Posts Tagged ‘Marvin Martin’

Tactics: Ligue 1’s leading lights find diamonds in the rough

James RodriguezParis Saint-Germain and Monaco may have stockpiled all the money in Ligue 1, but the playing fields of the French top flight have been awash with diamonds this season.

Over the past few months, a 4-4-2 formation with a midfield diamond – known as a milieu en losange in France – has become the must-have tactical system for the league’s leading teams, with Lille, Monaco and Lyon successively enjoying improved fortunes after adopting the tactic and Marseille potentially poised to follow suit.

Lille were the pioneers, with coach René Girard installing the system within weeks of his arrival from Montpellier during the summer. Having initially declared an intention to persist with the 4-3-3 formation favoured by his predecessor, Rudi Garcia, he jettisoned the tactic after only 45 minutes of the club’s first friendly match, a 3-2 win over Dijon in July.

The system he introduced was designed to get the best out of Marvin Martin, who operates in the number 10 role ahead of a three-man midfield. Once seen as France’s answer to Xavi, he endured a disappointing debut season after signing from Sochaux but has spoken positively of the “freedom” afforded him in the new system. It is a set-up with which the 26-year-old is familiar, having come to prominence at Sochaux by supplying the bullets for Brown Ideye and Modibo Maiga as the club from eastern France recorded a surprise fifth-place finish under Francis Gillot in 2011.

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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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Top ten Ligue 1 transfer targets

Ligue 1 has proved a fertile hunting ground for Premier League sides in recent years – not least for Newcastle United – and as the January transfer window opens, several names from the French top flight find themselves linked with clubs from the English elite. Football Further runs the rule over the players making the headlines and identifies which of them are likely to be on the move.

1. Eden Hazard (Lille)
Unless unforeseen misfortune befalls him, Hazard will leave Lille this year and, when he does so, he will join one of Europe’s most famous clubs, but he is unlikely to depart this month. Rudi Garcia’s side may have gone into the winter break four points behind leaders Paris Saint-Germain, but their performance in the 0-0 draw at Parc des Princes on December 18 proved that they are PSG’s equal and they remain the most cohesive outfit in the division. With their title defence on track and no European distractions to contend with in the second half of the campaign, Lille will not yield Hazard in January unless they receive an astronomical bid. The player himself is in no hurry.

2. Yoann Gourcuff (Lyon)
Mention of Gourcuff’s name in the United Kingdom tends to conjure up memories of the match-winning performances and magisterial goals that characterised his performances in Bordeaux’s 2008-09 title-winning campaign, but Ligue 1 observers will attest that that player has not been seen for the best part of two years. An exhausted bystander as Bordeaux’s title defence crumbled in the second half of the 2009-10 season, Gourcuff endured a wretched World Cup and has failed to settle since joining Lyon in a €22 million deal in August 2010. Lyon are looking to recoup as much of his original transfer fee as possible but, despite rumours of a €12 million offer from Zenit Saint-Petersburg, a loan switch looks more probable. Arsène Wenger is a known admirer but, as he admitted recently, even with Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby injured, Arsenal are well stocked in the centre of the pitch.

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French football quotes of the year 2011

L’Entente Cordiale

“They say it’s because I’m a sexy boy. The English are crazy!”
Yohan Cabaye, on the ‘Dreamboat’ nickname bestowed upon him by Newcastle’s fans

“Behind the ‘big guns’ like Chelsea or Manchester [United], there’s also Sunderland or Wolverhampton. French players who are used to getting on the ball end up watching it fly over their heads for 90 minutes.”
– Marseille sporting director José Anigo has some words of advice for any budding Ligue 1 talents dreaming of plying their trade in the Premier League

“If you want us to just stick it in the box like I’ve seen Stoke City do, you’ll have to change the coach. I forbid it.”
– Rennes coach Frédéric Antonetti shares his thoughts on the football doctrine advocated by Tony Pulis

“Without wanting to be unkind, it’s difficult when there are only four of you defending. Sometimes you feel like you’re on your own. When you watch Barça, everyone defends – even Messi!”
Laurent Koscielny feels a bit exposed in the Arsenal back four

“Sometimes I tell jokes and Joe Cole and I look at each other and we’re the only ones laughing.”
Vincent Enyeama on the language barrier in the Lille changing room

“Bon match pour… my team – mon équipe – et… I’m very happy!”
– Ambushed by Canal+’s touchline reporter Laurent Paganelli, Joe Cole has a stab at his first interview in the language of his new homeland after Lille’s 3-1 win over Lyon

