Thursday, August 15, 2013

France - Belgium a goalless blah game

After a decent day of friendlies, where every game say some goals...except for Wales v Ireland and France v Belgium. Yuck. Granted the France game had plenty of opportunities for some goals. Watching the game just got me more frustrated with Les Bleus and scratching my head with regards to any solutions...but let me try to extract something from the friendly:

The Good:
  • Difficult to extract much good. Not losing their 4th straight game is one silver lining. France was on a terrible run of 3 straight lost matches losing to Spain, Uruguay and Brazil. Getting a draw is not the worst thing, especially on the road to the 10th best nation in the world (yes Belgium is 15 spots ahead of France!) Of course this is the 4th straight game France has failed to score a goal, more on this later.
  • Belgium...looked solid. I do like the fact Les Diables Rouge are relevant again in world football. They have some talent on this side. A midfield with Fallaini and Hazard, an up and coming world striker in Lukaku and a solid defensive back 4 anchored by giants
    Reason for Belgium's optimism
    Kompany and Van Buyten. Their remains a question in goal, although Courtois did the necessary to maintain his clean sheet. However it is far from certain this is the next JM Pfaff. There is some rumblings out of Bruxelles that this side could actually challenge in a year for a World Cup title...not entirely out of the realm of possibility. Based on how they are currently built I might see them as a dark horse and could seriously make a run to the semi finals of the World Cup (assuming they qualify and get a decent draw).
  • I have to said Abidal looked decent at center back. I am not ready to put him in the conversation for French center back, but he did not seem to miss a step. Good first step, but I rather see him on the flanks.
The Bad:
  • France might as well start all center or left sided players...because the right side is useless. I realize this is nothing new. But even I was shocked at seeing how much the French game leaned left. It was so ridiculous that there were a few times when Ribery found himself standing right next to either Benzema or Valbuena. At one point it felt like Payet, who had also drifted in that direction, realized that he was suppose to be the right winger and scampered back to the right side. It is as if there is some invisible force that pulls the ball and then all the offensive players for France to the left. There were a number of times where I saw Sagna, all alone, on the right flank, flapping his arms like a wild turkey...yet getting zero service. It got so bad that Belgium just overloaded that side, forcing the likes of Ribery to dribble at 2-3 defenders. Or at times he would run into his player...who was also on that left side. Bad bad bad.
  • Once again France gave up too many opportunities to Belgium, that fortunately they could not capitalize on. Kos makes a huge gaff in the middle of the penalty area where De Bruyne completely missed the frame, otherwise he seemed to have a goal sitting on his boot. Lukaku missed a couple of close range goals as well. France also gave up a 5 v 2 on the 25th minute...all terrible terrible gaffs. Belgium should have capitalized on at least one of these opportunities. These were correctable defensive problems for France...but they seem to have been the same issues Les Bleus have suffered for seasons. Unless France can somehow recover from these issues they will a)not go to Brazil b)if they do get there...wouldn't do much.
The Ugly:
  • Goals...or a lack thereof for Les Bleus. We are pushing 1200 minutes since the last time our #1 striker has put a ball in the goal. That is UGLY...not how a team wins anything. And it is not just him. France have not scored since they put 3 past Georgia, let's not get too excited. It isn't even that they are not scoring, but they do not seem to even get any real opportunities to scoring a goal! Listening to the game yesterday on ESPN 3, you would have thought that France had made themselves a handful of chances. Not sure. The one real "chance" I saw was late in the game when Giroud tried to one time a left footed volley from inside the penalty spot...only to kick it into row Z. Otherwise the few other "opportunities" came when Ribery, Valbuena or Benzema took on the entire Belgium defense to take a difficult shot on goal. But France never really threatened Belgium's goal...ugly.
  • Speaking of lack of goals...the offensive flow for France was ugly. Like what I mentioned earlier about the left side of the French offense this was just a small part of a greater lack of offensive flow. France seems to be looking for some consistency to their offense. Ribery is France's only real world class attacking player. But he is a left winger. There has to be a balance - someone to either bring more offense on the right side and or a true central midfielder. Someone who can pull the strings, hold the ball up or play faster...not sure Valbuena is that player. I think he would be better served on the right wing with a more classical central midfielder pulling the strings in the middle
    Probably missed this 1v1 as well...
    of the park. Not sure France have that player...Nasri? Martin? Gourcuff? None give me a huge amount of confidence. Grenier could be the next in line...to be determined. France gave us a slight glimpse of a decent balance of attack when they had Ribery on the left, Nasri in the center and Valbuena on the right. But that only seemed to work for a game or two...not really a wonderful sample size. 
  • Okay this is an easy one, and is a continuation of the above but Benzema and his lack of goals is getting to be beyond ugly.  It has become so painful to watch and I think more than just for the player. Why? His teammates clearly know he is on a major scoring drought. There were situations where the ball should have been switched to the opposite field but instead it was forced to Benzema, to try and get him a goal. Of course it did not work. I feel as if the Benzema era is sliding into failure territory. No team can hope for success if their #1 striker cannot score goals! It might be time to sit him and give Giroud or a youngster their chance. 
  • Sagna and his crosses...once again left much to be desired. He had the space in his channel, but as usual his crosses were awful. Granted he didn't always have great options. But if there is no one there, don't cross it!!! Hold it and wait for options. Ugh.
So Les Bleus leave Bruxelles with a drab 0-0 draw and once again could not score a goal. Ugh. One take away from the match is France cannot function in a 4-2-3-1. Why? They do not have the discipline to stay in the channels - too often with the game leaning left you saw Valbuena drifting too far left, or even Payet finding himself there. This took out the entire right side as well as drawing the defenders to that channel. Benzema drifts back too much as well, adding more congestion. Because of this clustering, when the ball gets lost it tends to go back the other way in space. When your central midfielder, left winger and striker are all within 5 feet of one another there is space behind them that gets exploited. Not good. Add to this the strength France has in the holding/defensive midfield position and I believe Les Bleus should think about the 4-3-3 as the formation of choice.

The formation can also evolve into a 4-3-2-1. With the likes of Pogba, Cabaye, Matuidi, Capoue to name a few, you have a wealth of options of midfielders who can offer a strong defensive line in the midfield, but one that can also carry the ball up the pitch. It would also allow the three high line players more space. A line of Ribery on the left, Benzema in the middle (even thought I am calling him a failure he might do better in this formation) and Valbuena on the right would have the space to do their thing - meaning float around the pitch. Players like Cabaye, Matuidi and Pogba, to name a few, have the ability to jump up into the offensive end and contribute goals and opportunities. Now if France goes with this formation, it will also force the left and right fullbacks to be more offensively savvy - not sure Sagna gives you that on the right not does Clichy on the left.

Let's go Deschamps, muscle up your midfield, play counter attack football. That is the talent you have available, play to your strengths and stop trying to find different results from the same formation that is not working.
 

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