Sidenote: Friday’s episode will be coming out Saturday instead. I think I’ve finally figured out what I want to write when this series eventually ends so excitedly researching and planning for that has eaten most of my week! Back on schedule next week.
Bechkoura chortles over the morning paper. “You’re in here again. Have you seen the headline Le Monde’s gone with?” He asks, pushing the publication towards me. I glance down.
F*cks Off, Franjo!
“Charming.” I grin. I start to read the article aloud. “Argel F*cks has hit out aggressively at Paris Saint-Germain boss WT Franjo after he urged Brazil’s head coach to… What’s this word? Rec… Reconnaître-”
“Recognise. How long have you been in France now?”
“To recognise Orlando’s recent form and call him up to his latest squad. F*cks reportedly said that Franjo’s hands were full enough already and he should concentrate on picking his own teams. Blimey. Do they really have to censor his na-”
“I’m serious.” Bechkoura cuts in with a smirk. “You’ve been here for over 3 years and you’re not exactly fluent in French, are you?”
“Well give me a break, will you? I’ve got all sorts rattling around up there nowadays! It gets confusing! Swedish, Portuguese-”
“Oh, learned a lot of Swedish in those 6 weeks did you?” His smirk grows wider.
“Portuguese,” I reiterate, “Polish… Even a bit of German from the Liechtenstein days. It’s taxing on the brain, you know; Being a man of the World. You wouldn’t understand. How come you speak such good English?”
“Because I had to learn! You and Crouch were in at Auxerre and I had to learn to keep up. I had to pander to you English like the rest of the World always does.”
“Pander’s a good word. Good vocab.” I give him a thumbs up. He scowls back at me as if I’ve missed his point.
You know what I’d love today? A bit of bloody payback for the thumping we received from Sevilla a few weeks ago. We’re in decent form now with 2 wins on the bounce and Dobby, Kovacic and Orlando are all deservedly included in Ligue 1’s Team of the Week. Kovacic and Orlando especially have had a magnificent couple of matches and if they recreate that form in the Champions League, we should be laughing.
In other news, Rodolfo Borrell has finally caught up with me after watching Brahim Ferhat for what gelt like a full 6 months in Auxerre. He was in the crowd for our win over Rennes and is apparently interested in Marquinhos, our club captain who’s only just starting his season. If I have to say this any more the words are going to start lose meaning, so please Rodolfo, take the hint and jog the fuck on.
We’ve pretty much got a full squad to pick from now. The only man that won’t be fit for this one is Manuel Bueno, who twisted his knee in the dying moments of the Rennes match and is out for about a week. He comes out of the side, as do Renan, Dobby and Coutinho who I want to rest. Bologna, Lato, Cvitanovic and Kean are all in.
Our 2 in-form midfielders combine to create a chance in the 14th minute when our cleared corner leaves the ball with Orlando on the right hand side of the box. The winger, who we’ll assume will not be winning his first cap over the upcoming break, floats a cross to the back stick and Kovacic has to leap to stop the ball going out for a goal kick, instead sending it looping off his head, back across goal and clipping the top of the bar. 5 minutes later, Moise Kean holds the ball up 25 yards out and spins to slip Orlando through on the left. Orlando looks up from the byline and fizzes a low cross into the 6 yard box, where Dani Bologna of all people arrives to bundle home his first goal of the season.
A few minutes after the opener and with blood in the water, my Parisian sharks are circling. This time Cvitanovic switches the ball expertly to the left wing, where Orlando drives for the byline like he does and crosses for Kean, who turns a header over the bar from inside the 6 yard box. A disappointing end to a good move. In the 26th minute a patient bit of Sevilla play ends with a bit of a whimper as Youri Tielemans chips a pass into our left channel and Bologna easily beats García to it. The goalscorer’s touch takes him into our box though and in a breakdown of communication, fellow Italian Gigi Donnarumma comes charging out to boot the ball clear. Bologna does it first, leaving our keeper in no mans land and when Dani’s poor clearance is volleyed straight back into danger by Pozo, Abba merely has to wriggle free of Ibarra and nod the ball into the empty net to equalise. Excellent.
