“Right”, I announce, slamming my notebook on the canteen table and making Crouchie jump out of his skin. “What do you reckon to this?”
“What am I looking at?” He asks, flicking through the notes.
“OK, so you know we’re playing Monaco and PSG in our next 2 games? Well I didn’t fancy any of our systems to hold firm against them and I went looking for inspiration. It got me thinking about underdog stories and do you know which one I think we can take inspiration from?”
“Surprise me.” Sighs my assistant.
“I am genuinely surprised.”
“Think about it mate, it’s so fucking obvious! The MONstars, right…”
“Are MONaco, I’ve got it.” He interrupts.
“You haven’t begun to understand this, Peter.” I snap. “So the Nerdlucks quite literally hoover up all the talent and become the Monstars so that they can beat the Looney Tunes and force them to work on Danny DeVito’s Moron Mountain, right?”
“Have you been up all night again, Boss?”
“Am I fucking right, Peter?”
“Honestly mate, I’ve not seen it in about 20…”
“That’s right, I am! PSG and Monaco are the Monstars, hoovering up all the talent and becoming massive favourites in Ligue 1. We’re the Looney Tunes! The underdogs! I’m Bugs, you’re… You know, another one. Is Foghorn Leghorn one?”
“Who’s our Michael Jordan then?” He asks. I think about that one for a second.
“Nathan Andre? You could argue he’s been our best player so far and he does have 2 first names.”
Auxerre, who incidentally are the top club in France by a country mile in terms of producing Ligue 1 players, are playing Monaco away and Paris Saint-Germain at home in our next 2 matches. Project: JAM, or to give it it’s full title Come on and slam and welcome to Project: JAM, is designed specifically for use against Monaco and their terrifying narrow 4-3-1-2, which I felt would blow Projects: Meatloaf, Burnie & definitely Renaissance out of the water. It’s a system designed to make us compact and difficult to break down in the centre of the park with a sweeper, 2 centre backs, 2 defensive midfielders and a box to box midfielder. We’ll have defensive wingers to deal with overlapping full backs and a couple of strikers up top capable of grabbing goals on the break. Off the ball we’ll defend, play narrow, stand off our opponents to try to stop them dragging our defensive unit out of position and passing the ball around us, and we’ll be organised and disciplined. On the ball we’ll break quickly and play direct to the strikers.
The line up? Lenogue in net of course with Captiste as sweeper, Kakuba and Doucouré in defence, Goujon and Raf, who’s making his 100th Auxerre appearance in front of them, Zoun, Sissako and Bassani across midfield with Andre and Aidir up front.
Monaco fire a warning shot across our bow 3 minutes in when they counter attack from our corner, Vinícius Júnior runs rings around Doucouré but hits the ball over the bar. 10 minutes later we’re not so lucky. Jorge fires a flat cross into our box from the left wing, Doucouré’s beaten again, this time by Fabinho in the air and the full back powers a header right into the top corner. 0-1 Monaco. They get a chance to double their lead after 25 minutes when Mbappé connects with Bernardo Silva’s cross and heads it at goal, but Lenogue catches the effort fairly easily.
With half time less than a minute away, we’re defending admirably. With no way through the middle of us, Monaco are lobbing balls in from the wings, but they’re all being booted or headed straight back out. Just as I make a mental note to commend the lads on their resolute defending at the break though, the ball comes to Kylian Mbappé, he dribbles past Mike Kakuba and the referee points to the spot.
I stand for a few seconds in stunned silence before I actually realise what’s happening. A penalty. A penalty given against us in a match where we need all the help we can get and a penalty given against Mike Kakuba who didn’t do a fucking thing. Mbappé just went past him! There wasn’t even contact! There wasn’t even a fucking dive to make the referee think there was contact! I’m livid. I’m straight over to the 4th official, telling him what I think of his colleague’s decision. Crouchie quickly intervenes and leads me back to the dugout though, reminding me not to be a tit and get myself sent off. Fabinho places the ball into the top right corner from 12 yards, sending Lenogue the wrong way and making me tear up the half time team talk I had planned. I’ll be making a formal complaint about this ref. Dick.
We go on the counter at half time and will try to get forward more to get back into the match. It bloody works too with 10 minutes of the second half gone. Bassani swings a free kick in from the left hand side and Rico comes to collect it, but Goujon flicks it on leaving the keeper in no man’s land and the ball falls to Mamadou Doucouré, who absolutely rifles it into the net from close range. That’s 2 goals in as many games for the centre back now after 14 months without a single 1.
Unfortunately Monaco’s cushion is soon re-established when Lemar plays a simple one-two with Fabinho and slots the ball beyond Lenogue from inside our box. With 20 minutes to go I bring Brahim Ferhat on for Aidir and tell him to start closing down everything that moves. A few minutes later we’ve pegged them back again! Raf clumsily boots a corner towards the near post, Doucouré goes for it but Vinícius Júnior beats him to it, bundling the ball into his own net. A few minutes after that however, Júnior meets with a fine cross from Jorge and heads in Monaco’s 4th.
With 10 minutes to go I bring McCarthy on for Sissako to add a bit of creativity to the side, but the last lingering bit of hope I have is extinguished 5 minutes from time when Monaco counter from our free kick and Lacazette’s able to run clean through on goal and slot home his side’s 5th. It’s over.
I’m decently happy with our performance in the end and I actually think the final scoreline flatters Monaco somewhat. There’s not much we can do but take the positives from this one and trudge on in search of points. With the International break looming in the shadow of our home game against PSG, several of our players are called up for National Team duty, although none by France.
As I say, I think 2-5 flatters Monaco a little bit, but we still lost 2-5 so my faith in Project: JAM has been shaken. This, combined with the fact that the system isn’t designed to cope with teams that use wingers like Pep’s Paris Saint-Germain, means that I’m changing the line up again. We’ll go with Project: Meatloaf Mk II, the 4-1-2-3 that has kept us relatively solid in the past. Samba, Hikem and McCarthy come in at the expense of Kakuba, Raf and our big, heartbreakingly goal-shy Moroccan Hicham Aidir. At a time when good news is at a premium though, I’m delighted that Phil Foden, who started the season so promisingly, is back in full training and fit enough for the bench.
15 minutes in, we’re predictably under the cosh. Gelson Martins’ cross is cleared by Captiste, but when the winger tries again it’s Moise Kean who gets there and powers a header against the underside of our bar. The ball bounces awkwardly and Captiste, unable to clear his lines, knocks the ball into his own net. Oh dear. PSG hit us on the break with 10 minutes to play in the first half and it’s Gelson’s cross again that causes problems, but Kean’s poor shot is easily caught by Lenogue. In a repeat performance 5 minutes later though, Kean taps in his side’s 2nd of the day.
We go to Project: Meatloaf at the break with nothing to lose and actually put in a better showing in the 2nd half. I make a triple sub with 25 minutes to go with Foden, Ferhat and Aidir replacing Bassani, Zoun and Andre and seconds later Captiste breaks up a PSG attack and hoofs the ball up field for Brahim Ferhat. Ferhat takes the ball down on the left, cuts in and finds Fomba in acres of space on the edge of the box, but his low drive’s saved well by Donnarumma.
I’m not sure what I expected from these 2 matches. 2 defeats seems about right. We need to stop losing though. We’re currently 18th in the table, 4 points ahead of Lens and Dijon below us and only 1 point below 14th placed Lyon, so a single win would catapult us significantly up the table. We can’t get left behind by the teams above us. We need to win soon. We need to win now. Well, after the International break.