Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Crazy 8s - flattering score line before the real games start

I was finally able to watch the lop sided victory for France against the Reggae Boys of Jamaica. It is not often you see a 8-0 score line in an international match. Even when the likes of France play minnows Luxembourg or Faroe Islands in Europe you tend to see much tighter score lines. I remember the reigning World Cup champion France barely beating in a European qualifier: 1-0. So such a score line is an anomaly, so what can we make of it?
Lots of smiles in Lille and France

The Good:
  • The win. Easy to overlook the victory after such a ridiculous score line. But it cannot be under valued the fact Les Bleus head to Brazil on such a high note. All one has to do is think back 4 years when France headed to South Africa after losing to China. We all know what happened to France in that World Cup. By no means do I believe that playing well in the warm ups is a guarantee of success next week, but it certainly beats heading into the World Cup the way we did 4 years ago.
  • Speaking of no guarantees, the 8 goals scored by Les Bleus is good, but means nothing starting next Sunday. France ended their 3 game warm up tour with 13 goals for 1 against. Again beats the alternative of struggling to score and having to answer those questions in Brazil. The other positive is where the goals are coming from. Over the 3 games Giroud and Griezmann both have 3, Matuidi and Benzema with 2, and Cabaye, Pogba and Remy one a piece. That is a good distribution across your strikers, wingers and midfielders. It would have been nice if one of our fullbacks or center backs could have chipped in with one...okay now I am being greedy. But that should give all these players some confidence heading to Brazil.
  • Benzema on the left and the 4-3-3. Before we get too excited about the 2 goal and 2 assist night for the Real Madrid player, let us remember he was facing Jamaica not Germany. I do think that there is some merit to playing him out on the left. Granted when I watched the game on TV5, I found it surprising how much the commentators critiqued Benzema for not linking up with Giroud enough and at times "forcing" his way into the central striker role and forcing Giroud out wide. Really? First, Benzema and Giroud had some good interplay. Giroud's goal came from a caviar of a pass from Benzema. I also do not think Giroud is looking to play give and go or go at defenders with the ball at his feet, that is not his job. As I have stated before, his purpose and strength is to hold the line off the last defender's shoulder. Look for crosses and knock them down either to players filling the channels or putting them on goal. Look at the first goal by Cabaye...Giroud played that role perfectly. Knocking down a high ball into the box onto the on rushing Cabaye who was playing off Giroud pulling defenders to him. With Benzema wide left, he is playing a similar role he did at Lyon when he had the Brazilian striker Fred up front acting in a similar role as Giroud. What I do like about Benzema on the left is that the top 3 of the 4-3-3 formation are really a triangle, with Giroud at the top of the formation. Think of a triangle with Giroud at the top and Benzema on the left and Valbuena on the right of that triangle. The formation can swing in either direction off of the anchor that is Giroud. At times the formation creates a 4-3-2-1, with Benzema and Valbuena playing deeper and having more freedom to run at defenses or at times it is a 4-3-1-2, with Benzema and Giroud playing the striker pairing high with Valbuena able to run in the space behind the two strikers (this is where it probably appears Benzema is "forcing his way" back to the center of the park). Something that has haunted France in the past when they ran a 4-2-3-1 with Benzema as the lone striker is that his tendencies to drop deep, placing him in the clogged up space occupied by the 3 offensive midfielders. In the formation seen against Jamaica, there is space that both Benzema and Valbuena can drop into. The key is a striker like Giroud that stays on the last defender opening up this space, the central defenders have to stay deep to watch Giroud. Karim on the left has some potential. Very interested to see if that is what DD roles out next Sunday.
  • Quietly, Sissoko has had himself some very solid games. I don't think he will be a starter, barring injury, but he clearly can offer something if he has to play or come in for any of the midfielders. This goes back to the qualifying campaign - look at what he did in the game away to Spain. He will play a key role for Les Bleus off the bench.
  • Speaking of growing in confidence - just like Sissoko quietly showing well, so has Griezmann. Scoring three goals over the 3 matches played. A small detail, but if you haven't seen it, look at the 8th goal and second goal of the game for Griezmann. It was something you see on the training ground - the aforementioned Sissoko made a good run to the end line, hit a low cross to the front post where the Real Sociedad winger tried and succeed with a very cheeky back heel. Something you only try when you are in form...or have a 7 goal lead...but nonetheless a sign of a confident player.
The Bad:
  • I realize I just wrote many words praising the formation and the inclusion of Benzema on the left. The bad is on defense on the left side of the formation. One aspect of Benzema's game is that he is a striker. What I mean by that is he runs in one direction, towards the opponents goal. That is fine. That is his job. But when you have two strikers on the pitch, play a 4-3-3, you expose yourself on whatever side your second striker is playing. With a Griezmann or Ribery on the left, they know they need to track back and stop the opposing fullback from making offensive runs. Benzema doesn't do that. The right back that is covering Karim has potentially more space to attack. During the game it was apparent that Matuidi was sliding over to that side to make up for the gap of defensive assistance. Normally this would not be a huge concern. However compound this with Debuchy being more offensive minded from this right fullback role and you might have some defensive liabilities that DD has to cover for with his 3 holding midfielders. Of course if they are being pulled to opposite wings...that is going to stretch them thin and potentially open up the middle. Something to watch for as the tournament starts and whether or not DD opts for a more defensive fullback in Sagna on the right side. 
The Ugly:
  • Where or where is the right side? Maybe it is just my eye sight, and I do realize that the first goal was from the right side. But I am still concerned about how left heavy Les Bleus are, even without Ribery! At times Valbuena popped up on the left...with Benzema and Evra pushing up. Benzema seems comfortable on the left or shifting to the middle while Valbuena, who is suppose to be the right winger, is at his best when he is allowed to roam. The problem with that is he seems to roam a lot to the center and the left! Meaning...once again the right flank starts looking very naked. Even with an offensive fullback like Debuchy making runs down that right side, it is still something that is getting a little ugly. This will become an issue if Les Bleus have any hopes of going deeper into the tournament.
Overall hard to not be happy with not only this result but all three from the pre-World Cup friendlies. But none of this counts come the start of the World Cup. France will face a stern test next Sunday against a team that held England to a goalless draw in their last match. France will not have the freedom they had today, I realize that is obvious. The question is can the 4-3-3 with Benzema on the left succeed against a team like Honduras that will most likely park the bus in front of goal? I think Giroud will be the key to unlocking that. But that is for another post as we get closer the start of the World Cup for France.

Let's also hope France have not wasted all their goals in the past three games!

Allez les Bleus.


Anonymous said...

1982 france got superstar platini

after 16 years

1998 france got superstar Zidan

after 16 years

2014 ...who is that superstar...benzama or ....


GFC said...

I don't think Les Bleus have a superstar on the level of Platini or Zidane. Benzema is wearing the #10 shirt and he is deemed the next superstar. But he has carried that moniker for many years without living up to it.

The one player that might break out this tournament is Pogba. Not through goal scoring, but his engine and box to box ability will go a long way to determine how far France can go.