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

Disaster...

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.
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