Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year! My wishes for 2015

2014 was a good year in terms of footy, how can it not be when there is a World Cup. PSG won another Ligue 1 title, Arsenal once again failed to impress...oh right they won the FA Cup so all is right, never mind...Real Madrid beat their cross town rivalry in the Champions League final and Germany won their 4th World Cup.  But as we turn the page on 2014 and look forward to 2015, here are my wishes for the new year.

  • Arsenal finds themselves a new manger...I have been sour on my fellow countryman for a few years now. His miserly spending, poor selection of transfer targets and his stubbornness when it comes to keeping his own players have led to a poor showing for years. Yes I know he won the FA Cup last year, but that was fools' gold. So the Gunners win their 4th place trophy on a regular basis, get to the Champions League and then flame out in the 1/4 finals. Yeah. When is the last time that Arsenal has really contended for the Premiership??? Liverpool has gotten closer than the Gunners in recent history. It is time for some new blood. With Jurgen Klopp on thin ice at Dortmund could this be the perfect storm? Where could Wenger go? PSG might still be an option as Blanc does not seem 100% secure in Paris. Here is a crazy thought,
    Right time to come to London?
    what about a side like Hertha Berlin? A team in a large cosmopolitan city in the heart of Europe. Wenger could work on acquiring and developing a bevy of German international talent, while working in a league where business principles are in line with Wenger's supposed methods. Bottom line...Wenger needs to move on.
  • Les Bleus finally find themselves a right sided winger...something else I have know to harp on...France's inability to have a right sided player to give the team a greater balance. Not sure what the options are. Valbuena is more of a center of the park player. Remy could be an option but never seems to stick with France and is currently only a bench player for Chelsea. Sissoko, maybe, but I see him as more of a midfield relaying player. Not sure a player such as Lacazette is an option outside on the wing either, he has played there but seems more comfortable as the center forward. Thauvin from Marseille might also be an option, but seems to have maturity issues. Finally Payet might be the option, but I do not see him as a full international let alone the full time option on the right side. Deschamps will have his work cut out for him to determine how to properly balance his squad. Hopefully the solution works its way out in 2015.
  • May PSG find success in Europe...well that might be difficult with Chelsea on the schedule for the knock out round of the Champions League, but the Paris club needs to make some adjustments to their roster to position themselves more favorably for the Champions League. The likes of Cabaye and Cavani need to be better utilized or potentially sold off. A legitimate second striker to take some of the pressure off of Zlatan. Granted the aforementioned Cavani is suppose to be that option, but I think that experiment has not succeeded. Also, the center backs need to be better - Luiz is a clown, still not sure why PSG spent some much on Sideshow Bob. PSG will need to clean up some of these issues to build towards success in Europe. Could a new manager also be in the cards this summer? Maybe, especially if PSG does not win the Ligue 1 once again or good deep in Europe.
These are some simple wishes for 2015, what are your footy wishes??

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Merci Titi - France and Arsenal legend Henry announces his retirement

Yes I realize that Titi played for Monaco, Juventus, Barcelona and New York Red Bull, but I think it is safe to say the legendary forward is best known for his time at Arsenal and playing for Les Bleus. It came as no surprise as Henry announced his retirement from football today. So what to make of the French national team all time leading scorer? There have been a number of articles written about how Titi will never be appreciated in his homeland of France, read one of the latest ones here. And there is some element of truth in that statement.

His first issue was he played for France at the same time as a certain Zidane. Hard to command the limelight when one of the greatest players of all time is on the field with you. But I think there is something deeper to this. Unlike his days at Arsenal, Henry rarely took over games for Les Bleus. Yes he is the all time leading goal scorer for Les Bleus with 51 goals in 123 appearances. However strange as this may sound - the only goal I truly remember was the one in the 2006 World Cup 1/4 finals against Brazil from a Zidane free kick. But otherwise it feels like the other 50 goals were...empty. Sounds ridiculous, I realize. But I clearly remember Zidane's brace in the 1998 World
Not what one wants as their defining moment
Cup final, Trezeguet's winner in the 2000 European Cup finals, Wiltord's equalizer in the same game, Blanc's goal against Paraguay in the 1998 World Cup, Platini's winner against Portugal in 1982...I can go on for a while before I get to Henry's memorable strike. I might argue that Ribery's goal against Spain in 2006 was the bigger goal of that tournament for France.

I remember speaking with my father before the 2006 World Cup finals and we both agreed that Henry had to step up - take over the game. Unfortunately he didn't and almost had to come out within the first 5 minutes after a collision early on with an Italian defender.  It could be argued that had Henry stayed in the game, he would have taken a penalty kick before Trezeguet. But I digress. The one defining moment for Henry might be the "hand of frog." When he deliberately handled the ball to allow him to cross to Gallas who scored the equalizing goal and allowed France to defeat Ireland in the 2010 World Cup playoff.

Henry deserves to be in the discussion of greatest players in French national team history. To me Platini, Zidane and Kopa are at the top of that podium. But Henry and his 51 goals has to be the in conversation as one of the all time greats. Top 10 5 maybe. Unfortunately, unlike those mentioned, he did not have a defining moment in his least not a positive one since I do not think the "hand of frog" is the type of defining moment you want.

While Henry might not get the accolades he deserves back in France, he remains one of the all time greatest. Watching him at the heights of his power for Arsenal was something amazing to watch. And I know the 51 goals was not empty for Les Bleus.

Merci Titi.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Farewell Landycake...we never really got to know your potential.

Later today will be the finals of the MLS cup between the LA Galaxy and the New England Revolution. For once, I will actually...well an entire MLS game from start to finish. I will admit I have tried to watch Revolution playoff games, but I still cannot seem to bring myself to watching the entire product from start to finish. Call me a football snob, I can take it. But this game will be interesting for more than simply because my soon to be home town team is in the game (the Revolution are rumored to be moving to a soccer only stadium in Boston...currently they play closer to Rhode Island) but because this will be Landy Cakes last professional footy game.

There is much, well as much as there can be for MLS, ballyhoo about the possibility that the US star wins his 6th MLS title. That will elevate him to the stature of this former teammate David Beckham who has also won 6 domestic titles...oh wait those are EPL titles, never mind. But at least that would be more than Ronaldo's domestic haul of 4...what's that? Those 4 are - 3 EPL and and 1 La Liga title...never mind. Well it puts him ahead of Pat Vieira's measly 3 EPL titles....okay okay I realize I am being cheeky in my comparisons. But there is an underlying frustration in these comparisons. Donovan for all the hype he covered himself in over in the United States, never lived up to his supposed potential.

His stints over in Europe are well documented, starting with Bayern Leverkusen where he came back because he complained of the cold and his inability to get in surfing done. Really? He also had a loan stint at Bayern Munich, where a more mature Donovan could have carved out a resurgence in his European career. But once again he failed...and sowed the seeds for his downfall with now US National team coach - Klinsmann. He finally Wondolowski missed a sitter in injury time that would have seen the US through to the next round. You mean to tell me that Landycakes could not have at least put that shot on frame??? But Klinsmann had made it clear, he wanted players that were hungry and to the German I am sure that not wanting to push yourself and try to make it in Europe was a massive strike against Landycakes.
I got this cool kit and a 3 week vacation!
demonstrated some success in back to back loan spells with Everton in the EPL. Yet Donovan never looked to make those loan moves permanent. Fail. Everton seemed to be a good fit for Landycakes. A solid English club, but not a Manchester United or Liverpool where the history would clearly crush the mentally fragile Landycakes. In addition, Everton's best player was their American keeper - Tim Howard. Yet once again Landon Donovan opted to come back the MLS, play in front of 10,000 fans and be relegated to the back pages of the back pages in the newspapers. A major consequence of his decision became clear this past summer, when he watched rather than played in the World Cup. I am sure that he, like many of the US fans, were pulling their hair out when

In a recent article about Donovan they mention some of his issues with being more mentally tough - click here. After reading the piece I have some empathy for Donovan. I think there is nothing simple about dealing with the psychology of daily life let alone being a professional athlete. But I also wonder how can an athlete get to where Landycakes did, compete on the biggest stage in sports - the World Cup - and not be somewhat more mentally tough than he seems to indicate he isn't.

