I remember when deadline day used to be fun.
Well actually I don’t. I remember the anticipation of deadline day being fun before my Managerial days, which was crushed every single window without fail by the inevitable lack of any movement or excitement whatsoever. Nowadays, and I’m sure I don’t say this far too often or anything, but my clubs don’t tend to have an awful lot of money, which means that deadline day has stayed a truly frustrating experience, without even the initial misguided sense of excitement and intrigue. There’s still a few days of the January window to go but I can already see how it’s going to go, thanks in no small part to Standard Liege and their 3 separate bids for 15 year old striker Loïc Maire, ranging from £87k to £140k. He could be a decent little player, so I’m considering setting up an auto-response email to their bids in which I’d ask them politely but firmly to piss off and leave me to mourn my recently crocked talismanic striker Hicham Aidir.
Joël Soumahoro’s sort of dropped out of the first team picture this season, having seemingly finally hit a wall in his ability to step up a level. He starts to make rumblings of unhappiness about his lack of football, but I set Captiste on him and he works his magic. I don’t know what to do with Joël at the minute though.
Having been dumped out of the Coupe de la Ligue on penalties by Toulouse last week, we can build on the subsequent win over Guingamp by starting another run in the French Cup. Today we host US Créteil-Lusitanos at home, the side that are 20th in Ligue 2. This should be a smooth passage into the next round, but of course football’s rarely that simple so I’m braced for the worst.
In an effort to tempt fate as much as possible and because of our heavy fixture pileup of late, I’m making mass changes to my starting lineup. Only Xavier Lenogue, penalty saver extraordinaire, keeps his place in the team while the other 10 drop out for a rest. Brazilian-born right back Celsiney is 1 of 3 debutants to start today and lines up with Kakuba, Goujon and Billy in defence as we revert to Project: Meatloaf. Fomba partners Joël in midfield, while the other debutants, American Patrick Granger and local lad Alex Makengo, flank Nathan Andre behind lone striker Florian Ayé. Créteil play that oh so impenetrable withdrawn midfield triangle, so we’re going to attack down the wings to try and bypass it as best we can. Also with Captiste and Aidir both out of the side, I try and give goal-shy Nathan Andre a bit of a confidence boost by handing him the captain’s armband for the day. Incidentally, another one of our youngsters is on loan at Créteil: Amine Chassaing, the attacking midfielder who I once thought had such promise, has spent the season on the books for our opposition but he’s underwhelmed again and is unavailable for selection today.
The first 10 minutes are promising: First plucky winger Makengo smacks a free kick against the visitors’ bar from the edge of the box and then Fomba finds Ayé just inside the area a couple of minutes later, but the striker’s effort is tame and easy for Descamps to catch. The first half on the whole is pretty eventless but Créteil do go close just before half time when Berthier slips a pass through for Caddy in our box. He gets a shot away but Lenogue parries it behind.
5 minutes after the break Fomba’s making a nuisance of himself, pressing and harrying the Créteil defenders. He’s rewarded by winning the ball from Bailly in a dangerous position and we work the ball across to Makengo on the left, who curls a cross in to the far post. Ayé dives to meet it, but can only direct a weak header into the keeper’s arms. The away side start to creep back into it over the next 15 minutes or so, finding joy down the flanks with our wing backs caught high up the pitch. Caddy finds himself with acres of space on the left and cuts inside to force a diving save from Lenogue, before being released through the central channel by Saut after the hour mark and having another shot deflected wide off Goujon’s outstretched studs. In response I restrict our full backs to deeper, more defensive roles and we’ll play a sensible controlling game, trying to work the ball into the opposition box. I also shift Fomba back into a holding man role to shut off the space in front of our defence and Andre moves forward slightly to partner Ayé at the tip of an asymmetrical 4-2-4.