Banter

“Once again I’m attacked by Jean-Michel Larqué. I hope with all my heart I don’t end up like him after my career, but there’s no chance of that because I’m not an idiot.”
– Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Jérémie Janot has a pop at 63-year-old television pundit Jean-Michel Larqué, who had criticised him for letting in two late goals at Lens

“Your mum.”
Aly Cissokho’s considered response to a supporter who told him to “go and join Arles-Avignon” during a Lyon training session in April

“Although the score was already 3-0, he’d been taking the piss out of us with the ball for a few minutes, dribbling past his opponent and then waiting so he could dribble past him again. It’s a lack of respect. Even his Lille team-mates said he was going too far.”
– Nancy captain André Luiz takes a dim view of Eden Hazard’s showboating

“Marseille come up to Paris to fuck PSG!”
– Microphone in hand, match-winner Taye Taiwo gets a bit carried away during the Coupe de la Ligue post-match celebrations by leading the OM fans in a chorus of one of their favourite chants

“It was a good response to people who don’t know football. It’ll make them shut their big mouths.”
Modibo Maiga relishes his brace in a 3-0 defeat of Toulouse after stumbling into the viewfinder of the Sochaux boo boys

“At that moment, I told myself that they’d gone mad and didn’t realise. Today I know that I was wrong: they knew exactly what they were doing. They even closed the curtains on the bus to hide themselves from the cameras… With hindsight, I see them above all as a bunch of thoughtless brats.”
Raymond Domenech is still struggling to let go of the 2010 World Cup

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Nasri the scapegoat as French media probe France’s fissures

George Orwell once wrote: “The English are not happy unless they are miserable.” They are not the only ones. France may be within four points of a place at Euro 2012, having also beaten both England and Brazil in friendlies over the last 12 months, but the French sports media are not satisfied.

Critical of the team’s play and piqued by the supposed egotism of certain players, some members of the French press pack have even dared to make ominous comparisons with the atmosphere in the months that led up to last year’s fateful World Cup campaign. To the neutral observer France appear to have come on in leaps and bounds since the end of the Raymond Domenech era, but fissures remain.

The focal point of much of the criticism over the international break has been Samir Nasri, who stands accused of wilfully slowing France’s play by dwelling on the ball and intruding into areas of the pitch that should be the exclusive domain of his defensive midfield colleagues.

Told by Laurent Blanc that he could “do more” for the national team, Nasri responded that he would prefer to be told about the coach’s concerns “face to face”. Largely anonymous in the 2-1 win in Albania last Friday, he was among five players dropped to the bench for Tuesday’s instantly forgettable 0-0 draw with Romania.

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The 2010-2011 Season: Five tactical observations

Despite being prefaced by a World Cup that was characterised by stodgy, unadventurous football and which produced the lowest goals-per-game ratio (2.27) since the notoriously defensive 1990 tournament (2.21), the 2010-11 European football season was generally a positive one for teams that sought to keep the ball on the deck and play an expansive game. Football Further examines some of the tactical trends that have emerged in the continent’s major leagues over the last 10 months.

1. Keepers with good feet
The recent retirement of Manchester United’s Edwin van der Sar has drawn attention to the value of goalkeepers who can set attacking moves in motion by distributing the ball in an intelligent and enterprising fashion. In a masterful piece for the Financial Times last week, David Winner explained how van der Sar’s coach at Ajax, Louis van Gaal, made a priority of developing his ability with the ball: “Van Gaal… had something more sophisticated in mind: to turn van der Sar into the first ‘sweeper-keeper’, the pivot of his new, high-speed ‘circulation football’ (which became, among other things, the precursor to the current Barcelona style).”

With teams better organised defensively than ever before and attacking players more and more adept at pressing opposition defenders, a goalkeeper who passes the ball well can be a priceless commodity. Victor Valdés provided a superb recent example in the second leg of Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid. With the score 0-0 early in the second half, Valdés used a goal-kick to play a one-two with Gerard Piqué – positioned near the right-hand corner flag – that lured Real’s attacking players up the pitch. Upon receiving the return ball from Piqué, Valdés curled a risky but perfectly executed first-time pass to Dani Alves on the right flank, taking five opposition players out of the game and setting up a counter-attack. Seconds later the ball was in the net, and Barca were on the brink of the final.

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La semaine en France: Week 37

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
You wait 56 years for a major trophy, and then two come along at once. Eight days after ending a 56-year wait to win the Coupe de France by beating Paris Saint-Germain at Stade de France, Lille ended a 57-year wait for the Ligue 1 championship following a 2-2 draw against the same opponents down the road at Parc des Princes.