I hear an interview between him and former MLS and US National team player, Taylor Twellman the other day, and what struck me was how Donovan was talking about the MLS cup finals. As if he was speaking of playing for his 6th Champions League title. And it struck me then, many Landycakes is smarter than all of us. Maybe he knew his limitations. Maybe he knew that for games against Algeria or Costa Rica or Mexico he could compete and he could be the "greatest American soccer player." While it was at a World Cup, he wasn't staring for Italy or Brazil where all the pressure was on. He knew he could do well for a short period of time at Everton, but if he had to battle with the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool etc etc on a weekly basis that he would be exposed. Much safer to give all for a handful of games and then go back to the safety of playing Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC - certainly wouldn't want to face the true Real Madrid or even Sporting Lisbon in a European fixture.

So Donovan will put on his boots for a last time in anger today. The end of a career that promised so much more at the beginning. What I find a delicious paradox is another US soccer star that I was looking up this week - Freddy Adu. A player that was suppose to not only surpass Donovan in terms of US star but pass the likes of Pele and Messi as global stars has fallen flat on his face. Yet, Adu is still in Europe, working his craft. Chasing a dream that has taken a massive hit - does anyone think he will ever showcase for the US national team again? But kudos to him, unlike Landycakes, he is taking the challenges and failures of European football...anyone want to guess where he is playing??

So adieu Landycakes. I, as I have tended to do, will be rooting against you this game. For once I will be rooting for the team you are playing not against the hype that you represented.

Oh the game. I think that New England will find a way to win a tough match. Jones and Nguyen will have a huge part to play controlling that midfield and choking out any service to Keane and Donovan. NE 2 - LA 1

And who does Adu play for? Answer - FK Jagodina

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Les Bleus end the season with a solid 1-0 victory over the Zlatanless Swedes.

France close out 2014 on a positive note with a 1-0 defeat of Sweden in Marseilles. Overall a much better game than a few days ago against Albania. Let's dive into the game:

The Good:
  • Ending the year on a victory - that is always a positive.  Les Bleus end the 2014 season on an overall positive record. They scored in every game but two - against Ecuador in the last group game of the World Cup and against Germany in the 1/4 finals. Without needing to qualify, they have still faced off against some larger footballing sides, notably Portugal and Spain, but victories. 2015 will be a big year for Les Bleus as they build up to the Euros in 2016.
  • The captain for the day - Varane - demonstrated why many peg him as the likely candidate to becoming the permanent national side captain in the near future. It was his goal that liberated Les Bleus, but it was his defensive play that is what continues to impressive. His pace is world class and his command of the back line shows signs of maturity beyond his youthful age. It is
    Not a bad night - captain and first goal for Les Bleus
    at times amazing to think he doesn't have a fill time starting role at Real Madrid. France are in good hands with him at center back. The question becomes - who will become his center back partner? There are lots of options, but none have distinguished themselves as the clear cut partner for Varane. 
  • Les Bleus overall game. Unlike the match against Albania, France came out with a greater determination and carried the game to the Swedes. They dominated the first half possession, having the ball for over 60% of the time. The second half was a little more balanced but France continued to carry the game. Granted Sweden's side was depleted of many of their starters. But it was positive to see France impose their will on the game.
  • It was a good showing from France's left back - Kurzawa.  The AS Monaco left back showed well for himself. After dealing with a minor storm of controversy surrounding him from his poor showing at the U20 qualifier versus Sweden, it was good to see him show well for his first start with the senior squad. His pace was on full display, really giving the Swedes problems. He also provided a number of sumptuous crosses. He clearly will have something to say when it comes to who becomes Frances' #1 left back.
The Bad:
  •  The French right side....okay okay okay...I know that I have been writing this for about 4 years now. But it remains an issue. Valbuena was lined up on the right side and about 5 minutes into the game guess where he was? Yup. On the left. Yes Payet and Griezmann tried to slot back out to the right but really they were all stuck left of center. The one option on the right were the runs from the French right back - Sagna. He did a decent job keeping some balance but whether it is Sagna or Debuchy there has to be more than just the full backs as offensive options. Not sure whether it is Valbuena, Payet, Sissoko, Remy, Menez, Benzema etc etc, but this has to be solved in 2015. 
  • Please please please find me another regular penalty kick taker. Benzema did his best job of trying to give a fan a souvenir when he took the penalty kick - blasting his shot into row Z.
    Row Z...LOOK OUT!!!
    Remember the weak kick he took against Switzerland during the World Cup? Since Ribery has taken his international retirement, France have not had a penalty taker that I am 100% confident in. Yes we have been spoiled in the past with the likes of Zidane, Henry and even Ribery. But Deschamps needs to figure out who can take these set pieces. I am not sure who on the roster can step up and take these on a regular basis. Reality is Benzema might be the default option...but if he is, then he better practice them on a regular basis.
The Ugly:
  • I realize that Digne plays for the hated PSG, but the whistling and booing rained down on the French left back was ugly. Yes maybe my PSG bias might be showing, but seriously.  Digne is representing the national side, fans need to focus on that rather than which club he plays for. I would hate to think that if France were playing a European Cup game in Marseille that the PSG players would be subjected to the same treatment. 
Overall a good way to end the international season. France should have come out with a more comfortable victory - especially if Benzema could take a PK - but a win is a win.  Heading into 2015 Deschamps will have to think about his left back, who will partner with Varane and which formation to lean on? Of course he has time and how his players evolve with their clubs will dictate some of his choices. Good end of 2014, on to 2015...

Allez les Bleus.

Deschamps with a 4-2-3-1 to face least not the 4-4-2 again.

Without much surprise, Deschamps has made some changes to the starting line that will take on the Ibra-less Sweden today at Marseilles' Velodrome. Not going back to the 4-3-3 but at least changing the 4-4-2 that was so bland against Albania. He is also leaning heavily on the OM contingent of his roster. The line up:

No surprise in goal, or on defense as DD gets the players that were on the bench against Albania a start - I wonder if we will see Zouma at some point making his debut for the senior squad. The midfield duo of Pogba and Guilavogui will be one to watch. Pogba had a mediocre game against Albania and the Wolfsburg midfielder Guilavogui will be looking to score some points as that position has some serious competition - Cabaye, Matuidi, Sissoko, Mavuba, Scheiderlin to name a few.

Griezmann and Valbuena will assume their familiar roles out wide, the question will be can Payet play that #10 role? And how will he interact with his former Marseille teammate Valbuena who tends to drift inside. Gignac up front will look to continue to reestablish himself as a legitimate international level striker. Something I still have my doubts about. The reality is that there is a role to find behind Benzema. With Giroud out until the new year, players like Gignac have  card to play to secure their role on the national side.

Sweden will be without Zlatan, so might not be the side fans want to see without their superstar. Regardless, the game should be a good one in the raucous Marseille stadium. I look for Les Bleus to play with a little more urgency than they did against Albania. They should be motivated for this game - last international of the year, at Marseilles with 3 current players from OM and against a team they have struggled against recently.

Les Bleus 2 - Zlatanless Sweden 1 Goals from Griezmann and Pogba.

Allez les Bleus!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Which line up for France v Sweden for DD?

Les Bleus will face off against Sweden tomorrow in their final international match of the year. After a tepid showing against Albania, much will be expected from this match. Do France need to come out and give us a scintillating 3-0 win? No. It would be nice...but not to be expected. Les Bleus need to come out and show more than they  did against Albania. Last time the French faced the Swedes they left with a 2-0 defeat in the last group game of the Euros in Ukraine/Poland. Deschamps also faces a number of players that have dropped out due to injury - Yanga-Mbiwa and Schneiderlin most notable. So what could the French formation look like tomorrow?

First I think that DD will go back to his 4-3-3. I also expect some new faces on the field.

We already know that in goal we will have Mandanda in place of Lloris, a nice reward for the OM keeper to get a start on his home pitch.