Just after the half hour, Toni Lato makes the exact same mistake, winning the ball from Pozo and playing a really awful clearance straight to García on the opposite wing, midway into our half. García passes inside to Tielemans, who plays it forward to Óliver and a quick round-the-corner pass later, Abba should put Sevilla ahead but thankfully blazes his shot wide of the near post. What’s happened to my sharks? Why is it suddenly our blood in the water and why are Sevilla so pissing frustrating to play against? I call Marquinhos over to take instructions to the rest of the team: Keep it on the floor, lower the tempo, stop giving them the bloody ball 30 yards out.
1-1 is still the scoreline when we get the second half underway. Orlando shows another little flash of brilliance in the 52nd minute, jinking across the width of Sevilla’s box and doing well to create a pocket of space, but then shooting with his weaker right foot straight into Zoet’s arms. A few minutes later though the action’s back down at our end: Óliver swings a corner to the far side of the box and Kurt Zouma rises above both Ibarra and Marquinhos to head the ball back across, where Abba chests it down and Pozo lashes it in on the volley from 6 yards, completing the Spaniards’ turnaround.
We nearly find the equaliser straight from kick off when Kean latches onto a zipped Kovacic pass, but he drags his effort well wide from inside the box. I’ve seen quite enough of our ineffectiveness for one day so decide to shake things up: Éder comes on for Orlando and we go to a narrow, attacking 2-3-2-1-2. Essentially a midfield diamond with overlapping wingbacks. We’ll focus down the middle, trying to overwhelm the visitors with high tempo, direct football. Coman plays as a second striker, joining Kean, who I think will be glad of a striking partner after a quiet few games on his own.
So close! 5 minutes after the changes, Toni Lato hooks a cross in from the left wing, Kean brings it down coolly at the near post and squares for Coman just outside the 6 yard box. The winger shoots but is denied by a tremendous last ditch tackle from Popescu that deflects the ball wide. With 13 minutes to go and time running out to even salvage a point from what was meant to be Sevilla’s brutal retribution, I throw massive winger Rodolfo Chao on in place of Moise Kean as a makeshift target man. I already really miss Bueno.
We enter the final 10 minutes playing the ball patiently around Sevilla’s half but don’t look too threatening, that is until Neves plays the ball to Germany captain Silvio Cvitanovic, who spins on the spot 35 yards out and fires a pass out ahead of Bologna, who has space to move into. Bologna brings the ball down and into the box with his first touch and strokes it into the far corner of the net with his second, sending a wave of relief rippling over me. Dani Bologna is just about the unlikeliest hero we could have had today. Well played, you brilliant bastard.
We drop off slightly after equalising as at this point I’m ready to take the draw, but we go oh so close to a winner when Coman releases fellow makeshift striker Chao in the left channel. The Argentinian charges into the box and shoots from a tight angle, but can only hit the near post.
I’ll be honest, that’s really annoying. What could have been a nice straightforward win very nearly turned into a loss because of a couple of mistakes. Bologna redeemed himself pretty well but there’s no doubt that his poor clearance directly lead to Sevilla’s first goal, while Kurt Zouma beating both of my centre backs in the air from a set piece is downright unforgivable. We’ll be doing extra set piece training this week.
Our match against Dijon comes just a few days later and if one thing was made perfectly clear during the Sevilla match other than our trouble with individual mistakes, it’s that we need reinforcements up front. In the space of a week we’ve gone from being pretty well stocked to having one striker out of sorts and another injured. The fact that we had to be bailed out by our right back speaks for itself and even Rodolfo Chao can’t play league matches as we have too many foreign players, so he hasn’t been registered. We need another option and although I’ve got my scouts out looking for players to bring in in January, for now we need to look closer to home. Meet Christian Osséré:
Christian’s caught my eye at exactly the right time. Just as I need an extra striker he’s set the reserves league on fire, racking up an incredible 14 goals and 3 assists in just 9 matches. He signed from Red Star for a nominal fee as a youngster and now at 20 he’s made just 2 league appearances for PSG’s first team, which is exactly the problem with the way this club has been doing our transfer business by the way, but let’s not get into that right now. Christian’s a quick, hardworking and dedicated striker who can also play in the hole or out on the right. He can take on a defender and he definitely knows where the net is. Rúben Neves misses this one with suspension so Éder comes into midfield. Other than that we’re unchanged, but with young Osséré on the bench.
