“Monsieur Franjo!” A journalist’s hand shoots into the air. “You’re unbeaten in 5 games and comparisons have been made between your good start to this season and your surprise title win with SC Angrense in 2018. Do you think that you can keep up this kind of form and replicate that achievement with AJ Auxerre?”
“Look, with all due respect, we’re 9 matches into a 38 match season,” I smirk. “We’ve had a good start to the season and obviously we want to finish as high up the table as we can, but for the moment… I’ve still only been here for a few months and there are still things that we’re working out as a club. A title push isn’t on my radar at the minute.”
I am happy with that record though. In our last 5 matches we’ve won 4, scored 9 and conceded 2. We’re in brilliant form and I want us to carry that on today when we travel to US Orléans. Orléans have had a distinctly average start to the season and they play with a 4-4-2, so I’m torn on whether I want to stick with Project: Meatloaf Mk II, which has seen us play so impressively recently, or swap to Project: Burnie Mk III, which I designed specifically for use against formations like theirs. In the end I go with Project: Burnie Mk III. I think we’ll be more comfortable with a back 3 against their front 2. Adama Ba and Phil Foden come out, although I haven’t forgotten about my pledge to give Phil a run of games, and Mike Kakuba and Nathan Andre come in. Kakuba will mark their 6’5″ target man Nathaël Julan and Mamadou Doucouré will take the more industrious Yoane Wissa, who’s in good form having scored 6 goals already this season. Wing backs Issa Samba and Faouzi Hikem will man mark their wingers too.
Our first chance comes after 23 minutes when Fomba passes inside to Joël and the Ivorian playmaker turns and shoots, but Desprez dives to his left and catches the ball pretty comfortably. Desprez boots the ball upfield quickly and Julan rises to beat Kakuba in the air and nod the ball down the unguarded left wing. Barreto leaves Samba for dead and runs to the edge of the area, drawing Loïc Goujon across to meet him before chipping the ball across to the unmarked Wissa, who volleys Orléans ahead. Our defending in the last 10 seconds has been utterly, utterly diabolical. Nobody apart from Kakuba was doing what I asked them to and even he failed in his job.
5 minutes later we win a free kick on the edge of Orléans’ box, courtesy of our former right back Khamis Digol. Aidir and Joël stand over the ball but it’s Aidir who takes it, smashing the ball over the wall and past the flailing keeper to equalise. Our celebrations don’t last long though. Just as the clock ticks past the half hour Livolant gets free of Hikem on the right and drills a cross in that goes all the way through to Julan at the far post, who bundles the hosts back ahead. We go on the counter after that as Orléans are really punishing us on the counter themselves, but the rest of the half is quiet.
In fact pretty much the rest of the game is quiet. Sissako and Foden come on for Goujon and Joël with 25 minutes to go and 10 minutes after that we go on the attack. The only good chance created is with 5 minutes to play, when Julan looks up in his own half and plays a superb ball into the channel for Wissa to chase. Doucouré manages to force the Congolese striker wide enough that his shot flies into the stands, but apart from a short Zoun cameo and a knock picked up by Sissako, that’s all she wrote.
I’ll hold my hands up partially for that one. Yes, if I hadn’t changed a winning system we might have got something out of the game, but equally if we had played the system properly we might have come away with something too. I cannot get over our defending for the first goal. It’ll haunt my dreams tonight.
The late injury suffered by Abdoulaye Sissako is a twisted knee that’ll keep him out for 9-12 days. He’s not really impressed me so far. He picks up that many yellow cards when he does get on the pitch that he seems to be constantly suspended or injured, which isn’t a good quality.
Zoun, who apparently has fucking awful timing, chooses now as the time to tell me that he wants to join Nice in Ligue 1. Not when we were on an unbeaten run, but straight after we lose. I humour him and we chat about a potential move. He thinks his value is £2.6M and I heartily disagree, valuing him at about £5M. He isn’t happy.
Godspower Tower also thinks that this is a prime time to come and see me, making me check my trusty grey coat to see if someone’s stuck a “Bother me while I’m pissed off” sign to my back. Tower wants first team football, which is reasonable as he’s only played in our cup loss so far this season. Luckily for me, Captiste steps in and uses his Super Captaincy Powers to calm the big centre back down.
And just to pour some salt in the wound, Adama Ba’s named in the Domino’s Ligue 2 Team of the Week. On the face of it this might seem like good news, but he’s won the accolade after his performance against Ajaccio in midweek and I dropped him for the very next match because I changed to a system that doesn’t use wingers, so for me this is just rubbing in my poor decision making.
Ba’s also won the Goal of the Month award for his lovely effort from 20 yards against Nîmes Olympique. It was a brilliant strike to be fair.
