Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Expect to see many new faces for Les Bleus walk out on the pitch in Armenia

No one will be surprised to see a completely new starting line up roll out later today when France face off against Armenia. We already know of the injuries to Benzema and Mangala, so already two spots for new faces. And we expect to see DD run through his other players on the roster and see what he has. So from the press here is the line up we might expect to see:

Mandanda - Jallet, Varane, Mathieu, Digne - Matuidi, Schneiderlin - Sissoko, Payet, Rémy - Gignac

This line up shifts France back to a 4-2-3-1, not a formation I really want to see Les Bleus in, and
Dynamic duo for Les Bleus?
really it could be a 4-3-3 with Sissoko dropping deeper on the pitch and allowing Payet and Remy to play the wide winger roles. The things to watch other than the obvious - see how the new faces play - is to see the role Payet takes on. A player that normally is a winger has been slotted more to the center for his club this year and has shown some success. He will also be sitting behind his OM teammate - Gignac. Does this familiarity on the offensive end bring something to the table for Les Bleus? Does Payet give DD a real option as a center of the park playmaker? Or is he more suited to the wing? It will be also be interesting to watch the right side of the formation. With both Remy and Sissoko who can play that channel, and both are more apt to stay in a wide position.

Let's face it, France is not playing a giant of football. The Armenian coach has also said he thinks this game is "sh**" so I don't expect a lot of creativity from the team from the Caucasus. So I expect France to be attacking and carrying the play for the bulk of the game. It will be interesting to see if with Gignac, a more traditional #9 and his playmaker from OM, if Les Bleus can break down the Armenians.

Prediction - France 2: Armenia 0 goals from Gignac and Schneiderlin.

Allez Les Bleus.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Good win for Les Bleus, but concerns remain

Deschamps and Les Bleus continue their "friendly" qualifications, defeating Portugal 2-1 in Paris. Portugal was coming in off a defeat against Albania in Euro qualifiers and wasn't approaching this as just another friendly, especially considering this was also the first game in charge for new manager - Fernando Santos. But like most friendly internationals, this match had the usual characteristics - some spurts of high intensity and many lulls in between. So what to make of this game?

The Good:
  • You can never sneeze at getting a result against another international size - especially one of Portugal's reputation.  France follow up their victory a month ago against Euro defending champion Spain with another victory over their Iberian peninsula neighbor.  France, since that miracle of a game against Ukraine in Paris, have been building back their mojo. While I am not ready to say they have arrived, they are clearly progressing in the right direction.
  • Benzema finding the back of the net. Remember when Karim had gone what felt like a life time since he scored for Les Bleus? Since the end of qualifiers and through the World Cup it feels as if the Real Madrid striker has regained his form. His goal was not one the most technically beautiful goals, but it was a true strikers goal. After a great rush from Griezmann, who cut the ball back through the penalty box onto the on rushing Sagna, who hit a heavy shot. The former Arsenal man was unfortunate to not have opened his account with France, the shot asked for an outstanding save from Patricio. Unfortunately the keeper was only able to deflect the shot onto the the foot of Benzema. Who, for once, had camped out on the 5 yard box and was in the perfect position to clean up the garbage and put the ball in the back of the net. A true center forward's goal. With players such as Griezmann and Valbuena bombing down the flanks, it is important for Benzema to get into those positions to take advantage of the crosses and pace from his wingers. 
  • Speaking of Real Madrid, Varane is quickly becoming a center piece for the defensive back 4 as well as France.  The youngster shows positional awareness beyond his youth but also the physical assets to make up for mistakes and take on players 1 on 1. Just look at how he was able to shoulder off Ronaldo in the second half on a delicate 50/50 ball in the French penalty box. The future is bright for Varane. Amazing that Real Madrid is so stacked that he is not a regular starter.
  • Another youngster - Pogba - is quickly becoming an anchor for Les Bleus. The Juventus man
    Midfield control tower for Les Bleus
    is the boss for the French midfield. The likes of Cabaye and Matuidi do yeoman's work, but it is the France #19 that is the metronome for Les Bleus. As was stated during the game, he can also play any style of play that may arise - fast paced, he can distribute and add to the attack, defensive, he can easily lie deeper on the field. He also contributed with a smart goal from a nice lay off from Benzema. As the saying goes, the spin of the team is where the strength needs to be - with the likes of Varane at center back and Pogba at central midfield, you have the foundation of a world class spine. 
The Bad:
  • Speaking of Pogba...he is a player with tremendous talent as well as confidence. And why not. He is not even 22 yet and he already has captained the U20 French side to an U20 World Cup, where he also won player of the tournament award. He has played in a World Cup and been to a 1/4 final, scoring along the way. Pogba has already played for 2 of the world's biggest clubs - Manchester United and Juventus where he is currently. The one negative about confidence is it sometimes makes you think you are invincible. At times Pogba does things that on the pitch that are the result of youthful exuberance. For example - in the second half, after nursing the lead he plays a ball in his half, doing a few nifty step overs and pirouettes he has the chance to make an easy pass out to his right or even back to his center backs. Instead he tries one more step over, loses the ball and allows a Portuguese break. He needs to be better aware of the situation. Something that will, hopefully, come with maturity as he grows in the game.
  • Did France have anyone on the right side? Okay I realize this is a regular criticism in my post France posts. I could probably just copy and paste from the dozens of other posts about this. But seriously...at times I wondered if France forgot they were allowed to attack down the right. Surprisingly the first goal came from Sagna coming down the right flank. Otherwise the right flank was almost entirely ignored. Much of this is, once again, because the right winger, Valbuena, cannot resist drifting back to the middle of the park and even out to the left. I realize that the plan is for Valbuena and Griezmann are suppose to swap wings during the game, but that only works if the other winger goes to the opposite wing! Too often Valbuena and Griezmann found themselves on the same side of the pitch - the left side - and at times almost on top of one another. While the right side was lonely. France must find a way to better balance their attack. For once I cannot critique Sagna since he did all once could hope for as he pushed up when appropriate - he also had the defensive responsibility to keep Ronaldo in check. But without a right wing...that stays the majority of the time on the right, it is a lot to ask of your right back. What is even more frustrating is that playing against the likes of Ronaldo, who will not track back, the right winger could hope for space to open up. Alas the French attack leans so far left we never found out.
The Ugly:
  • The Officiating...left much to be desired. The penalty for Portugal? Really? Not sure how that was even given. One could argue that the officials missed the off sides on Evra on France's
    Enjoy your minute of action...
    second goal (granted on replay it showed that the play did come off a Portuguese defender  so no offsides, but impossible to see that in real time). Not that the game was out of hand, but the officials didn't really seem to make calls consistently.
  • Deschamps substitution patterns. Yes I am being knit-picky but why bring Gignac on in the 90th minute? What does that gain you? You need to at least let him get 10 - 15 minutes of time on the field. Even the commentators said as much. Not sure about the introduction of Payet, at least what were his instructions? He came in and right away camped out on the left...why not tell him to stick on the right wing, as he has done in the past, and see if you can finally balance your attack? 
Overall a good match for Les Bleus. Of course there remains many questions for Les Bleus as they build towards 2016.  I have a feeling we will see a lot of changes next week when they travel to Armenia.

