Saturday, September 21, 2013

France off to the World Cup play off...not surprising

I realize I am late with this post, but work sometimes gets in the way of writing...oh well. But I have also had time to reflect on France's last World Cup qualifier. First my thoughts on the match:

The Good: 
  • 3 points...sometimes you need to take a win and go home happy. France needed to leave Eastern Europe with at least 4 points to ensure a second pace finish and a spot in the play off. More on that later. After a lack luster 0-0 draw versus Georgia and after what appeared to be a potential disaster in Belarus Les Bleus found a way to restore regular service.
  • Goals...4 goals to be exact...after France had not scored in what felt like a decade, Les Bleus found the back of the net 4 times in the second half. Of course none of the goals came from any of the strikers, more on that later as well.
  • The Kaiser. Ribery saved Les Bleus. Scoring a brace in the second half he ignited the offense for France. He is the one true world class player France have in their line up. If Les Bleus hope to get out of the play off, Ribery will have to be at his best. Ribery won the European Player of the year award and continues to show his top class form. He must keep this up for France to have any chance moving forward.
  • Having Pogba and Matuidi back in the midfield.While I have written about the wealth of options that Deschamps has for his holding midfield role, it is nice to have his top options on the pitch together. Especially the U20 World Cup champion - Pogba. He is an absolute beast. His pressure created the second goal and he chipped in with a goal of his own. Just like needing a Ribery at his best, France will need for Pogba and Matuidi to be at their best to get through the playoffs.
The Bad:
  •  4 goals yes, but none from the strikers. How much longer can Les Bleus go without one of their strikers putting a ball into the goal? Benzema was given the day off so at least his goalless streak did not continue. But Giroud also was not able to find the back of the net, nor Gignac.  Neither really had a clear cut opportunity either. I do not think this will be fatal for France's chance at winning a playoff. However, if the problems is not resolved their visit to Brazil will be very short lived.
  • Right side of the formation. Once again there was very little activity on that side. Payet was mostly absent during the game and once Nasri came in, he started to drift back to the middle again. Granted he scored a goal...but from the left side. Sagna did bring some options to the right, but once again his crosses left much to be desired. Granted he did not always have much to aim for.
The Ugly:
  • Lloris...ugh.Easily his worst game ever for France. 2 goals that most keepers in my men's league would save! The second one in particular was terrible. I watched it over and over expecting to see some wicked knuckle or swerve on the shot. But no. It was a hard and heavy shot no doubt, but chest high and right at  Lloris. He just fanned on it. First goal was not as brutal...but also one a keeper should save. Let alone a world class keeper. It was ugly. But I am not concerned. Lloris is a world class keeper. 
  • Speaking of ugly goal-tending...Veremko was equally poor. The Belarusian keeper did not cover himself in glory either. His late challenge on Ribery led to the penalty kick and from that point forward he did not seem the most reliable set of hands.
So what does this all mean? France should finish second and qualify for a play off (mathematically they could still finish first in the group but that would require Spain to lose their last games and France to get a point from their Finland match...not likely). So figure France head right to the play off draw. Which should be interesting, why? France's world ranking continues to plummet. They might actually drop into the "second hat." Yikes. At first glance here are the nations that should be heading to the play-off:

Croatia 10
Bulgaria 64
Sweden 22
Ukraine 26
Greece 12
Portugal 11
Hungary 30

I am going to keep Iceland on the outside for the sake of this exercise. Next to each nation is their current FIFA world ranking. France is ranked #25. So the first hat would be:

Croatia, Portugal, Greece and Sweden

Second hat would have the other nations: Ukraine, Bulgaria, Hungary and France. Yikes. So Les Bleus could easily draw Portugal...not thanks. A trip to Croatia would be no picnic either. Of course if Russia should falter they could drop into the playoffs and Portugal would qualify directly. But Russia is also ranked ahead of France so would not change France's lot.

Bottom line, France are in for a very difficult play off. And they have no one to blame but themselves. Since the World Cup finals in 2006, they have had a terrible time in Euros and World Cups. Their win in the last Euros over Ukraine was their first victory in an international tournament since that 2006 run! Awful. That is how your world ranking drops. It also does not help when you don't score goals and consistently drop friendlies.

France have made their bed, they must now lie in it. They have the talent to do better, they always have. But for some reason the past 6+ years have been a series of disappointments and failures. The root cause for me? Leaving Domenech in charge after the awful 2008 Euro. That has put back the team at least 2 if not 4 years. Yes they made it to South Africa, but only with the "hand of gaul." And once in South Africa they showed their true colors and everything imploded. Alas. We are now suffering some of those after shocks.

