Zacharie Boucher is a top quality custodian for AJA. I don’t think he’s been at his best in the last year or two, but there was a time when I had him earmarked for a Ligue 1 berth somewhere, and that still might happen in the future. With the team hopefully performing better it will put less pressure on him and I could see him having a stellar year making some crucial saves at times. Backing him up is Quentin Westberg, vastly experienced and just what you want from a no2 custodian - he is fine to fill in for a few games if needed. At the back, Auxerre have sold talented youngster Evan Ndicka for Frankfurt for a fee reported between 1 and 5 million Euros. He won't actually be much of a loss though because he didn’t start many fixtures for the club. AJA have some solid defenders like Abdoul Ba, Carlens Acus, Benjaloud Youssef and new signing Francois Bellugou. Old veteran Mickael Tacalfred is still going strong at 37 years old too and is a proper warrior. The one weak spot at the back is on the left hand side - a position they will likely reinforce certainly before the end of the transfer window. Shielding the backline Auxerre have some excellent defensive midfield options such as Jordan Adeoti, Birama Toure and Brahim Konate. There is plenty of depth in the squad as well. Providing they strengthen the one weak area at left back Auxerre will be one of the best defensively equipped teams in the league.
Key players - Zacharie Boucher (GK), Jordan Adeoti (DM)
For me, the really big strength for Auxerre in this area is out wide. In Romain Philippoteaux they have one of the best creative players in the whole league and when in good form he can rip apart this division. Mickael Barreto is another excellent wide option, although can be inconsistent and develop injury problems. Hamza Sakhi is versatile and can play anywhere in the final third really, a really good talent on his day. Auxerre are one of those teams who always seem to have an abundance of youngsters who are decent on the wings as well so depth isn't an issue. Daniel Mancini comes in from Bordeaux on loan and he's a versatile midfielder/wide player who could do reasonably well. Upfront, it will be Mohamed Yattara’s job to put the ball in the back of the net and he is definitely one of the best strikers in the league. Unfortunately, the marksman is another who has historically missed periods with injury though and when he doesn't play they can look like a different team. Yanis Merdji has signed from relegated Bourg-en-Bresse and will be a capable backup. But he isn’t in the same class as Yattara and neither are the other youngsters vying for minutes upfront like Bizet and Begraoui. Auxerre will score their fair share of goals and they have enough ability here providing key players stay fit.
Key players - Romain Phillipoteaux (LW, RW), Mohamed Yattara (ATT)
Coaching, other factors and conclusion
In Pablo Correa Auxerre have a top coach at this level and twice he’s obtained promotion out of Ligue 2. He is an extremely experienced manager and was able to stabilise the Auxerre ship after taking them over in 17th last season. There was even a period when they threatened a resurgence towards the playoff positions. Correa is often criticised for being an extremely boring and negative manager, but I have found over the years this only tended to happen in Ligue 1. In the second tier he is more willing to be expansive when needed, although for sure this is a manager quite happy to shut up shop and graft out a 1-0 victory if needed. Correa is ultimately a results manager and that is what Auxerre should get from him during a full season at the helm. For some reason AJA never seem to have a great homefield advantage and the atmosphere at Le Stade ‘l’Abbe Deschamps can sometimes be quite subdued. They might drop a few surprising points here, but on the flip side I think they will be one of the best away teams in Ligue 2 this year. Correa is really good tactically and they should be able to hold firm on the road a lot, whilst also breaking with their excellent pacey players. I see Auxerre as a promotion contender. This was said about them last season and they totally failed with a terrible start but I’d be surprised if they aren't in the mixer this time around.
Prediction - Promotion challenge