Posts Tagged ‘4-2-3-1’

Analysis: Mourinho still searching for winning formula

“Upon returning to Chelsea, Mourinho pledged that he would introduce a more proactive, passing style, but he is struggling to find an alternative to the counter-attacking approach that is his trademark. Chelsea have averaged a healthy 56.9 percent of possession in their 12 league games to date this season, but they seem happier when they have taken an early lead and can pick off their opponents on the break. Of their 12 victories in all competitions, 10 have come after they went ahead inside the first 33 minutes and on the five occasions when they have conceded the opening goal, they have come back to win only once, in last month’s 4-1 win at home to Cardiff City.”

I’ve written a piece for AFP on José Mourinho’s search for a winning formula at Chelsea, and you can read it here.

Tactics: Willing Welbeck key to Moyes’ United blueprint

Danny Welbeck and David MoyesDavid Moyes is only two competitive games into his tenure as Manchester United manager, and his tactical strategies are likely to evolve as the season progresses, but his side’s early performances have already benefited from the unique skillset of versatile forward Danny Welbeck.

In both the 2-0 victory over Wigan Athletic in the Community Shield and last Saturday’s 4-1 win at Swansea City, Welbeck operated in a role that was difficult to define; hugging the left touchline one minute, darting into the box the next. In this respect he dovetailed with Ryan Giggs, who was United’s most advanced central midfielder in both games.

Welbeck and Giggs were the only players in the United XI who could be said to have taken up unorthodox positions in the two matches. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley patrolled the centre of the pitch – Cleverley slightly ahead of his England colleague – and while Wilfried Zaha (in the Community Shield) and Antonio Valencia (against Swansea) stayed wide on the right flank, Robin van Persie led the line as a conventional number nine.

Welbeck and Giggs, however, were harder to pin down. Giggs played slightly in advance of Carrick and Cleverley, and was often the player charged with carrying the ball forward into opposition territory, but he occasionally drifted wide to take up a role on the left. Welbeck orbited in support of Van Persie, typically moving to the left when Giggs was not there, but in the game against Swansea he also made a series of bursts into the penalty area from central positions, as his two goals demonstrated. The 22-year-old blends the stamina and work ethic of a central midfielder with the pace and dainty footwork of a winger, and his mobility equips United with both an outlet on the left flank and a foil for Van Persie.

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Tactics: How the Champions League quarter-finalists line up

The eight remaining teams in this season’s Champions League are drawn from seven different countries and range in experience from quarter-final debutants APOEL to nine-time champions Real Madrid. They are nonetheless united by a number of tactical factors. All eight sides deployed four-man defences in their last-16 ties, while the majority of the teams preferred single-striker formations. Benfica and Milan were the only two teams to play with no wide midfielders.

The diagrams below depict the eight teams’ tactical line-ups from the first legs of their last-16 ties, before there were any leads to be defended or deficits to be overturned.

NB: The diagrams (screenshots from the UEFA website) show average positions from the first 15 minutes of matches only, so as to provide a clear indication of how the teams approached each game in terms of formation.

APOEL: 4-1-4-1

The average positions of APOEL's players in the first 15 minutes of their 1-0 defeat at Lyon in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie; UEFA

In the first leg of their tie at Lyon, APOEL played in a compact 4-1-4-1 formation and placed so much emphasis on defending their penalty area that they did not muster a single shot at goal until Gustavo Manduca tested Hugo Lloris with a rising drive in the 88th minute. Ivan Jovanović’s side were more proactive in the return leg, however. Esteban Solari played up front in support of Aílton, while Manduca was named in the starting line-up and scored the goal that levelled the tie in the ninth minute.

