France 1 Chile 1

11 08 2011

The sold out Stade de La Mosson was the place to be last night in Montpellier as France took on a feisty Chilean side. Personally, I like it when Les Bleus go en Provence to play…there’s always a great atmosphere and the sold out stadiums prove that the locals are indeed proud hosts.

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France one game away from freedom!

17 06 2010

France 0 Mexico 2

Embarrassing isn’t quite the right word…

No, cathartic is more like it!

Les Bleus are a whisker away from World Cup elimination–and just as close to entering the post-Domenech era!

There’s no other way to look at it. An efficient Mexico side exposed a LOT shortcomings in this France side:

  • inept attack
  • defensive lapses
  • lack of desire
  • poor tactics
  • low morale

Pretty much every sector was negative. Goes to show it doesn’t matter how many world class players you have, if you can’t bring them together.

Like Wormtongue from LOTR, Domenech has finally been completely exposed and will now be banished…hurrah! And it only took sacrificing TWO major tournaments, but he’s finally gone.

It doesn’t matter what happens Tuesday–although a goal would be nice!

I’d say I felt bad for the players whose talents have been wasted but they clearly didn’t even want to be there. Some of their international careers are over–think Abidal, Gallas, Henry, maybe even Toulalan and Govou. The Domenech favorites won’t survive the cull.

Every empire crumbles, but at least there is definitely a bright light at the fast-approaching-end of this tunnel.

Time for le Président to start his term!

Stéphane F.





New France lineup vs Mexico but will it be enough?

16 06 2010

Change is in the wind…sort of.

Today’s training revealed that Gourcuff will almost certainly start on the bench vs Mexico (he trained with the backups today). His exclusion means 2 things: a tactical change and Malouda gets his starting place back.

France will most likely start in the familiar 4-2-3-1, albeit with a slight twist. Ribéry will play behind the striker (Anelka). Malouda is set to start in his natural left winger position. However, Govou seems likely to continue on the right.

There were rumors swirling that he would also be dropped, with Anelka taking his position and then either Henry or Gignac starting up front. That could still happen but under Domenech the final training session has often been the most revelatory in terms of his starting 11.

It seems so obvious that the disappointing Govou should be dropped…and moving Anelka back to the right–a position he occupied during the qualifiers and with Chelsea–a natural choice, especially with the way he keeps dropping back. After all that would surely balance out the team’s attack.

I’m personally excited to see Ribéry given a somewhat free role that should see him darting all over the pitch. What worries me is that we’re just trying this out now…how well will the players perform given that they’ve never played in this fashion before?

An early goal would ease things so dramatically–but I fear there is a real mental block surrounding scoring goals.

With Uruguay thumping South Africa tonight it’s imperative to beat Mexico by at least 2 goals. Looking ahead we can’t afford to face Argentina in the knock out round…we’re just not ready yet.

So, it’s important to play the most attack minded team we can…I’d go for Gignac up front and Anelka on the right. The Toulouse man isn’t the most skillful but he’ll give us something to aim and could just poach a goal early on, especially in a ragged moment withing the 6 yard box.

I’d usually be agianst 2 defensive midfielders (for reasons just stated) but Diaby has played so well that I’m confident he’ll be pushing forwards. That leaves Toodles to just protect the back line.

So, perhaps things are converging just at the right time.

Probable lineup vs Mexico:

lloris, Sagna, Gallas Abidal, Evra, Toulalan, Diaby, Malouda, Govou, Ribéry, Anelka.

Stéphane F.





France v Uruguay starting lineup and player captions

11 06 2010

Well, in keeping with tradition when playing Uruguay, France have drawn 0-0…and rather pathetically at that.

Between classic Domenech mis-tactics (late subs, players in wrong positions) and a poor performance in the final third by France’s wingers and forwards, Les Bleus have managed to blow a golden opportunity.

Here are my player captions.

Starters:

Lloris: Didn’t have much to do but when he did he was brilliant–as we’ve come to expect. 1st half save off Forlan’s shot was key. Did well on Forlan’s 2nd half free kick which bounced right in front of him. 7/10.

Sagna: Solid defensively as usual and a bit better offensively–but still needs to get forward more and deliver better crosses. 6/10

Gallas: Probably the worst I’ve seen Gallas play in a long time. Seemed late on almost every challenge and out of position. Didn’t make any crucial mistakes though so I’ll let him off with a 5/10…but he must improve.