On defense, I would like to see Kurzawa on the left start for Les Bleus. In his 20 minutes on the field against Albania he showed some pace and offensive ability otherwise not there with the other options. He made one turn that looked more like a strikers' move then a left back. Of course it might be Mangala as the center back pairing.  It would be surprising to see Zouma as a starter, unless Managala's calf is not 100%.
Sophomoric behavior!
interesting to see the Monaco left back getting a start against the nation he acted in such a sophomoric manner against with the U20s. I expect to see Jallet back on the right, Varane in the middle and

The middle 3 will look familiar - Cabaye, Pogba and Sissoko as the middle three. Cabaye will have the role of sitting deeper of the three while I expect Pogba and Sissoko to "split" the field between the right and the left.

For the top three offensive players - I would like to see Griezmann on the left and Valbuena on the right. Look for Gignac to get a start in the middle as the lone striker - another opportunity to have a OM player on his home field. DD could also insert Payet on the right in place of Valbuena for the same reason. And see if Payet can offer a real solution out on the right side.

It would be good to see both Guilavogui and Zouma get some time in the match during the second half. See how the Wolfsburg midfielder can integrate with the likes of Cabaye/Pogba/Sissoko as well as if the Chelsea central defender can provide cover or partner with Varane.

I will be interesting to see what DD is thinking with his line up and formation.

Allez les Bleus!

Friday, November 14, 2014

France v Albania...Les Bleus lucky to escape with a draw.

Thankfully that game did not count towards France's qualification efforts...what a bland bland bland effort from Les Bleus. Albania, gasp, were the better team on the night. From the start it was apparent that the team Deschamps rolled out onto the pitch was only there physically and certainly not mentally. Anyways...the game was a friendly...end of the least they didn't lose.

The Good:
  • Lloris was world class. He was not at fault on the Albanian goal, a impeccably placed header after France failed to clear the corner kick. Otherwise the Tottenham keeper played a solid game, making some very good saves. One on a long range shot that came down the right flank. The save looked decent in real time, when you saw the replay one realizes what a difficult save it turned out to be as the ball was dancing all over the place and Lloris showed great skill in
    Big save that kept it a one goal deficit
    parrying the shot. He made another huge save on a defensive breakdown where he had to parry a bullet of a shot that was heading for the upper corner. The Spurs' keeper was also in command of his area. In a bland showing he was the one bright spot...and without him it could easily have been 3 or 2 goals to the Eastern Europeans. 
  • The insertion of Griezmann changed the game. Coming on late in the game, the Atletico Madrid winger quickly placed his stamp on the game. Bringing pace and some offensive punch that was otherwise absent from the French attack. His goal was a perfect two man game on the wing. He and the French right back, Jallet, played a give and go game that sprung Griezmann into the Albanian penalty area where he clinically finish. 
  • The Albanians. For a team I thought would pack it in, they took the game to the French. for some stretches they were outclassing the hosts. Ever dangerous on set pieces and smart with their counter attacking. Their fullbacks were dangerous down the flanks and their center backs a constant threat in the air on set pieces. The midfield did a good job collapsing to thwart any French offensive forays. They are a sneaky side that could find a way to the Euros, don't forget they already took 3 points off of the Portuguese.
The Bad:
  • The French 4-4-2...was abysmal.  I had written about this earlier but I was not convinced that the 2 striker formation would work. And I feel as if it didn't. The high line was clogged up by both Benzema and Lacazette operating in the same space. The midfield had no width. And the fullbacks were able to push up but  their offensive forays were too often "one and done" runs, which then left a lot of room behind them for Albania counters. Cabaye seemed to be asked to scramble to much to fill in the spaces left by the fullbacks. Les Bleus used to be able to run out  strikers, when those strikers were named Henry and Trezeguet...and they had a certain Zidane in the midfield. Henry was really more of a roaming striker, while Trez was a true #9. France do not have those players. I hope that DD rolled out this formation based on necessity. I certainly do not expect to see it again in the near future. 
  • Finishing...stop me if you have heard this before....Les Bleus just lack any clinical finishing, other than the Griezmann goal. Benzema had the 2-1 ball on his foot but inexplicably ballooned it from 10 yard out. Otherwise there just was not finishing threat. Concerning. 
The Ugly:
  • Lack of rhythm...Les Bleus looked like they were sleep walking, had zero consistency with they play. They never really controlled the match. Even when they were mounting some sustained threats to the Albanian goal, it did not feel like the French had their finger on the pulse of the game. They still looked like they were chasing the Albanians. Yes Les Bleus were missing the likes of Matuidi, but the apparent lack of consistency and ability to dictate the game was a bit disconcerting. If they play like this against Zlatan and his merry band from Sweden, it might get ugly.
Okay so France move on with a "point" from this game. Thankfully it does not mean anything, but there were more areas of concern than of good. Let us hope that their next match, against a much larger fish, is better than what we saw in Rennes.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

DD back to the 4-4-2...out of necessity or a real option moving forward?

Reports coming out of Clairefontaine would have us believe that Les Bleus will come out tomorrow back in a traditional 4-4-2. Hmmm. Not sure what to make of that. Readers of this blog will know that I think France plays better when they play a 4-3-3, taking advantage of their depth and quality in the midfield trident and allowing their wide players to carry the attack - leaning on a lone striker to roam around the penalty box. Starting with 2 high strikers might create a lot of congestion in the attacking 1/3. The potential line up -

Lloris - Jallet, Varane, Yanga Mbiwa, Digne - Sissoko, Cabaye, Valbuena, Pogba - Lacazette, Benzema

Some items to watch:
  • Deschamps is putting the former and current Lyon strikers together. How will Benzema function with someone playing off his shoulder. Karim seems to function better as the lone striker, even at Real Madrid when he is partnering with the likes of Ronaldo, the Portuguese is more of a winger. Lacazette has been lined up as a striker for Lyon, even though he is believed to have a future on the wing. Will the two strikers compliment one another...or get in each
    The OL connection - will it succeed?
    others' way?
  • Is that really a 4 man midfield? Or more of a 3 deep lying midfield with a false #9 in Valbuena? The formation reads 4-4-2, but I can see Valbuena being asked to push higher on the pitch, sitting in the space right behind the two strikers, with the trio of Sissoko, Cabaye and Pogba as the defensive/linking midfield. I could even see Cabaye being the deeper lying player, right in front of the defensive back 4, Sissoko being given responsibility for the right and Pogba the left side of the formation. It will be interesting to see how this midfield evolves. But I certainly doubt it will be a flat 4.
  • Where will the wide play come from? With out the usual wingers or formation rolled out, where will the offense come from the wings? Expect Digne and Jallet to be instructed to push high and wide on the pitch. They will be asked to provide the bulk of the crosses and wide runs, overlapping the midfielders to offer wide options for Valbuena.
I am not sure how much we will be able to deduce from this first game, they are not playing the metal of world football. It should be a good test as I expect Albania to pack it in and look to strike on the counter. That will shine the light on how well the fullbacks are able to bring some dangerous crosses, how does Benzema and Lacazette attack the Albania goal as a tandem and can Valbuena break down the defense as the #10?

Prediction - France 2: Albania 0 goals from Cabaye and Benzema.

Allez Les Bleus!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Deschamps has to back track with his views on the U20s

Well well well...a few injuries and suddenly Deschamps has to backtrack on his stance with regards to including any of the French U20s. The latest is Kurt Zouma from Chelsea who has been brought into the senior squad. This after Kurzawa was brought in to replace the injured Tremoulinas. That might have been the more awkward call up for DD, as it was the Monaco left back that was the leader of the sophomoric behavior of the French U20 team against juicy that France will be playing Sweden during this international break.

Overall I think this is actually a good thing for Deschamps. He needs to start looking at some of the young talent he has at the U20 level. Players like Zouma and especially Kurzawa have legitimate ambitions to being part of the squad that plays on home soil the 2016 Euros. Kurzawa in particular as the French left back role, I believe, is a position ripe for new blood.

