Now here’s a thinker: On one hand, we have Álvaro Morata, a very good striker in his early 30’s who is the subject of a couple of interesting bids. On the other hand we have Manuel Bueno: A Spanish target man, if you can imagine such a thing. He’s played twice for his country at 23 years old, he’s 6’5″, quick enough and is very strong and very good in the air. He’s yet another driven individual and he wants more playing time than he’d previous gotten under Pep. I also happen to remember Manuel spanking my Auxerre team up and down the garden path in February, scoring a hat trick as we lost 5-0 to PSG, so I’m curious as to how good he can become.
I initially accept what eventually becomes a £15M bid from Real Madrid for Morata, but then cancel the deal when Manchester United come in with a bid rising to £22M, accepting that one instead. I think I’d be pretty comfortable letting him go as we do have plenty of options up front. We’ve got Bueno, we’ve got Kean, neither of whom I’m too sure about yet but they’ll get a chance to impress. Orlando may be able to do a job up there too and we have a good few youth players, or failing any of those options we can always bring somebody in, so Morata may be allowed to leave. I’m going to bench him for our trip to Lyon and explore another option as we debut Project: InSeine in our first Ligue 1 match.
Despite my fighting words last week, I wasn’t particularly aiming for this to be a “Franjo v Ibra” showdown as I’m more focussed on seeing how my new system works, but Zlatan wants to humiliate me today. Good luck, mate.
Anyway as I say, we’re giving our revelatory new system a try today and I’m making a few personnel changes from the Trophée des Champions match. Renan, Dobby, Triponez and Morata are all out, while Bologna, Kovacic, Lato and Kean are in. Zlatan’s sticking religiously to his 4-4-2 so there is the possibility if we’re poorly disciplined that we’ll be left 2v2 against their strikers. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen, because then Zlatan’s dream of humiliating me may be in danger of being realised.
It takes less than 2 minutes for Lyon to give us a scare. Raí drops deep to receive a pass from Marchetti, bringing Ibarra with him before slipping the ball into the space. Blanchard darts in on goal and shoots for the near post, but Donnarumma pulls off a great save, tipping the ball behind.
In the 10th minute we get caught when Ibarra rises to head the ball towards where a left full back would normally be, except Lato is tucked into midfield and isn’t there to receive it. This will take some getting used to. Instead Brekalo picks up the loose pass, bombs down the right wing, crosses from the byline and allows Raí to slot in the opening goal. Not a fantastic vindication of my system, that. We go on the counter.
Luckily, we do see an improvement going forwards shortly afterwards. Lato passes inside for Kovacic, who plays it on for Moise Kean who has his back to goal. Kean takes a touch, executes a lovely backheel pass to set Orlando clean through and the Brazilian slots the ball under Lopes to equalise. What pleases me the most is our shape as we work the ball forward, completely flooding the centre of the park in what actually resembles a 2-1-3-1-3 formation.
The first half ends with the scores level at 1-1 and I’m pretty happy with that. I tell us to play fairly narrow to really make the most of our dominance in the centre, but a lot of the second half is eventless. With 20 minutes to go something does happen, but it’s not something I’m happy about. Marquinhos goes down clutching his thigh and has to be stretchered off the pitch. Boris Triponez comes on in his place and the armband goes to our vice captain, Gianluigi Donnarumma. 5 minutes later I make another change, bringing off Cvitanovic and replacing him like-for-like with Philippe Coutinho. The change certainly sparks something as a couple of minutes later, Coman releases Coutinho on the right hand side of the box and the Brazilian tries a cross, which is blocked and bounces back to Toni Lato. The full back has a pop from 20 yards but it’s caught comfortably by Lopes.
With 8 minutes left to play, Kovacic receives the ball from Neves 30 yards out from goal and looks up to assess his options. Quick as a flash he spots Coman’s run and threads a pass through the defence into the Frenchman’s path. Coman shoots first time and Lopes does well to palm the ball away, but Orlando goes to collect it from the left byline. Turning onto his right foot, Orlando fizzes a low cross into the box and Coutinho places it into the net first time. 82 minutes in, we have the lead.
88 minutes in, we don’t. As the game winds towards it’s conclusion and my first 3 points of the season, Mateo Kovacic trips Vincent Marchetti on the edge of the box, giving away a free kick right on the edge of our box. Up steps Memphis Depay, a player who has managed to get thoroughly on my tits over the last few years for a number of reasons, to blast the ball into the top corner of Donnarumma’s net. 2-2.
