Ligue 1, league glory?

Ligue 1 is the big one, right? It’s one that we all want to win. We’re going to give it a bloody good shot.

We’re looking for a lot from our pre-season signings this year. There’s no chaff; it’s all wheat (kinda), and I expect them to step into the team and take us up a level. And they do, by and large.

We emerge from August and September without having lost a game. A 0-0 and a 1-1 against Toulouse and OGC Nice are the only blots on our early season copybooks.

If I’m being honest, the first big challenge comes in October against PSG, and we fail, losing 2-0. Even worst than that though is that we’d lost the previous game against Havre Athletic Club, too. The rest of October and November are patchy, so that by the time we hit December our form is a bit mixed.

WWDWWWDLLWWLD

December is a bit better, with 3 wins and 2 losses, meaning that we reach the midway point of the season (after an early January win against Olympique Lyonnais) in 4th place.

The new year (2025!) sees a bit of an upturn in form, and we reach the end of February having dropped only 4 points from a possible 18. That sees us leapfrog OGC Nice into 3rd place, with only regular table-toppers PSG and AS Monaco ahead of us.

A few matches later and all three of us are tied on 61 points. And we’re 2nd on goal difference.

A win at Stade Malherbe Caen, is followed by two draws against AS Monaco and FC Nantes, which bookend a couple of victories against Stade Rennais FC and FC Metz. As the league reaches its conclusion, AS Monaco have dropped further points and we’re tied at the top with Paris Saint-Germain.

And so, it comes down to the final game of the season. We go into it having dropped a couple of points and sit on 78, while PSG have 80.

We’re playing En Evant de Guingamp (aren’t we always?) while PSG take on Toulouse. Both of these team are hovering around the bottom half of the table, so the expectation is that we both win.

We win 2-0. Our Shearer and Sutton combo of Simeone and Sandro score a goal each, and I watch the Latest Updates panel as both goals are going in. As the clock creeps towards the 90, PSG are drawing 0-0 (did I mention they’d lost their previous game?) and I can only hope that Toulouse grab a late winner.

But they don’t. It finishes goalless.

We finish 2nd, beaten by goal difference.

Gutted.

On a positive note, next season will see me try my hand at the Champions League for the first timel

A France update, and a chance at a trophy

The purpose of this blog is to chart the rise to (hopefully) Champions League glory, but bear with me while I talk you through my first season as France manager.

There are two competitions on the go: The Confederations Cup, and qualification for the 2026 World Cup.

Our qualifying group for the World Cup looks, on paper, to be a relatively simple one – I mean, for French standards; as a Scotland fan, I’d be running scared.

  • France
  • Slovakia
  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Wales

First up, in early 2025 are a home tie against Slovakia, shortly followed by a trip to Czech Republic.

Both teams are dispatched 2-0, with Antoine Griezmann and Bruno Carriere scoring in a nervy win against Slovakia; and Kylian Mbappé scoring a double in a much more straightforward victory against Czech Republic.

A couple of friendlies later, we head to Canada and the Confederations Cup.

Our Group consists of Ivory Coast, New Zealand and Canada – honestly, this manager of France stuff is easy – and we progress to the Semi Final stage after winning 1-0, 4-0 and 2-0 respectively. Griezmann and Mbappé are the stars of the group stage and score a couple of goals each across the three matches.

The Semi-Final against Argentina is a nervy one – specifically because one of those aforementioned friendlies was against them, and they pumped us 4-0 – and it goes down to the wire. 0-0 after 90 minutes, 0-0 after 120 minutes, we head to penalties. Where we are victorious!

And so, a final against Portugal – rated #1 in the World (we’re rated #6) – gives us a chance at the trophy, only the second of my managerial career.

But it’s not to be. It’s an incredibly tight match, but our discipline’s all over the shop, and we go down 2-1 to a Portuguese side managed by Jose Mourinho. I can’t really argue with that.

After that, it’s back to the grimy reality of World Cup qualification. The team might be down, but they’re not showing it.

A 6-0 win against Estonia (Paul Pogba 2, Kurt Zouma, Griezmann, Francis Coquelin, Kingsley Coman), is followed up by a 3-0 win (Heidi Camus, Griezmann, Anthony Martial) in the Millennium Stadium against Wales.