Another name that has pulled out is Matuidi, Gonalons was called up in reinforcement. This will open the door for Schneiderlin to assume greater time on the pitch. Could this be to the detriment of Cabaye, who is not getting much time at PSG?

With so many names missing, will Deschamps use these two games for some experimental
More celebrations to come in blue?
sides? I hope so. Players like Lacazette, Guilavogui, Scheiderlin, Yanga-Mbiwa and Kurzawa should get substantial time over the two games. Rotate some of the midfielders along side Pogba to see how they function with the emerging main stay of the French midfield. In the back it would be good to find out what Kurzawa can do on the left as well as Yanga-Mbiwa in the center paired with the likes of Varane. Up front it would be good to see if Lacazette is an option, either as a striker or out on the wing.

 I do not believe that many of the starting roles are in question if Deschamps has his full roster. The places I see some question marks - left back, right wing and possibly left wing (but that is Griezmanns for now). The real questions are the second level players. Who are the ones that provide the depth needed? That would be across the field, but really at the striker role and creative midfielder. It will be interesting to see what DD does with these two games.

Allez les Bleus!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Les Bleus - roster for last internationals - the U20 get shut out.

Deschamps announced his list of players for the last round of international friendlies for their matches on the 14th against Albania and 4 days later against Sweden. Not to many surprised on the list...other than the exclusion of any U20 players. No doubt because of their catastrophic showing against Sweden in the qualifiers.

The list:

Gardiens de but : Lloris (Tottenham), Mandanda (Marseille), Costil (Rennes)

Défenseurs : Digne (PSG), Jallet (Lyon), Mangala (Manchester City), Sagna (City), Varane (Real Madrid), Yanga-Mbiwa (Roma), Trémoulinas (Séville), Perrin (Saint-Etienne)

Milieux de terrain : Cabaye (PSG), Matuidi (PSG), Pogba (Juventus), Schneiderlin (Southampton), Sissoko (Newcastle), Guilavogui (Wolfsburg)

Attaquants : Benzema (Real Madrid), Gignac (Marseille), Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Payet (Marseille), Valbuena (Dynamo Moscou), Lacazette (Lyon)
Not many surprises, but DD had to deal with a decimated defensive core with Kos, Sakho, Mathieu and Evra all being sidelined with injuries. We get to see most of the reservists from the World Cup - Tremoulinas and Perrin on defense. Interesting to see Guilavogui back in the picture. It will be interesting to see if the midfielder gets any time over the two games. One area that DD has a wealth of options is in the holding midfielder role. Up front I am a little surprised to see Payet again, as I have stated in the past, I just don't see it with the former Nantes player.  He really isn't a ride sided player and not sure he fits in the middle of park...actually I am not sure he is a full international at all. It will good to see Lacazette on the roster, see if he can give DD a legit option up front behind Benzema.
It will be also interesting to see how DD leans on lining them up against Albania. Also, when will DD start calling up some of the U20. He specifically stated that he did not want to reward any of the U20 players after their poor showing. But the likes of Kurzawa were specifically singled out after his sophomoric behavior away to Sweden last month. However at some point some of these players will have to start integrating into the senior squad.

The next week will tell us a lot about what DD is thinking in terms of his line up.

Allez les Bleus.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Expect to see many new faces for Les Bleus walk out on the pitch in Armenia

No one will be surprised to see a completely new starting line up roll out later today when France face off against Armenia. We already know of the injuries to Benzema and Mangala, so already two spots for new faces. And we expect to see DD run through his other players on the roster and see what he has. So from the press here is the line up we might expect to see:

Mandanda - Jallet, Varane, Mathieu, Digne - Matuidi, Schneiderlin - Sissoko, Payet, Rémy - Gignac

This line up shifts France back to a 4-2-3-1, not a formation I really want to see Les Bleus in, and
Dynamic duo for Les Bleus?
really it could be a 4-3-3 with Sissoko dropping deeper on the pitch and allowing Payet and Remy to play the wide winger roles. The things to watch other than the obvious - see how the new faces play - is to see the role Payet takes on. A player that normally is a winger has been slotted more to the center for his club this year and has shown some success. He will also be sitting behind his OM teammate - Gignac. Does this familiarity on the offensive end bring something to the table for Les Bleus? Does Payet give DD a real option as a center of the park playmaker? Or is he more suited to the wing? It will be also be interesting to watch the right side of the formation. With both Remy and Sissoko who can play that channel, and both are more apt to stay in a wide position.

Let's face it, France is not playing a giant of football. The Armenian coach has also said he thinks this game is "sh**" so I don't expect a lot of creativity from the team from the Caucasus. So I expect France to be attacking and carrying the play for the bulk of the game. It will be interesting to see if with Gignac, a more traditional #9 and his playmaker from OM, if Les Bleus can break down the Armenians.

Prediction - France 2: Armenia 0 goals from Gignac and Schneiderlin.

Allez Les Bleus.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Good win for Les Bleus, but concerns remain

Deschamps and Les Bleus continue their "friendly" qualifications, defeating Portugal 2-1 in Paris. Portugal was coming in off a defeat against Albania in Euro qualifiers and wasn't approaching this as just another friendly, especially considering this was also the first game in charge for new manager - Fernando Santos. But like most friendly internationals, this match had the usual characteristics - some spurts of high intensity and many lulls in between. So what to make of this game?

The Good:
  • You can never sneeze at getting a result against another international size - especially one of Portugal's reputation.  France follow up their victory a month ago against Euro defending champion Spain with another victory over their Iberian peninsula neighbor.  France, since that miracle of a game against Ukraine in Paris, have been building back their mojo. While I am not ready to say they have arrived, they are clearly progressing in the right direction.
  • Benzema finding the back of the net. Remember when Karim had gone what felt like a life time since he scored for Les Bleus? Since the end of qualifiers and through the World Cup it feels as if the Real Madrid striker has regained his form. His goal was not one the most technically beautiful goals, but it was a true strikers goal. After a great rush from Griezmann, who cut the ball back through the penalty box onto the on rushing Sagna, who hit a heavy shot. The former Arsenal man was unfortunate to not have opened his account with France, the shot asked for an outstanding save from Patricio. Unfortunately the keeper was only able to deflect the shot onto the the foot of Benzema. Who, for once, had camped out on the 5 yard box and was in the perfect position to clean up the garbage and put the ball in the back of the net. A true center forward's goal. With players such as Griezmann and Valbuena bombing down the flanks, it is important for Benzema to get into those positions to take advantage of the crosses and pace from his wingers. 
  • Speaking of Real Madrid, Varane is quickly becoming a center piece for the defensive back 4 as well as France.  The youngster shows positional awareness beyond his youth but also the physical assets to make up for mistakes and take on players 1 on 1. Just look at how he was able to shoulder off Ronaldo in the second half on a delicate 50/50 ball in the French penalty box. The future is bright for Varane. Amazing that Real Madrid is so stacked that he is not a regular starter.
  • Another youngster - Pogba - is quickly becoming an anchor for Les Bleus. The Juventus man
    Midfield control tower for Les Bleus
    is the boss for the French midfield. The likes of Cabaye and Matuidi do yeoman's work, but it is the France #19 that is the metronome for Les Bleus. As was stated during the game, he can also play any style of play that may arise - fast paced, he can distribute and add to the attack, defensive, he can easily lie deeper on the field. He also contributed with a smart goal from a nice lay off from Benzema. As the saying goes, the spin of the team is where the strength needs to be - with the likes of Varane at center back and Pogba at central midfield, you have the foundation of a world class spine. 
The Bad:
  • Speaking of Pogba...he is a player with tremendous talent as well as confidence. And why not. He is not even 22 yet and he already has captained the U20 French side to an U20 World Cup, where he also won player of the tournament award. He has played in a World Cup and been to a 1/4 final, scoring along the way. Pogba has already played for 2 of the world's biggest clubs - Manchester United and Juventus where he is currently. The one negative about confidence is it sometimes makes you think you are invincible. At times Pogba does things that on the pitch that are the result of youthful exuberance. For example - in the second half, after nursing the lead he plays a ball in his half, doing a few nifty step overs and pirouettes he has the chance to make an easy pass out to his right or even back to his center backs. Instead he tries one more step over, loses the ball and allows a Portuguese break. He needs to be better aware of the situation. Something that will, hopefully, come with maturity as he grows in the game.
  • Did France have anyone on the right side? Okay I realize this is a regular criticism in my post France posts. I could probably just copy and paste from the dozens of other posts about this. But times I wondered if France forgot they were allowed to attack down the right. Surprisingly the first goal came from Sagna coming down the right flank. Otherwise the right flank was almost entirely ignored. Much of this is, once again, because the right winger, Valbuena, cannot resist drifting back to the middle of the park and even out to the left. I realize that the plan is for Valbuena and Griezmann are suppose to swap wings during the game, but that only works if the other winger goes to the opposite wing! Too often Valbuena and Griezmann found themselves on the same side of the pitch - the left side - and at times almost on top of one another. While the right side was lonely. France must find a way to better balance their attack. For once I cannot critique Sagna since he did all once could hope for as he pushed up when appropriate - he also had the defensive responsibility to keep Ronaldo in check. But without a right wing...that stays the majority of the time on the right, it is a lot to ask of your right back. What is even more frustrating is that playing against the likes of Ronaldo, who will not track back, the right winger could hope for space to open up. Alas the French attack leans so far left we never found out.
The Ugly:
  • The Officiating...left much to be desired. The penalty for Portugal? Really? Not sure how that was even given. One could argue that the officials missed the off sides on Evra on France's
    Enjoy your minute of action...
    second goal (granted on replay it showed that the play did come off a Portuguese defender  so no offsides, but impossible to see that in real time). Not that the game was out of hand, but the officials didn't really seem to make calls consistently.
  • Deschamps substitution patterns. Yes I am being knit-picky but why bring Gignac on in the 90th minute? What does that gain you? You need to at least let him get 10 - 15 minutes of time on the field. Even the commentators said as much. Not sure about the introduction of Payet, at least what were his instructions? He came in and right away camped out on the left...why not tell him to stick on the right wing, as he has done in the past, and see if you can finally balance your attack? 
Overall a good match for Les Bleus. Of course there remains many questions for Les Bleus as they build towards 2016.  I have a feeling we will see a lot of changes next week when they travel to Armenia.

