as a leading indicator of what might happen tomorrow?

The noise coming out of Clairefontaine is to expect a 4-2-3-1 with the Benzema atop of the formation and a more defensive minded Sissoko on the right over a Menez. Interesting.

Equipe de France : Didier Deschamps vers un 4-2-3-1 avec Karim Benzema pour France-Espagne? - Football - Qualif. Coupe du monde 2014
Will Sissoko sit that high on the pitch or drop deeper?
The reality to  me is if Sissoko ends up getting the start on the right side of the formation, I really see this becoming a ....wait for it....Christmas tree formation. That formation is a 4-3-2-1 (so looks like a Christmas tree). I foresee a more defensive minded Sissoko drop deeper and end up shouldering the back 2 midfielders (Cabaye/Matuidi). That would allow a Valbuena to drift out further right and more importantly will call upon Jallet to animate that right flank by pushing up the pitch. I think this is a real probability. Assume Spain will, as it often does, control the majority of possession, this will force a Sissoko to lend a greater hand in the French 1/3 of the pitch. This will also ask of Valbuena - Ribery -Benzema to carry the offense and really do so on the counter: with support on the flanks coming from Jallet and Evra making well timed runs.

I also look for Les Bleus to absorb Spanish possession, ride out the first 20 - 30 minutes and then start looking to push back from the flanks. Especially on the Spanish right where Ribery will target a shaky Arbeloa. We will see what the formation looks like tomorrow.

Allez les bleus!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Delicate situation facing Deschamps - sit or start Benzema?

The one big asterisk that emerged after the victory Friday against Georgia was what to do with Benzema? One more match for France, and another 90 minutes where France's #1 striker didn't do what he is supposed to do - score. What was even more frustrating was the fact the other three offensive players - Valbuena, Ribery and Giroud all scored. The last two could have both had braces as well. The question remains - was Benzema's presence what sprung his strike partners free? Not sure.

I am not as harsh as particular his former coach, Domenech. By the way, Dumbenech needs to really keep his yapper here for that story. I did see some good things from Benzema on Friday. He found himself in good positions on 2 clear scoring chances but could not finish (granted the inability to finish is the bad). Not sure that other players would be able to get themselves in similar goal scoring positions. Of course one might argue that other players in better confidence would bury just one of these opportunities. Apparently the public also thinks this, as 55% think Deschamps should sit the Real Madrid striker on Tuesday. So what to do?

Scored when France went to a 4-3-3 vs Bosnia
Unfortunately for Karim, the timing might be bad. It appears that Deschamps is thinking about his team and how to best align against what is sure to be a very hungry Spanish side. From early indications, France might revert to a 4-3-3. Something that Deschamps predecessor, Laurent Blanc, utilized in matches where he wanted to control the midfield and look to counter punch. I am thinking of an away qualifier to Bosnia where the trio of M'Vila, Diarra and Diaby controlled the midfield...and a certain Benzema scored! Could we see a trio of Pogba, Matuidi and Cabaye on Tuesday? They could cause some problems for the likes of Iniesta, Cesc and Xavi. If we have Ribery and Valbuena on the wings again with a lone striker that could be enough to cause problems for Spain. Also, keeping Ribery and Valbuena wide with pace might force the Spanish backs closer to home and not allow them to push to high up the pitch.

The question remains - does Benzema get the nod as the lone striker? Or will Giroud get the nod. The Arsenal man has scored in France's last two will be a difficult decision. But that is why Deschamps gets the big bucks!

Allez les Bleus.

Friday, March 22, 2013

France have a very successful day - now all eyes are on Tuesday's game versus Spain

Les Bleus emerge from today's match up again Georgia with the full compliment of points and a pleasant surprise - a Spain draw at home against Finland. This places France alone atop the group heading into the match up with the defending World Cup champions. France will enter Tuesday's match up 2 points up on Spain. This will give Deschamps some options when it comes to what strategy he looks to leverage against the Spanish. More on that later, but first some thoughts on the game against Georgia:

