Stade Brestois 29 v AJ Auxerre: Coupe de France Preview
Thursday evening’s clash between Brest and Auxerre is the only Coupe de France match-up without involving a side from Ligue 2. Both sides will be hoping to use this advantage to win a place in the final. With the game being played at the very atmospheric Stade Francis le Blé, you have to give a slight edge to the Breton side. Auxerre has only lost one away game in the league this season, setting up what is a very intriguing cup clash.
STADE BRESTOIS 29 – by Brendán MacFarlane
Story So Far
After a goalless 120 minutes at the Stade Saint-Symphorien, Ligue 2 side Brest progressed through to the Coupe de France’s quarter-finals with an away victory against Ligue 1 side FC Metz, thanks to an exciting four-three win on penalties. Widely regarded as one of Ligue 2’s most well organised outfits, Alex Dupont’s side have lost just five games in France’s second-tier this season and currently find themselves in fourth place, just one point off third-placed side Dijon.
Les Brestois demonstrated their defensive strength against Metz in the last round of the cup, with their compact back four making them a hard side to break down. Simon Falette, one of Ligue 2’s most promising young defenders, excelled at centre-back, with his positional sense and physicality earning him praise. He has combined well this season with Ivorian international Ismaël Traoré to form an extremely stable and resolute central defensive partnership, and their presence will be sure to complicate Auxerrois attacking moves.
Most Important Players
Alexis Thébaux has excelled in goal this season for the Breton club and the familiarity he has with the regular centre-back partnership playing in front of him helps Dupont’s side to keep their shape well at the back. The former Nantes and Caen goalkeeper gives the Brest back four a desirable element of experience and in addition to being a highly-capable shotstopper, Thébaux commands his area well and doesn’t hesitate when coming off his line.
Despite being more widely renowned for their defensive solidity, Les Brestois also have highly-capable attacking and creative players in their squad ranks. Alexandre Alphonse has scored six times this season for the Breton outfit and in the first-half of the season he appeared to be Brest’s sole attacking threat. However the promotion hopefuls strengthened their offensive options in January when they signed strikers Gaëtan Courtet on loan from Reims and Youssef Adnane on a permanent deal from Tours. The two centre-forwards have scored a combined six goals for their new club since they moved to Brittany. Midfielder Bruno Grougi also offers the Bretons quality from his set-pieces.
Keys to the game
Brest will be predictably narrow across their back four and they will make it extremely difficult for Auxerre to breach their backline. When the sides last met in October, the Bretons ran out 3-0 winners in what was a relatively problem-free encounter for Dupont’s side and we can expect that they will be feeling quietly confident ahead of this week’s meeting. Brest also have the added advantage of being the hosts at the Stade Francis-Le Blé, a venue where they are yet to lose this season and they’ll be hoping that this record will be extended, seeing them proceed through to the competition’s semi-final.
AJ AUXERRE – by Steve Wyss
Story so far
As with all Ligue 2 sides, Auxerre had to encounter a couple of rounds before Christmas, but they easily came through those ties 3-0 and 4-0 against lower ligue opponents. AJA have actually really lucked out with the draw and are yet to face a team ranked higher than them. In fact, this clash with Brest will actually be the first time they even have to play against a side from the same division! So obviously they’ve had a fairly easy set of fixtures to negotiate, although they were given an almighty scare in the previous round! The match with Le Poiré-Sur Vie went to penalties and prior to that they only just squeezed past Strasbourg and Jura Sud 1-0 each time.
Most important players
The first name that springs to mind with Auxerre is centre back Sebastien Puygrennier. The ex-Nancy man is probably the best defender in Ligue 2 and is vastly experienced at a much higher level than this. The bloke is hard as nails, solid as a rock, able to marshal their backline very impressively. In midfield, they have a couple of key players. Holding man Remi Mulumba has had an impressive campaign on loan from Lorient, whilst Vincent Gragnic has been one of the best playmakers in this division for quite a few seasons now. It’s been a shame for AJA that Gragnic, and also fellow creative man Frederic Sammaritano, have missed a lot of games due to injury, but both are now back to full fitness which is a massive boost. For those who enjoy a bit of youth, 19 year old midfielder Samed Kilic is one to watch out for. He has caught the eye this year and looks set to have a really promising future.
Keys to the game
The fixture gods haven’t been very kind to Auxerre. They have to play a Ligue 2 match at home to Angers on Monday night, just 3 days before this Coupe de France fixture. This is really unlucky and may well affect their preparations. The coach has said ‘both games are of equal importance’ but realistically in the league they aren’t that well placed and the prospect of a quarter final in this competition may well be more in the minds of the players. Both teams are solid defensively so this should be a tight encounter.
They match up against each other well and I’d say chances will be at a premium. Brest have one of the best home records in Ligue 2 and are rarely beaten at Le Stade Francis-Le Blé. A draw inside 90 minutes is the most likely outcome with extra time and maybe even penalties ultimately deciding this one.