AMIENS SC – LIGUE 1, SO FAR – Season 2, Episode 1
Having achieved promotion in season 1, we’re now facing a tough first season in Ligue 1.
The defence was upgraded with the signing of central defender Saad Agouzoul from Ligue 2 side Socheaux. We picked up promising midfielder, Albert Del Moral, on loan from Villareal after narrowly missing out on a marquee signing in Branco van den Boomen to Monza.
The pre-season was dominated by rumours of a takeover, which I was half wishing would go through as we’re extremely strapped for cash. Some additional investment would’ve been nice. As of yet though, nothing has materialised.
Other pre-season news was that our creative left winger, Leautey – who picked up 5 assists and 2 goals last season – tore knee ligaments in the final friendly, against Stoke City. Whilst annoying it gives other players the chance to step up and make an impression. Next man up!
I also made the decision to loan out young striker Ilenhikena. Figuring he’d be much better off getting regular Ligue 2 minutes, than being a benchwarmer for me, he joins EA Guingamp for 6 months. If he’s tearing Ligue 2 apart it gives me the option to recall him.
I’ve not gone into the system we’re playing in any great detail, so I wanted to take this opportunity to show you what I’m expecting from certain roles in the team.
We’re still in the 4-2-3-1 with the wingers withdrawn to ensure they fulfil their defensive duties.
The defence plays a standard line and relies on the left-hand side to provide attacking assistance. The left central defender is expected to bring the ball out of the back line and force opposition players to commit, thus freeing up teammates. The left full-back can bomb forward and into the space created by the left winger and stretch the defence, creating space for the IW to work his creative magic.
In the centre of midfield, there’s a defensive playmaker whose job it is to stay back and start counterattacks from deep. Therefore, a good passing range is essential. His partner is a Ball Winning Midfielder who’s given free rein to press the opposition where needed and regain possession. My ultimate aim for this role is to get a good all-round midfielder here, so when they win the ball, they’re almost like an aggressive tackling roaming playmaker.
The right winger is expected to be an attacking threat and attack the opposition’s defence whenever possible. This player is given the freedom to roam from the position with the aim of finding space, either on the flank or further inside between the central midfielders and the Shadow Striker.
The Shadow Striker is tasked with getting up alongside the Advanced Forward and exploiting central areas when the striker runs into the channels. Out of possession, he’s got the key task of man-marking the opponent’s pivot player to make it hard for them to play out of defence.
The expectation of the team is that we defend in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 and attack in almost a 4-2-4 with the wingers pushing forward and central, allowing the fullbacks to push on.
I’m still quite far from getting the right players in the right roles, but we’ll get there as the save develops.
AUGUST & SEPTEMBER 2023
The first three opponents of our Ligue 1 season caused me quite a bit of excitement and I couldn’t wait to get started. Reims are the team whose real-life tactics I’ve used in this save, then Rennes who I’ve had some excellent FM careers and are my favourite French side and then Marseilles who are a giant of football.
With starting goalkeeper Regis Gurtner injured, we went into the Reims game with Toulouse loanee backup Kjetil Haug in goal.
What a dramatic introduction back into the top flight it was too, with left-back Lykogiannis being sent off for Reims on 15 minutes and Mathis Lachuer following him down the tunnel 5 minutes later. With both teams down to 10 men, it was an entertaining game which we luckily came out winners of, after striker Ciss finished a low cross from Hassan Bande after 35 minutes. As an added bonus I managed to get into a war of words before and after the game with Will Still.
Our visit to Rennes, which saw Jeremy Gelin return to his former club, didn’t go to plan as we lost 0-1 due to a Martin Terrier goal. We looked very poor and I fined three players for bad performances.
Despite having the better of the early chances against Marseilles we fell to a 0-2 defeat with goals coming from Vitinha and Roniger.
