Posts Tagged ‘Alou Diarra’

Feature: Reports of friction see France’s old fears return

“DONETSK, Ukraine — In 2010, it started with a headline in L’Équipe. Two years on, France’s leading sports newspaper has lifted the lid on fresh tension in the French squad at Euro 2012.”

I wrote a piece for AFP on the old demons threatening to re-emerge in  the France camp. You can read it here.

Blanc’s France still searching for an identity

For a team protecting an unbeaten record that now stretches to 543 days, France will approach Wednesday night’s friendly against Germany in Bremen with a surprising degree of uncertainty.

Since going down 1-0 at home to Belarus in Laurent Blanc’s first competitive game in charge in September 2010, France have qualified for Euro 2012 – without recourse to the play-offs – and enjoyed friendly wins over England, Brazil and the United States (as well as some forgettable draws against Croatia, Chile and Belgium).

Viewed from the outside, and against a backdrop of the self-inflicted humiliation of the 2010 World Cup, Les Bleus are turning things around. Bubbling beneath the statistics, however, are a multitude of concerns about the team’s style of play and a lack of both experience and leadership within the squad, while an ongoing contract dispute between Blanc and French Football Federation president Noël Le Graët suggests Blanc’s employers remain to be convinced by the direction the team is taking.

Blanc pledged to introduced panache and risk-taking to France’s football following his appointment in the aftermath of the infamous Knysna training ground mutiny, but although France have become solid and difficult to beat, their play has not captured the imagination since the first game of their current 17-match unbeaten run – a 2-0 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo that came four days after the setback against Belarus.

Then, a team anchored by a midfield pairing of Yann M’Vila and Alou Diarra, driven forward by the lolloping raids of Abou Diaby and centred around the new-found efficacy of Karim Benzema had hinted at a glorious future for Blanc’s France. Now, although Benzema has gone from strength to strength at Real Madrid, the team has lost its way.

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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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La semaine en France: Week 11

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
Torrential downpours in southern France prompted the postponement of two matches over the weekend, and when the skies finally cleared the unlikely team sitting on top of the table was Brest.

Marseille’s game at home to previous leaders Rennes appeared to represent OM’s chance to recapture top spot for the first time since the end of last season, but incessant rain saw the match at Stade Vélodrome pushed back from Saturday until Sunday and then postponed definitively when the poor weather continued.

It handed Brest and Saint-Etienne the chance to climb to the summit and it was last season’s Ligue 2 runners-up who prevailed when the sides met at Stade Francis Le Blé, through a 77th-minute Mario Licka header and a sublime chip (see below) from Romain Poyet.

Brest lead the table by two points from Rennes, with Marseille, Saint-Etienne, Toulouse and Montpellier a point further back. Toulouse and Montpellier were both held to 1-1 draws at home; the former against second-bottom Lens, the latter against Paris Saint-Germain. Lyon, meanwhile, bounced back from their League Cup exit to PSG with a laboured 2-1 win at home to Sochaux that bumped them into the top half.

Bordeaux drew 2-2 at Monaco on Tuesday, after Djimi Traoré had reprised the comedy own goal act from his Liverpool days to give the away side a 10th-minute lead. Jean Tigana’s men remain ninth, but on Thursday night Les Girondins‘ captain Alou Diarra had his ban for pushing referee Wilfried Bien extended by three matches.

The build-up to the season’s first PSG-OM clash on Sunday took another twist in classically bureaucratic French style, with the ban on Marseille’s fans reinstated by the league after it had been suspended by an administrative court last week. With Brest travelling to Lille and Rennes at home to Lyon, victory could yet take Marseille top.

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La semaine en France: Week 9

A bite-size round-up of the week’s events in French football, for anyone who wants to keep up with what’s happening in Ligue 1 but hasn’t got the time (or the French) to do so.

Ligue 1
The Ligue 1 table has a slightly more familiar look to it ahead of the 10th round of matches, after victories for all the big teams last weekend.

Paris Saint-Germain climbed to third with an impressive 2-0 win at Toulouse on Saturday. Mevlüt Erding claimed only his second goal of the season to seal the win, finishing a neat move involving a typically ornate flick from Nenê and an astute through-ball by Ludovic Giuly. Paris are above Marseille on goal difference after the champions edged Nancy 1-0, with Loïc Rémy claiming his first OM goal – and taking a swipe at Damien Gregorini’s face in the process – to cover up an unconvincing display from Didier Deschamps’s side.

Bordeaux are now seventh thanks to a 1-0 win at Auxerre. Anthony Modeste claimed the game’s only goal, but the major talking point of the weekend was the dismissal of new France captain Alou Diarra for reacting to a yellow card from referee Wilfried Bien by shoving him in the chest. He has been provisionally suspended until November 10, when the Professional Football League (LFP) will announce their decision on his punishment.

The game of the round was unquestionably Lyon’s 3-1 win at home to Lille on Sunday night. Lisandro López claimed a brace for the hosts, with Yoann Gourcuff netting his first goal in Lyon’s colours and Moussa Sow replying with a spectacular overhead kick. OL are up to 14th, four points short of third place, and Claude Puel’s crunch meeting with Jean-Michel Aulas on October 28 suddenly looks a much less daunting prospect.

Rennes held onto top spot despite drawing 0-0 at second-bottom Lens, while second-placed Saint-Etienne fell to a 2-1 defeat at Nice after losing Gonzalo Bergessio to a harsh red card in the 22nd minute. Arles-Avignon claimed their first point of the season in a 0-0 draw at Brest, but they’re still bottom (and still going down).

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