The Good:
First cap - will they earn #2 on Tuesday?
  • 3 points from the victory..okay I realize that is stating the obvious. But heading into the match I was nervous that a)Georgia would just park the bus in front of their goal b)could threaten on the counter c)France might be looking ahead to the Spain rematch. Les Bleus started very fast and I thought looked like they would open up the scoring early - Ribery had a wonderful offensive display end on the wood work. And probably should have had an opening goal had Giroud not made hash out of a 1v1 in the 29th minute where he ballooned an attempted chip. Of course the Arsenal man did break through right before the half on a lovely little free kick from Valbuena that Giroud buried for a 1-0 lead. The second half saw France build upon their score line to finish with a relatively comfortable 3-1 victory. End of day - 3 points.
  • The rookies - Varane and Pogba - both received their first starts and caps. A lot of noise was made when the Real Madrid and Juventus players were selected by Deschamps. Even more noise built up this week as it appeared that one if not both could be starting. Both players did more than just take up a spot on the field. Granted Varane was never really placed under threat, although Georgia did show some offensive spunk. However Pogba really impressed me. He clearly has the technique and power to control the midfield and do much of the dirty work. He offers a nice contrast with Matuidi in the midfield. It would be interesting had M'Vila not been an idiot and were still part of the senior squad this season. Pogba even contributed to the offense showing off his big leg with a nice strike from distance in the first half. The future looks bright for these two players. It will be interesting to see if one or both start against Spain.
  • The veteran wingers - Ribery and Valbuena - both looked energized, had bags of pace, tricks and offensively minded. The both created major headaches for Georgia. Add to this both scoring goals and the game was good for the former and current OM players. They will need that level of activity and success on Tuesday when they face Spain.
  • Jallet was impressive on the right flank. He was always available to jump into the offense, provided some solid crosses and tracked back well when he had to. France tends to lean to the left on attack - where Ribery likes to set up shop. To have a player like Jallet who can push the game on the right side gives the team some much needed balance. As the game wore on his crosses were not as effective, but overall was a real presence in the French game.
  • Finally how can one overlook the captain Lloris? The Tottenham keeper showed how important it can be to have a world class back stopper. He made 2 huge saves early on - off a free header and made a strong save on a vicious shot. If he does not make these two saves who knows what happens. He was not able to keep a clean sheet, but not due to his error.
The Bad:
Haven't seen this in a long time.
  • The struggles of Benzema are becoming a real issue. He has not scored for France in what seems like years...oh wait I think it has been! Last time he score was June 5th 2012...okay maybe not years...but feels that way. Especially for a striker of his raw talent. The weight of this streak is clearly impacting the Real Madrid striker. He had some clean looks at goal, getting two 1v1 opportunities and both times being too timid with his efforts. He continued to work hard all game. If he continues to do that the goals will come...but it is becoming a bad part of these games for France.
The Ugly:
  • Following on Benzema's troubles is an overall ugliness when it comes to French finishing. Yes Giroud had a goal, but he butchered an early effort when he found himself alone against the keeper and chipped into row Z. Benzema had some weak attempts when he found himself in excellent scoring positions. Too often Les Bleus tried to be too cute, rather than just putting the ball on goal. Yes France scored 3 goals, but it should have been 4 or even 5. Against a side like Spain if France does not take advantage of their opportunities they might come out with a positive result.
Overall a positive result. In addition none of the players on a yellow picked up another card - in particular Matuidi. The fact that Spain was held to a draw at home was the final positive that came out of today. Of course none of that will mean too much if France lose to Spain on Tuesday. The other positive - France are close to guaranteed to at least qualify for the play offs if they do not finish first in the group.

I will be curious to see how Deschamps approaches the game on Tuesday. Does he stick with his 4-4-2? Or might he go back to a 4-2-3-1 and look to add to his midfield to counter the Spanish midfield? This weekend will be interesting with regards to how Deschamps gets his troops together. Finally will the youngsters Varane and Pogba get another start? I think the Juventus midfielder has the best chance to finding himself in the starting line up of the two.

Allez les Blues. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Deschamps thinking of a 4-4-2 to face Georgia?

Georgia is a prototypical Eastern European national team - plays hard and defensively. Looks to lock down for 90 minutes, try to beat you on a counter or sneak out with a draw. They forced the defending world cup champions, Spain, to sweat for 86 minutes before conceding a goal in these qualifiers. So France should expect much of the same this Friday. With that in mind, the word of out Clairfontaine is that Deschamps might look to start both strikers - Benzema and Giroud. This would most likely entail leaning on a 4-4-2 with both strikers up top (look for Varane get a start as well).

