“PSG are just another team.” My words reverberate around the changing room walls. “Yes, they have fatter wallets and yes, they have more trophies…”
“…More potent strikers…” Ponders Bechkoura aloud.
“…A far more skilful midfield…” Offers Foden.
“Yes thanks, lads.” I say loudly, trying to wrestle back control. “I was actually trying to make a…”
“…Fantastic defenders…” Breathes Issa Samba, staring wistfully into space and derailing me once again. Slowly, everyone turns to look at Xavier Lenogue.
“What?” He furrows his brow at the sudden attention.
“Look.” I say even louder. “Yes. Fine. They have all of those things, but they’re still flawed human beings playing the same bloody game we are. Flawed humans that put their shinnies on one at a time, snag their shirts on door handles and go to the loo just like anyone else. This is our chance to snatch a result, lads. We’re in form and we’re playing wonderful football. We can bloody do this!” A long silent pause follows.
“I heard that the shit emoji was based on an actual shit that Ruben Neves took once.” Mutters McCarthy.
“That’s the spirit…” I sigh. “Good luck, lads.”
Project: “Sword” is back for today’s visit of Pep’s Paris Saint-Germain. I meant every word I just said to the lads in that I truly believe we can pull off an upset today. PSG are one of only 3 teams that have started the season better than AJ Auxerre. In terms of our line up, I’m gutted to report that Abdoulaye Sissako misses out for picking up a suspension after his last yellow card, but I’m putting my faith in Gaizka Basauri and Loïc Goujon, who replaces Brahim Ferhat. Once again, Foden starts up front alongside Hicham Aidir in our revised “2 up front” variation on the system.
I’m cautiously optimistic after a quiet opening 20 minutes, in which the only chance comes from an aimless Samba clearance that’s picked up by Amadou Diawara, brought to the edge of the box and shot straight at Lenogue. Unfortunately my optimism goes up in smoke in the 21st minute, when Veiga’s free kick is headed clear by Captiste as far as Ricardo Ibarra, who collects it on the right wing. The centre back drives a cross to the edge of the box, where left winger Orlando’s on hand to volley the ball into the top right corner.
With 10 minutes to go until the break, it should be 0-2. Fomba receives the ball about 35 yards from our goal but Veiga’s ultra aggressive pressing forces Lamine to turn back. And keep going. With Veiga still snapping at the midfielder’s heels on the edge of our own box, he lays the ball back to Goujon near the right byline and Veiga snaps into action, now pressing and quickly winning the ball from our holding man. I watch on mouth agape as the playmaker slides the ball across the box for Alvaro Morata, who hits it first time – Wide of the near post from 6 yards. He should definitely have hit the back of the net.
We regroup at the break though and continue to limit the Parisians in the second half with the score close at 0-1. With 20 minutes to go, I make my move. Mathis Roux and Nathan Andre come on as like for like replacements for Foden and Aidir. They work like a charm too when with 15 minutes to play, Lato swings a cross in for Veiga, who helps it on to Coutinho, who’s only just on the pitch himself. With his first touch, he drives the ball high above Lenogue’s finger tips. Oh, did I say my substitutes worked like a charm? I meant I hate everything. The match ends 0-2.
I’m disappointed, but we press on. We’ve still got 2 chances to win against one of the big clubs. Isaac Sohna’s the unhappy customer of the week and I do get where he’s coming from, wanting first team football. So far I’ve stuck religiously to 3 of my back 4 and for the most part they’ve served us very well. Like with Andre a couple of weeks ago, I tell Isaac that he’ll get his chance this season and he seems OK.
I believe my next match will be a first for me: I’ve reached 100 matches at a club for the first time in my career. Poor Auxerre. It seems fitting that on such a milestone, we’re taking on a club that I still consider our main rival: Bourg-en-Bresse.
A trip to Bourg has the potential to get us back on track after our loss against the Ligue 1 runners up, but I’m still not getting over-confident. Bourg sit in 16th, having lost half of their 8 matches but if our last few meetings are anything to go by, they’ll put up a decent scrap.
I’m bringing Project: Meatloaf back in to try and take the fight to our hosts, with Brahim Ferhat coming in to replace Basauri and retaking his place on the left wing. We’re without Mike Kakuba, who bruises a rib the day before and Vlad, who’s got the sniffles, but neither are in my plans for this one anyway. It’s worth noting that we’ll have a bit of a battle of the Ferhats on one side today, with Brahim coming up against fellow Algerian fullback-turned-winger Zinedine. Let’s hope our lad comes up trumps.
The first action of the game sees Viennet drive at our defence, turning Captiste inside out before laying the ball off for Gatta on the left. One return ball later, Viennet finds himself in all kinda of space inside the box and curls a shot into the bottom corner of Lenogue’s goal. He comes forward again in the 12th minute but thankfully his shot is caught by Lenogue.
The Auxerre team almost seem offended by the goal and start to play better and better football in the following minutes. A few minutes later, Ferhat plays a cheeky pass to find McCarthy in space, which is followed by a superb long diagonal ball onto the right for Foden. Phil cuts the ball across from the byline and Hicham Aidir’s on hand to level the scores from close range.