Abidal: Ironically, probably the best I’ve seen Abidal play as a centre back! He was decisive and confident–everything Gallas was not. 7/10

Evra: Dodgy spell to open the game, including a yellow card. He might have been trying too hard as  this was his first ‘real’ game as captain. Eventually settled down to deliver a good 2nd half performance both defensively and offensively. 6/10

Toulalan: Vintage Toulalan–tenacious and hard working. Even gave away his classic “yellow card to stop a counter attack” foul. 6/10

Gourcuff: Average free kicks. Tried to unleash a few long range efforts but with little effect. Didn’t seem to provide that decisive final ball to the forwards. 5/10

Diaby: Surprise inclusion to the detriment of Malouda and he did not disappoint, winning lots of balls and going by defenders easily. Slowed down a bit by the end but then he’s not used to playing 90 minutes at this level! 7/10 MAN OF THE MATCH

Ribéry: Not the same player he was during the warmup games. Didn’t see as much of the ball and couldn’t seem to find a way past the Uruguayan defense after that initial cross to Govou. Didn’t get into the box. Credit to Uruguay for consistently sticking 2 defenders on him whenever he got the ball. 5/10

Govou: Obviously low on confidence and his early howler in front of goal wouldn’t have helped. Somehow played 85 minutes despite offering nothing at all. Admitted before the World Cup he was not at his best–what will he say now? Will he bench himself? 4/10

Anelka: Still dropping back for the ball (though at least Govou was filling in for him when he did, albeit unsuccessfully). Didn’t get any noteworthy shots off. Tried to do too much on his own–obviously too excited/nervous about his 1st World Cup game. Not at his best. 5/10

Subs:

Henry: Strangely a like for like replacement for Anelka, he offered nothing at all–save a mishit which almost cruelly went for a handball against the Uruguayans. No real spark. 4/10

Malouda: His wasted talent on the bench, he finally made his entrance after 75 minutes. Was unfortunately played through the middle and as such not able to make his trademarks runs, or crosses, from the wing. Should have started. 5/10

Gignac: Another tactical oddity, he was put on the right wing but wasn’t quite fast enough to get by defenders and put in crosses (he’s a centre forward after all!). Saw plenty of ball and tried hard. 6/10

Coach:

Domenech: Got things wrong from the start as he benched Malouda–although Diaby somewhat bailed him out by playing extremely well. There’s an argument for Diaby and Malouda to start with Govou being benched. Left the latter in far too long. Waited too long to make his subs and as such they didn’t have an impact. Went for like for like subs instead of going for more attack when it was clear a tiring 10 man Uruguay would sit back and go for a draw.

Stéphane F.





France miss trick in World Cup opener

11 06 2010

What do you get when you cross a confused France, lacking identity and direction, with a Uruguayan team unsure whether to go for the kill or bunker down?

A 0-0 draw of course! Same as the last time they played, and the time before that…

It wouldn’t feel so bad if it were not for

a) the earlier draw between South Africa and Mexico leaving the group wide open

b) a greater share of possession in France’s favour

c) the red card which left the tiring South Americans down to 10 men and there for the taking

and d) the totally inept tactics by Domenech

The latter include:

  • leaving Govou on for 85 minutes despite his only contribution a missed sitter in the 7th minute
  • waiting until the 71st minute to make a sub–and then do that by taking Anelka off
  • bringing on Gignac, a natural centre forward, and playing him on the wing while natural wingers Ribéry & Malouda stayed central–thus ensuring no crosses were being supplied
  • generally leaving Malouda out of the team, despite his sensational play this season, until the 75th minute

France could have been in the driver’s seat but instead are left behind at the station…along with the rest of Group A.

Stéphane F.





Domenech’s dodos

11 06 2010

You know that couple you invite to parties, the one you don’t really like but you invite nonetheless, partly for social politeness, but mainly because after a few drinks they start bickering at each other and free entertainement aside, they make you feel better?

That’s France.

Just when some positivity starts kicking in, thanks to the new 4-3-3 formation, Domenech’s dodos show up to the party.

The president of the dodos is of course William Gallas who refuses to integrate socially into the group and is well known to be a loner. And then when Evra is chosen as captain, cause you know he talks to people, Gallas gets all uppity and refuses to talk to the media. That’s the least of it when you learn that he actually doesn’t follow any of Domenech’s orders on the pitch! Nope, our King dodo does just fine on his own, thank you very much! Things got so testy during the Tunisia game (like 5 martinis testy) that Henry, Ribery and Evra had to calm his Highness down after the game in order to avoid a Shining type moment.

Other party tricks these dodos  like to pull are:

  • tackling hard during training and refusing to listen to teammates and coaches requests to calm it down (see Malouda in yesterday’s training)
  • forming divisive groups in order to try and get Domenech to drop a player in favour of another (Diaby for Gourcuff, led by Anelka and Ribéry)

France are about to sabotage one of their most talented teams…all in the name of being the life of the party…

Stéphane F.





Hey now my France is back!

31 05 2010

Raymond Domenech from sinner to saint? Maybe not quite so fast…

France have a lot of redeeming to do, bottoming out at Euro 2008 and then continuing their soulless displays through qualifying before briefly waking up to secure 2nd place in their group.