90 minutes ends goalless and it seems about right. Both sides have had chances but neither really deserves to be leading. I still don’t make any substitutions at all as it was always the plan to give the first team a full match off. Florian Ayé and Nathan Andre have been particularly wasteful for us which does tempt me to go back on the plan, but after 25 minutes of deadlocked extra time, Fomba has a shot from 25 yards and it deflects off a defender into the path of Ayé, who toe pokes the ball into the net first time. We’ve cut it extremely fine, but we’ve got there eventually.
I’m pleased with that and I’m pleased we managed to scrape the result without the use of the more knackered players in the squad. What’s more, Celsiney, Granger and Makengo all had solid debuts. If I’m still here in the 2023/24 season, these are exactly the kind of lads I’ll be looking to blood into the first team.
With that win in the bag we march on in the cup almost immediately. The day after the transfer window ends we’ll play Olof Mellberg’s Chamois Niortais, also from Ligue 2, in the 10th round. We could really build some momentum here if we play this right.
The draw for the 11th round is made too and either we or Mellberg’s men will play the winner of the match between minnows FC Sète 34 and Paris Saint-Germain. Now, I’ve been crunching the numbers and if I was a betting man I’d probably edge towards Pep Guardiola’s team of global all-stars sneaking through that one, so we’re in the rare position of probably already being knocked out in the 11th round of the Cup before we’ve played the 10th.
We get through deadline day, still swatting away bids from Standard for Maire. Predictably we aren’t involved in any sort of transfer activity, although I do note with interest that French internationals Thomas Lemar and Adrien Rabiot make big money moves from Monaco to Man City and Barcelona to Monaco respectively. Lemar goes for a whopping £105M. To be fair, transfer fees being what they are nowadays and from what I’ve seen of him on international duty, he’s probably worth it.
We’re going back to using Project: Burnie Mk V (Wingback Edition) with our full strength side for the Chamois match after they enjoyed a rest in the last round. It’s so odd that this is my full strength side at the minute, but there you are. Lenogue’s in net, Captiste and Sohna are our centre backs with Samba, Vidal and Hikem in front of them, Raf and Sissako are in midfield while Bassani and Ferhat flank false 9 Phil Foden.
As starts go, this isn’t the best. 22 minutes in, Faouzi Hikem loses his fucking mind and goes in 2 footed on Chamois striker Rocheteau on the right wing. It’s the kind of challenge where a straight red just isn’t enough, so I’ll be docking his wages and probably giving Billy a run in the team while Faouzi sits on the bench and thinks about what he’s done. Stupid lad. I like him, but I know he’s got shit like this in his locker and he needs to get rid of it. I’d rather not use a substitute this early, so Raf will slot in as a makeshift left wingback and Vidal will move up into midfield as a deep lying playmaker. It does the trick: Within 5 minutes we’re ahead when Foden chips a free kick in from the right wing and Sissako heads towards the far post. N’Diaye’s stood on the line but he turns his back as the ball comes towards him and it bounces in off his ribs. Shameful defending, but I won’t complain. 1-0.
On the hour, Chamois try to overload us by switching to a flat 4-3-3 system. I finally relent and bring on Billy for Alessandro Bassani. He goes to left back and Raf reverts back to his midfield role on the right side of a narrow diamond as we try to clog the middle of the pitch. Foden will play at the tip behind lone striker Brahim Ferhat. We’ll play narrow and exploit the flanks on the counter attack, where our wingbacks are instructed to make the most of the space the hosts are giving us by pushing high up.
A minute later we have a hell of a scare though: Allagbé thumps a long goal kick into our half and Captiste misses his header, allowing the ball to bounce right over the top to leave Freitas one-on-one with Lenogue. He draws the Martinique international out of his net and squares for El Hajhouj, but the strike partner hits the ball against the post. We eventually come through unscathed.
I’ll take that. To say we had 10 men for nearly 70 minutes, that was comfortable enough. On we go into Round 11 of the French Cup to face Paris Saint-German. Or perhaps FC Sète 34, you never know… If they can beat PSG though I’m not sure I want to play them anyway.