[Squad numbers: 22. Dionisis Chiotis; 7. Savvas Poursaitidis, 3. Paulo Jorge, 4. Kaká, 98. William Boaventura; 26. Nuno Morais; 10. Constantinos Charalambides, 31. Hélder Sousa, 23. Hélio Pinto, 11. Ivan Tričkovski; 8. Aílton]

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Tactics: How the Champions League semi-finalists line up

This season’s Champions League semi-finalists reached the last four with an average aggregate winning margin in the quarter-finals of four goals, making them the most comfortable set of semi-final qualifiers in the Champions League era (post-1992).

The diagrams below depict their tactical line-ups from the first legs of their quarter-final ties, before there were any leads to be defended or deficits to be overturned.

NB: The diagrams show average positions from the first half of matches only, so as to provide a clear indication of how the teams approached each game in terms of formation.

Schalke: 4-4-1-1

The average positions of Schalke's players in the first half of their 5-2 victory at Internazionale in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final; UEFA

[Squad numbers: 1. Manuel Neuer; 22. Atsuto Uchida, 4. Benedikt Höwedes, 32. Joël Matip, 2. Hans Sarpei; 17. Jefferson Farfán, 14. Kyriakos Papadopoulos, 18. José Manuel Jurado, 11. Alexander Baumjohann; 7. Raúl; 9. Edu]

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Tactics: French sides flock to worship at altar of 4-2-3-1

A peculiar tactical phenomenon has been witnessed in France in recent months. In a microcosm of global trends that have shaped the game over the course of the last decade or so, Ligue 1′s top sides have all – without exception – begun to ditch their preferred formations in favour of a 4-2-3-1.

Marseille, whose title and Coupe de la Ligue successes last season were founded on a pragmatic 4-3-3 shape, were the first team to make the switch. For the crucial Champions League group game at Spartak Moscow in November, Mathieu Valbuena was moved infield from the right flank and allowed to adopt the central playmaking role that he covets. Didier Deschamps wanted to capitalise on the fact that Valbuena “is very accurate with his shooting” and the France international proved as much in the 18th minute when he put OM ahead with a precise, curling effort into the top-right corner. Marseille went on to win 3-0, in what was their most coherent performance of the season to date, and their 4-2-3-1 continues to emerge for high-pressure encounters, such as Sunday’s 2-1 defeat of Paris Saint-Germain.

Another team synonymous with the 4-3-3 in recent years has been Lyon. Towards the end of the first half in their 4-1 win at Saint-Etienne last month, however, Yoann Gourcuff was allowed to advance a little further forwards and occupy the role of the classic number 10 that was his at Bordeaux. With Jérémy Toulalan and Kim Källström retreating into deep, central positions, it meant Lyon were playing a 4-2-3-1 and Claude Puel reflected that it gave the team “a certain balance”.

The switch brought the best out of Lisandro López, moved to the left flank in support of central striker Bafétimbi Gomis, in much the same way that André-Pierre Gignac’s best form for Marseille has coincided with the times when he has played from the left in support of Brandão. Occasionally isolated when used as lone strikers, both López and Gignac appear to relish seeing more of the ball and both men are particularly adept at cutting inside and shooting at goal with their stronger right feet.

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Asian Cup 2011: Five tactical observations

There may have been comical goalkeeping, half-empty stadiums and a ticketing fiasco that marred the final, but the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar was also able to boast some fine football and a handful of breath-taking matches. Football Further looks at some of the tactical points of interest at the 15th edition of Asia’s showpiece tournament.

1. Barcelona have some devoted disciples in East Asia
Qatar’s French coach Bruno Metsu described Japan as “the Barcelona of Asia” after their 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia in the group phase, but the description could just as easily have been applied to South Korea. Both sides pressed the opposition high up the pitch, harrying defenders into conceding possession and constructing attacks based on rapid inter-changes of passes. “When we attack, just like Japan, we go forward and create chances at a high tempo,” said South Korea coach Cho Kwang-Rae prior to the last-four meeting between the sides.

