France Ligue 2 – AC Ajaccio Season Preview 2020/21

Ajaccio Defence

Benjamin Leroy is the #1 goalkeeper and pretty good at this level. In previous years I have described him as totally ‘average’ but he probably deserves more respect after impressing with a number of excellent saves last season. Leroy started every league game in the previous campaign so we never got to see backup Francois Joseph Sollacaro in action. He is a decent #2 though and so is youngster Lucas Marsella. I think defence looks to be quite a strong area of the field for ACA. They have lost nobody of significance and this will be a tight-knit ‘together’ unit with good cohesion. They have the experience of Cedric Avinel to lean on at centre back and partnering him will probably be Ismael Diallo or Gedeon Kalulu. There is a lot of versatility amongst the defenders with a number of players capable of playing literally anywhere on the backline - very useful should injuries and suspensions kick in. I liked what I saw from left back Mathieu Huard last season and Quentin Lecoeuche comes in from Lorient as a backup either there or at right back. Young CB Sidney Obissa could be a talent to watch out for and offers good depth. I’m a little more concerned about their defensive midfield options. 22 year old Cameroonian Tony N’Jike played in the reserves last season but is set to be a regular this term. The ageing Mathieu Coutadeur will still be a key man for Ajaccio in this area of the field as a deep lying playmaker in addition to his excellent set pieces.

Key players - Benjamin Leroy (GK), Mathieu Coutadeur (DM)

Youngster to watch - Sidney Obissa (DC)

Ajaccio Offense

Going into the season Ajaccio lost 50% of last year's goals with the departure of Gaetan Courtet, Cyrille Bayala and Hugo Cuypers. Courtet was especially impressive. The on loan Lorient striker bagged 10 goals in 28 games and led the line excellently. Ajaccio have just recently managed to secure him again which is massive. His initial replacement was Bevic Moussiti Oko from Le Mans. In my personal opinion he is too hit and miss in front of goal and lacks composure. However, he is a strong physical presence and quite fast. I could see him getting opportunities. The real question is whether he converts enough of them. Mikael Barreto and Alasssane N’Diaye are solid reinforcements from Auxerre and Clermont respectively who should be able to create chances from out wide. It looks like both of the Tramoni brothers will be sold this summer but one of their own products - speedster Mounaim El Idrissy could get more gametime upfront. From creative midfield Qazim Laci will probably be an important player for Ajaccio, even though I personally feel he is more comfortable in a deeper role. ACA have moved to bring back Riad Nouri who used to be a key man for them. Quite what is left in his tank at the age of 35 I’m not sure, but he knows the club well and offers great technical quality out wide. Ajaccio have yet to score a goal this season but they will be hoping Courtet and Nouri coming back can bolster them.

Key players - Gaetan Courtet (ATT), Riad Nouri (RW)

Youngster to watch - Mounaim El Idrissy (ATT)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

In Olivier Pantaloni, Ajaccio have a very good coach who usually gets the most out of this team. He achieved an unlikely promotion with the Corsicans a decade ago, kept them in Ligue 1 then left. Since his return to the club Pantaloni has nearly taken Ajaccio back to the top flight in recent years. Playoff heartbreak against Toulouse cost ACA three seasons ago and in the previous campaign they were situated 3rd, just one point behind Lens before COVID kicked in and the league was suspended/concluded. I personally think they overachieved on both occasions and this is something to factor in. On paper this squad looks very much mid to lower midtable but Pantaloni could find a way to get them into the top half, the question is how high. Ajaccio surprised me last season because they had a really good away record. This is unusual because they usually struggle on the road but are strong on the island of Corsica. Maybe this year it will revert back to the norm because I couldn’t really explain their road success. The average attendance for the club was only 3,030 last season so the 5,000 fan restriction rule won’t really affect them. Pantaloni is an adaptable coach who will change formation if needed. I’d expect to see him line up with a 4-4-2 fairly regularly though and keep it simple. It doesn’t surprise me they started the season with two 0-1 losses. Their attack looked very light on both occasions and also injuries have hit them hard. With Courtet and Nouri now back at the club they should offer more threat but the small nature of this squad has already been exposed. I’m expecting a drop down to midtable this year and maybe at times it’ll be a tough scrap. But I’ll never underestimate this team under Pantaloni so if they punch above their weight again don’t be surprised!

Prediction 14th - Mid to lower table