So what would that mean for the rest of the formation? Mostly 2 central more defensive oriented midfielders - Matuidi and Gonalons in the middle with wingers Ribery (if he is fit) on the left and Menez/Valbuena on the right. So no true central midfielder with the #10 responsibilities. Of course Ribery and Valbuena both have a tendency to drift inside as the game goes on. But can Giroud and Benzema cohabitate at the top of the formation?

Against Georgia, maybe Deschamps needs to take some chances and go with another more offensive minded midfielder. Try to get an early "cheap" goal...hit long range shots, crosses and high balls into the area for either Giroud to knock down or to get Benzema to latch and clean up some loose balls. I think if France looks to build up to the perfect goal, they will only get frustrated by what is sure to be a Georgia packed in around their goal.

Let see if the 4-4-2 can has not been very successful when used in the past.

Allez les Bleus.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Deschamps faces same dilemna as Blanc - central defensive pairing

Similar to his predecessor, one of the first issues that needs to be settled is which central defensive pairing he can lean on. Blanc found success in pairing Mexes with Rami, although by the end of his tenure the Mexes half of the equation started to show some cracks. Unlike Blanc, Deschamps does not have a pair of veteran defenders to pick from but he does have a number of options that could hold on to the role for years to come. Question is which pairing gets the call Friday and beyond.

Getting the band back together on Friday?
The players that Deschamps can call on - Varane, Koscielny, Sakho and Yanga-Mbiwa. The wrinkle for the game on Friday is that if Kos picks up an other yellow card he is out for the Spain match. Makes the game against Spain play a role in Deschamps' thinking. Of course DD and the team cannot look beyond the match Friday. Look at what happened in prior qualifiers when Belarus...are taken too lightly.
  • Koscielny - I do not think he will play Friday. DD will want his full compliment of defenders for hosting the defending World Cup champions Spain next week. He will not risk another yellow card for his Arsenal defender.
  • Varane - The Real Madrid defender has a legitimate chance to start, with his play of late for Real Madrid there is not question of his talent as well as his confidence. I just do not see him getting a start in such a game - getting his first cap. 
  • So the central pairing will be...Sakho and Yanga-Mbiwa. This pairing makes the most sense for me. Sakho has established himself as a starter for Les Bleus and he and Mbiwa have some games under their belts together for France. Games where they both played well, actually the Newcastle man played very well during those matches. Deschamps will want to lean on a pairing that has some understanding playing next to one another and who will be able to seamlessly handle the qualifier.
What will be interesting to see is, which ever pairing Deschamps leans on, if they play well on Friday - what will he do against Spain? To be determined!!

Allez les Bleus.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Walking wounded at Clairefontaine - Fanni called up to replace Debuchy

No surprise as players are starting to suffer the toils of a long season - Newcastle's right back Debuchy had to drop out of the French squad. He will be replaced by Rod Fanni from Marseilles. Deschamps will now have to decided between taking either the starting right back from PSG or Marseilles. The irony. My sense is that look for the PSG right back to get the nod.

Hello again old friend!
There are other knocks to keep an eye on. Ribery, Menez and Cabaye were all training separate from the main squad to rest their ailing bodies. No surprise with Ribery, I do not think anyone thought he would play on Friday against Georgia, instead look for him to be rested for the Spain game. Might we see both other midfielders also left on the sideline?

Could we see the likes of Remy and Payet occupying the wide space with Valbuena behind Benzema? Gonalons and Matuidi might be leveraged to run the midfield engine. This would allow Cabaye, Ribery and Menez to get extra rest prior to the Spain match.

The other question is who does Deschamps start as his central defensive pairing? Really have no idea what DD will do with that issue. Could we see Varane get a start?

Rest of week will be very telling. Let us hope that no one else has to drop out of camp.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Les Bleus - youth being served - team for World Cup qualifiers

Deschamps announced his selections for France's upcoming matches versus Georgia and Spain. The pillars of the squad remain, but we are getting some fresh blood into the mix.

Gardiens : Mickaël Landreau (Bastia), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham/ANG), Stève Mandanda (Marseille).

Défenseurs : Gaël Clichy (Manchester City/ANG), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle/ANG), Patrice Evra (Manchester United/ANG), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal/ANG), Christophe Jallet (PSG), Mamadou Sakho (PSG), Raphaël Varane (Real Madrid/ESP), Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa (Newcastle/ANG).

