Last season AC Ajaccio were expected to struggle against the tide and eventually find themselves relegated from Ligue 1. Against all expectations and also defying a pre-Christmas position in the bottom three, les Ours finished the campaign in 16th place thanks laregly to some shrewd signings in the transfer window by now-departed boss Olivier Pantaloni. The manager was one of the candidates for manager of the season as he managed to keep the side afloat despite having the smallest operating budget in the division. However, he has now been replaced by former Brest manager Alex Dupont but the majority of his signings and the backbone of his squad still remain at the Stade François-Coty.
Striker Eduardo’s goals were valuable to the side as he provided no less than three game-winning goals and two strikes that helped the club to draws. All in all, a total of 11 points contributed for a side that only avoided the drop by three points. The Brazilian has started the season in fine form too scoring the only goal in a 1-0 away win at Nice, the perfect tonic for a side who start the campaign with a two-point deduction for their fan’s misbehaviour last season in the match against Sochaux. With that handicap wiped out immediately, ACA will be looking to pick up as many points as possible early on to avoid getting sucked into the relegation battle before Christmas.
Their Corsican neighbours meanwhile were tearing up Ligue 2, securing their second promotion in as many season with a points tally of 71. Les Turchini are currently unbeaten since their stint in the Championnat National dating back almost two seasons, and they started their first top-flight campaign in seven years with a 3-2 away win over last season’s strugglers Sochaux. Frédéric Hantz has worked wonders for SCB since arriving at the Stade de Furiani and like Pantaloni, has been extremely wise in the transfer market despite operating on modest resources.
Veterans like ex-Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Jérôme Rothen and Toifilou Maoulida as well as tricky attacker Wahbi Khazri were instrumental to the club’s promotion push and all have been retained. Special mention must go to Sadio Diallo too who was one of the best players at the club last season but was purchased by Rennes in January and upon Bastia’s promotion, the Breton club opted not to extend his loan that saw him finish the season in Corsica. He has been replaced by former Caen and Monaco midfielder Sambou Yatabaré. With a potent mixture of experienced heads and young talent, not to mention an inter-club transfer with Ilan joining Bastia from their hated neighbours, the rivalry should as fierce as ever with both sides legitimately having cause for optimism.
Another potential reason for Ajaccio fans to be excited for the coming season could arrive in the coming days, former Chelsea, Juventus, Fiorentina and Parma striker Adrian Mutu is reported to be close to sealing a deal to join the club on a free transfer following the relegation of his current club Cesena to Serie B who have opted to sell. The troubled Romanian may not be getting any younger, but his arrival would certainly make a splash in the Ligue 1 transfer market and provide les Ours with a mercurial talent looking for a low-profile club to salvage what is left of a once-promising reputation. Yes off the pitch he may attract a lot of negative press with his well-documented troubles, but there is no doubting that on the pitch, Mutu has match-winning qualities. A strike partnership of the former Romanian international captain and Eduardo will be vital to the club’s survival chances.
Whilst it may be early days, both clubs have started the season extremely positively. Bastia’s attack has already registered three goals with Maoulida getting off the mark whilst Anthony Modeste netted his first goal since the Dark Ages whilst Ajaccio’s defence and superstar Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa have already kept an even rarer clean sheet. Not quite ground-breaking just yet but positive all the same ahead of what is expected to be a difficult season for both outfits.
Ajaccio welcome juggernaut Paris Saint-Germain to Stade François-Coty this Sunday (live on ESPN!) and will hope that they do not suffer the same embarrassment afforded to them by a ravenous PSG frontline earlier this year at the Parc des Princes. Les Ours were torn apart in a 4-1 defeat but will want to avoid a morale-crushing defeat so soon after positive progress has been made. Expect Dupont to set his side up with an emphasis on defence but looking to use the pace that the team have in attack to get a shaky PSG backline that looked vulnerable against Lorient. It is worth bearing in mind that ACA are unbeaten at home since last December and the last side to emerge victorious were Lille.
Bastia meanwhile welcome fellow promoted side Reims to the Furiani. Expect fireworks and champagne football on ‘the Island’ this weekend!