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!


J-F said...

Great review.

As for Mangala, I think his form and fitness would put him over Abidal in a world cup squad. However considering we have Koscielny and Varane in CB it might be better to have a veteran on the team in Abidal. Tough call to make, but I'm confident in DD to make a good choice.

Griezmann was far from impressive, but nobody should expect a stellar debut anyways. That suspension really hurt him because he only has a few months to make a stake for the WC squad. It is really hard for DD to justify leaving Nasri out of the squad. I don't like Nasri at all but he is one of the highest paid midfielders in England and is very talented.

Benzema has been my favorite player since 2009 and what I've seen from him this season is the best form he's had. I think we can score some goals this summer. Giroud is a competent backup, and Remy's pace gives DD options.

I'm not expecting anything from les bleus this summer, but I think we could go far. Honestly just winning a few games in the group stage would be a really good feeling. I just want to get past the self destruction phase we've been stuck in.

GFC said...

I think that Mangala gave himself every chance to make the squad this summer. As much as I appreciate what Abidal did when he was at the top of his game, he is far from that today. I just don't see a reason to bring him. If he needs a veteran presence, bring him along as an assistant coach!

J-F said...

You're right Guy. France always enjoy the luxury of having options in every position. But this year I feel much more confident in them. Koscielny Varane Sakho and Mangala and thats just our center backs! As for the veteran presence, DD was captain of the world cup winning squad, that about says it all.

GFC said...

There is depth...except at left back. That makes me a tad nervous. Evra looks old and Clichy has dropped off the face of the earth. Digne and Kurzawa are little on the inexperienced side, even though the former showcased for the French U20 World Cup winning side. This is something to keep an eye on during the next 3 months.

J-F said...

Yes we are having issues at right back but it's not so bad. I would choose Evra at this point if only for the experience. He is still talented and can fill the position adequately. Clichy will be lucky to make the world cup and I don't think I'd like him to play.