And while we’re on the monthly awards, Hicham Aidir was the runner up in the Player of the Month award behind Wesley Saïd. Our striker’s had a terrific month, bagging 4 goals in 5 games and taking his overall tally to 8 goals in his first 10 matches for Auxerre, which is just phenomenal.
After our next match against FC Metz some of our players will be heading off on International Duty. On loan full backs Billy and Ed Bolton are off to represent Morocco U20’s and USA U20’s respectively and Zoun, Raf, Ba, Lenogue, Aidir and Doucouré are joining up with their full national sides.
But let’s make sure we have something to smile about during that 2 week break by beating FC Metz at Stade Abbé-Deschamps. Like our last opponents, Metz have made a distinctly average start to the season and currently sit in 11th place on 13 points. We should have these, surely.
I’m swallowing my pride and returning to Project: Meatloaf Mk II in the hope that we can recapture that good form. I want us to prove a point today though so we’ll be attacking and play with more fluidity from the off. Foden and Ba are back in for Kakuba and Andre to take their places cutting inside from the wings. Aguilar’s back to full fitness but to be fair Issa Samba has played very well in his absence, even against US Orléans (Aside from their opening goal, but I blame the entire defence equally for that), so I won’t be dropping him today.
Metz set up to swamp the midfield with a flat 4-5-1 and it catches us by surprise. After 3 minutes Aidir runs into a brick wall when trying to run through them and they counter through lone striker Santini. He dribbles forwards and then plays the ball through for Millet, who runs through on goal. The midfielder tries to stroke the ball into the far top corner but he gets it ever so slightly wrong and the ball comes back off the underside of the bar and is cleared.
After that we start to settle into the game though and before a quarter of an hour’s passed, we get a throw in on the right, level with the Metz penalty area. Samba throws it to Fomba, who gives it straight back. Samba looks up and passes inside to Phil Foden, who drills a cross into the centre. I think everyone, including Faouzi Hikem, is surprised when the ball falls to Faouzi Hikem’s feet 8 yards out, but when it does he makes no mistake, blasting it into the bottom corner to put us ahead.
7 or 8 minutes later, Aidir dribbles forwards through FC Metz’s half, but Paul Millet, clearly still upset about his earlier miss, hacks him down maliciously and earns himself a straight red card. Metz go to a narrow 4-1-3-1 and bring on defensive midfielder Soudani for left winger Bazile, and the substitute tries to rally his team a couple of minutes later with a shot from 20 yards, but on reflection it wasn’t a good idea. The ball goes ballooning into the Stade Abbé-Deschamps crowd.
With 10 minutes to go before half time, Joël picks out Samba on the right in acres of space. Samba arcs a beautiful cross in to the far post and Ba arrives to meet it, but his headed effort hits the inside of the near post and rolls across the line, only to be cleared. A minute later we win a corner on the left and Foden goes across to take it. He curls a flat cross right onto the head of Lamine Fomba, who powers it past Dejanovic to open his account for the season. At least, that’s what I think happens at first glance. What actually happens is that Lamine Fomba heads it goalwards and Hicham Aidir, stood right in front of the keeper and played onside by the defender marking the post, glances it into the net with the subtlest of touches. It’s a poacher’s goal but I won’t begrudge him it. A top striker wants to get on the scoresheet whenever he possibly can and Hicham certainly fits that description. As we go into injury time he tries again after Phil Foden lays him off, shooting from the edge of the area and forcing a good save from Dejanovic, but at half time the score is 2-0.
Adama Ba comes into the changing room complaining about his calf. He must have tweaked it in the dying seconds of the half, so I bring him off as a precaution and bring Nathan Andre on in his place. Andre’s not much of a winger so we change to a narrow 4-2-3-1 with Andre, Joël and Foden behind Aidir.
Just before the hour mark we get our third when Faouzi Hikem gets clear down the left wing and pulls the ball back for Phil Foden, who arrives on the edge of the 6 yard box and slides the ball home. I punch the air when that one goes in. With every goal or assist Phil racks up, his confidence will get slightly higher and hopefully he’ll be able to put together some consistent good performances.
Muratovic has a weak attempt at our goal 20 minutes from time but FC Metz already look defeated. The sending off really destroyed them I think, although I would’ve still backed us to beat them with 11 men. I give Raf a cameo a few minutes later, but nothing else of note happens before the final whistle.
Today was a sneak peek of Phil Foden on top form and it was brilliant to watch. A goal and 2 assists sees him receive the Man of the Match award, just edging out Faouzi Hikem, who I’ve also had doubts about and who also had a fantastic match. If I can get these 2 playing like this consistently then we’ve got a couple of very good players on our hands.