“This is more like it, Antoine!” I cry towards the TV, as Antoine Griezmann skilfully flicks the ball on for one of his Atléti team mates. His form’s picked up considerably in the last couple of weeks and the media are calling for his return to the France squad ahead of yet another international break in a couple of weeks. I’ve got to say I agree.
Before we can think about France duty though, we’ve got a Coupe de la Ligue 3rd round match against Bourg-en-Bresse to deal with. I’m a bit torn about my selection for this one to be honest. On one hand, our performances in the last couple of games have been pretty shocking so I’d like to make changes. On another hand, I want another cup run so I want to play the strongest team possible. But on a third, superfluous hand, it’s our so-called “strongest team” that’s been sub-par, so we probably do have to make changes.
Hikem and Goujon are suspended, which at this point is a sentence that carries all the shock value of one of those “The Northern rail service from X to Y will be delayed by approximately just long enough that it ruins your day but also makes you ineligible for reimbursement on your ticket” announcements. But all in all I’m making 8 changes from our last match, including handing a debut to goalkeeper Vladimir, after Lenogue almost cost us 2 points at the weekend with an absolute howler. Mike Kakuba and Isaac Sohna make their first appearances of the season between Samba and Billy in defence, Sissako partners Basauri in midfield and Foden, Zoun and Aidir come into the front line, with Andre moving back into the number 10 position.
I’m starting to notice that you can tell whether Auxerre are really up for the match by how threatening we look in the first 20 minutes and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I mean, today it’s fantastic. We’re clearly up for this one as within 2 minutes, Foden’s corner is cushioned down by Sohna for Basauri, who volleys the ball against Viennet’s face. It bounces back and is promptly Di Canio’d into the the top corner by Zoun’s left foot. 1-0.
Viennet’s looking to avenge the big football sized red mark on his face when he dribbles from his own half to the edge of our box a couple of minutes later, but he shoots comfortably wide.
Auxerre are 2-0 up before we’ve even played 7 minutes – Hadzic tries a long ball from his own half but only succeeds in smacking it against teammate Dramé, after which the ball bounces back towards the Bourg box. Hicham Aidir’s fastest to react and dribbles it through on goal, before drilling it low into the corner.
Although I am slightly wary after our near-collapse against Guingamp, when Foden pulls it back from the right byline and Andre lashes in our 3rd just after the 10 minute mark, the game’s surely over.
For that reason, when we reach half time with our lead intact, I make a triple substitution: Issa Samba, Abdoulaye Sissako and Nathan Andre, the only 3 that started our last match, are rested and replaced by Celsiney, who makes his debut for the season, Fabien McCarthy and Mathis Roux.
Bourg come back into the game a bit after the break, with Lallemand hitting the post with a driven cross on the hour, then sending Saïd clean through with a clever round-the-corner pass 10 minutes later. Saïd slots the ball under Lenogue for 3-1.
We retreat slightly to a more standard mentality and try to retain possession to see the game out, but we almost add a 4th a minute later when Zoun releases Aidir in behind the defence with a good pass, but the big Moroccan hits the post.
A couple of minutes later, Bourg are well and truly done. Billy wins the ball cleanly from the pretty impressive Lallemand, but the frustrated winger throws a needless elbow into our left back’s face and earns a straight red card. Silly lad.
Both teams go reasonably close in the closing minutes, with Celsiney too hitting the post with a cross before Attah drives a shot just wide of Vlad’s net, but the match ends 3-1 and our progression to the 4th round is secured.
Bourg manager and long time personal rival Laurent Roussey wisely plays down suggestions of Auxerre’s overly physical playstyle after the match. I’m asked the same ridiculous questions and cite Lallemand’s wandering elbow in my response.
Moving on, Auxerre still lead the way in terms of developing Ligue 1 talent by an absolute mile: We’ve produced 26 players currently playing in the league, 8 more than our closest competitors Monaco.
Next is a visit from AC Ajaccio, who are sat pretty safely in midtable after a decent start to the season. We’ve just dispatched one of the teams we were promoted with though, so let’s go for the double.
Isaac Sohna really impressed me against Bourg, so he keeps his place as Captiste comes back in alongside him. Lenogue’s also back in for Vlad as I just can’t stay mad at him for very long, while Hikem replaces Billy. Otherwise it’s the same team. Our front 4 were particularly impressive in the last match too and I’m delighted to say that Zoun was the best of the lot. Keep it going, mate.
Contrary to my revelation in the last match, we don’t threaten for the first 10 minutes but then take the lead in the 21st minute through a Phil Foden right-of-centre, curling, 25 yard free kick to the top corner. He does pick up a bit of a dead leg before half time though, but he seems alright so he plays on.
Just into the second half, Ohana floats a cross into our box from the right byline and Jovane leaps to head the ball goalwards, but Lenogue rescues us with a great diving save to bat the ball behind. Kavcic’s resultant corner is pretty good, but Padoan wastes it by heading over.