Japan’s high defensive line got them into trouble on occasion – most notably when Sebastián Soria broke the offside trap to put Qatar 1-0 up in their quarter-final – but their football was very pleasing on the eye. Ji Dong-Won’s second goal for South Korea in the third-place play-off win against Uzbekistan, meanwhile, was as slick a strike as almost anything Barcelona have produced this season.

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Tactics: How Spurs changed their shape for the Champions League

“A lot of club managers will take note of what happened in the World Cup and adjust their tactics accordingly,” said Harry Redknapp in the September edition of FourFourTwo magazine. “I’ve gone on record as saying England were far too open in the tournament and I think 4-5-1 would have been the formation to get the best of our lads and also close the space in midfield. In the Premier League, you’ve already seen a lot of teams using 4-5-1, especially away. It’s a formation I’d consider playing on the road, for sure.” 

Redknapp’s reputation as an attack-minded tactical ingenue was always going to be tested by Tottenham’s participation in this season’s Champions League, and the diagrams below – taken from the press kits area of the UEFA website – show how he has adjusted Spurs’ formation in their six group-stage matches. 

Having built last season’s triumphant campaign on an orthodox 4-4-2 formation, the deadline day signing of Rafael van der Vaart hinted at an evolution in Redknapp’s tactical thinking. That new, subtler approach has been evident in the Champions League. The apparent default shape, when van der Vaart is available, is a 4-2-3-1, with Gareth Bale wide on the left, Aaron Lennon on the right and the Dutchman in the centre. (Luka Modrić looked set to take up van der Vaart’s role in the 4-3 defeat at Internazionale, until he was replaced by Carlo Cudicini following the early dismissal of goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.) 

Only in the eminently winnable games – at home to FC Twente and Werder Bremen, and away to Twente (when Spurs had already qualified) – did Redknapp field anything resembling a 4-4-2. Even then, the right-sided midfielder was often instructed to tuck in (van der Vaart at home to Twente, Niko Kranjčar in the return fixture). In the magnificent 3-1 win at home to Inter, meanwhile, van der Vaart played so close to Peter Crouch that he was effectively being used as a second striker in a 4-4-1-1. 

NB: The diagrams show average positions from the first half of matches only, so as to provide a clear indication of how Spurs approached each game in terms of formation. 

1. Werder Bremen 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur, September 14 

The average positions of Tottenham's players in the first half of their 2-2 draw at Werder Bremen; UEFA

 

[Squad numbers: 3. Gareth Bale, 4. Younes Kaboul, 6. Tom Huddlestone, 7. Aaron Lennon, 8. Jermaine Jenas, 11. Rafael van der Vaart, 15. Peter Crouch, 22. Vedran Ćorluka, 23. Carlo Cudicini, 26. Ledley King, 32. Benoît Assou-Ekotto]  

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What does Mourinho have on the drawing board?

In January this year, Football Further examined the first few months of Manuel Pellegrini’s stint as Real Madrid coach and discovered that he fielded 16 different midfield and attack configurations in his first 16 league matches. Pellegrini’s time at Real ended in disappointment – despite phenomenal success in the goalscoring department – and a look at how his successor, José Mourinho, has approached team selection in the early weeks of his tenure reveals a very different style.

Where Pellegrini chopped and changed (unaided, it must be said, by injuries to key players), Mourinho quickly settled on a first-choice XI and has sought to deploy it at every available opportunity. Below are the midfield/attack combinations that Mourinho has used in the league this season, in the order in which they have appeared:

1. Xabi Alonso, Lassana Diarra; Ángel di María, Sergio Canales, Cristiano Ronaldo; Gonzalo Higuaín (0-0 v Mallorca, a)
2. Alonso, Sami Khedira; Karim Benzema, Mesut Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (1-0 v Osasuna, h)
3. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (2-1 v Real Sociedad, a)
4. Alonso, L. Diarra; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (3-0 v Espanyol, h)
5. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (0-0 v Levante, a)
6. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (6-1 v Deportivo, h)
7. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (4-1 v Malaga, a)
8. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (6-1 v Racing Santander, h)
9. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (3-1 v Hercules, a)
10. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (2-0 v Atlético, h)
11. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (1-0 v Sporting Gijon, a)
12. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Higuaín (5-1 v Athletic Bilbao, h)
13. Alonso, Khedira; di María, Özil, Ronaldo; Benzema (0-5 v Barcelona, a)

