Monday, March 30, 2015

You win some, you lose some - Les Bleus at the international break

I must admit I was not able to watch both the France v Brazil and France v Denmark matches in their entirety. This work thing can get in the way. So I would not do a full good-bad-ugly review of both matches. My apologies. But here are some take-aways from what I saw from both matches. 

  • Les Bleus have some interesting players to watch for the next year. Fekir is the first that comes to mind. Coming on as a substitute for both matches he showed some glimpses of why he is such an exciting player. His pace and creativity were both on display during his game time. He seems as comfortable on the right as on the left side, something that is important for DD. It will be interesting to see how he continues to play for Lyon this season and what happens during the summer transfer window. My home would be he stays with OL, since at times a move to a bigger club and league can cause a drop off in a players game. Not the ideal situation just before a major tournament. Speaking of OL, Fekir's teammate - Lacazette celebrated his first international goal versus Denmark. He could have very well latched on to a second in that game when he split the Danish defense, unfortunately he missed his touch. But he did show an ability to work well playing wide with Giroud as the lone striker. Again another option to watch for DD as he develops his roster. As much as this pains me, I think Payet showed me something as well. It is still hard for me to admit he is a full blown international, but he brought some decent game management skills to the table against Denmark, controlling the pace of play and proving dangerous with his crosses etc. 
  • Les Bleus also have some major question marks. Issues remain, issues that been haunting Les Bleus for the past few seasons. Goal scoring remains elusive. Benzema being the primary culprit for this. What sticks out was his missed volley against Brazil....from close. Granted this past weekend in my old man soccer league I blasted a similar ball into the proverbial row ZZ, but I am not an international level player! I still feel as if Benzema has failed to live up to what is suppose to be bags of talent. France really has yet to replace the likes of Henry and Trezeguet. The right side...yes it is a broken record. But this continues to haunt Les Bleus. It will be interesting to see if and how the likes of Fekir might become a solution to this problem. Speaking of the right side, part of the issue is also the right backs and by some extent the left backs are also in question. I am not sure why the likes of Sagna and Evra are still getting time. Evra to me is not the long term, and by long term I mean the Euros,  solution for left back. With the likes of Tremoulinas and Kurzawa as more likely long term options why is DD insistent on continuing to select Mr Evra? On the right side, hopefully a healthy return of Debuchy will stabilize the position.
  • Who will be the superstar player? I am not asking for the next Zidane or Platini...but France need to find their next star player. Ribery and Henry filled those roles post Zidane. But who is the next player? It does not have to be a superstar offensive player. Pogba appears to be the most likely candidate to fill the role. His box-to-box midfielder can put his stamp on any game he plays in. His form for Juventus has made him one of the most desirable assets in the game. Question remains can he translate this for the national team? If it is not Pogba, not sure where this comes from.
France leave these two games with some positives to build on and some questions that continue to linger. Deschamps does have over a year to figure it out, but that year will go by quickly. Much work to be done, but there are enough positives to have some high expectations for next year's tournament on home soil.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Karim captain!

With the injury to Lloris, the question became who would wear the captain's arm band. Interesting that a player who has worn the arm band and for more than one match is in the starting line up - Evra. Of course he was the captain during the disaster that was the South African World Cup. DD decided to choose the Real Madrid striker - Benzema to wear the arm band for this match.

I didn't ask for any gov't identification...
I understand why you could not give it back to Evra. But I am not sure I would have picked Benzema evidence to prove this...and they were acquitted. Hey I am not naive enough to think these boys are all choir boys, nor do I expect them to be. But couple this with some of Karim's sometimes on field issues - aka lack of production. Remember his year long goalless drought??? And I don't see the ideal model for a captain. Granted it is only for this match, or maybe the next one as well. But would have rather seen Matuidi carrying the arm band - maybe even Varane who profiles as the long term French captain.
either. Not when you have other choices, Matuidi being the one that comes to mind. Benzema does have some baggage from his off the field activities...remember the under aged lady of the night? It was never in question that Benzema and Ribery had purchased Ms Dehar's services, but whether or not they were aware of her age. The courts did not find enough

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

No surpise - DD leaning back on his 4-3-3

Heading into the friendly tomorrow against Brazil, word out of Clairefontaine is that Deschamps will roll out the formation we have grown accustomed to seeing France play - the 4-3-3. Makes sense with the French strength being in that middle three. Even with their engine room midfielder, Pogba, being out for the match, Les Bleus have plenty of talent and depth at that position.

