Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Money grabber...not much else. League of Nations doesn't make sense

So UEFA today announced the possibility of another international tournament, in the off years from the World Cup and European Cup - the League of Nations. We all know how well the league of nations did prior to the advent of the United Nations. Thanks Mr Wilson for not joining...well it is debatable whether or not Wilson wanted to join but was blocked by congress. Anyways I digress into my political science nerdiness.

This new league of nations would seem to be a hybrid domestic system and US styled playoff - with groups that have relegation and promotion and the nations atop each group would face off on neutral sites. Not quite sure about this idea. Other than looking to find a way to make some more money. International footy really runs in 4 year cycles, between
This version didn't fare so well
World Cups and European Cups. In between there is also the Confederations Cup, which for all its faults actually has become a good little tournament - allowing the future host of the World Cup have a dress rehearsal. Speaking of which I wonder if we will have to see a Confed Cup in the winter prior to Qatar hosting their World Cup (what a fiasco)....with that in mind there is really only one year out of four that does not have some international footy tournament going on. So do we really need to force one into that slot??

Those who know me and read this blog know that I am a huge fan of international matches. I definitely side with country in the club v country debate. But this is even too much for me. Players are already taxed way too much. The beauty of the World Cup and European Cup are that they remain exclusive (with the expansion of the European Cup I might argue that no longer holds true to that competition) - nations take two years to qualify all the drama and lead up makes these events the global phenomenons they are. Adding more trophies to be won feels like a cheap excuse to grab more money. I know that greed begets greed. But as the saying goes - pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. UEFA don't be a hog. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Champions League 1/4 finals - PSG get "lucky" draw?

The 1/4 finals match ups were drawn today. The European giants will face off against one another:

  • Manchester United v Bayern Munich: can Moyes pull off another "hold up" and find a way to extend the Red Devils run in Europe? Uh no. Manchester United got very fortunate that Olympiacos had not practiced how to head a ball or how to slow down one RVP. The defending Champions League title holders have too much fire power for Manchester United. Bayern through on 4-1 aggragate.
  • Barcelona v Atletico Madrid: Might have been even more interesting had this been an all Madrid tie. Clearly these two sides know each other well. And neither team will be overwhelmed by the situation. These two sides have already faced off three times this year - twice in the Super Cup and once in La Liga. All three were draws. Only one goal scored by each side. So I doubt we will see a goal deluge in the Champions League. I am leaning with the Madrid side. Barca seem to be missing something this season. I am going to side with Atletico who go through 2-1 on aggragate.
  • Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund: A rematch from last year's semi finals. The Spanish giants are starting to click with Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema all in goal scoring form. The German side seemed to take Zenit a little too lightly in the return leg in the last round, but I have no fear this will happen again in the 1/4 finals. I cannot imagine a repeat of last year, then again Lewandowski who is playing his last season for Dortmund might have some extra incentive to push his side through. Unfortunately for the Pole (who is suspended for the first match), Real Madrid go through 5-3 on aggragate.
  • PSG v Chelsea: A match up of two clubs with massive financial backing. Some might argue two clubs (Manchester City being another one) that are prime examples of what is wrong with club football today - carpet bagging billionaires buying these clubs as toys. Regardless this is an interesting tie. I see the Special One playing negative football away to Paris. Trying to get a draw. Then coming back to London looking for the win. The tie will depend on the form of one Zlatan. The Swede seems to be on a mission this season and not sure any amount of negative play from Chelsea will slow him down. PSG get through 4-2 on aggragate.

Some interesting fixtures ahead. It will be difficult to derail the defending champion, and one might argue they received the easiest fixture. Dortmund might be looking at a last effort before they lose more of their top players and PSG desperately needs to get to the 1/2 finals or beyond. Of course end of day we will probably get a Chelsea v Manchester United final since everyone is poopooing the EPL!

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Les Bleus take out Oranje - time for optimism or fool's gold?