We get off to a scorcher, which is a welcome relief. 5 minutes in, Marquinhos picks up the loose ball and plays a pinpoint pass out to Orlando on the left and the pacy wideman gets it out of his feet before firing the ball low across the 6 yard box. Cvitanovic arrives to turn the ball under Bartolelli and get us off on the right foot. By the 20th minute we look unstoppable, playing short sharp passes and making tidy runs so quick that Dijon can’t even get close to us. Cvitanovic plays a one-two with Orlando and then dribbles out onto our favourite left flank himself, floats a cross in to the far post but it’s just behind Coman, who barely manages to cushion it down for Kean before ending up tumbling into Dijon’s net himself. Kean shoots from 6 yards but it’s straight at Bartolelli, who parries it. Coman gets on the follow up but his shot ricochets off Calvo. The linesman’s flag is raised against the Frenchman anyway.
And then the gut punch: Just after half an hour’s been played, Surac swings a corner in, Assombalonga heads it on and Esposito’s unmarked at the far post to head the hosts level. So easy. 7 minutes later we have a crack at a similar move ourselves when Cvitanovic whips a free kick in from the left wing, Marquinhos flicks it on and Ibarra’s header goes straight into the arms of the goalkeeper. Just before half time Dijon win another corner. This time Guenouche takes it, floating the ball straight over to the far post, where Esposito is alone again to nod his side in front. At half time the score is 1-2 despite our 12 shots to their… 2.
I don’t conceal my rage at half time. We’re developing a very worrying habit of conceding easy goals. Even my France side didn’t concede from this sort of dross, they just got torn apart by anyone who had the gaul to play a forward pass. I tell Kingsley Coman to come back for set pieces and man mark the hell out of Esposito and kick them all back down the tunnel, their ears still ringing.
With 32 minutes to go we go all-out-attack. With 29 minutes to go we equalise, but it comes from a moment of magic rather than an improvement in our football, which leaves me still feeling uneasy. Cvitanovic curls a 20 yard free kick so far into the top corner that I’m surprised it didn’t get stuck between post and bar, bagging his brace. The goal does however seem to give us a kick up the collective arse and we put together a good move just moments later. The ball winds up with Orlando, who squares it for Kovacic 25 yards out. The Croatian lays it off to Coman, who toe pokes it into the bottom corner from the edge of the box. Not the prettiest goal you’ll see, but we have at least turned it around. Moise Kean is rapidly dropping in my estimations though and after another quiet 70 minutes, he’s hauled off to make way for young Osséré
Inside the final 15 minutes, Cvitanovic plays a good ball onto the left wing and Orlando runs onto it, which is fast becoming our bread and butter. Orlando crosses from the byline, Coman cushions the ball down at the far post and Cvitanovic lashes a volley goalwards, but it’s blocked by Esposito, who throws his body in the way. I do wish he’d fuck off. A minute later Cvitanovic lobs another perfect pass over the Dijon defence and Orlando brings it down inside the 6 yard box, before slotting in our 4th from a narrow angle. Finally a bit of breathing room.
Éder makes way for the final 10 minutes and Hutka comes on to replace him as I’m still not too sure about the young playmaker and want to give him a run out. Within a couple of minutes though, the hosts peg us back when Arrieta spins Ibarra and releases Jonathan Leko on the right wing. Leko draws Gigi off his line and then aims a low cross at the far post, where Assombalonga bundles it over the line for 4-3.
We have a few decent chances before full time, with Bologna shooting wildly after a short free kick and Osséré having 2 shots well saved by Bartolelli, but the final score stays at 4-3 and we take the win. Just.
I was really hoping that these matches would cement in my mind the fact that we’d turned that blip around, but if anything it’s made me even less confident. We have problems at the back, problems with set pieces and a problem named Moise Kean who’s forgotten how to shoot. Some positives though are that Osséré looked busy after coming on, Cvitanovic is finally showing me that he can be the player he promised to be and Orlando just will not stop being fantastic. Oh and we’re top of our Champions League group still and also Ligue 1, albeit having played a match more than Monaco. Swings and roundabouts, eh?