Milieux : Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle/ANG), Maxime Gonalons (Lyon), Blaise Matuidi (PSG), Paul Pogba (Juventus/ITA), Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich/ALL), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle/ANG), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille).

Attaquants : Karim Benzema (Real Madrid/ANG), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal/ANG), Bafetimbi Gomis (Lyon), Jérémy Ménez (PSG), Dimitri Payet (Lille), Loïc Rémy (Queens Park Rangers/ANG).

Already played for Manchester United and Juventus
The two next generation stars - Varane and Pogba - are in the mix. Both have been playing bigger roles for their clubs. And we are not talking about small teams - Real Madrid and Juventus respectfully. It only makes sense that both have been added to the mix, allowing Deschamps to give both youngsters exposure to the rest of the squad and could we see them in these matches?

I am also happy to see Mbiwa back in the list. I will be interested to see what central pairing on defense DD leans on, will he go back to Sakho - Mbiwa central pairing? Or will Kos be slotted there?

Ribery, who is recovering from an injury, will not play Friday against Georgia but hopefully will be ready for the Spain match. 

It will be interesting to see what Deschamps does up front with Benzema. His goal scoring drought has become problematic, to say the least. Does Remy get a chance to get on the pitch? I will be interested to see what formation Deschamps looks to roll out Friday. Go with some youth that will be motivated to getting a game for France and rest some his veterans for the Spain match? Or go with his best squad to ensure a victory against Georgia? Reality is, France must get the full 3 points versus Georgia for the Spain match to matter.

Allez les bleus!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

End of the road for Arsene? Arsenal last gasp effort away to Bayern Munich

A few weeks ago Bayern Munich had their own version of the London blitz when they put up 3 goals at the Emirates. Going on to a 3-1 Champions League win. Not pretty to say the least. Arsenal are the last team from the Premier League standing in the Champions League and are most likely 90 minutes away from suffering the same fate as the other clubs from England - going home. The Gunners have to score at least 3 goals to hope and turn the tide against the Bavarian giants. Not likely. Especially considering Wenger will not have the likes of Wilshere to put on the pitch. But the bigger picture - may we be seeing the last of Wenger in Europe managing Arsenal?

Rumors are abound that he is going to get an extension from the Gunners or that he is heading to PSG...the reality is Arsenal might need a change. Check that, something HAS TO CHANGE. The reality is, the Gunners have slipped from the top tier of the Premiership. Long gone are the days where Arsenal and Manchester United were the two elephants in the room. Long gone are the days of riveting matches between the two sides - Vieira, Keane, Henry, Van Nistelrooy, Giggs, Scholes, Keown, and so on. Arsenal have become a club who's main aspiration is to get into the Champions League...but all that really means is to finish 4th. FOURTH. That is not even a bronze medal.

The crashed out of both domestic cups already this season. Currently they are closer to 8th place than they are to 4th place. With the likes of Liverpool right on their heals they could easily fall to Europa League levels. So what has gone wrong? The list is long and I have ranted about it enough in past posts. In a nut shell:
  • Refusing to splash on big name players - talked about but never pulled trigger on the likes of Hazard and Lloris to name two.
  • Allowing his own players to leave - Nasri, Cesc and RVP come to mind. Even allowing a player like Flamini to walk had some repercussions.
  • Over reliance on youth and finding that diamond in the rough - was early success of "discovering" Anelka, Henry and Vieira a curse? He did manage to find Cesc, but allowed him to leave.
  • No steel on team - who has replaced the likes of Keown or Vieira as the enforcers on the team?
Something has to change. Soon. Otherwise I am sure Arsenal will continue to fight for 4th place, continue to convince the fans that playing Champions League every season should be viewed as a success and stare at the FA Cup from 2005 as the last piece of silverware in the trophy case. 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

To red or not to red - officiating impacts a game again

If you watched the Manchester United v Real Madrid match at Old Trafford the one incident that has stirred the most controversy, rightfully so, was the sending off of Nani for what appeared to be a studs high challenge on Arbeloa.