Allez les Bleus!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

DD calls up his list for next round of friendlies - are we really prepping for the Euros in 2 years?

Deschamps announced his list of players that will face Portugal (October 11th) and Armenia (October 14th). The list looks very similar to ones we have seen from DD. Actually almost resembles one from 2 years ago...

Keepers: Lloris, Mandanda, Ruffier
Defense: Evra, Sagna, Digne, Varane, Mangala, Mathieu, Koscielny, Jallet
Midfield: Matuidi, Schneiderlin, Cabaye, Pogba, Sissoko, Valbuena
Forwards: Payet, Benzema, Griezmann, Rémy, Gignac, Cabella 

The returns of Gignac and Payet are a return to the past for DD. Not a huge surprise to see the OM #9 since he has been on a tear with his club team this season - 8 goals in Ligue 1. Payet has always been somewhat of an enigma. Loads of talent, a player who rose through the youth ranks at Nantes' top class development program, yet a player who has failed to really shine at the top levels. It almost feels like a safe pick for DD. But not a player I see as a full blown international. It also feels that
Back in blue
these selections were made by default with the likes of Giroud out until 2015. France remains thin at striker, so Gignac could actually have a legitimate chance of making the Euro squad. Payet, I think the jury remains out and might be more of an indication that DD still wants to find the right player on the right flank (do I sound like a broken record??).

My concern is the continuous inclusion of Evra in the side. The Juventus left back looked a shell of his former dominate self during the World Cup. Not surprising considering the miles that are in his legs. Unlike the other international coaches, DD does not have to worry about winning these games. France is automatically qualified for the Euros as the host. So Deschamps is in the unique position to truly test some players that will be key to the France side in 2 years. He doesn't have to lean on veterans that might not be around for the Euros but that he needs now to win games. Yet he insists on calling up Evra when he as viable options such as Digne from PSG (who is in the side) and Kurzawa from AS Monaco (who should be in the side). The next two years should really be about figuring who between these two left backs and even Tremoulinas is going to become the anchor at left back for Les Bleus. Continuing to give time, in training and during the games, for a player like Evra, feels like a wasted opportunity.

The remainder of the squad is straight forward. I would look for DD to rotate through these players during the two games. It will be interesting to see how he manages the formation for - Cabaye, Sissoko, Matuidi and Pogba - as his middle 3 if he continues to go with the 4-3-3. On the wings it appears that Valbuena on the right and Griezmann on the left will be the first choice, but where do Remy, Cabella and Payet fit in this? As for the middle of the top 3, look for Benzema and Gignac to split the games in that role. Kos and Varane appear to be the #1 central defensive pairing. The wide defenders will be interesting with the injury to Debuchy, who will emerge as the right back (and apparent #2 behind the Arsenal man) and on the left...well does Evra get a start???

I would also expect to see the keepers rotate. I would not be averse to even seeing Lloris sit both games and give Mandanda and Ruffier each a game.

It is positive that there isn't too much turn over on the squad and that most of the roles are fairly well defined. But there remain some questions about who some of the support players DD will groom to become important assets in 2 years. Granted, DD also made it known that he was giving priority to the Espoir team as they look to qualify for the Euros. A reason why the likes of Zouma, Thauvin and even the aforementioned Kurzawa were not included on the senior list. However at some point I would like to see some of the youth players get integrated into the senior squad.

Should be an interesting 2 years...might be a slow boil.

Allez les Bleus.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Deschamps turns over his roster - France head to Serbia to kick off their Euro "qualifiers."

France have a quick turn around, after defeating Spain in Paris, they will head East to face Serbia in "qualifiers." Since France is guaranteed a spot in the next Euros...they are the hosts...they are in Group I of qualifiers. This set up allows them to navigate the next two years under the guise of playing qualifiers - ensuring matches and hopefully simulating a real qualifying campaign.

This should be a good test for Les Bleus. They will be heading into a hostile environment against a team with legitimate aspirations to qualify directly to the Euros. With the rapid turn around it is evident that DD will look to rotate some of his roster. From all indications that will be the case.

Only Lloris, Pogba, Sissoko and Varane appear ready to keep their starting roles. I even question why Lloris needs to get another game when Mandanda could use the time to get rid of some international rust...

The apparent changes will give some time to the likes of Cabella, Mathieu and Scheiderlin. Players who have much to gain from these matches if they hope to go to the Euros. It appears that DD will go back to his 4-3-3 with the following line up -

France : Lloris (cap.) - Sagna, Varane, Mathieu, Digne - Schneiderlin, Cabaye, Pogba - Sissoko, Rémy, Cabella

A better freelancer or pinned to a wing?
Mathieu at center back is an interesting twist. Not really known to play that role, what will the Barcelona man bring to the table? And does DD really see him as an option to play center back? After coming off the bench it appears we will see Cabaye back in his starting role - patrolling the space in front of the back 4. Scheiderlin will be getting his second start for France and should be given some greater chances to show what he can do on the creative side, looking to shoulder Pogba in launching the French offense. Up front we will have a very piece meal trio, without a true center forward, and once again a non traditional right winger. I see Cabella as a more natural central midfielder, pulling the strings from the center of the park. Could the formation morph into something of a bastardized 4-4-2? With Sissoko dropping deeper and Cabella and Remy interchanging at the top of the formation? There is no real target #9 in this formation, so look for any offense to have to be created by the collective effort and with the three midfielders to jump up into the offensive end.

It will be interesting to see how Les Bleus react after having played on Thursday. It is a quick turn around in a very hostile environment....

I smell a drab 1-1 draw.