And so we trundle on towards the end of 90 minutes and a disappointing Ligue 1 curtain raiser. There’s only one way this could get any worse. With 30 seconds of normal time to play, Juanpi looks up inside his own half an boots the ball towards the PSG box. Memphis rises to meet it… But his header goes straight to Ricardo Ibarra. Now we’re talking. Ibarra heads it to Kovacic, who spins and plays it on to Moise Kean just inside the Lyon half. Kean looks up and spots Kingsley Coman racing inside from the right wing, leaving a dumbfounded Jonathan Silva trotting along in his wake. Kean plays the pass and Coman takes it in stride beautifully: With his first touch he knocks the ball around centre back Yann Deschamps and runs around him the other way, then with his second he gets to the edge of the penalty area. It’s one on one. Anthony Lopes rushes off his line… COMAN!
I let out what seems like an ultrasonic yelp of delight as PSG’s league debutant lifts a sublimely audacious lob over the stranded Portuguese goalkeeper. The ball drifts for hours through the air, spinning slowly backwards before finally arcing over the line and nestling in the back of the net. We sit back and defend through 3 minutes of injury time. At full time, the score is Zlatan 2 – 3 Fra… I mean Lyon 2 – 3 PSG.
A perfect start to the league campaign, or so it would seem. What really does a big old piss on my bonfire though is the fact that after reluctantly accepting that Captain Marquinhos’ place is in the centre of defence, I’m now not going to be able to play him there for 2 months on account of his torn hamstring. And while I’m getting the bad news out of the way, I may as well mention that my winger Orlando is 1 goal away from triggering a 10 goal clause in his transfer deal, which will mean we need to pay Santos a handsome £4.6M fee. Remarkably, this would technically break my personal transfer record which currently stands at the £3M that Auxerre paid for Amine Reynier in January.
Now that I’ve had a week to begin waring my arse groove into the PSG manager’s chair though, let’s have a little look at transfers. I’ve already mentioned Morata before the match, but in the following 8 days before our next match there’s plenty of interest in the striker’s signature. New Chelsea Manager Didier Deschamps is the next in line after also apparently showing interest in Rúben Neves and Silvio Cvitanovic. If and when he makes a move for either of them, he’ll be merrily told to jog on, but his bid of up to £25.5M for Morata is welcome and after a bit of back and forth, the deal goes through. Álvaro, we barely knew ye. But I’m not that arsed.
The squad aren’t very happy about the news as they now think we’re light up top, but I tell them I’ve got my eye on a few possible replacements for the Spanish striker, although as I’ve said I’m also looking within the squad. This seems to tide them over for now.
Unfortunately though, Morata’s move seems to paint a big neon sign over the Parc Des Princes that says “Reduced to Clear”, so I then have to fend off bids like Manchester City’s £42.5M offer for Donnarumma, who I value at £100M at the very least and their £52M bid for right back Danilo Bologna, who I’m not interested in selling at all.
Dortmund also try their luck with a £33.5M bid for Toni Lato, but I reject it out of hand. The left back’s still got a big part to play in my plans.
Massive Argentinian anti-winger Rodolfo Chao fancies a move to Bayern too, but I’m reluctant to let him go as I think he can be a terrific option for us. In the end we shake on a £40M price tag should Bayern come in for his signature.
Oh and then Deschamps comes back with £53M for Neves. As I said, jog on.
Centre back Lucas, who fell out of my favour while I was in charge of France, also wants out in search of first team football. To be honest, I’d be fine with cashing in so I tell him I’ll happily let him go, but he does a U-turn and tells me he’d rather stay.
The final bit of news I’ve got for you is that former Bordeaux, Lyon and Stade Brestois manager Jocelyn Gourvennec has taken over at AJ Auxerre. Despite his recent relegation, I’m really pleased with that appointment to be honest! He’s a quality manager, experienced in Ligue 1 and he should be a very steady pair of hands to take my old club forwards. I wish him all the very best, except in September when we’re due to welcome them to Paris.
Oh and we’ve also lodged a bid that’d break my £3M transfer record almost 30 times over, but you don’t want to hear about that now. Let’s get to the match, shall we?