Few would argue that Rudi Garcia’s side are not worthy champions, and the title-clinching performance showcased plenty of the grit that saw them to crucial victories during the title run-in. Twice Lille went ahead, twice PSG replied, with Mathieu Bodmer’s belting 73rd-minute strike for the hosts cancelling out a close-range Moussa Sow effort that had put Lille 2-1 up moments after Guillaume Hoarau was shown a second yellow card for diving. Sow’s goal was his 22nd off the campaign, nudging him in front of Kévin Gameiro in the race for the Trophée du Meilleur Buteur.

Marseille’s 2-2 draw at home to Valenciennes meant that Lille could have afforded to lose, but OM are at least now assured of automatic Champions League qualification. The battle for the third qualifying slot will go down to the final day, meanwhile, but PSG must win at Saint-Etienne and hope Lyon slip up at Monaco to stand any chance of overhauling them. Sochaux secured their place in the Europa League after a Brown Ideye brace procured a 2-1 win over Saint-Etienne and all the teams within touching distance lost.

The relegation scrap could not be any tauter, with just three points separating 10th-placed Toulouse and third-bottom Monaco. A second-half Benjamin Moukandjo goal was enough for Monaco to win at Montpellier, but Laurent Banide’s side will still start the final day in the drop zone, a point behind Nancy, Caen and Valenciennes but with a better goal difference than four of the five sides immediately above them.

Ligue 1 results
Saturday: Auxerre 0-1 Brest, Lens 0-1 Arles-Avignon, Lyon 0-0 Caen, Marseille 2-2 Valenciennes, Montpellier 0-1 Monaco, Nice 2-0 Lorient, PSG 2-2 Lille, Rennes 0-2 Nancy, Sochaux 2-1 Saint-Etienne, Toulouse 2-0 Bordeaux

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La semaine en France: Weeks 34 and 35

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
Marseille are bloodied but they are not beaten yet. Lille’s 2-1 victory at Saint-Etienne on Tuesday saw OM fall seven points off the pace in the title race, but the champions defeated Brest 3-0 the following day and will be just a point behind Lille the next time the league leaders take to the field if they win at Lorient on Sunday.

An Eden Hazard free-kick saw Lille win 1-0 at Nancy last Saturday, while they were indebted to a superb performance by goalkeeper Mickaël Landreau – featuring a stunning, one-handed penalty save to deny Bakary Sako – at Saint-Etienne. Lille’s dominance increased as the minutes ticked by against Les Verts, however, and they eventually prevailed through a deflected strike from captain Rio Mavuba.

Marseille’s challenge appeared over after they sank to a 3-2 defeat in a thrilling game at Lyon last Sunday, in which Cris slammed home an 84th-minute winner after OM had fought back to level from 2-0 down, but the customary effervescence of André and Jordan Ayew inspired them to a comfortable win over Brest that keeps them in Lille’s slipstream.

As so often this season, Lyon lurched from the sublime to the ridiculous by getting stuffed 4-0 at Auxerre on Wednesday. Dennis Oliech had already put the hosts ahead when Dejan Lovren saw red following a clumsy foul on the Kenyan, and things went downhill – rapidly – from there. Luckily for OL, Paris Saint-Germain appear just as reluctant to stake a claim for third place after successive draws against Monaco and Nancy.

Sochaux brought an end to Jean Tigana’s reign as Bordeaux coach by thrashing Les Girondins 4-0 and their subsequent 3-0 defeat of Monaco took them four points clear of Lorient in the scrap for sixth place. Nancy remain in the bottom three, a point behind Monaco but only four points shy of 13th-placed Valenciennes.

Ligue 1 results
Saturday: Arles-Avignon 0-1 Saint-Etienne, Auxerre 1-0 Montpellier, Bordeaux 0-4 Sochaux, Brest 0-0 Nice, Caen 1-1 Lens, Lorient 0-0 Toulouse, Monaco 1-1 PSG, Nancy 0-1 Lille; Sunday: Valenciennes 2-0 Rennes, Lyon 3-2 Marseille; Tuesday: PSG 2-2 Nancy, Saint-Etienne 1-2 Lille; Wednesday: Auxerre 4-0 Lyon, Lens 1-0 Bordeaux, Montpellier 3-1 Lorient, Nice 3-2 Arles-Avignon, Rennes 1-1 Caen, Sochaux 3-0 Monaco, Toulouse o-0 Valenciennes, Marseille 3-0 Brest

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World Football Daily: May 11, 2011

I made my fourth appearance of the season on World Football Daily earlier today. Topics of discussion included the ramifications for Laurent Blanc – and the French Football Federation – after the dual-nationality quota row, the state of play at the top and bottom of the table in Ligue 1, and the superb recent form of Sochaux’s young player of the season candidate, Marvin Martin. To listen to the show (membership required) or find out more about World Football Daily, click here.

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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