AC Milan: Whatever happened to Philippe Mexes?

Taken from Eurosport

France have just been defeated for the first time in twenty four matches at the hands of the already eliminated Sweden on match day three of Euro 2012. France, having looked shaky defensively throughout the tournament so far, have indeed qualified for the knockout stages after a draw with the much maligned England side and a comfortable victory over the tournament co hosts Ukraine. 

This qualification suggests that all is well within the French camp and that they have certainly moved forward from the debacle that was their 2010 World Cup campaign in South Africa and in some degree this is true, however, there is still one glaring weakness in the side that is proving despite reputation to be a hindrance rather than a help to Laurent Blanc’s side.

It was just a number of weeks ago that I was engaged in debate with friends criticising Mexes ahead of the tournament with them believing him to be nowhere near good enough to play international football at top competition level and I, in fact, did defend the former Auxerre man citing that his serious knee injury suffered in his final year at the Stadio Olimpico as the reason for his only temporary loss of form.

However, despite defending the defender, I did take on board some of the points that were raised: Mexes’s lack of pace, his inability to out jump attackers and come out on top in the aerial battle and finally his poor reading of the game itself all seemed to be a touch over exaggerated. 

Therefore, I decided to investigate his performances in recent years. Often parts of his record have been put down to playing in an average Roma side however this is a Roma side that reached two consecutive Champions League quarter-finals, many English fans will remember Mexes clearly for his role in the 7-1 demolition Roma suffered at the hands of the Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Manchester United side in the 2007-2008 season.

Mexes that night, like all of the Rome defence, did not have a good game being unaware of his position throughout the game with Alan Smith and Wayne Rooney causing the Frenchman considerable difficulty through the middle. 

Despite all of these criticisms I was still on the side of Mexes, acknowledging his stellar performances at the heart of the Roma defence when paired with the Romanian Cristian Chivu, with the two often bringing out the best in each other however it is when that partnership was broken with Chivu moving to Roberto Mancini’s Internazionale Milan that Mexes started to show the first signs of regressing.

Joining Milan

Philippe Mexes after signalling his intent to leave Roma after his seven year spell in the Italian capital moved to the newly crowned Italian champions AC Milan with the Milanese outfit looking to find a replacement for the ageing and injury prone Alessandro Nesta whom would leave the club just a year later. 

Mexes would be unable to have a full preseason with Milan due to the fact he was still recovering from a cruciate ligament injury suffered against Juventus in April 2011 whilst still playing in the colours of Rome, this lack of pre season would see Mexes only play feature thirteen times in Serie A for the Rossoneri in the coming season. 

Mexes would get the chance to portray his defensive qualities to the wider European audience, and in particular, Laurent Blanc with the French Euro 2012 squad still yet to be decided when AC Milan were drawn to face Arsenal in the first knockout round of the European Cup. 

Mexes in the first leg in Milan on the whole had little to do with Arsenal testing Milan on very few occasions with journalists and pundits alike even characterising their performance at the San Siro as “cowardly.” 

The second leg however was to be where Mexes covered himself in very little glory, Milan defending a 4-0 lead from the first leg approached the match at the Emirates with confidence however were shocked when defensive errors and poor position allowed Arsenal to take a 3-0 lead into the half time break.

Taken from Click-Sports

The uncharacteristic physicality of Robin Van Persie’s play troubled Mexes which foreshadowed what we were to see in the group stages of Euro 2012. 

The pace of Walcott and Gervinho ensured that Mexes would have yet another torrid night in front of the English press which was especially significant with England having already been drawn in Group D along with France for the upcoming summer’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

Euro 2012

The general consensus of Mexes’s first season with the Rossoneri is that the Frenchman played with very little confidence, was sluggish on far too many occasions and consistently made errors that would cost his team points and go on to cost Milan a second consecutive Scudetto.  For example, his retrospective sending off after an off the ball punch against title rivals Juventus which resulted in a three game ban for the Frenchman. 