I might even argue that not making it to Brazil would be good for the nation - a real shock that would force some changes and rethinking.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Benzema on the bench...protect his goalless streak

Deschamps will roll out his usual 4-2-3-1 but with Arsenal man Giroud at the top of the formation and his out of form striker Benzema on the bench. Not a real surprise since the Real Madrid man has gone over 1200 minutes without a goal. That would be acceptable for your left back, but not for your primary striker!

Le onze français :
Lloris - Sagna, Koscielny, Abidal, Clichy - Pogba, Matuidi - Payet, Valbuena, Ribéry - Giroud

Otherwise no surprise with the reintroduction of Pogba and Matuidi in the midfield. Ribery is back out there even though there were some fitness concerns midweek. Payet will be asked to bring some animation and consistency to the right of the formation.

Is it bad that I do not seem more than a 0-0 draw?

Allez les Bleus.

Friday, September 06, 2013

France draw with Georgia...5th straight game without a goal...wtf

So France get a drab draw against...Georgia....not the SEC school but the former Soviet nation. I think the UGA men's soccer team could have given the Nation of Georgia a better game. France leave with a wonderful point after a 0-0 draw. Yet another game where France did not score and did not win...BLAH.

I have a hard time coming up with any good, bad and ugly for this match...so this post will mostly be my rants about what is going on with this France team. Seriously. What good can be said about this game? Or this team as it is constituted...They have not scored a goal in 5 games. FIVE games. They have not won a game since...when Kopa and Fontaine were playing for France. Okay maybe not that long ago. But it feels that way.

Not sure what I can say about this game that I have not said for the past few games -
  • Can't score - Benzema et al go one more game without a goal. Giroud did have a golden chance at the end of the game but could not find the lower corner of the goal and instead headed it straight at the keeper. I realize they could have been granted a penalty kick...but guess what, a team like France should be able to score from the run of play against Georgia and not need a referee to get them a goal.
  • Defense is good...but shaky - Georgia had good scoring chances...hitting the post. The back line allowed too many leaks at times, fortunately they were facing Georgia and not Brazil or Spain or Germany or even an Altidore...
  • No creativity - midfield was shaky when it came to sustained offensive pressure. Yes Ribery was dangerous on the left, Valbuena looked good but it was all solo efforts from these players. France still struggle with finding and sustaining creativity and offensive pressure.
  • No real options - Gignac and Nari were introduced into the game...but they did not offer anything new to the game. And the reality where are the other options for France? Is there a Henry in the wings? Or a Papin? Or a Zidane? I realize some of these names are once in a life time but a nation like France should be able to have a pipeline. Looking at the past France was able to go from Platini to Cantona to Zidane all world class players...who is this generation world class player? Ribery...maybe. But it does not feel like we have that available.
  • UGH....what else can I say...just more blah.
So what does this mean? France will have to go through a play-off to get to Brazil next summer. Looking over the groups, and a first pass here are the second place teams that should go into the play-offs. Of course this could and will change before the end of the group stages. France might even drop down to third place!!!

France, Croatia, Sweden, Romania, Norway, Russia, Greece and Montenegro they will be broken down into two groups

Assume that pool A will be Russia, Greece, Croatia and France drawn against pool B: Montenegro, Sweden, Romania and Norway.

There are no guarantees that France can defeat any of these nations in a home/away series. France do not fare very well heading to the Nordic countries and their showing last time against Sweden in the Euros was pathetic. Montenegro also not an easy draw and heading to Eastern Europe to play Romania...not thanks.

The way France is playing right now I would put their chances of heading to Brazil at a 65% chance, better than 50/50 but not by much.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Change in formation by Deschamps...but not to the one I suggested

Latest from the French camp, Deschamps will line up 2 strikers this Friday to face Georgia. Look for Benzema, he of a 1200 minute goalless streak, and Giroud who has been in form for his club. This will create a 4-4-2 formation:

Composition probable de l’équipe de France :
Lloris (cap.) - Sagna, Koscielny, Abidal, Evra - Valbuena, Guilavogui, Sissoko, Ribéry - Benzema, Giroud

Against a Georgia team that will most likely keep 10 if not all 11 players behind the ball, pack the box and look to counter attack France, Deschamps looks to put two strikers on the pitch to try and get a goal if not more. The reality is that with Benzema's propensity to drop deep on the field to go get the ball, is this really a 4-4-2? Or will it really be a 4-2-3-1 with Benzema drifting back in the formation? It will be imperative for the Real Madrid forward to avoid his usual habit of floating deep on the pitch...getting in the way of the likes of Ribery and Valbuena. Granted with Giroud on the pitch, hopefully the Georgia defense will not be
Together again!
able to push higher up as Giroud will most likely sit on the last defender's shoulder creating some space for Benzema, Ribery and Valbuena.