I was unsure if we were struggling to adapt to life in Ligue 1 or if we’d just been unlucky in facing two strong teams early on. One thing for certain is that Gael Kakuta was playing very poorly and failing to make an impact at all. Last season’s star player was struggling out wide and his lack of pace and acceleration was noticeable against a higher standard of defenders.
As a result, I chose to move him inside to the Shadow Striker role where his attacking prowess could still play an important part in our season. The downside of this move is that it slightly stumps the development of the younger duo of Chibozo and Fofana. But, we can’t waste the opportunity at Ligue 1 football and quality is required.
Obviously, this change in position leaves a space on the right wing and there was no one in the team who I trusted to be able to handle the load of expectations I have for that role. Having no transfer budget, I looked at my shortlist to see who would be available on loan. Luckily, LOSC deemed Englishman Angel Gomes surplus to requirements and I was able to pick him up with a £3.3 million optional fee.
Able to play on either flank and down the middle, he’s a pacey attacking player who poses a goal threat and is a good creator. I’m hoping his clear talent can make up for his lack of work ethic. But hey, that’s what loans are for, right?
With teams panicking at the transfer window coming to a close, I had a flurry of bids for young midfielder Owen Gene. As I’d only get 15% of the transfer fee I was against selling, however, he became disgruntled so I agreed to let him leave. In came Norwich who paid £2.8m for a player valued at £2.0m so I’m happy with the deal. It does, however, leave me light in midfield.
Obviously, just after the window closed, new signing Saad Agouzoul picked up an injury which would sideline him for a month. So, into the side came Mattheo Xantippe who went on to have an absolute stinker in a 1-5 defeat to AS Monaco in which he ended up being subbed off with a 5.9 rating. We played better than the scoreline suggests, aside from some woeful defending.
I’m not sure what it is with Amiens wingers but I can’t keep them fit, so imagine my lack of surprise when Hassane Bande strained his calf and would miss 6 weeks.
I definitely started to panic when we were battered by Troyes and were lucky the score was only 1-2. As it would be a long time before Xantippe played for me again, the game marked a debut for young defender Siaka Bakayoko who put up a solid performance.
After FOUR losses in a row, we managed to pick up 3 points with a 2-0 win over SM Caen and then were helped to a 1-1 draw with rivals Strasbourg thanks to an own goal, after we had two goals disallowed for narrow offsides. As the two teams are more than a 5-hour drive apart it must be a rivalry for good reason!
OCTOBER, NOVEMBER & DECEMBER 2023
Languishing in 12th place with just 2 wins from 7 games we went into October with a point to prove. Luckily we hit a rich vein of form as the team settled into Ligue 1 life and picked up four wins in a row, conceding only 1 goal in that run. The 2-0 win over a Jonathan David-less Lille was particularly pleasing.
Up to 8th with a cheeky eye on the European places, injuries to Kakuta and Ciss, an attacking duo, put a damper on the party and we subsequently went 5 games without a win.
An end-to-end game with Nantes ended in a 2-3 loss, followed by a hard-fought draw with Lyon. We were then put to the sword by OGC Nice on the Cote D’Azur.
What you definitely don’t want when about to face PSG is for both left-backs to pick up injuries. Well, that’s what happened and I was forced to recall the unfit 19-year-old Brunnel Tutuana from loan, who was recovering from an ankle strain which has kept him out for 3 weeks.
Naturally, we didn’t win but we gave a good account of ourselves in a 0-2 defeat, with goals by Neymar and Mbappe.
With morale low, we suffered a 1-3 whooping by 16th-placed Angers in a dreadful performance. For the first time, I was genuinely starting to panic and think that maybe we’re not good enough for Ligue 1.
Luckily, we managed to finish the year back on winning ways with a 1-0 win over RC Lens – a team I massively admire and who one of my heroes Brice Samba plays for. It was the first game in a while where we played the way I wanted and scored a nice team goal, finished by Kakuta in his 3rd involvement of the move.
We rounded 2023 off with an easy cup win, in which Chibozo picked up an injury ruling him out for a month.