It’s the perfect tonic, and we’re all setup for the last four games of qualification.

UEFA Europa Cup

My first trips to Europe as a manager in this Journeymen save have come as manager of Montpellier. We’re back again for season 9. It’s the year 2024, and we’ve been drawn against Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Levski, and Spartak Moscow. I don’t think we can argue with that group draw.

Group D is a breeze. We lose 1-0 away to Levski and then draw 0-0 with them at home, but wins against Maccabi Tel-Aviv (5-0, 3-0) and Spartak Moscow (5-0, 2-1) get us through as league leaders and a 1st Knockout Round tie against Atalanta.

It’s the away leg first, and we come away with a 1-0 win, courtesy of a set-piece header from Mauricio Lemos. Giovanni Simeone missed an early penalty, so it could’ve been more.

The home leg is a scrappy affair, with Atalanta trying to kick us off the park. We were much the better team, but in the end it finished 0-0 and we take a 1-0 aggregate lead into 2nd Knockout Round.

An away trip to AS Saint-Etienne is the order of the day – practically a home tie – and we treat it as such, demolishing them 5-2 in front of their own fans.

The home tie is almost as emphatic, Postorino and Simeone scoring early in a fairly comfortable 2-0 win.

Next up is the much more difficult task of facing Man Utd. At this point in the save, it’s been a few years since the last won the Premiership – a 10 point margin over Arsenal enough to give them the title in the 2020/21 season – but they’re still Europa Cup contenders. They’re now managed by Unai Emery, who took over from Pep Guardiola (now at Chelsea) in the summer. Guardiola had been there for 6 years, having taken over from Jose Mourinho in 2018.

All that preamble is getting away from the point that they knocked us out. A 1-0 defeat at home was to blame. We came at them at Old Trafford and came away with a 2-2 draw, and until the 80th minute we were going through to the next round. A late equaliser by 23-year old English striker Adam Robertson was enough to send us out.

Another European journey over.

Coupe de France

Much like the Coupe de la Ligue, Montpellier’s board have set what seems to be an achievable target for the Coupe de France: reach the Semi Final.

And so, we join the competition at the 9th round stage, with a straightforward game against Championnat de France National outfit, La Berrichonne.

Really, I would’ve liked this to have been a bit more emphatic. Instead, we reach the 88th minute tied at 1-1. After which, their right-back, Warmed Omari got himself sent off. It took us until well into stoppage time to get the winner, when Sandro added to a Paolo Postorino opener.

In the 10th round, we played fellow Ligue 1 team, En Evant de Guingamp, and finally made it through a tie on penalties. The game itself had finished 0-0 but we had been by far the better team. I think I would’ve crawled into a corner and sobbed had we lost that one.

The 11th round saw us up against another Ligue 1 team, SC Bastia. And this time, penalties are our enemy. We lead 1-0, courtesy of second-half goal from Samu Castillejo, but are pegged back just before full-time. They have a man sent off just before extra-time finishes, but they don’t need him. In the penalty shootout, we score only once.

The cups and I are really not getting along.

The board are disappointed that the team only reached the Eleventh Round of the Coupe de France.

Yes, you and me both.

What’s that about a shoogly peg?

Coupe de la Ligue

Season 9 starts with new expectations set across four competitions.

  • Coupe de la Ligue
  • Coupe de France
  • UEFA Europa League
  • Ligue 1

For the Coupe de la Ligue, the board would like us to reach the Semi Final. First up, a game against AS Monaco, as we enter the tournament in the fourth round.

They’re a good team, so we go a little bit more defensive than we’d originally set out to play, and we take an early lead through right-back Jeando Fuchs. Monaco don’t threaten much and we end up 3-0 winners.

Next up is the Quarter Final, and a match against Stade Malherbe Caen. It’s a game that we should win. And, if we’re to meet board expectations, we really need to. But we don’t, and after a frustrating 0-0 (where we got 5 yellow cards), we crash out on penalties.

The board are disappointed that the team only reached the Quarter Final of the Coupe de la Ligue.

Yes, me too.