With this in mind journalists, both European and English, headed to Euro 2012 highlighting Mexes as the weak link with many questioning why Laurent Koscielny was not the first choice centre half after another impressive yet injury hampered season with Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side. 

Alongside Valencia’s Adil Rami, Mexes was assured of his starting spot in the French line up for the England game after his selection in all three of the pre tournament warm up matches against Iceland, Serbia and Estonia with his performances being acceptable with the French only conceding two goals across the three matches.

The call to start Andy Carroll against France was significant amongst the English populace with them fully expecting him to be able to cause Mexes problems aerially upon the evidence of his performances against Manchester United and Arsenal in recent years, however, it was to be the pace of Danny Welbeck, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Ashley Young that would test Mexes at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk. 

As part of a French back line which contained the inexperienced Rami and Debuchy, it was expected Mexes would be able to assume the role of leader amongst the defence. 

However, this was not to be the case with Mexes illustrating little to no signs of defensive awareness particularly in the organising of the French defence at dead ball situations, which was evident in under half an hour when Joleon Lescott opened the scoring for England after what can only be described as shocking marking from a French perspective.

Taken from FIFA

Mexes was in a sense let off the hook when Samir Nasri equalised to secure a point for France in their opening match of the tournament, with many in France simply taking the result as a point gained against another strong team and that performances would improve against Ukraine and Sweden. 

But that wasn’t to be, as the calls for Mexes to be dropped were becoming evidently louder within some quarters of the French media with them fearing that the lack of pace and positioning he portrayed in the England match would be dangerous to repeat against the technically brilliant Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka. 

This, however, would prove to be a rather irrelevant argument with Ukraine not putting in a good performance, creating very little which allowed Blanc’s side to gain victory at a canter. 

Let us now return to where I started, June 19th 2012 where Philippe Mexes puts in a performance that both he and everybody associated with French football would wish to forget in a hurry, Mexes showed little strength and determination in the aerial battle against Ola Toivonen of PSV Eindhoven with the Swedish striker outmuscling the Milan centre half on several occasions throughout the first half. 

Mexes’s poor defensive judgement came to a head in just the third minute of the game when he completely lost track of Toivonen in the penalty area giving the Swede a free header with which the PSV target man should really have done better. 

Mexes was expected to give the inexperienced Adil Rami considerable guidance throughout the tournament and maybe this was the reason he was the preferred central defender ahead of the younger Laurent Koscielny, but this never came to fruition with it at times the French defence appearing to resemble the “blind leading the blind” with Mexes not communicating with Rami and this leading to significant gaps in the French backline which the Swedish and the English took advantage of. 

With the French qualifying for the quarter finals where they will face Spain there would have been a huge decision for Laurent Blanc to make with Mexes not proving himself to be capable of coping with the nimble footed, unpredictable movement of the Spanish in the first three games, however the unreliability of Mexes manifested itself when the Milan centre back picked up a needless yellow card against Sweden which has caused him to be suspended for the quarter final. 

After his performances so far in the tournament and the domestic season, there are many of the football following French population wondering if this is at all a loss?

Whilst much of this article appears to illustrate the negative points of Mexes’s game I am by no means discrediting his abilities as a defender with him playing in the European Cup and the Europa League consistently over the past eight years, however, I do feel that Mexes is not as good as his reputation suggests and this has been proven this year with particular focus on his performances in Euro 2012. 

In just two short weeks I have found myself to be able to defend Mexes significantly less than when this original debate came about, although I do understand the injuries he has suffered will have knocked his pace slightly I do not believe Mexes is good enough to play top level international football at the moment never mind the coming years. 

It will be with great interest that I watch the performance of Laurent Koscielny against Spain with the potential for the Arsenal man to claim a starting spot in the France line up for the foreseeable future should he defend well against the skilful might of Torres, Silva and Iniesta. 

If he does perform to expectations, we may well see the end of Philippe Mexes’ international career.

Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow me on Twitter @chriswin4

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