The consistency is striking. Prior to Real’s humiliation at Barcelona on Monday night, Mourinho had aligned the same six players in midfield and attack for eight successive games, and had Higuaín not sustained a back muscle injury prior to the trip to Camp Nou, it is certain that that statistic would have been extended to nine games.

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Tactics: What should England expect from France?

The press pack accompanying the France squad to England may have been slightly miffed at the lack of attention given to Les Bleus in Fabio Capello’s pre-match press conference, but Laurent Blanc’s side will have plenty of opportunities to make themselves headline news when tonight’s match at Wembley kicks off.

France lost 2-1 to Norway in Blanc’s first game in charge and were then stunned 1-0 by Belarus in their opening Euro 2012 qualifier at the Stade de France, but have since recorded consecutive 2-0 victories against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania and Luxembourg. Upon taking the reins following the World Cup debacle, Blanc spoke of his desire to create a France team “that opposes its style upon its opponents”, and although we are still in the early days of his tenure, his vision for the national team is beginning to emerge.

In France’s last game, a rather laboured 2-0 defeat of Luxembourg in Metz, Blanc set France out in a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield supporting Karim Benzema and Guillaume Hoarau in attack. He occasionally used a similar system during his time at Bordeaux, but against strong opposition his preference is for a midfield configuration that makes sure France cannot be outnumbered in the centre of the pitch.

“Playing with two strikers does not allow us to have numerical superiority in midfield,” Blanc explained in September. “You can use it against weaker teams. Against strong teams it’s vital to win the midfield battle. You have more options with two strikers but you can only play with one holding midfielder. That can weaken your team.”

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Tactics: Can France play without a playmaker?

The team that Laurent Blanc aligns against Romania on Saturday may herald a significant change of direction in the tactical evolution of the French national side. Teams representing the country have long been built around a single, richly talented creative player, from Raymond Kopa in the 1950s through Michel Platini in the 1980s to Zinedine Zidane at the turn of the last century. But that could be about to change. 

The basic shape of France's midfield and attack in the 2-0 Euro 2012 qualifying victory against Bosnia-Hercegovina in Sarajevo in September 2010

France’s 2-0 victory over Bosnia-Hercegovina in Sarajevo last month was probably their most impressive performance in a competitive match for four years and they achieved it without a playmaker in sight. Instead, Alou Diarra anchored a muscular midfield with Yann M’Vila alongside him and Abou Diaby operating slightly further forward. Florent Malouda and Mathieu Valbuena were deployed on the flanks, in support of lone striker Karim Benzema.

Diaby has long been typecast as a defensive midfielder, presumably because of his height, his build and his physical resemblance to Patrick Vieira, but against Bosnia he was given the freedom to express his attacking gifts, embarking on lolloping runs into opposition territory and making a number of incisive passes. A playmaker, however, he is not. 

Yoann Gourcuff, the heir apparent to Zidane, and Samir Nasri missed the game in Sarajevo, through suspension and injury respectively. Both are now back in the fold, but Blanc has promised that the players who starred against Bosnia will be given an opportunity to stake a claim to a first-team place. 

“Nothing forces us to play with a number 10,” said Blanc this week. “In Bosnia, because we couldn’t do anything else, there wasn’t one. The train had passed, the team was put in place and it did a pleasing job.”

Blanc has admitted, however, that “players who are capable of making the team play better [i.e. playmakers] are always useful” and he has also expressed a conviction that Gourcuff and Nasri can be fitted into the same starting XI, most probably with Nasri playing wide on the right and Gourcuff in the centre.