Allez les Bleus!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

DD calls up his list for next round of friendlies - are we really prepping for the Euros in 2 years?

Deschamps announced his list of players that will face Portugal (October 11th) and Armenia (October 14th). The list looks very similar to ones we have seen from DD. Actually almost resembles one from 2 years ago...

Keepers: Lloris, Mandanda, Ruffier
Defense: Evra, Sagna, Digne, Varane, Mangala, Mathieu, Koscielny, Jallet
Midfield: Matuidi, Schneiderlin, Cabaye, Pogba, Sissoko, Valbuena
Forwards: Payet, Benzema, Griezmann, Rémy, Gignac, Cabella 

The returns of Gignac and Payet are a return to the past for DD. Not a huge surprise to see the OM #9 since he has been on a tear with his club team this season - 8 goals in Ligue 1. Payet has always been somewhat of an enigma. Loads of talent, a player who rose through the youth ranks at Nantes' top class development program, yet a player who has failed to really shine at the top levels. It almost feels like a safe pick for DD. But not a player I see as a full blown international. It also feels that
Back in blue
these selections were made by default with the likes of Giroud out until 2015. France remains thin at striker, so Gignac could actually have a legitimate chance of making the Euro squad. Payet, I think the jury remains out and might be more of an indication that DD still wants to find the right player on the right flank (do I sound like a broken record??).

My concern is the continuous inclusion of Evra in the side. The Juventus left back looked a shell of his former dominate self during the World Cup. Not surprising considering the miles that are in his legs. Unlike the other international coaches, DD does not have to worry about winning these games. France is automatically qualified for the Euros as the host. So Deschamps is in the unique position to truly test some players that will be key to the France side in 2 years. He doesn't have to lean on veterans that might not be around for the Euros but that he needs now to win games. Yet he insists on calling up Evra when he as viable options such as Digne from PSG (who is in the side) and Kurzawa from AS Monaco (who should be in the side). The next two years should really be about figuring who between these two left backs and even Tremoulinas is going to become the anchor at left back for Les Bleus. Continuing to give time, in training and during the games, for a player like Evra, feels like a wasted opportunity.

The remainder of the squad is straight forward. I would look for DD to rotate through these players during the two games. It will be interesting to see how he manages the formation for - Cabaye, Sissoko, Matuidi and Pogba - as his middle 3 if he continues to go with the 4-3-3. On the wings it appears that Valbuena on the right and Griezmann on the left will be the first choice, but where do Remy, Cabella and Payet fit in this? As for the middle of the top 3, look for Benzema and Gignac to split the games in that role. Kos and Varane appear to be the #1 central defensive pairing. The wide defenders will be interesting with the injury to Debuchy, who will emerge as the right back (and apparent #2 behind the Arsenal man) and on the left...well does Evra get a start???

I would also expect to see the keepers rotate. I would not be averse to even seeing Lloris sit both games and give Mandanda and Ruffier each a game.

It is positive that there isn't too much turn over on the squad and that most of the roles are fairly well defined. But there remain some questions about who some of the support players DD will groom to become important assets in 2 years. Granted, DD also made it known that he was giving priority to the Espoir team as they look to qualify for the Euros. A reason why the likes of Zouma, Thauvin and even the aforementioned Kurzawa were not included on the senior list. However at some point I would like to see some of the youth players get integrated into the senior squad.

Should be an interesting 2 years...might be a slow boil.

Allez les Bleus.