One of the biggest surprises of the 2009-10 season had to be the surge of AJ Auxerre. Starting the season, Auxerre started at the bottom of the table with no points and no goals. Not until Week 5, with a 2-0 win over Nice, did Auxerre find their grove. And when the season finally ended, Auxerre finally found themselves in 3rd place, which qualifies them for a playoff spot to get into the Champions League.
While Auxerre did have an impressive season, they didn’t look impressive getting there. Some might even say that Auxerre is the purest example of a “team being lucky”. Even so, they are now in the top of Ligue 1 and need to do what they can to stay there.
The biggest problem with Auxerre last year was scoring. And with the likelihood of Ireneusz Jelen leaving the team this summer (some reports have him going to Marseille for 3 million Euros), Auxerre has no other scoring option. Their second leading scorer last year was right-back Cedric Hengbart.
I’m sure that Jean Fernandez was expecting a little bit more out of some of his other players up front. Still, with the lackluster performance of Daniel Niculae the past two years, and the extreme disappointment of Kenyan Dennis Oliech during his entire Ligue 1 career, Fernandez needs to find a replacement for Jelen, and do it fast.
Because they aren’t one of the “big” clubs that have a possible transfer budget of $20 million or more, the options for Auxerre might be quite slim. The possibility of bringing in someone like Andre-Pierre Gignac or Kevin Gameiro is out of the question. So where should Auxerre be looking for some quality strikers?
Well, it seems like Auxerre has some good Polish connections. Maybe a striker like Robert Lewandowski, who plays for Lech Ponzan, would be a good option. He is only 21 years old and has scored 32 goals in 55 games for his club. In addition, he has six goals in 21 appearances for the Polish National Team. But even though Lech Ponzan is a Polish team, which could make for a good bargain, you are dealing with a team that did finish 1st place last year, which might raise Lewandowski’s price tag a little.
Another possible hunting ground for Fernandez (and possibly the rest of the Ligue 1 clubs this year, as well), is Montpellier. The “little engine that could” of all Ligue 1 teams last year has a lot of player that people couldn’t take their eyes off of. With the eventual arrival of Chilean international Marco Estrada to Stade de la Mosson, some of the other players might be heading out the door. One would have to expect that Victor Montano has a larger price tag, along with Karim Ait-Fana. Still, these player’s price tag should be in Auxerre’s range if they do sell Jelen.
Still, will Louis Nicollin will sell any of his players? While he is a “businessman”, he is a fan as well, and is also trying to build Montpellier into a team that can compete on a regular basis, not a team that just gets players and then tries to sell them later at a higher price. So prying Montano and Ait-Fana from Nicollin might be hard.
But, an other option that Auxerre has with Montpellier is Lilian Compan. While Compan is up there in age, he can still bring it. He scored three goals in 13 games this season. In addition, he does have a history of being a decent goal scorer. And while his age might hamper him as far as time on the pitch, he might be exactly the band-aid that Auxerre needs until they get a solid striker to replace Jelen. Again, assuming that Jelen is even transfered.
Therefore, the offensive attack is where Auxerre really needs to concentrate.
In other departments, Auxerre seems to be fine. In defense, you have a very strong core of players with a very steady keeper in Olivier Sorin. The midfield is anchored by Benoit Pedretti, who is pretty solid on all fronts, especially set pieces and free kicks. Auxerre could maybe use one strong attacking midfielder. With the possible departure of Jelen, Oliech and Niculae (who have played more in the attacking midfield instead of up front) might have to move up. This leaves a possible hole in Auxerre’s attacking midfield, while not addressing the problem with the strike force up front (which neither Niculae or Oliech have proven that they are up for the challenge).
With the shifting around of players due to the possible loss of other players, the problem of depth is exposed. Again, it is very hard to build a deep team in any football league unless you have the funds to do it. That is why a team like Auxerre needs to make sure that they get some good starters on the team, which they have right now. But if some of these players move, and others are injured during the season, then Auxerre is pretty much done for.
Overall, Auxerre really can’t figure out any type of game plan until they know what the current situation is with Jelen. While Marseille have talked about him, honestly, they do have some better options right now. I see Jelen as the 5th or so choice of the top teams, not the first. And if he stays, then the team should be at least decent.