The prototype 4-3-3 that breathed new life into the French national team’s play in Sarajevo was a world away from the stodgy, unimaginative football associated with the 4-2-3-1 of the Raymond Domenech era, but Blanc’s stated mission to create a side that “imposes its style upon its opponents” would perhaps be best served by a team containing at least one playmaker. In any case, Diaby’s ankle injury suggests at least one of Gourcuff and Nasri will make the starting XI against Romania.

Nevertheless, the performances of Diaby, M’Vila and co against Bosnia proved that France can function perfectly well without a number 10. The team-sheet at the Stade de France on Saturday could give the clearest indication yet that France’s love affair with the playmaker is about to be put on indefinite hold.

Tactics: Pass master Van der Vaart central to Spurs’ redevelopment

Having essentially admitted that the purchase of Rafael van der Vaart was a transfer deadline day whim, it has been interesting to see how Harry Redknapp has tried to accommodate the Dutchman in his team. Spurs’ success last season was built on a fairly classic 4-4-2 formation, with dashing wingers on either side and a big-man-little-man combination in attack. Redknapp conceded over the summer that the same system would likely prove too naïve and inflexible for the demands of the Champions League, so van der Vaart’s arrival can also be seen as a recognition of the need for greater subtlety and sophistication in Tottenham’s attacking approach.

Van der Vaart has started three Premier League games since his move from Real Madrid – a 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion, a 3-1 win at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers and Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at West Ham United. In the games at West Brom and West Ham he played as the central playmaker in a 4-2-3-1, with Aaron Lennon on his right, Luka Modrić on his left and either Roman Pavlyuchenko (at West Brom) or Peter Crouch (at West Ham) up front. Against Wolves the shape was slightly different. In Lennon’s absence, van der Vaart played from the right, with Gareth Bale on the left and Robbie Keane playing off Crouch in the centre.

“Van der Vaart was, if you like, a bit part player at Real Madrid. He wasn’t in the team, he was on the bench and his confidence was low,” Redknapp told CNN this week. “He’s come here and we’ve made him feel very important. He’s a key player in our team and we base a lot of our game around how he plays and where we play him.”

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Tactics: Fluid Real dance to Mesut Özil’s rhythm

As the latest batch of world-class international players joined the assembly line at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu over the summer, speculation quickly turned to how José Mourinho would attempt to shape his talent-packed Real Madrid squad into a cohesive team. Two games into the La Liga campaign, his strategy is gradually beginning to emerge.

The diagram below, a screenshot from ESPN Soccernet, shows the average positions of Real’s players during the 1-0 victory at home to Osasuna on Saturday*:

The average positions of Real Madrid's players in their 1-0 win at home to Osasuna on September 11 (starting players circled); ESPN Soccernet

[Squad numbers: 1. Iker Casillas; 4. Sergio Ramos, 3. Pepe, 2. Ricardo Carvalho, 12. Marcelo; 24. Sami Khedira, 14. Xabi Alonso; 9. Karim Benzema, 23. Mesut Özil, 20. Gonzalo Higuaín, 7. Cristiano Ronaldo; Substitutes: 11. Esteban Granero, 21. Pedro León]

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Tactics: Robinho arrival threatens Ronaldinho’s renaissance

Right-footed, left-sided attackers are currently one of football’s most fashionable commodities (think David Villa and Robinho at the World Cup; Franck Ribéry at Bayern Munich; Nani at Manchester United), and like any self-respecting wealthy Italian man, Silvio Berlusconi has to be up with the latest trends. So he bought two. But while Robinho is hoping his transfer deadline day move to Milan will allow him to re-launch his stuttering club career, his arrival at San Siro may well turn out to be bad news for Ronaldinho.