The possible line up -

Mandanda - Sagna, Varane, Sakho, Evra - Sissoko, Schneiderlin, Matuidi - Valbuena, Griezmann, Benzema

No surprise in goal, with Lloris having to drop out of the squad after picking up a knock playing for Tottenham. The outside backs are back to the future, not sure I expect to see these two being the pillars for the Euro campaign. But we shall see. As for the center back pairing, looks like Sakho's club form has put him back in the good graces of the manager. I will be surprised if Kos doesn't get some time this game or next. Varane seems to be the constant in that central defensive pairing, who partners with him remains in flux.

The midfield trident shows the depth DD has at his disposal. Without Pogba, he can still turn to the
Is that DD calling me??
likes of Schneiderlin and Sissoko. Matuidi is a regular. Question becomes - will Cabaye ever regain his position? His main issue is that for his club - PSG - he is stuck behind a number of talented midfielders. Maybe he should have stayed in northern England! Up front, no surprise either. With Griezmann seeming to cement his role out on the left side of the formation, Benzema as the lone striker and Valbuena. The main issue, once again, will be to see how France's right plays. Yes Valbuena should be "slotted" to play in that right corridor. But we all know he has license to drift and often does. Raises a question - does Menez have a role on the national team? Anyone noticed his form in Italy? He has been on a tear for Milan AC. Could be something to keep in mind.

Brazil is always a tough opponent, don't let their last two World Cup games lull you into complacency. I expect a balanced and cautious game from both sides. I am a little nervous about France's outside backs, I am not sure they can keep the Brazilian wingers and fullbacks in check. There will be a lot expected of the midfield trident to slow down Neymar et al.

I look for a 2-2 draw. Benzema with a brace.

Allez les Bleus

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Les Bleus get set with some new faces

The international season will be kicking off this month. Of course Les Bleus will not be playing any qualifiers, but the European Cup is about 15 months away. That time will go by fast and DD will be expected to have his squad ready for the tournament they are hosting - will anything short of a semi final appearance be acceptable??

The list DD called up looks very familiar with some new faces and some questionable choices:

Lloris, Mandanda, Ruffier – Evra, Jallet, Koscielny, Sagna, Sakho, TrĂ©moulinas, Varane, Zouma – Gonalons, Kondogbia, Matuidi, Payet, Schneiderlin, Sissoko – Benzema, Fekir, Giroud, Griezmann, Lacazette, Valbuena

The fresh new face is that of Fekir from Lyon. The attacking midfielder is having a break out season with his club, with double digit goals (11) and 7 assists. He was long time a target for the Algerian national team but made the decision to throw his future behind Les Bleus. He did play at the U21 level with France. The player offers DD some new blood for his attacking midfield. With the retirement of Ribery and the exile of Nasri coupled with France's consistently lacking right side, it will be interesting how the new player get integrated and leveraged.

Many of the other names are the usual suspects that DD has been leaning on. The one player that continues to make me scratch my head - Evra. The Juventus left back continues to be called up. But is he truly the future for the left back role? It is good to see Tremoulinas being in the squad. But what about Kurzawa? I am not sure that Evra is our solution at left back for the Euros. I realize he hasn't retired from international play, but that does not mean DD needs to continue to call him up.

It will be interesting to see how DD handles his back line. With Sakho starting to do better at the club level, will the central pairing be changed again? It is also good to see Kondogbia back on the roster. Clearly his play for AS Monaco has not gone unnoticed. Let us see how DD runs his formation.