USO look reasonably well set in between the sticks. Oumar Sissoko will be starting the season as #1 keeper and he’s played at this level before so knows what ligue 2 is all about. Backing him up will be Thomas Renault & Sebastian Mpeck. The former started most games for Orleans last time they were in ligue 2, but he completely ruptured his achilles tendon last summer and missed all of their National campaign. I’m not fully sure of his physical condition right now. The big signing for Orleans at the back (quite literally) is Joel Sami. He is a physical beast and will be one of the best centre backs in ligue 2. He’s getting a bit older now but should give them a steadying presence at the back. The remainder of the Orleans backline is retained from their promotion campaign. Other centre back options include Anthar Yahia, who is often injured but should be a touch of class in this ligue even at 34 years old. Left back will be a straight fight between ex Clermont player Adrien Pagerie and new signing Edson Seidou. On the right hand side, Gauthier Pinaud & Benjaloud Youssef will be competing. Some have a bit of experience at this level but there are definitely a lot of question marks. Sami is the standout star in defence for sure.
USO have three solid defensive midfielders who won't be anything special but can do a job. Pierre Bouby, an ex Auxerre man is the best of the bunch and played half a season with the club last year. Bouby is quite a good technical player and can also play centre back if required. Mathieu Ligoule is another option and has some past Ligue 2 experience, starting 35 games a couple of years ago. He got injured last November and only just came back, so it might take him some time to get back to his best. An interesting player is Jean Eudes Aholou, who developed in the Lille reserve team. Last season was the first time he started games regularly, so it’ll be interesting to see how he copes at this level. Orleans will be competitive in defensive areas but apart from Joel Sami, possibly Pierre Bouby and maybe Anthar Yahia (if he stays fit) then there isn’t much serious proven quality.
Key players: Joel Sami (CB), Pierre Bouby (DM)
Of all the three promoted sides, Orleans were the highest scorers with 50 goals. In fact, only one team actually scored more than them in the entire division and a number of strikers weighed in with good contributions. Romain Armand scored 12 times, whilst Kevin Dupuis grabbed 11. In the past, both of these two did ok in Ligue 2, without setting the world alight. Maybe now with some more goals and confidence under their belts, they can deliver a good return. I’m not sure if Orleans will be playing one or two guys upfront, but if only one man gets the nod then new signing Livio Nabab also comes into contention. Historically, he’s got a pretty good record in this division although has fallen off the rails a little bit in recent years. He can also be a difficult character to deal with, but if used correctly can be a decent asset either upfront or on the right wing. So the USO strikers have boom or bust potential, I’m not really sure yet, but chances should be supplied at least.
Orleans have signed a very interesting player with attacking midfielder Karim Ziani. The ex Marseille and Lorient man was once sold to Wolfsburg for nearly £6m, and despite being 34 years now, should offer plenty of the team. Ziani will have great technical skills and flair, above most players in this division. He’ll be the supply line for the forwards, but Orleans have some other AMIDs too. The likes of Farid Beziouen, Greg Houla & Mickael Barretto can all feature centrally if required. Out wide, pretty much the same players will be in operation. Jordi Delclos is another option in these areas too. I wouldn't say Orleans are loaded with attacking talent. But they are competent enough in all areas, and spearheaded by Ziani as a playmaker might do alright. I admit there are still more question marks than answers but the last time they were in this ligue lack of goals cost them relegation. Maybe this time around those lessons have been learned and they’re willing to be more positive.
Key players: Karim Ziani (AM), Livio Nabab (ATT/RW)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Olivier Frapolli has been in charge of the club since 2012 and is extremely familiar with how this place works. Orleans were relegated from ligue 2 in 2014/15 under his management, but the president and board stuck with him. That decision proved a good one because USO bounced back at the first attempt, the question now is whether they’ve learned their lessons from that failed campaign? Orleans didn’t score enough goals or pick up enough home points back then. My memory of Frapolli was him being a fairly negative coach, often settling for draws and relying on defence to do well. They drew 11 of their first 25 contests that year before going on a poor losing run. I think the signs are that Frapolli is willing to be a bit more adventurous this time around. This squad is slightly better than it was previously, although still one of the five weakest in the division. Make no mistake about it, Orleans will be in the relegation battle, it’d be a surprise if they were anything better than that. Home form at Le Stade de la Source will be key. The pitch here can get very poor in the winter if memory serves me correctly, but it didn’t seem to favour Orleans two years ago. Maybe this time around they can avoid relegation, but it’ll be a close call.