Les Bleus returned to Stade de France last night for their first match since the miracle 3-0 victory against the Ukraine which propelled them to the World Cup in Brazil. I am the first to admit I expected a lackluster 0-0 draw between two national sides full of players with many many club matches in their boots. Instead I watched a lackluster 2-0 victory from Les Bleus. So should we allow ourselves to get excited about what DD is doing with this side? Or was this win fool's gold? I am going to lean a little bit towards the former...but just a little bit.

The Good:
  • Benzema after going what felt like a life time without scoring, the Real Madrid striker cannot stop scoring for Les Bleus now. He almost opened the scoring early in the
    Continues his scoring streak...hope it keeps going
    game when he took a pretty cross in the 19th minute from newbie Griezmann and appeared to slot home a header, only to see the Dutch defender Vlaar save the ball on the Dutch goal line. He was rewarded in the 32nd minute taking a pass over the top from Matuidi to hit a powerful half volley into the far corner. He also had another goal disallowed for being off side. It is very good news for France if Karim keeps up this form into the World Cup. Fingers crossed.
  • The 4-3-3 is taking root...and hopefully is allowed to flourish. DD aligned once again a formation that allows France to play their strongest players and more importantly what some are calling the trident - Pogba, Matuidi and Cabaye. When France plays in the 4-2-3-1 or the 4-4-2 one of these players has to come off the pitch. Having this trident on the pitch brings a level of energy and control in the midfield otherwise not enjoyed. It also allows the likes of Pogba and Matuidi to be much more offensive and not shackled to sitting deep in front of the the back 4. The likes of Cabaye is also perfect in the role to cover for the other two when they go up and press, but also bringing his own offensive talents to bear. His ability to strike from long distance is perfect as he can fill the space opened up when Pogba and Matuidi pushes up to support the front 3. The formation, and the fact a Pogba can push higher on the pitch is it allows Benzema to do what he does best - get the ball within the last 1/3 of the pitch. Benzema, when he is in the 4-2-3-1, tends to drift deeper and deeper just to touched the ball. When he does that...he tends to not put the ball in the back of the net.
  • Speaking of Matuidi, he had a phenomenal game for Les Bleus. He had an assist and a fantastic goal. In addition he was very active in all phases of the game. In addition to his goal he had at least two more decent chances at the goal. A good sign coming from the midfielder. As I mentioned above, he benefits from DD having a 4-3-3 formation. His ability to click with Pogba and Cabaye will be key to how far Les Bleus can go in Brazil.  
  • Mangala scored some points for Les Bleus. The FC Porto central defender looked right at home next to Varane. Mangala, plays the role of "destroyer" well next to the smooth Varane who does more of the linkage to the offensive/midfield from the back. Mangala was calm the few times Holland threatened, made some big tackles in the box and was strong in the air. He even came close to offering himself a goal at the end of the first half. He made a strong case to be included in the final list...I would take him over Abidal. 
The Bad:
  • The French left and right backs. I can imagine the Gooner will be smirking...but Debuchy and Evra were not at their best. Neither defended particularly well. Debuchy demonstrated that against a pacey winger with a decent bag of tricks he gets caught out of position a little too much for my comfort. Boetius' pace gave Debuchy fits early on in the game. On the other wing Promes gave Evra equal amount of fits. Now Holland could not take advantage of this pace, but something that Les Bleus need to address if they hope to do anything in Brazil. France will have to face a winger like Valencia in the first round, not sure if right now they are ready to check such a player. Digne did come in the second half for Evra and looked decent...but not sure that was because of the PSG player or because the game had died down by that point.  
  • Griezmann who received his first cap appeared a little timid. He did have a nice volley that could have led to and assist had Benzema been able to put it away in the 19th minute. Otherwise the 4th best scorer in La Liga was a little too timid for my liking. He did seem to position himself well in the different channels, not just sticking to his left side, but switching off with Valbuena. But when the ball fell in to his area he wasn't aggressive enough. Might have been first game jitters and by no means do I think he played his way off a trip to Brazil. But I would like to see more from a player of his talent.
The Ugly:
  • Did Holland realize there was a game? Were the likes of Sneijder or RVP on the pitch?  Granted in the second half neither side really looked motivated to do much more than pass the ball around and not get too tired. But after a first 15 minutes where Holland looked like Clockwork Orange...and that was really due to the play of their wingers, they just seemed to now care to much. More importantly the likes of RVP seemed completely invisible. Was it because of France's back line? Maybe. But more the usual malaise for Holland, they sometimes just don't care. I realize this was a friendly and one where the likes of RVP and Sneijder know they are going to Brazil. But still have some pride! Maybe I am making much about nothing.
Overall it was a decent win for France. Nothing too much to take from this match. I do think the likes of Mangala and maybe Digne showed enough to get some serious consideration for a ticket to Brazil. Mangala because of his strong play and Digne almost by default - just no left back that is head and shoulders above. Griezmann did not hurt his chances to go to Brazil but might not have put any distance between himself and the likes of Nasri or Payet.

