TRANSFER ANALYSIS | Auxerre – There’s hope for AJA’s aging Ligue 2 stars

This is part of our 22/23 Ligue 1 Handbook, the ultimate guide to French Football – You can see our end of season predictions and read every team’s profile right here.

Key Man: Gaëtan Charbonnier – Gaëtan Charbonnier was Ligue 2 top scorer last season, just behind Toulouse’s English forward Rhys Healey, and Auxerre will be banking on their striker to score the goals to keep them in the top flight this year. 17 strikes amounted to Charbonnier’s second-best league campaign, behind the 27 goals he managed during the 2018/19 Ligue 2 season. Back then, Charbonnier was at Brest, the fifth club of his career, and it was hoped he could continue such prolific form against stiffer opposition upon promotion. However, as at Montpellier and Reims before, the 6’3 striker failed to score more than six Ligue 1 goals the following year. That’s worrying Auxerre fans, but Charbonnier has improved with age. The former PSG man excels at bringing others into play and holding off France’s most physical defenders. Of course, unlike in the second division where Auxerre were dominant in possession, AJA will likely be forced to sit back more often this year and the now 33-year-old may struggle with being further away from goal. His heading ability should remain an asset, however, after he hit five from crosses and corners last season. Injuries have affected his output so far this season but he did manage an opening day goal at Lille.

Signing To Watch: Kays Ruiz-Atil – Arriving on a free from Barcelona, after his contract was terminated in May, the French-Moroccan Kays Ruiz-Atil is the latest former ‘Titi’ (PSG academy player) to look to build a career away from Paris. He’ll hope to replicate the success of Mattéo Guendouzi and avoid the fate of Adil Aouchiche, who has struggled after gambling on struggling Saint Etienne in 2020. Ruiz-Atil may not have been prolific at youth level for PSG or Barcelona but he’s a highly-regarded, talented youngster who carries the ball forward effectively while adding creativity and skill. Unlike many a PSG youth product, the 19-year-old was seen briefly in Paris’ first team under Thomas Tuchel, playing seven games in the 20/21 season, showing his quality on the ball and looking at home alongside Paris’ stars.

Transfer Window Analysis – Despite letting go of ten players and signing another ten, just three French teams spent less than Auxerre this summer. Ruiz-Atil joins alongside 35-year-old Ligue 1 stalwart goalkeeper Benoît Costil, midfielder Youssouf M’Changama from Guingamp and defender Dénys Bain from Brest. Between the latter pair plus full-back Brayann Pereira, who joins from Lens, those three signings have just 19 career appearances in Ligue 1. That inexperience is a more general concern too, especially considering the losses of marauding right-back Carlens Arcus to Vitesse and 26-year-old centre-back Gautier Lloris who joined Le Havre. One of the last moves done though was the purchase of Nuno Da Costa, a Cape Verde striker from Nottingham Forest who has 15 goals in 78 Ligue 1 games. It’s not a stellar return, but his goal was the difference in a 1-2 away victory over Montpellier and he had his moments as a Strasbourg player in Ligue 1 before leaving for England. It’s a weak squad, but there’s hope for Jean-Marc Furlan.

Strengths – Despite their lack of proven Ligue 1 quality, Auxerre’s midfield boasts significant creativity and vision. The technical but explosive M’Changama has long been one of Ligue 2’s premier creative midfielders while forward Mathias Autret deserves another chance in Ligue 1 after an underwhelming season at Best in 19/20. Autret has become prolific in Ligue 2, providing 25 assists in his last three seasons as well as 21 goals. Both ensure that Charbonnier, another second-tier specialist, is likely to get sufficient service. But perhaps AJA’s biggest strength is their supporter base. This historic club return to the top flight for the first time since 2012, a period in which legendary coach Guy Roux led the club to the 1996 Ligue 1 title as well as two Coupe de France wins in the mid-2000s. AJA were the fourth-best supported club by attendance in the second tier last season, and Stade de l’Abbé-Deschamps’ 18,500 capacity will hopefully be jam-packed this season.

Weaknesses – Auxerre were one of the biggest long-range shooters in the second tier last season, just two sides attempted more shots from outside of the box. They’re the only team in the top flight this season taking more shots, on average, outside the penalty area. It’s an unsustainable method of scoring which could come back to bite them later on in the season. Meanwhile, in joining a league famed for producing young players, Auxerre are relying heavily on their experience and pragmatism. They were the third-oldest side in Ligue 2 last season and nine regulars are already into their thirties. Even if Furlan and his team were to avoid one of the four automatic relegation places this season, this squad is built for the very short term.

Verdict – Despite a promising start, it’s hard to place Furlan’s side anywhere above the bottom five. Ligue 1 has improved significantly since the last time Auxerre resided in the top flight, with bottom half teams all boasting notable quality. The best this side can hope for is hard-fought survival but, with a raft of teams in similar positions in the bottom half of the table, they stand more than a fighting chance.

Alex Barker

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