Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Les Bleus kick off World Cup preparation with classy showing

Well I guess my prediction of a drab 1-1 draw was slightly off...France kick off their World Cup preparation with a thrilling 4-0 win over Norway. And the score line could have been worse for the Scandinavians.

The Good:
  • Four goals...nothing to sneeze at. Les Bleus have struggled with scoring goals in the past, but seems that they found a key to unlock their goal scoring account, at least for 90 minutes today. Something to build on. It was encouraging to see the goals coming on some solid crosses from the flanks as well as some pacey play by the likes of Remy. It was also encouraging to seeing France's #2 striker, Giroud, score a brace. His second was from a wonder strike from the edge of the penalty box. He could have had a hat trick had his powerful header in the opening minutes gone in. Remy showed why he is on the team and could play a valuable role being used as a substitute where he can leverage his pace to break down a tired defense. He was a terrific reflex save away from getting his own brace. Scoring the 4 goals and having the offensive flow they had bodes well for the French offense confidence.
  • Le Petit Velo - Valbuena, has taken the role as the #10 and run with it. The Marseilles midfielder was at the center of the action against Norway. Acting as the creative fulcrum for the French. His high work rate, dribbling, passing and willingness to take chances on the offensive end really kept Norway off balance. His 3 assists are a reflection of his value to the offense for Les Bleus. With the likes of Pogba, Matuidi and Cabaye acting as the muscle in the midfield, it allows Valbuena to roam freely in the midfield. What will be interesting is to see how he continues to interact with Ribery. Giroud's style usually has him on the last defenders' shoulder, while Griezmann added pace on the left but didn't roam too much. This gave the space that Valbuena enjoys on the right, center and left of the park. Served the team well...but might be an issue...more on that later.
  • The midfield trident of Pogba, Matuidi and Cabaye. This is clearly the strength for Les Bleus. And the driving motivation for DD to lean on a 4-3-3 formation to ensure you get these three players on the pitch at the same time. Pogba is an absolute beast. It is amazing to remember that he is only 21. He scored a cheeky goal and controlled the midfield with his pace and size. Partnered with Matuidi, who seems to have a very high motor, and you have a powerful engine room for Les Bleus. With Cabaye doing a lot of the dirty work, and who can also bring a threat from distance, you have a powerful trident in the midfield. One that will determine how far Les Bleus can go in Brazil. 
  • Getting one of the reservists onto the pitch. Giving Cabella his first international cap was a shrewd move for DD. The 7, now 6, reserve players should view this as added motivation (Ruffier was part of the 7 and due to Mandanda's injury is now the #2 keeper). They all know that short of injury they will not be heading to Brazil. But there is 2016 to think about and this clearly gives them a taste of what they could work for post World Cup. And for DD, it gives him some time to blood some of his prospects and heaven forbid one of his 23 get injured, he already has vetted some of his prospects. Look for DD to do this again the next two matches, as he should.
The Bad:
  • Balance...even without Ribery on the pitch, France leaned heavily on the left side of the pitch. Yes Valbuena is on the right side of the pitch. But his tendency to roam, and he does a lot of that, means he sometimes vacates that right channel. And sometimes seems to be too often! It felt as if too much of France's offense was left dominant. This will only become more apparent with Ribery on that side. DD has to figure out a way to make sure that with Ribery and Valbuena on the pitch, that Le Petit Velo keeps in mind his role to support the right side of the attack. It is fine and recommended that the wingers switch sides from time to time, or even drop deeper. But, the right channel remains something that needs to be addressed.
  • The central defensive pairing. After keeping a clean sheet it is difficult to criticize the defense. But I am a little nervous at what Sakho showed. I am not saying he was bad, but there were some glimpses at his bad habits. Losing the ball in dangerous areas, making some rash challenges and some risk taking. In a way with Kos he can do that, since the Arsenal man is a good stay at home defender who can clean up such errors. But if Sakho makes some of these errors against the likes of Shaqiri or Valencia it could prove very costly.
The Ugly:
  • Nothing ugly about this match...maybe ugly for Norway.

So DD and France get their first preparatory match out of the way.  The 4-0 win will do the team a lot of good, they need to continue to build on this and will face a much more stern test against Paraguay. It will be interesting to see how things change if we see Ribery and Benzema find their way back into the starting line up, especially with the interactions with Valbuena.

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