Lorient at home is a match that I’d have had reservations about in previous seasons, but this should be a routine win for us. I’ll let you into a secret though; Neal Maupay starts for Lorient today and after impressing me over the last couple of years, he’s on my shortlist to bolster our options up front, if indeed that’s what I want to do. I’d quite like to see him to give us a hard time, so consider today his audition. In terms of our team, Marquinhos starts his long injury layoff, so Boris Triponez comes in to replace him in defence while Donnarumma takes the armband. I’m also starting Coutinho ahead of Cvitanovic as the Brazilian has impressed me much more off the bench than his younger German teammate has so far.
Lorient set up to try and pen us into our own half, but it’s a very risky strategy. At Auxerre they may have got some joy from such an approach, but here in Paris we have ways of dealing with… Well, 18 of the clubs in Ligue 1 that have nowhere near as much money as us. In the 22nd minute, Mateo Kovacic makes a well timed interception to break up a Lorient move, then skims the ball over to Orlando on the left. Orlando spots Kean racing down the line and lifts the ball over to the Italian, who then turns inside and splits the Lorient defence with a breathtaking diagonal ball to the far post. Coman arrives to tap in his 2nd goal of the campaign and get us off to a flying start.
10 minutes later we come forward again looking to press our advantage. This time Ibarra sprays the ball out to Coman on the right hand side of the halfway line. The Frenchman takes a touch and plays a long diagonal ball over the top for Moise Kean, who brings the ball down, draws the centre backs out of position and slips the ball in front of Kovacic. The Croatian midfielder takes a touch on the edge of the box and pokes the ball under Plizzari to make it 2-0. Another great assist there from Kean, who’s impressing me.
As half time approaches we have yet another chance, this time stemming from Coutinho’s ball out onto the right for Coman, who races past Tyrone Mings and swings a cross in towards the far post. Orlando loses his marker to reach it and taps the ball back across goal for Kean, who shoots from close range but hits it straight at Plizzari, who to be fair still has to pull a pretty impressive save to deny him from point blank range. The referee’s whistle blows anyway as Orlando was judged to be offside by the linesman.
5 minutes after the break, Orlando drives down the left wing hugging the touchline. He swings a cross in towards the near post, Plizzari comes charging out to claim it but Kean rises to beat him to it, besting Saralina in the air and sending a looping a header over the pair of them. I feel like he deserves a goal today to be honest but unfortunately his effort bounces off the post and is cleared.
On the hour, a lovely PSG passing move culminates with Kovacic passing to Coman on the right hand side of the box. The winger touches a lovely pass through the defence for Kean, who gets a bit of space and this time does rifle the ball in from 8 yards to get himself on the scoresheet. I’ve got to say, coming into this match my focus was more on Neal Maupay, but his team have failed to create any decent chances for him and as a result, he’s been well and truly outshone. So far Moise Kean’s got a goal, 2 assists and has hit the post. For now at least, I reckon I’ve already got my starting striker.
I make a couple of substitutions with just under 20 minutes to play: Silvio Cvitanovic comes onto the left wing replacing Orlando. Although we’re not even 3 games in yet, Cvitanovic has been underwhelming for me and I really want to find his best position in this side. Replacing Coutinho in the centre is Miguel Veiga, one of the many attacking midfielders at my disposal and a bloody talented one too. He started most of PSG’s matches last season after a £61M summer switch from Real Madrid and won a single cap for Spain in October. He’s a top athlete and a really mentally strong footballer for a 22 year old, although technically there is really only one string to his bow; He’s a great passer of the ball, but that’s about it and that’s why he’s only just getting a look in. Even so though, he is one of the most talented players in the squad and I feel like I need to give him a proper chance at some point. In case it isn’t obvious, I still have no bloody idea who my main attacking midfielder will be at this point.
2 minutes into injury time, Boris Triponez gets the last touch of the match, rising to meet a Cvitanovic corner and heading the ball onto the roof of Lorient’s net. The whistle blows immediately after and I have to say I’m impressed. 3-0 was probably par for the course in this match, but nearly everyone has impressed me nevertheless. Orlando wasn’t too involved and the lads who came off the bench didn’t really have time to grab my attention, but defensively we were very solid, Kovacic looks extremely at home in the box-to-box role, Coman actually looks like a superb last signing by Pep having scored twice and set another goal up in his first 2 league matches and Moise Kean has for now solved the striker dilemma. Now I just need to trial-and-error my way to finding my best attacking midfielder and we’ll be golden.