When you see the play in real time it does appear to be a malicious challenge. However, and of course the official on the pitch does not have this luxury, when you see the play in replay it is clear that Nani does not have an intent on driving his boot through the Spaniards chest. But rather Nani is clearly looking to trap a high ball that is spinning away from him, reason for his toes pointing up (to curl around the ball...I have tried to do this but alas do not have that level of ability). Good video and analysis below:

Is it a red card? I have to say no. Was it reckless? Yes. A yellow and a warning, but no red. This incident did get me thinking about red cards and how they really impact a game. Clearly with Nani out, Manchester United lost their shape and being a man down conceded two goals to the Spanish giants. A lack of red card also impacted the World Cup final in 2010 between Holland and Spain. When De Jong gave his best impression of Mortal Kombat and kicked Alonso, studs high, right in the chest.

Did the Dutch midfielder get a red? Which he should have! No. Instead he got a yellow and was allowed to continue playing in the finals. I am sure that Howard Webb, the official for the finals, was aware that sending off a player in a World Cup final, at the beginning of the match, would have changed the face of the game. Drastically. So instead of doing what was right - straight red - he did what was right for the moment.

But that isn't right either! The rules of the game should not change depending on the situation. So here is a thought about the straight red card. If a player receives a straight red card, like Nani did for Manchester United or what De Jong should have received for Holland, that player is still taken off the pitch. However, the team, if they have a substitution available, can bring on another player. Nani got his red at the 57th minute, United still had all three of their substitutions available. If Webb had done what he should have - red carded De Jong - the Dutch could have inserted a new player in his place. I would make this rule hold only for the first red card, and only on a straight red card. If you get a red for two yellows, sorry, you had your warning and shouldn't have been an idiot. If your team is undisciplined enough to get more than 1 straight red a game...sorry play a man down.

This change would allow officials to properly call red cards when necessary - De Jong. As well as allow teams that suffer a red car - Manchester United - from losing a key player but not losing a man on the pitch. I think that losing a starter, as well as a substitution are not "light" punishments. At least the game would not be bastardized as it was at Old Trafford...or in South Africa.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Qatar World Cup - the debacle continues

The rumors continue to swirl that the World Cup in 2022 will be played in the winter. Due to the high heat of the middle east during the summer months. Seriously? This continues to show what a farce the entire World Cup in Qatar has been. The potential for extreme heat continues to haunt the World Cup venue. Hmmm, have UEFA and FIFA only now realized that it gets hot in Qatar? Have none of the governing body looked at a weather report or better yet, been in Qatar during the summer months?

This once again speaks to the money grabbing and corruption that is rampant in international soccer. There is no way that Qatar should have been a)allowed to bid for the World Cup b)won the bid. I am not against having the World Cup in new venues...but there are some places that are not feasible. Due to weather issues, geography, size of nation and standing in the international football landscape. These should and do play factors in being able to host such a tournament. All these factors should have ruled out Qatar from the start. Alas, money trumped common sense.

Now UEFA and FIFA are paying for the mockery they made of the process. Those that will really pay are the players and fans that might have to deal with oppressive heat in 2022.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Benzema caught speeding - headaches for Deschamps

So Benzema was clocked doing 135mph in a 70mph zone, well at 135 does not really matter what the speed limit is since you should be on a race track regardless. The reality is Benzema might get some jail time, in reality I am sure he will get a hefty fine and some probation. But what this does do is give Deschamps a headache. Why? The hearing is the same day as the Spain v France qualifier in Paris. Ouch.

Maybe if I only drove a Smart this wouldn't happen
Let us set aside the reality of the situation - that Benzema is incredibly fortunate to not have injured or killed innocent by standards and to have not done himself any bodily damage. From a sporting side this will create some what of a dilemma for Deschamps. Can he rely on his #1 striker for the match? Might not being able to leverage the Real Madrid player some how be a blessing in disguise for DD? Let us face it, Benzema has not been on fire for France...can you name me the last time he scored for his country? 9 months ago against Estonia. Not a good goal rate for the player that is your top striker. Of course Deschamps does have some options - notably Arsenal man Giroud or Lyon striker Gomis. They are slim pickings however. He could drop down and look to one of the younger players, but that would be highly risky in such a big match.

End of the day, not having Benzema might be a blessing against the Spanish. If DD starts a more traditional #9 - say Giroud. He can expect his Arsenal man to stay closer to the Spanish back line as well as provide a target for the French wingers - Ribery, Menez, Valbuena et al. This might also open up space for these players to make runs at the Spanish. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for both Benzema and Deschamps.

But once again, give lots of money and fast cars to young super stars...bad things tend to happen!