Allez Les Bleus!!!!!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

France successfully navigate first day back in international season - defeat defending Euro champs

Feels like the World Cup finals were yesterday...and we are already back in the swing of the international football schedule. France and Spain headlined a decent roster of matches including Argentina v Germany and Italy v Holland. While the match ups, on paper, were mouth watering, the resulting games were, as expected, were a tad drab. So what to make of France's 1-0 win over Spain?

The Good:
  • France continue their positive rebuilding. After falling 1-0 to the eventual World Cup Champions Germany at the 1/4 stage of the World Cup, France got back on the winning track. France will be hosting the Euros in 2 years. Due to this automatic qualification, France will not have real competitive games for the next two years. Match ups against the likes of Spain go a long way to keeping France's development on track.
  • Pogba growing into the role as the boss of the midfield...and team. The Juventus midfielder has already captained the French U20 side to the U20 World Cup victory a few years back. He also became an integral part of DD's set up at the World Cup - even chipping in a crucial goal against Nigeria in the knock out stage. He is putting his stamp on the midfield as the box-to-box midfielder Les Bleus have been seeking since Vieira retired. M'Vila was seen as that player, but his career has taken a side step. Although with M'Vila back from exile in the East it might be an interesting combination if he rediscovers his form.
  • Le Petit Velo - Valbuena - remains the metronome for Les Bleus. He is the creative fulcrum for France. It was his vision and play that was at the center of the goal from Remy. With Ribery's
    Remy benefits from Valbuena's creativity
    retirement from international football, the only truly creative player France have is Valbuena. Players of the likes of Cabella offer that creativity as well, but he is still a few games away from elevating his game to the international level. France's success over the next 2 years and how well they do at home in the Euros will hinge on how well Valbuena's creative play drives the midfield. Which calls into question why he was taken off the field in the 1/4 finals against Germany when France was chasing the game late on...
  • Sissoko playing out on the right. The Newcastle man is more of a traditional box-to-box or deep lying midfielder. However since he was put out on the the right by DD in World Cup qualifiers...away to Spain...he seems to have found a role with the national team. He is not a traditional right winger like a Menez or even a Remy, but his power and pace bring something the French national team have not had out on that side. He also seems more willing to stay out on the right allowing for Les Bleus to keep their shape. Since he is more of a deep lying player, he doesn't shy away from his responsibilities to back track defensively. 
The Bad:
  • For once the left side looked a little dodgy. Griezmann had a rather pedestrian game on the left side. This was a bit disappointing after his good showing at the World Cup. Of course one cannot judge the player from 60 minutes. Long term I am not concerned about the left side with regards to Griezmann. But there will clearly be some growing pains for the French left side after the international retirement from Ribery. It is to be expected when you lose a world class player like Ribery.
  • I am a little concerned with the fact that some of DD's main cogs are not full time starters on their club sides - in particular Sakho and Varane. Neither has maintained regular starting roles for Liverpool and Real Madrid. Something to watch for in their club play. Reality is not sure what DD's other options at center backs since the likes of Mangala, Zouma and Yanga-Mbiwa are not regular starters for their clubs either. The one regular starter is Kos...and even his role looked a little tenuous with the start of Chambers recently for Arsenal! Something to watch for moving forward.
 The Ugly:
  • Speaking of the left side - I think seeing Evra continue might get a tad ugly. Unlike the Gooner who is clearly "anti-Evra," I am not entirely negative on the Juventus left back. But I do
    Has his time passed?
    recognize that he is well past his prime. And that will not get any better in 2 years time. While the player doesn't seem to want to retire from international play, I question what DD gets from continuing to play him on French left. France have some options out on the left - Digne being first in line. There is also Kurzawa from AS Monaco as well as Mathieu from Barcelona who are options for that left side. I will be shocked if Evra is the starting left back in 2 years time for France...having said that, it might be time for Deschamps to start integrating a new starting left back now. Allow the new left back to integrate with the likes of Griezmann.
One cannot take too much from this game, granted the win was nice. Deschamps started out in a 4-2-3-1 but it was really more of a 4-3-2-1 with Sissoko on the right but more in line with Pogba and Matuidi, Valbuena given more free reign with Griezmann and Benzema as the high line striker. Similar to the World Cup, this is Deschamps' best formation - allowing him to put as many of his best midfielders on the pitch. It will be interesting to watch how this evolves especially when it comes to Cabaye and how he fits in the midfield. He has had a difficult time securing regular first team action with PSG (wonder if he wishes he was still at Newcastle...or maybe Arsenal) but he was a vital part of DD's set up in Brazil. Moving forward will he regain this role with France? Or become a super sub? Not necessarily a bad problem for DD to have - but probably not the role Cabaye desires.

France will not embark on a number of friendlies as they act as the 6th team in Group I - they will play a schedule as if they were in the qualification process but obviously the results will not count for either France or the team they play. I think this is one of the smarter ideas from UEFA - guarantees the host some games, and pits them against a qualification group guaranteeing they get matches against top nations such as Portugal.

What to watch moving forward:
  • Who asserts themselves as the left fullback for Les Bleus?
  • Is there a viable back up to Benzema up front?
  • Will Griezmann put his stamp on the left winger role?
  • How will DD manage his apparent log jam in the midfield, especially if someone of the likes of M'Vila regains his form?
Should make for an interesting 2 years of preparation for the Euros.
Allez les Bleus!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Post World Cup roster looks eerily like the one from Brazil - Deschamps releases his list.

Yup, international friendlies and European Cup qualifiers are about to start up again. Get ready for whining for the clubs and some new international careers being launched. The first round of internationals are always interesting after a World Cup. How much will rosters change? In the case of Les Bleus...not much at all.

Deschamps is going with many of the players that got his side to a 1/4 final in Brazil. We knew ahead of the time that Abidal, Ladreau, Nasri and Ribery would not be included since they have all retired from international football. So the list:

Gardiens : Mandanda, Lloris, Ruffier
Défenseurs : Debuchy, Digne, Evra, Koscielny, Mangala, Sagna, Sakho, Varane
Milieux : Cabaye, Matuidi, Mavuba, Pogba, Schneiderlin, Sissoko
Attaquants : Benzema, Cabella, Griezmann, Lacazette, Rémy, Valbuena

Any major surprises? Not really. The one that is a small surprise to me is the inclusion of Evra. The former Manchester United skipper and current Juventus left back did not officially retire from international football, but it felt as if the World Cup would be his last kick at the
What? The retirement home is that way?
can when it came to international silverware. As the Gooner so willingly pointed out, Evra looked past his prime in Brazil. What would he look like in 2 years time at the Euros?? With Digne poised to become the next French left back as well as AS Monaco left back Kurzawa waiting in the wings I do not see Evra keeping a place on the roster. Of course this could be Deschamps giving Patrice his due and one more cap - France will be playing Spain on Sept 4th in Paris, a nice game to end your international career on. 

One name I thought we might see is the one of Ben Yedder. The TFC striker has been someone that is on the cusp of making it to the senior side, were it not for his joining with the likes of M'Vila and Griezmann in their ill fated night club run which lead to a suspension, he might already have received a cap. France, not a news bulletin, is thin up front. With the injury to Giroud that is either a blessing or a curse. Deschamps has the opportunity now to call up and see a number of striker options. Ben Yedder being one of them, M'Baye Niang another such player. While the Euros are still 2 years away, these matches are precious and need to be used to test some of these options.

See you in a week for the start of the international season...I know the Gooner is thrilled.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Merci Kaiser Franck - Ribery retires from national team

Les Bleus will no longer see their world class #7 on the left wing any more. Ribery announced today that he will no longer play for the French national team. This comes as a slight surprise since he had to back out of the World Cup due to injury and the next major tournament will be held in France. Ribery would have been 33 for the next Euros, certainly not an advanced age.

