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 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 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.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Deschamps annouces his list for upcoming matches - with eye towards the World Cup play off

Without too many surprises, Deschamps unveiled his list for the upcoming matches for France - a friendly against Australia and then last group game at home against Finland. Barring any catastrophe against the Nordics, France will then have to wait to see who they get drawn for the November home and away playoff.

The list -

Lloris, Mandanda, Landreau - Evra, Clichy, Abidal, Koscielny, Varane, Sakho, Sagna, Debuchy – Cabaye, Grenier, Matuidi, Pogba, Sissoko - Valbuena, Nasri, Payet, Ribéry, Giroud, Benzema, Rémy 

It is good to see the reintroduction of Varane, it will be interesting to see if the Real Madrid central defender gets put back into his starting role or if the veteran Abidal has usurped him as a start. Or could Kos find his starting role in question? Doubtful. I could see Deschamps experimenting with both combinations in each game - Kos/Abidal and then Kos/Varane.

Newcastle winger Remy is also back in the mix, a good addition since he offers some flexibility with
No Petit Prince in DD set up
regards to the wing and striker positions. My real question is whether or not DD considered bringing back Ben Arfa. The other Newcastle player has shown some real class this year in northern England. I watched a recent match where his play on the right wing was awesome. His pace and shot kept the left back and left half under constant pressure. As a natural left footed player, he is similar in profile as Robben is with Bayern. Opposite Ribery. Ribery a natural right footed player likes the left wing. Robben and Ben Arfa both left footed players like the right wing. They all love staying wide, making pacey runs and cutting in onto their favorite foot. Not sure if the "Petit Prince" has burnt all bridges with both the French national side as well as his former Marseille manager, but I think he offers a real solution to the French right. He can also slot back in the middle of the formation...

I would that DD uses these two matches to work out the kinks and figure out how to be more offensive...and score more goals. Yes they scored 4 in their last match, but once again the strikers were useless! Let us see if DD looks to get something out of Remy ... or we are going to be subjected to more of the same - Payet on the right....Benzema in the middle...and not too many goals.

Allez les bleus.