The other question mark for me is what about the right side of the formation? Valbuena has been successful by playing a more central role in the midfield. Does he have the discipline to stay wide? Not sure. If he does start drifting back to the center can Sagna offer consistent service from his right fullback position? Not sure. I have not liked the Arsenal man's crossing, I feel it leaves much to be desired. Once again I am sure the French attack will lean heavily on the left with Ribery and Evra in that channel.

This match will be no cake walk. I expect the pitch in Tbilissi to be heavy and choppy, not in great shape to slow down the French passing and speed (similar to baseball teams that let their infield grass grow a tad longer to slow down ground balls). Georgia will sit deep and look to attack France on the counter....which they are very susceptible to. Look for France to try and attack over the top, try to get the ball deep to Giroud where he can either lay it off to an on rushing player aka Benzema or one of the midfielders, or where the Arsenal man can take his chances on goal. This will call upon the likes of Evra, Sagna, Valbuena and Ribery to provide good service to the strikers.

I also want to see how Guilavogui and Sissoko handle their responsibilities. In games such as this France tend to get caught up with trying to score and as more time goes on get frustrated. Players like Ribery and Valbuena are not necessarily the most disciplined to keep their defensive responsibilities in mind. This will require the two holding midfielders to be incredible conscious of when they pinch into the offensive end, when do they jump into the attack and when do they hold back providing cover to the back line. This will be especially important when the wide fullbacks make deep runs into the attacking 1/3.

End of the day, Les Bleus should win this game. It will be more difficult than it should be, but that is par for the course with France these days. I look for a meek 1-0 win. Giroud scores the only goal, Benzema continues his scoreless streak!

Allez les bleus.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Thinning out of DD's midfield - Grenier and Capoue out for France

Deschamps faces a challenge as the Lyon playmaking midfielder - Grenier - had to withdraw from the French squad ahead of their upcoming World Cup qualifiers. With Capoue going down this past weekend in the North London derby, Deschamps is all of a sudden scrambling for some cover in his midfield. This should not be much of concern in game 2 when Pogba and Matuidi come off suspension. But against Georgia, DD is looking at thinning options for his midfield. He did call up Gonalons which is a good facsimile of Capoue, but has yet to make any moves to shore up Grenier's absence. Grenier is more offensive so could we see his Lyon teammate Gourcuff get another look?

We shall see if Deschamps makes a move soon.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Wenger gets a B...but barely.

Phew...so once again at the last moment, Wenger wakes up and realizes he needs to add to his roster. This season he added some quality in German play-maker Ozil. Good signing. Adding this world class midfielder to the likes of Carzola with speed on the wings in Ox and Walcott and you might have something.

Coming to a North London pitch near you

Then once Diaby comes back to full fitness...hahaaa...sorry had to throw that fantasy into the conversation. But why do I only give Wenger a B? Here is why:

  • Why keep waiting to the last minute? I realize that Ozil probably could not have been signed until the Bale deal went down. But the fact Wenger was waiting for another team's transfer to occur before he got off the sidelines is a little disconcerting. It feels as if Wenger's transfers seem to hinge around last minute deadlines...why don't we sign a big name in, say, July instead?
  • Not enough...still. Ozil is a huge signing, don't get me wrong, but Arsenal needs more. They need another striker - Higuain, Suarez (thankfully didn't happen), Benzema or Rooney - were all rumored on the Arsenal wish list. Yet all of them fell through. Add to this Ba and once again Arsenal was not able to get a player they coveted (I do think Ba was a long shot to go from Chelsea to Arsenal). What about Di Maria? More excess inventory at Real Madrid, rumored to be heading to Arsenal...why couldn't that deal be done? Adding Di Maria to the wings would have been a huge win coupled with Ozil.
End of the day I am glad that Wenger spent money and got a world class player in the deal. Giroud should also be very happy from all the service he will be offered from this world class midfielder. Unfortunately Wenger needed to add more pieces for me to truly believe the Gunners can challenge for more than a 4th place EPL finish and maybe a cup semi final.

You get a B Arsene, could have been an A if you had brought in Ba and Di Maria or a D if Ozil had not made it under the transfer deadline!
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