Berlusconi might be the most ardent Ronaldinho fan on the planet, but he seems obsessed with the idea that his hero should play in the centre. Earlier this summer he spoke of his desire to see Milan play with two strikers, supported by Ronaldinho as a central playmaker. It’s a seductive idea, motivated no doubt by memories of players like Gianni Rivera and Manuel Rui Costa who wore the red and black number 10 shirt with distinction, but it’s not a role that Ronaldinho seems to enjoy.

Almost all the most enduring images of Ronaldinho during his time at Barcelona – be it his sensational goal against Sevilla or his one-man demolition job against Real Madrid at the Bernabéu – saw him picking up the ball wide on the left and cutting in at goal. As he said himself last season: “I feel great and where I’m playing I can do my best. I’m happy to play behind the strikers, but where I’m playing now [on the left] is my best position.”

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Tactics: How the Premier League title contenders shape up

The Premier League season is less than two weeks old, but a look at how the top sides lined up in their opening matches provides an interesting indication of how they plan to approach the season from a tactical perspective.

The diagrams below, screenshots from the ESPN Soccernet website, show the average positions adopted by the players from Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool in their teams’ opening home games of the season. (Data is taken only from home games because ESPN’s average position diagrams inexplicably go a bit haywire for away teams.)

Average position diagrams do not give a water-tight representation of a team’s formation – which is necessarily in a constant state of flux – but they do offer useful insights into basic shape.

Chelsea: 4-3-3

In the 6-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion on the season’s opening day, Chelsea lined up in the same loose 4-3-3 formation that they adopted during last season’s title run-in, but with Florent Malouda playing on the left of the front three, rather than the midfield three. Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka both drop deep to get fully involved in the team’s build-up play and Malouda has become wonderfully adept at exploiting the space they vacate – as he did when he scored the sixth goal against West Brom from Anelka’s lofted pass.

The average positions of Chelsea's players in the 6-0 win at home to West Bromwich Albion on August 14 (starting players circled); ESPN Soccernet

[Squad numbers: 1. Petr Čech; 19. Paulo Ferreira, 33. Alex, 26. John Terry, 3. Ashley Cole; 5. Michael Essien, 12. John Mikel Obi, 8. Frank Lampard; 39. Nicolas Anelka, 11. Didier Drogba, 15. Florent Malouda; Substitutes: 2. Branislav Ivanović, 10. Yossi Benayoun, 21. Salomon Kalou]

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World Cup 2010: A tactical review

At the dawn of the tournament Football Further posed ten tactical questions that the World Cup would answer. Three days after Spain’s tense extra-time victory over the Netherlands in the final, the answers to those questions reflect a tournament in which defensive rigour was overwhelmingly de riguer and tactical innovation conspicious by its rarity.

1. Will freshness or preparedness prevail in Group A?
Having played just one game in the build-up to the tournament – a 4-1 win over Israel in Montevideo on May 26 - Uruguay took control of Group A before scrapping their way to the last four for the first time since 1970. How much of that was down to their fitness, and not the obliging manner in which the big teams benignly opened up the path to the semi-finals, is debatable. Mexico played 12 preparation matches and also made it out of the group phase, while their 3-1 defeat by Argentina in the last 16 showed no discernible signs of fatigue.

2. Will France’s 4-3-3 work?
How to put this? Not only did France’s 4-3-3 fail to work, but Raymond Domenech lost all faith in it before the tournament had even started. In their opening game, a 0-0 draw with Uruguay, they reverted to their tried and tested (if not actually effective) 4-2-3-1, with Jérémy Toulalan and Abou Diaby in the holding midfield roles and Yoann Gourcuff as the playmaker. The 4-2-3-1 remained in place for the 2-0 defeat by Mexico, but this time with Franck Ribéry in the playmaking role (to which he is wholly unsuited) and Nicolas Anelka reprising his great disappearing centre-forward act until matters came to a head at half-time. It was not until the 2-1 loss to South Africa that the long-awaited 4-3-3 finally made its appearance, but by then it was already too late. Over to you, Monsieur Blanc.

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