With the emotional gap between supporters and team a virtual chasm, would the stubborn Domench attempt to be the hero in his French managerial swan-song?

That looks to be a much likelier headline now that he has ‘revolutionised’ France’s play by turning to a 4-3-3 formation–a far cry from the defensive doldrums of the 4-2-3-1 days.

With the football gods perhaps now smiling down on Les Bleus, the squad was blessed with gorgeous Alpine weather at their preparatory stage in Tignes allowing them to not only train comfortably but also to partake in the various team bonding exercises that Domenech had cooked up. These included glacier climbing, cycling and go-karting, the latter proving the week’s highlight: Gallas’s comedy crash which resulted in that crucial spontaneous ‘we’re all having fun, hey we’re a team!’ moment. Egos and pride appear sincerely mended since the divisive Euro 2008 campaign.

The squad looked good in training with French journalists waxing lyrical about the suddenly bright, inventive play.

Now, the friendlies have come and two polarising trends have appeared:

France are going to have defenders chasing shadows.
France are also going to give opponents every chance of matching those attacking fireworks.

The positives? The wing play is frenetic and piercing. Ribery has got his mojo back and looks like scoring every time he touches the ball. Malouda has cemented a place in the starting XI and is probably THE in form left midfielder in the world, showing no let down from his Chelsea season. Gourcuff–often the odd man out in Domenech’s old system–now has room to play and is confident. The latter is having a very positive influence on his free kicks, as evidenced by his delivery on the Gallas goal vs Tunisia. Virtually every substitution made has had a positive impact, especially Valbuena and Diaby’s contributions. To me, this shows a team whose players have accepted their roles and are mentally ready to come in and play.

The worries? 2 games, 2 goals conceded in the first 10 minutes. That’s a serious trend when faced with the prospect of an in-form Uruguay (7 goals in last 2 games) and a Mexican side which has shown real attacking intent in losses to England and Holland.

Yes, the Costa Rican goal was Mandanda’s fault–and he won’t be between the posts on June 11th (Lloris, saviour vs Ireland and Europe’s best young keeper will be). But, the lack of closing down on the shot points to 2 things:

a) no one closed down the shot
b) no one closed down the shot because no one was quite sure who should be closing down the shot.

This is one of the risks of installing a new system 2 weeks before the World Cup. The players aren’t quite sure who should be doing what in every situation.

Add to that the suspect centre back paring of Gallas and Abidal, and you get problems.

Domenech is convinced Gallas and Abidal should keep opponents at bay. But on what basis? They have had little time together and Abidal isn’t even a central defender by trade and is consistent in his defensive lapses. As for Gallas, he’s the obvious #1 choice–except his match fitness is in question as he recovers from a calf injury. In the first halves of both recent friendlies the French defence was noticeably shaky, which in my mind stems from a tentative defensive line. The cross which led to the Tunisian goal flashed right across the face of goal with no one asserting themselves.

At the moment, France are defending with possession and I don’t think that is going to be enough against World Cup sides.

For all the good the attacking play is providing, it naturally creates counterattacking chances for opponents. And again, World Cup sides will be more efficient than Costa Rica and Tunisia. Abidal’s mental acumen and Gallas’s physical fitness will be tested.

It wouldn’t be totally fair to say that when Squillaci has been on the pitch France have been more solid at the back–he’s benefited from better overall play in those second halves. But his profile and past displays should leave no doubt that not only can he and Gallas form a successful partnership, but that he is also a wiser choice than Abidal.

France have come a long way in the last 2 weeks–a fact which while welcome, is upsetting when you consider the level of talent in the squad.

But is it too little too late?

Some of the offensive displays–particularly from Ribery and Malouda–has been tantalising. And the wave after waves of attacks are sight for sore French eyes. But, 3 goals vs Costa Rica and Tunisia isn’t much to show for it. Is that unlucky? Maybe. Against Costa Rica France forced 9 saves, including Squillaci’s point blank effort. Yet they still needed Valbuena’s magic to save the game. With Anelka the seeming starting centre forward, France are at times virtually playing a 4-6-0 since he often drops back to be more of a provider than scorer. So, it’s crucial those around him score.

Is Domenech asking too much of his players to all of a sudden set nets on fire? With one week of training and one friendly left–against, ahem, China–there is little time left to start scoring. It’s painfully obvious this new system should have been implemented during the qualifying campaign.

Don’t get me wrong, the 4-3-3 is a godsend. France’s strength is in it’s wing play and forwards, and this formation gets the best players on the pitch together. The fact that no one seems to be stepping on anyone’s toes in these 2 games is a sign that the players are comfortable. Add to that a sudden togetherness and France should be looking to breeze through their group.

But it’s no use aiming high if you’ve got cracks in the foundation.

Stephane F.








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