I really want to beat Monaco. They ruined what could have been a quite flawless start to Auxerre’s season. If you cast your mind back, we won 5 of our first 10 matches in the 2023/24 season. We drew 3 more. The other 2 we lost against Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco. It still annoys me 5 months later. Unless we go deep in the French Cup, this will most likely be my last meeting with Monaco and I really, really want to win. I want to realise my pre-season ambition of scalping one of the big boys. We face PSG next month and I want to beat them too, but right now I just want to be able to walk away from Ettori Park with 3 points in my pocket.
The rest of Ligue 1 restarted their season yesterday so we are perhaps temporarily down to 7th in the league. We can move back up to 5th if we win this game in hand though. We’ll stick with the plan and play Project: Sword with pretty much the same starting XI that drew with Legia Warsaw, except I did overlook the fact that Loïc Goujon’s still suspended, so Fomba has to come in in his place. Neither of our new signings make the squad but Joël does get a spot on the bench on his return from Belgium. We also get a late boost with the news that Kylian Mbappé will miss the match with a dislocated jaw, although his quite brilliant compatriots Djibril Sidibé, Corentin Tolisso and Adrien Rabiot all start. They don’t scare me… I don’t think. Let’s get scalping.
We’re under the cosh straight away. With just 10 minutes on the clock, Bernardo Silva squares the ball for Rabiot 25 yards out and he has all kinds of space. He takes a couple of touches, breezes past Abi Sissako and sends a rocket of a shot into the top left corner. 0-1. We try and get forward from kick off but lose the ball almost instantly as Billy’s wayward pass is cut out. Silva sprays the ball out to Chiesa on the right, who keeps the Moroccan fullback at arms length as he dribbles down the wing, then drills a cross in so that Paco Alcácer can finish at the near post. 0-2. Oh dear. Oh no.
The closest we get to pulling one back in quite a galling first half is Phil Foden’s weak 30 yard pot shot that bobbles wide. Within 5 minutes of the resulting goal kick, Sidibé’s cross is headed away by Sohna, the ball’s taken down on the edge of the box by Silva and rolled ruthlessly into the bottom corner to effectively put the game to bed. At half time the score is deservedly 0-3. They could have a fourth within 2 minutes of the restart. That man Silva whips a corner straight to Chiesa, 30 yards from goal. The Italian dribbles past Sohna but shoots over the bar. He should do better.
We go out for the second half, tweaked slightly as I want us closing the opposition down more. The change is in vain though and just after the hour, we’re 0-4 down and we’re quite finished. Mbaye Niang chips the ball to Gil Dias 25 yards from our goal, he shoots, the ball smacks off Samba’s thigh and wrong-foots Lenogue on it’s way into the net. Own goal and game over but still 27 minutes to suffer through. Hooray.
A few minutes later Dias chips a good pass through the centre for Paco Alcácer, who strides between our centre backs and places the ball past Lenogue for 0-5. We swap to Project: Meatloaf, because why not and Ferhat and Andre both come on to try and pull something back for us, but the cushion remains at 5 and we fail to even register a shot on target. Even though it’s Monaco away, that one hurts. We’ve been battered.
Bournemouth Chairman Robert Guthrie perhaps senses an opportunity in the aftermath of our defeat, offering me Jason Tindall’s old job on the South coast. I had an opportunity to leave just before the break and I may have another one now with the Cherries. I think leaving because of a single drubbing against the club that are pretty much nailed on to win the league would be a bit knee-jerk though, so thanks but no thanks.
Someone’s on the way out though and it’s Florian Ayé. A loan will do him good as I just can’t fit him into my Ligue 1 side. I hope he enjoys his time in Serbia and scores a few goals so that maybe he can play himself into a permanent move in the Summer.
And spurred on by Aston Villa and Nantes, who’ve both offered pre-contracts to our loanee full back Rogério, I do the same. He looks like a player with a bit of potential so I’d like him to stay beyond the end of the season.
Finally, just before we move onto our league match against Toulouse, we reject another bid from Hull for young Sylvain Laurent. I don’t know if it’s Crouch that keeps suggesting these bids, but they really need to take the hint.
Olof Mellberg’s Toulouse, as I’ve mentioned before, have somehow dropped like a stone throughout the first half of the season and find themselves in 20th place, having finished in 3rd place last season. I’m still wary though. They did lose a couple of old heads in the Summer, but they’re still essentially the same team that gave us a tough time last season.
I’m making a whole 7 changes from the Monaco game: Vladimir, Celsiney, Doucouré, Rogério, Goujon, Andre and Ferhat are coming in to replace Lenogue, Samba, Captiste, Billy, Basauri, Raf and Fomba. Amine Reynier, our new number 7, also makes the bench for the first time. As wary as I am of Toulouse, they are 20th and we are at home, so we’re starting with Meatloaf. We’ll press aggressively, we’ll run at their defenders, we’ll roam to get ourselves into any gaps they leave in their compact little 4-2-2-2. In short, we’ll go at them and we’ll assert our game on them. 2024’s started pretty horrendously but we’ll put it behind us and pick up the 3 points. Come on, lads.
BANG! On 20 minutes we take the lead. Perfect. It comes from a long ball from Celsiney that springs Phil Foden free behind Caju and Martins Indi. Phil could shoot, but he’s a true pro and so squares for Hicham Aidir, who’s completely unmarked on the edge of the 6 yard box. 1-0 and we’re off the mark in the league for the first time this calendar year.
7 minutes later, Celsiney bombs down the right wing looking dangerous again. He drills a low cross in that comes back off the near post and falls to Aidir. He’s at too narrow an angle for a shot but he puts the ball across the face of the goal where Sissako’s arriving, but Ramírez makes a vital interception and clears, denying us a certain second goal.
We’re denied again 5 minutes before half time when Hicham Aidir holds the ball up just inside the Toulouse half and hits a long curling ball ahead of Brahim Ferhat. Ferhat’s first touch takes him into the box and his second is a poked shot at goal, but Gomis raises a strong hand to tip it behind. We’re unlucky to have just a single goal at the break but at least we’re winning.
Reynier makes his debut as a half time substitute replacing Nathan Andre and gets a great ovation from the home fans. It’s Toulouse who come out brighter though, with Morales stinging Vladimir’s hands with a driven shot from the edge of the box. The Brazilian parries the ball behind for a corner to maintain our lead.
With 35 minutes to go, Brahim Ferhat hits the bar with a looping cross from the byline, but Toulouse finally do what the Toulouse I know do and hit us on the break. A long ball sets Assimaïdou off on a sprint and he gets goal-side of Doucouré, but luckily his attempt to place a shot into the top corner is a smidge too high and clears the bar.
Sensing that they smell blood, I bring off Ferhat and introduce Lamine Fomba with 20 minutes to play and we go to a more cautious 4-1-2-3, with Goujon protecting the defence and Reynier out on the left. Unfortunately it isn’t cautious enough. 5 minutes later Caju whips a corner in, Ivanovic flicks it on and we fail to clear the ball, leaving Bruno Martins Indi to volley the ball in low from close range. 1-1.
I begin counting our missed chances after that. We’ve had a few that we probably could’ve bundled into the net on another day, but not today. Today, an 81st minute cross from Morales is met by Assimaïdou and squeezed past Vladimir at the near post to give Toulouse the win. Not even a cameo from Joël can save us although I’m not sure why I thought it would. It’s poor from our goalkeeper but we should’ve put this to bed in the first half. Bloody hell. Bring back 2023.