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!

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