5 minutes later though Bourg go close to retaking the lead. Zinedine Ferhat leaves Billy for dead with a fantastic burst of pace, sprints to the byline and squares the ball for Viennet, but he’s denied his 2nd goal thanks to a great reflex save by Lenogue. The rest of the half lives up to my expectations of tight, scrappy football. The second half’s much of the same, with the best chances coming from Brahim Ferhat, whose edge of the box shot is parried clear by Fabri and Viennet’s shot in injury time that misses the mark by quite some distance. Roux, Bassani and Zoun all come on but have little effect. My 100th match ends at 1-1 and I think both sides will come away from an even game happy with the point.
Ahead of another international break, a host of our players are called up once again, including Abdoulaye Sissako and Lamine Fomba, whose early season form continues to impress me. They’ll be joined in jetting off by Serge Bamba (Ivory Coast U20), Hassan Derhem (Morocco U20), Faouzi Hikem (Algeria), Hicham Aidir and Billy (Morocco), Fabian McCarthy (South Africa), Xavier Lenogue (Martinique), Mike Kakuba (Uganda), Zoun (Burkina Faso), Raf (Madagascar) and Isaac Sohna (Cameroon).
Speaking of international football, PSG and Lyon have produced the most footballers (8) currently playing for the French National team, but Auxerre are in the discussion with 4. 3 of which I’ve called up myself. Sue me.
Before we prepare for the visit of Bosnia though, we’ve got a tough match against FC Lorient to think about. We beat them in our first match back in Ligue 1 but in our only encounter since, Neal Maupay turned us over and helped his side defeat us 0-2. After a good start to this season, Lorient are sat 1 point and 1 place above us in 4th. Neal’s in my squad for the upcoming France matches and not scoring against us would do wonders for his chances of playing. I’m joking of course, I’m not that petty. Or am I? Let’s find out.
We go with an almost unchanged team from the Bourg game, with the exceptions of Faouzi Hikem, who returns at left back as Billy’s suspended and Mathis Roux, who’ll start his first Ligue 1 game in place of Fabian McCarthy. McCarthy’s had a bit of a weird start to the campaign to be honest. He’s played some fantastic Hollywood passes and set up a fair few goals, but that’s where his contribution starts and ends really, so I’m open to letting Roux make a case for the number 10 spot after some good substitute performances. Curiously after my mini-meltdown after the Guingamp game, I’ve still not seen a reason to reintroduce Abdoulaye Sissako to the team due to the good form of Fomba and Goujon, who incidentally is unlucky not to have been called up to one of my French squads yet.
The first half is drab. The only chance of note is created after 20 minutes and comes from a route one long ball from Lenogue, which is nodded on by Ferhat and picked up by Aidir, who drives past João Pedro but shoots into the Delestrain’s arms.
The second half starts a bit brighter and I’m impressed by the determination that Lamine Fomba’s showing me. He loses the ball in midfield but chases full pelt after Santos to win it back, before switching the play with a great ball onto the left for Ferhat. Ferhat passes inside for Aidir, who chips a nice pass over towards Foden, cutting in from the right. Foden shoots from a narrow angle but Delestrain’s there again to parry it behind.
Unfortunately, after threatening to do precisely fuck all for over an hour, Maupay goes for the ball from a Bryan corner but is pushed over in the box by Loïc Goujon. Lorient have a penalty. At the same time, Augustin Rostand comes on for the visitors, the striker that I tried to sign for Santos over Hicham Aidir. He’s not scored a senior goal in over 18 months. Sliding doors.
It isn’t Rostand that steps up to take the penalty but Lorient captain Cafú. I don’t know why I’m worried though. He hits the ball low and firm to LeGod’s left, but of course the keeper dives and stretches out a big gloved paw to keep the ball out. He really is remarkable. We’re not clear yet though and as we’re not really creating anything of note, Foden and Aidir are withdrawn to be replaced by Alessandro Bassani and Nathan Andre with 20 minutes to go.
Within 2 minutes Andre makes an impact, making a dangerous driving run at the Lorient defence, forcing the visitors’ substitute centre back Barry to bring him down with a cynical challenge just outside the box. With no particularly established free kick taker on the field, I watch with interest as Bassani and Roux stand over the dead ball and wait for the referee to blow his whistle. The stadium falls eerily quiet as the wall is rearranged at Delestrain’s behest and the ref counts out the 10 yards. Satisfied, he blows the whistle. It’s Bassani that starts his run up… He hits it – INTO THE TOP CORNER!
The stewards struggle to hold back the home fans from spilling onto the pitch as the Italian born winger slides on his knees towards the corner flag, before almost immediately disappearing under a pile of Auxerre players. Alessandro Bassani, perhaps the most unlikely hero of the day, curled a fantastic shot into the top corner from 20 yards. Delestrain got a hand to it but could do nothing to stop its trajectory.
We immediately retreat to a defensive 4-1-4-1 and manage to see out the remaining 18 minutes to claim our 3 points. Bloody hell. We’ve lost to Monaco and we’ve lost to PSG, but otherwise we’re fucking flying. We’re picking up points left right and centre and we’re 4th going into the 2nd international break of the season. The question that now remains is… How far can we go?