The first problem Niort have is the goalkeeper position. Paul Delecroix has left to Ligue 1 side Lorient and this is a massive blow. Delecroix was one of the top five custodians in this division last season and won them many points on his own. Replacing him is Saturnin Allagbe who started a few games at the back end of the previous campaign. He looked ok, but nothing special. Backing him up is Alexandre Bouchard, who was Paris FC #3. Allagbe might prove to be decent eventually, but right now Niort look very weak in between the sticks compared to some sides. The backline stays mostly in tact and is likely to be one of their stronger areas. The starting quartet of Choplin, Lahaye, Kiki and Sans is fairly good at this level of football. Niort have signed experienced left back Jonathan Brison from St Etienne who adds a bit of depth.
In general, the overall depth at the back isn’t great though and they are in trouble if injuries or suspensions kick in. Les Chamois are however, well covered in defensive midfield. It's a blow to lose Djiman Koukou to Lens. He started all 38 ligue matches last term and is a proven performer in Ligue 2. At least they've replaced him with possibly an even better player in Aliou Dembele. The new addition had a great 2015/16 campaign with Bourg-en-Bresse and will be a more than able replacement. Laurent Agouazi also arrives from Tours and although his better days might be behind him, he’s a shrewd signing in Ligue 2. With the likes of Sambia & Batisse also on the books, Niort don’t lack for depth in this position. This is important because they'll probably start with at least two DMIDs in each game and rely on a solid midfield. Les Chamois will be quite a negative team and it’s no surprise defence is expected to be their best department. They aren’t elite here and the lack of a proven goalkeeper might hinder them, but I still expect them to be fairly hard to penetrate.
Key players: Jeremy Choplin (CB), Aliou Dembele (DM)
Les Chamois weren’t much of an attacking threat last season, only netting 38 goals. An important fact to remember is that nine of those goals actually came in the last three games which just shows how woeful they generally were for most of the year. Ande Dona Ndoh was their leading scorer with 13 goals, which is a very good return in such a poor offensive team. Once again he’ll be the key man upfront but I’m not totally convinced he’ll be able to bag as many. An important supply line to him is playmaker Jimmy Roye who has been pulling the strings in this team for a number of years now. Niort have signed winger Romain Grange from relegated club Paris FC. He will add some much needed technical flair to the team. But he’s a lightweight player and often injured so there are question marks surrounding him. There’s not a lot else to shout about regarding the Niort offense. All of their other attackers are mediocre at best or youngsters hoping to have breakout seasons. It must be noted that right sided creator Faiz Selemani who was one of their better players in 2015/16 has departed to Lorient. Les Chamois won’t scare many opposition defences this season and will rely on individuals like Roye and Ndoh to shine.
Key players: Jimmy Roye (AM), Ande Dona Ndoh (ATT)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Niort sacked the awfully negative Regis Brouard towards the end of last season when it became apparent they were in big relegation trouble. They survived thanks to a combination of joint coaches, but have now appointed a full time manager in Denis Renaud. This is someone who was sacked halfway through last season for Paris FC after just 1 win in 18 games! Renaud drew a lot of those contests and his team were hard to beat, but the lack of intent to go on and get three points was quite obvious. Sound familiar? Yes! He’s basically Regis Brouard mark II and it seems Niort love appointing this type of coach. I expect them to be very similar to the last campaign; involved in a number of low scoring matches and a high % of draws. For sure, Niort will be in the relegation dogfight and maybe this season they aren't so fortunate end up going down. Le Stade Rene Gaillard can be a tough place for opposing sides to visit, but I think fans will once again be frustrated by the lack of positive football on the field.