LIGUE 1 22/23 GUIDE | Ajaccio – Ligue 2 upstarts’ reliance on 30-somethings could mean tough season

This article is taken from GFFN’s FREE 63-page 2022/23 Ligue 1 Season Preview Guide, download yours in full right here.

Key Man: Oumar Gonzalez – Ajaccio will be looking to combative centre-half Oumar Gonzalez to repeat the performances that saw him keep most of Ligue 2’s attacks quiet last year. He appeared in 34 matches across the season and even chipped in with three goals, in what was his first season at the club after arriving from Chambly. However, he will have to make do without the equally impressive Gédéon Kalulu by his side, the DR Congo international having joined Lorient. Fellow defenders Fernand Mayembo and Clément Vidal have arrived from Le Havre and Montpellier respectively, while Mickaël Alphonse’s signing from Maccabi Haifa provides a reliable option at right-back. Whether this is enough to mount a defence-oriented survival campaign remains to be seen, though.

Signing To Watch: Thomas Mangani – Translating the club’s pugnacious style to Ligue 1 will be no easy task, and bolstering a relatively threadbare squad will have been the priority this summer. Opting for league experience to guide them to safety, the club have made Saint-Étienne hero Romain Hamouma and ex-Angers man Thomas Mangani their marquee summer signings, who have a combined age of 70. The latter, who returns after a loan spell at the club in 2007/08, will provide stability in midfield having become a reliable, and high-quality at one stage, Ligue 1 midfielder during Angers seven Ligue 1 seasons. For Hamouma, though, leading the line will be a tough ask with much of his explosiveness gone and a litany of injury issues in the past few years.

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Squad Analysis – Such was the surprise when Ajaccio finished last year’s Ligue 2 campaign in second place, that this summer has seen a race against time to bring the stadium facilities up to a top flight standard. Returning to the top flight after nearly eight years away was not necessarily the target for a club that didn’t even crack the second tier’s top ten budgets. Their rise – secured with a final-day win over champions Toulouse – is a testament to the streamlined, cohesive set-up that long-serving cult manager Olivier Pantaloni instilled, seconded by Jordan Galtier, son of PSG coach Christophe.

Strengths – Their unlikely promotion campaign was built off the back of a spectacular defensive record, conceding just 19 goal, that’s one goal every two games. Nevertheless, a turnover in personnel and the leap in calibre of centre-forwards that goalkeeper Benjamin Leroy and his defence will be facing will make holding down the fort in Ligue 1 a different proposition altogether. In any case, the likes of Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi will be in for a tough contest when they come down to a boisterous Corsica.

Weakness – As may be expected, Pantaloni’s rigidity has brought with it stunted attacking potential, and their tally of 39 goals scored was less than half that of title winners Toulouse. Ajaccio were overly reliant on versatile winger Riad Nouri, now 37, who was involved in over two thirds of the Corsicans’ goals last season, with nine strikes and four assists. Nouri is gearing up for his first ever season in the top flight after spending the entirety of his career in Ligue 2 so far. Their other main attacking asset from last season, Jean-Philippe Krasso, stayed behind in the second tier as he returned to his parent club Saint-Étienne who were relegated from Ligue 1.

Verdict – Ajaccio kick off their comeback season away to a renascent Lyon side before going on to face Lens and Rennes – something of a baptism of fire for their first few weeks back in the top flight. Even if survival hopes look slim, a cash injection – Ajaccio are arriving just as the CVC deal takes effect – and infrastructure upgrade will make future promotion campaigns much less of a surprise. The Île de Beauté finally has a team in Ligue 1 again, and French football is all the richer for it but, in a season that will see four teams automatically go down, survival will be a tough ask for Pantaloni’s men. Making the Stade François-Coty as tough a place to go to as possible will be key in giving them a chance, as they look to cook up an atmosphere that can be cagey (quite literally in the case of the claustrophobia-inducing away end) and imposing, to let visitors know that Corsican football is well and truly back.

Raphaël Jucobin

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