See you on the 19th of May when Les Bleus start their preparation for the World Cup - we will also have the list of who is most likely to go. Look for DD to take 26-28 players and then trim the roster to the 23 that will go to Brazil.

Allez les Bleus!

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

France v Holland, same old same old...except for one Spanish wrinkle

This evening France will be back at the Stade de France, where a little over 3 months ago they might have enjoyed one of their greatest matches of recent history. After being down 0-2 to Ukraine, Les Bleus accomplished what appeared to be the impossible - winning the return leg 3-0 and qualifying for the World Cup. After receiving quite a favorable group draw in Brazil, click here for the group, the sun seems to be shining a little brighter on DD's men. Now comes an opportunity to build on this good feeling, but against a stern test - Holland.

Walking around Paris yesterday I already saw some of Oranje's fans walking around...all in Orange! There is a quiet build up around here for the match. No surprise, how can one expect any where near the intensity and emotion that took place against the Ukraine. This match, regardless of the outcome, cannot live up to that emotion. However it remains an important test for DD. This is the last time Deschamps has a chance to look at some players
Ribery's future replacement?
before he needs to settle on his list of 23 for the World Cup. What is of note, is the probably start given to the newbie - Greizmann. With Ribery nursing a minor knock, look for the quiet star from La Liga, who does not play for Real Madrid or Barcelona, to get his chance out on the left. What the formation should resemble:

Back to the 4-3-3, which is a good thing. The possible line up -

L’√©quipe probable des Bleus : Lloris (cap.) - Sagna ou Debuchy, Varane, Koscielny, Evra - Pogba, Cabaye, Matuidi - Valbuena, Benzema, Griezmann.

It will be interesting to see if Sagna regains his place on the right. I have debated this with the Gooner with regards to the Arsenal's man form. I prefer having the Newcastle right back on the right side. Why? He brings much more of an offensive punch to the formation, is his defending suspect? According to the Gooner yes, I am an not so concerned. It is also more important for France to have some balance and some offensive punch on the right side since they seem to always struggle to keep some balance - tending to always lean left. Of course without Ribery in the line up it will also be interesting to see if France is more balanced without their talisman player on the field. The other big question is whether or not Evra can still hold his side on the left, if he cannot France does not have many options that are World Cup ready. I think Digne will one day become a fixture there, but not sure if that time is in less than 100 days.

We cannot read too much into this match, I doubt either side will be 100% motivated to run around and try to put on a beautiful match. What we can and should focus on is how Deschamps uses his roster. Will we see Digne? How will Griezmann do on the left? Will Valbuena hold his channel on the right or without Ribery on the pitch will "Le Petit Velo" free lance and roam around the pitch even more? Is Benzema back to where we need him to be? And will Kos-Varane be the central pairing we should expect in 100 days?

Much will be learned on these points after the match, of course much has probably already been learned by Deschamps during training sessions.

Allez les bleus!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

New Kit for Les Bleus - strangely familiar

Nike announced the new kit for France - the away strip. Surprisingly, Nike seemed to have pulled out a design that resembles one of their earlier versions with the horizontal strip theme.

Looks a tad similar to this past kit:

Stripes are more subtle but the theme remains the same. I wonder if France will have an alternative third kit like so many nations are now doing.