With 20 minutes to play and the score still tight, we win a corner on the right and Foden whips it in towards the 6 yard box. Zoun, playing like a man possessed at the minute, makes sure he gets there first and heads at goal. Mandanda’s beaten but Conforto’s on the far post to head the ball off the line.
Once again, we retreat slightly and try to kill the game off with slow possession football. McCarthy also comes on replacing Aidir and moves into the hole so that Andre can go up front. The added quality on the ball that McCarthy gives us should help us to keep possession.
The change very nearly pays off with 5 minutes left when McCarthy carries the ball into the final third and slips Andre in behind Ajaccio’s defence, but the Frenchman drags his shot just wide. Bassani makes a late cameo in a defensive 4-1-4-1 and we see the game out to claim 3 more excellent points.
Phil Foden’s dead leg will only keep him out of action for a couple of days, which is good news as he’s been in great form since his return to the team.
Our latest unhappy camper is Florian Ayé though, who justifiably feels like he isn’t playing enough football. I feel sorry for the lad, I really do, but he’s not getting in this team. I think I made my feelings more than clear at the back end of last season when I chose to crowbar Phil Foden in or take a chance on teenage Brahim Ferhat as the lone striker instead of him. I tell Florian I’m happy to sell him in January so that he can go and get more playing time, but he changes his mind and wants to stay. Fair enough.
As the latest international squads are announced, one name in particular catches my eye: Chancel Kasongo is joining up with the DR Congo squad. I let out a weary sigh. About 6 months ago, if I’d had been able to name a 24 man squad, he would’ve been a French international. But a calamitous start to the season with Lokeren combined with the attitude he showed me in the Summer tells me that this is probably for the best. I mean yes, Kasongo for Congo has a better ring to it, but you could’ve been so much more, Chancel. So disappointed.
Our last match before the break will be played in Matmut Atlantique, the same stadium where we play most of our games for France. A trip to Bordeaux is by no means an easy one as they’ve started pretty well and are sitting in 8th place. 7 points behind us, by the way, but who’s counting? We go unchanged, because why on Earth would we not?
So close in the first minute! Nathan Andre gets the ball out of his feet on the half way line and lobs a great ball over the top for Zoun, who nips into the box alone but shoots into the side netting.
6 minutes later though, we find the bloody lead again! Nathan Andre jinks past Fuchs and feeds Aidir in the centre, who takes a touch, turns and fires a powerful shot past Dimitrievski at his near post. The keeper should probably do better, but I’m not complaining.
Just as we’re starting to look unstoppable though, Bordeaux’s 6’4″ anti-winger Nabil Abdellaoui, on loan from Monaco, blasts his way past Faouzi Hikem, whips a cross to the near post and Amath heads in the equaliser.
Bordeaux have a couple of chances in the first half to make it 2-0 as well: First Verde surges down the left wing and crosses for Abdellaoui, who heads it inches wide, then Verde sprints down the wing again and goes straight for goal, forcing an acrobatic save from Lenogue to tip the ball over. We go on the counter as we’re not coping well with Bordeaux’s quick attacks down the wings.
The end of the first half and the start of the second are promising enough, with Bordeaux nullified slightly and the teams looking more even. On the hour though, Ben Osborn swings a corner in and Sissako jumps unfairly with Gabriel, forcing the referee to point to the spot.
I’m not actually nervous in the slightest when Verde steps up to take the penalty. I’ve got full confidence in Lenogue at this point, but Verde absolutely smashes the ball into the top left corner. Not even LeGod can save us this time. To be fair to him though, he was definitely due. I don’t think he’s let in a penalty since the CDLL semi-final.
We freshen things up after falling behind by bringing on Ferhat and Bassani for Foden and Zoun, then Roux for Basauri with 15 minutes to play. We go back on the attack with 10 minutes to play and put together some decent moves, but in the final moments of the game one such attack breaks down and Bordeaux counter through a long ball from Rajkovic. Amath latches on down the left wing and turns inside into the box. He hurdles the challenge from Captiste and then hurdles another from Sissako! The lad’s footwork is absolutely mesmerising and I’m actually quite enjoying watching him humiliate my defence. Issa Samba isn’t though, so he fucking clatters him, conceding another penalty and earning himself a yellow.
Verde smashes the ball into the bottom left from 12 yards, just beyond Lenogue’s fingertips and puts the game to bed at 1-3. The better team’s won today.
It’s time to get back on a plane for more Euro 2024 qualifying matches with France, but I’m honestly quite reluctant to leave Auxerre. We’re looking good, we’re getting results and we’ve won half of our opening 14 matches, leaving us as the best of the rest in 3rd.
I’m reminded of my thought process during Leicester City’s 2015/16 season: “They’ll drop off soon… Yep, definitely not long now until they drop off… This form definitely can’t last until the end of the season…”
Look how that turned out.