It’s been a rollercoaster return to Ligue 1 so far. Four wins from four in October has been the clear highlight so far, but other than that it’s been more downs than ups, with us struggling to find consistency. Without the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s down to injuries, injuries, injuries! I need to figure out if it’s down to my training regimes, the medical staff or just players made out of glass.
That said, I would’ve snatched your hand off if you offered me 10th place heading into January!
Of course, PSG is walking it so far, yet to taste defeat, whilst the usual suspects are taking up the European places.
Whilst he’s not exactly setting Ligue 1 alight, starting striker Amadou Ciss is making a steady impact with 5 goals in 9 starts. His backup, Badji, isn’t having the same impact. As my grandad used to say about “modern” footballers… “I’d dare let him kick me up the backside with a ten-yard run up”! Whilst he gets himself in good positions – as you can see from his team-high non-penalty xG per game – his finishing leaves a lot to be desired for.
Kakuta continues to show his value and adds 4 goals to his 4 assists and his understudy at Shadow Striker, Fofana the younger, is creating well when given the opportunity.
Lachuer may not be starting regularly but he’s still showing what a marvellous passer he is and leads the team with open play key passes.
New signing defender Agouzhoul is justifying my decision and leads the team with interceptions per game, which is what you want from a stopper. Switching from defending at the back to defending from the front, winger Charbel Gomez is completing the most pressures per 90 minutes. Unfortunately, he’s one of many who are struggling to stay fit.
Before signing off, I wanted to look at how the outfield loanees are performing and if they might be worth their optional fee.
Alberto Del Moral has spent the majority of the time in the Deep Lying Playmaker spot on a defend duty (although I potentially see his future as the Ball Winning Midfielder if he stays). Getting on the ball well, he’s completing 67 passes per game with an 84% success rate and plays 7 progressive passes per 90 minutes. He’s struggling defensively though, winning only 60% of tackles and headers.
Out on the wing, Angel Gomes has 2 goals off a non-penalty xG of 1.84 and 2 assists from a team-leading xA of 2.75. He also has an xA per 90 of 0.22 which is second best in the team. He’s also 3rd in open-play key passes per game. So, he’s clearly good from a creative standpoint but could do more when it comes to scoring.
Maybe he’s more suited to the more creative role on the opposite flank and I’ll try him out there in the second half of the season when I have a healthy right winger!
With incumbent goalkeeper, Regis Gurtner, now at the grand old age of 37 it’s no surprise he handed in his intention to retire at the end of the season. Luckily I’d signed a much younger model on loan who has lots of potentials and a staggeringly low future fee of £100k. Obviously, it’s important to give Kjetil Haug as many minutes as possible, which became a necessity due to Gurtner’s injury.
So, let’s see how he got on.
Well, he’s not done too badly but needs to show improvement to be the starter next season – in ten Ligue 1 starts, he conceded 18 goals and kept 2 clean sheets. In comparison though, Gurtner has 7 Ligue 1 starts and has conceded only 6, with 4 clean sheets. However, Haug faced a stronger set of opposition.
Here you can see both ‘keepers plotted out in the GK stats charts. Haug has an 80% save ratio whilst Gurtner’s is at an impressive 86%. In the advanced stats chart on the right, Haug’s expected goals prevented are in the negative.
His development has also stalled in the last few months, which is something I’ll need to keep an eye on.
So, what’s the plan for the upcoming transfer window and the rest of the season?
Well… we have no money at all…. I’m over the wage budget so can’t sign anyone… so it’s looking like a case of riding with what we’ve got. There’s still time and space for players to step up and become the future of the team.
Out of all wingers, only Angel Gomes has remained injury free, so one of Bande, Gomez, Chibozo or Leautey needs to find some fitness and take the bull by the horns.
Who will it be?
Will Haug improve and stake his claim to be the starting goalkeeper next season?
I think we’ve got enough to stay in the mid-table area and avoid being dragged into a relegation battle.