Ribery stated that he came to this decision to spend more time with his family as well as concentrate on his career with Bayern Munich. For Ribery, his international career will be viewed as a good one, yet one that did not live up to what could have been. He was first called up in 2006, then a youngster in France. He was looked at as one of France's up and coming players, but what he would bring to the table was not known. It was more of a selection of a player to get him into the squad, blood him for later tournaments. Instead he played a vital role for Les Bleus in their run to the finals. It was Ribery that scored the still haunted the Bayern winger a year ago! Finally the 2012 Euros saw a French team finally get out of the group stages, but lose timidly against the Spanish Armada.
His best moment for Les Bleus?
equalizer against Spain. His pace out wide opened up lanes for the other French players, most notably Zidane. Unfortunately for the Kaiser, that might have been the highest of his international career. 2010 saw France crash out of the Euros with a grand total of 1 point. We all know what happened at the World Cup in South Africa. While many point to Evra as the ring leader of the mutiny, I think Ribery had much more to do with that fiasco than was reported. There was also a lot of controversy surrounding Ribery and how he treated his teammates, most notably how he interacted with Gourcuff. Something that

In none of these tournaments did Ribery truly shine or live up to his potentially - like he showed for Bayern Munich when he came close to winning the Ballon D'Or. So we close the chapter on Kaiser Franck and the French national team. Following on the heels of Nasri announcing the same, Deschamps loses another player that he can select. But like Nasri, this might be a blessing in disguise. Ribery has shown signs of breaking down - see his missing the last World Cup due to injury. He would be 33 at the next Euro. Again not over the hill, but maybe a little long in the tooth, especially considering that there appears to be an heir to the left side of the formation - Griezmann. DD can now focus on allowing his new left winger to develop and establish himself in the role. It was a joy watching Ribery bombing down the left side for Les Bleus. Alas it did not all come together for him and the national team at the right time.

Better to retire a year too early than hang on a year too late.

Merci Kaiser Franck.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Nasri no longer in the blue for France - a complicated and wasted talent

Rumors are abound that Samir Nasri will soon announce his retirement from international football. No surprise. The current Manchester City midfielder has had a love - hate relationship with the French national team. Really more of a hate and tempestuous
The Lost Boys
relationship. Nasri is part of the French class of '87 - a collection of players born in 1987 who won the U-17 Euros for France. This class included the likes of Benzema, Ben Arfa, Menez and Matuidi (Matuidi did not make the U17 squad, but is part of the 1987 generation) in addition to Nasri.  Not a bad collection of talent. But Nasri is a perfect example for this generation - world class talent, but failure to live up to lofty expectations.

Nasri first broke onto the senior international scene when Domenech in March of 2007 against Austria. He was a key catalyst to get France qualified for the Euros in 2008. He infused a new level of youth and offensive panache France needed with the retirement of Zidane. I remember him playing a vital role in a win over Ukraine. Nasri would then find his way to the Euros in 2008. One of the two Euro tournaments Nasri would play. And one of two tournaments where his off field antics would be far more memorable than what he did on the pitch. Most notably in 2008 was his apparent lack of respect paid to French veterans such as Henry and Gallas. The fact that Gallas would refuse to shake Nasri's hand in the Premiership speaks of the riff between the two. Granted, some of this childish behavior is not one sided. Nasri would miss the 2010 World Cup - something that was probably to his benefit, then again he would have fit right in with that dysfunctional squad. Laurent Blanc would call up the mercurial midfielder once he took over the reigns. Inserting him into the heart of his formation that would take on the 2012 Euros.

Once again Nasri was more remembered for his antics than his dribbles. Scoring the equalizer against his Manchester City team mate - Joe Hart - Nasri then went on a little
Ah least you choose the correct finger
celebratory run and made a motion to the press corp to "shut the f*** up." This gave Blanc a "fun" challenge of spin control rather than focusing on the sporting side of the tournament. France would eventually crash out in the 1/4 finals to the eventual champion Spain.

Most recently Nasri was left off Deschamps' World Cup squad, which created a minor controversy. Mostly with former France captain Vieira as well as Nasri's girlfriend! But who can really blame Deschamps choice? Nasri was not a lock to be a starter in DD's 4-3-3 formation. Even had DD used a 4-2-3-1 formation, there was no guarantee that Nasri was a lock to start. This did not sit well with the Samir. And he made this very know to anyone that would listen. Of course he would qualify his outcries by stating "any player worth their salt would want to start." True. But any national side will invariable have club stars who are not starters. Alas, Nasri's ego would not allow him to play nice in the sandbox. But his play on the field didn't make him indispensable either. Such is the story of the '87 players. Le Petit Prince - Ben Arfa has always had bags of raw talent but cannot seem to put it all together consistently. Same for Menez and one might even argue Benzema who has not lived up to the flashes of brilliance he teases us with.

So Samir appears ready to ride off into the sunset. Merci for the 41 caps you won for your nation. But you only have yourself to blame for not being a mainstay for Les Bleus.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

World Cup hang over - looking back at Brazil 2014

It has been a week since Germany was crowned as World Cup champions, adding a fourth star to their kit. Since that game we have had a overwhelming number of pieces about the World Cup, so it was time for the Frog to chime in as well.

