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Champions League Preview: Auxerre’s Swan Song?

Can Olivier Sorin keep Auxerre's Champions League chances alive?

Going into tomorrow’s match against AC Milan, Auxerre has a very straightforward task. If they win, they are still alive. If they lose, they are eliminated. That is pretty much it in a nutshell.

While Auxerre is in what I would call the “group of death”, which consists of Real Madrid, AC Milan and Ajax, they were able to at least get one win at home against Ajax. Still, one win against the second weakest team at home isn’t going to see Auxerre advance to the knock out state of the Champions League.

And while Auxerre has some problems with their competition, they also have some problems with their squad as well. Ireneusz Jelen, Auxerre’s most prolific scorer, is sidelined for two months after going through knee surgery last week. In addition to the Jelen departure, Anthony Le Tallec, who was expected to bring Auxerre a 1-2 punch along with Jelen, has been sidelined with an ankle injury.

This means that Auxerre will have to rely on players that either have underperformed during their careers or aren’t traditional scorers in their own right. The first player that comes to mind is Kenyan international Dennis Oliech. Since arriving to Ligue 1 in 2005 at Nantes, he has not been the scorer that many expected him to become.

Another player that will need to be a key part of any Auxerre win tomorrow is captain and midfielder Benoit Pedretti. While Pedretti has never been known as a goal scorer, he has always been a passing and free kick specialist. Still, he has picked up the slack for the missing Le Tallec and underperforming Oliech by scoring five goals so far this season, the most in his career.

Two other players that might be key for Auxerre’s offense is Valter Birsa and Steeven Langil. Birsa, who classified as a striker, has mostly played in the midfield for Auxerre. He will be playing on the left side, opposite Oliech, and can create some offensive opportunities.

Steeven Langil, while a player that mostly comes off the bench, has impressive offensive skills. Last year while on loan at SM Caen, Langil had an impressive Ligue 2 season with nine goals. Still, he hasn’t been able to show his skills at Auxerre. Maybe Jean Fernandez will find some place in the lineup for Langil. I hope so.

With all that being said, expect Auxerre to only have one striker up front. The most likely choice is either Roy Contout or Julien Quercia, both who have been marginal this season.

But while there are problems in the offense, the defense isn’t fairing much better.

Last year, Auxerre was one of the best defensive teams in Ligue 1. But with a hamstring injury to right-back Cédric Hengbart, Auxerre will be struggling. Hengbart’s injury will make for a very weak right side for Auxerre. This is exactly was AC Milan needs to push up Mathieu Flamini, which will make Robinho a more effective striker.

Therefore, the hopes and dreams for Auxerre lies on the shoulders of Olivier Sorin. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Sorin is an amazing goalkeeper. But when he, along with Adama Coulibaly, Stephane Grichting and Jean-Pascal Mignot, are the only things saving Auxerre from Champions Cup elimination, it is hard not to put your money on AC Milan.

Therefore, the likelihood that 9th place Auxerre will be knocked out by Serie A leaders AC Milan this time tomorrow is pretty strong. Still, anything can happen. Just don’t bet on it.

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