The all tournament team using a 4-2-3-1 formation:
  • Goalkeeper - Neuer Germany. I can hear it now, "what about Howard!" from my USMNT fans. Yes Howard gave us a super human performance against Belgium. But he didn't win the game. Neuer on the other hand gave a superb performance versus Algeria as well as against France and Argentina. And he won the title. He should have
    A better sweeper than Luiz
    won the golden ball as well, more on that later.
  • Left Back - Vertonghen Belgium. I can just feel the Gooner cringing right now. But looking at what the Tottenham defender did for Belgium during this World Cup elevates him to this position. He was a constant threat for the Red Devils bombing down the left flank. He also chipped in the winning goal against South Korea. Without his efforts on the left side for Belgium, the shocking performance by Hazard on that side would have been even more glaring. 
  • Right Back - Lahm Germany. Shocking that Low stubbornly insisted on playing the Bayern man in the midfield. Were it not for some line up juggling in the beginning of the knock outs, we may never have seen Lahm back at his best position. Playing down the right side, Lahm gave Germany pace and width down the right side. He was constantly offering dangerous crosses from the flank. This also freed up some space for Ozil. Again, shocking that Low was forced to line him up in his natural position.
  • Center Back - Hummels Germany.  The powerful central defender was a rock for the German back line. Chipping in vital goals as well. With Low asking his defense to play a very high line also forced the Hummels to be solid with his organization of the defense.
  • Center Back - Vlaar Holland. The powerful Dutch center back was a rock playing for the Van Gaal's back 3. Playing with two wing backs, much of the defensive pressure fell on the shoulders of the back three defenders. In the middle of that was Vlaar. The Dutch defense were worthy of their 3rd place finish, giving up only one goal in the knock out stage. Their central defender has a lot to do with that result.
  • Holding Midfielder - Mascherano Argentina. The Argentine pitbull lived up to his reputation. He was the rock that protected the Argentina back 4. His work rate constitently sat at a 10. His ability to act as a midfield destroyer coupled with his efficient linkage with the attack made him the most valuable Argentine player (yup more than a player wearing the 10 jersey).
  • Holding Midfielder - Schweinsteiger Germany. Not to be repetitive...but what was Low doing the first half of the tournament? Once he lined up Lahm on the right with Schweiny and Kedira as his two holding midfielders, the Mannschaft took off. What took so long? Schweiny was the engine for the German team. His work rate, like Mascherano's, was off the chart. Seeing what he went through against Ghana or Argentina epitomizes his tournament. The man was spent in both matches, but he left everything on the pitch. Without his work effort I am not sure Germany adds that 4th star.
  • Left Winger - Robben Holland. Yes I know he is a diver, could probably medal for the Dutch in the Olympics.  The sad part is, he does not need to dive! When you watch
    The grass got me this time...darn it
    him take on defenders 1v1 you realize he can get past most defenders and when he fights through the contact he tends to find himself in great goal scoring opportunities. He just seems to focus more on getting fouls called for him rather than get through the contact and get himself goal chances. Even with his diving, he had a fabulous tournament. At times he appeared to be the only player in orange to carry the attack.
  • Right Winger - Neymar Jr Brazil - A bit of a surprise here, for a player that missed his last two games. That might be one of the reasons to build a case for Neymar. Until the semi-finals, Neymar was the one player that gave the Brazilians any hope. He carried the offense for the host nation. To be blunt, without Neymar, Brazil might not have made it past the group stages.
  • Central Midfielder - James Colombia - The new darling of world football, earned his new found fame by having a monster tournament. Winning the golden boot with 6 goals and carrying his nation to a first ever 1/4 final, trusted the Monaco player into the lime light. His creativity and bag of tricks turned Colombia into a real dark horse this tournament. Just think how scary Colombia might have been had Falcao been on the pitch. The future is bright for this 23 year old.
  • Striker - Messi Argentina - Shocking, but this is made by default. I am putting Messi here mainly on his performances early in the tournament (more on this later as well). He is also here because I do not consider Muller as a striker - I would have him as a second team left winger behind Robben. Messi saved his side in the group stages and had some decent spurts in the knock out rounds, but left much to be desired. His inclusion is indicative of the lack of world class strikers playing up to par this tournament.
  • Other players - Navas Costa Rica GK, Zabeleta Argentina D, Boateng Germany D, Muller Germany MF, Pogba France MF, De Bruyne Belgium MF, Kroos Germany MF, Sanchez Chile F.
No surprise that this team is loaded with players from the German side. Of course there are always flops as well. Here are the top three flops - these players had to be on teams that made it to the knock out stages, otherwise I would just slot 3 players from Spain on this list!
  • Fred Brazil - Wasn't he the leading scorer during the Confederations' Cup? What happened in the year between tournaments...oh right....teams actually try during the World Cup. He was a complete waste during the World Cup. Other than his atrocious flop against Croatia, he did nothing. What a waste.
  • Bradley USA - Has been called Caillou by Boston based sports radio 98.5, isn't far from a good comparison. The best US player heading into the tournament was close to a disaster for the red white and blue. Too often Bradley was a negative for the US rather than his usual positive impact on the team. I place some of the blame on
    Caillou! You can't give up the ball that easily
    Klinsmann who played him out of position, but still his performance was awful.
  • Oscar Brazil - Wasn't he suppose to be the creative lynchpin for Brazil? Creating space and opportunities for the likes of Neymar et al? So where was he? Like Fred, he was completely invisible. Yes he scored some goals, more than can be said for his countryman - Fred. But for all the hype surrounding this player heading into the tournament he was a huge flop.
  • Honorable mention - the entire Brazilian back line and keeper. The 7-1 trashing exemplified how atrocious the Brazilian defense was starting with their donkey keeper - Cesar - who can thank his goal frame for beating Chile. But even more so with their excuses for outside backs - Maicon/Alves and Marcelo. They cannot defend and all think they are really strikers. One play that epitomized how pathetic they are was on the goal by Klose in the semi final game. Marcelo keeps Muller onside by giving him a 5 foot cushion...inside his penalty area. Marcelo almost ran over Cesar trying to "cover" Muller. But the worst of the lot is Luiz. Big Bird might be the worst central defender I have seen since Pascal Cygan. He has no positional awareness...wonder why Muller was so wide open on the first goal in the semi finals? Answer - Luiz was suppose to be covering him. Go back and look at the fifth goal...Luiz makes an attempted tackle in the midfield and got skinned. There is a reason why he ended up playing mostly as a defensive midfielder for least there were players behind him to clean up his mess. Sigh...and PSG spent a boat load on him...why? Maybe we can get a refund from Chelsea.
The best team of the tournament, that didn't win the tournament, was Costa Rica. Los Ticos emerged from the "Group of Champions" besting, England, Italy and Uruguay. I was reading a pre-tournament publication that stated they had "no chances" of getting out of the group. They took Holland to the penalty kicks, so were that close to getting to the semi finals. A great run for the CONCACAF side.

The best manager of the tournament - Van Gaal. I put him above Low, since the German manager gets points deducted because of his stubborn Germaness when it came to Lahm in the midfield. But the Dutch manager pulled many of the right strings. It is ashamed that captain and striker - RVP - disappeared during the knock out stage, otherwise Holland might have expected a better result. Van Gaal's 3 back system with two deep lying wide players, including former striker Kuyt, was a perfect system for the Oranje. Swapping keepers during the penalty kicks against Costa Rica was a bold move that paid off...clearly one he wanted to make in the Argentina game but did not have any substitutes.

The player of the tournament - Yes Messi won the golden ball...but he did not deserve it, I think he knows that as well! Neuer was the player of the tournament. His performances against Algeria, France and Argentina were player of the tournament worthy. He made countless plays with his feet outside the area against Algeria that allowed his team to continue to play a dangerous high line. He made two imperial saves against France to keep a clean sheet. And was equally dominant against Argentina in the finals. On the other hand Messi completely disappeared in the knock outs, especially when it counted against Holland and Germany. There were many stories about how tired he was from a long season, but it isn't as if the other players were playing for amateur club sides....they all have been playing lots of football. It feels as if the moment overwhelmed the Barcelona magician.

2014 was a great World Cup, even if Germany won it all! See you all in 4 years in Russia. Actually see you in 2 years in France for the European Cup!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Don't cry for me Argentina... RFA for winning the 2014 World Cup. Once the game went into extra time it was clear that the Germans were the only team that would win the match. Argentina looked totally cooked, and Messi was a complete shell of himself.

The Good:
  • For a 1-0 extra time game it was fairly entertaining, both sides had some legitimate chances in regulation. Oh yeah Palacio had a clear 1v1 in extra time but since he is of very little technical ability he made a mockery of the shot. In regulation, especially in the first half, it was clear that the organization and structure of Germany  was controlling the possession, but Argentina's pace was creating some serious problems for German's back line. Neither team was just sitting back, both were playing to their style and strengths.
  • Gotze's goal was very good. A great foray down the right side by Schurrle, the Argentine defense chased, two players, the Chelsea player down the wing, allowing space to be created behind them. Demichelis was caught in no mans land and allowed Gotze to get behind him. Great control and finish. A deserved goal for the 1-0.
  • Mascherano and Schweinsteiger were both huge for their respective sides. Both midfielders' work rates were superb and deserve a large amount of credit for keeping their sides in the match. Shows you why a team needs a strong defensive midfielder, and no Michael Bradley doesn't count.
The Bad:
  • Higuain's finishing or lack there of. Okay he did put one in the goal...but was offsides. And that off sides was unnecessary. As a world class striker he should know how to make that run, it wasn't that complicated. That could have changed the game...yes stating the obvious. But his other clear chance was absolutely butchered. On a terrible back pass from Kroos, Higuain found himself 1v1 with Neuer...and shot the ball a good 10 feet wide. Awful. All he needed to take a simple touch and he had numerous options versus the keeper. Bad. Just bad.
  • I have to question Sabella's substitutions. Much like 8 years ago in the 1/4 finals of the same match up when Argentina left a young Messi on the bench all game rather than bringing him on in a tied game. This time around I question taking off Lavezzi at the half for Aguero. Why? First Germany had already used a substitution so keep yours in the pocket and really force Germany on the back foot tactically. Second, Lavezzi was creating all kinds of problems for Germany. The Germans had no solutions for his pace. Why not allow the PSG winger to get another 15 to 20 minutes, let him go all out running at the German left? In addition you bring on Aguero who was coming off injury, not sure he was able to run for 45+ minutes. Finally, with Aguero - Higuain - Messi on the pitch, you had three players who refused to run back...this
    Sigh...lost opportunity
    substitution was poorly timed and advised.
The Ugly:
  • Paging Messi, paging Mr Lionel Messi .... Yes Messi had a good start of the tournament, but was it a bit of fools gold? He was absolutely invisible in this game. He made a few runs, but clearly was not mentally nor physically in the game. At times he looked like he was just going for a walk, no urgency, no apparent desire...was the moment too big for him? Any comparisons to Maradona are a tad foolish now. He did not take over either the tournament and especially not this last game. 
A decent ending to a great tournament. Germany, I will grudgingly admit, was the deserved winner from the start of this tournament.

Uber Alles