VA have a reliable #1 keeper in Damien Perquis. He’s proven himself at this level and is now one of the more experienced players. Some would say he’s even good enough for Ligue 1 level. Backing Perquis up will be Paul Charreau and youngster Nicolas Kocik. This is a fairly strong goalkeeping lineup for VA and definitely one of their strengths. The defensive line has lost two regular starters from last season - Yunis Abdulhamid & Baptiste Aloe. The former was one of the best defenders in Ligue 2 and would be missed by any side. Coming in as a replacement is Ahmed Kantari, a centre back who I actually rate quite highly. He had a spell over in MLS for Toronto which didn't work out but now he’s back in France. Kantari is a very good technical defender but his big downside is injuries. He rarely has a season of full fitness and will likely be out of action at some stage. The rest of the VA defence looks pretty strong and there are a number of proven performers here. At centre back Loic Nestor was a rock last campaign, whilst youngsters Niakhate and Ntim are both developing into solid players.
Out wide, Loris Nery prolonged his contract and I still think there’s a good future for him. Once touted as a really good prospect, his career seems to have stalled. Remember, he played half a dozen games for France U21s but he hasn’t developed as he'd have liked. Nery will be a strong option at either left or right back. Saliou Ciss should be starting on the left hand side but is another highly injury prone player who could get crocked at any stage. Overall, the defence looks very strong despite the departure of Abdelhamid. There’s plenty of quality here and the only worry is that some guys are a bit injury prone. Defensive midfield is an ok area for VA with Eloge Enza Yamissi leading them in this department. He’s powerful, strong and has proven ability at this level of football. Unfortunately it looks like Sekou Baradji looks set to leave the club. He’s still technically with them but keeps refusing new contracts. He was a powerful beast for VA last season and will be missed. The talented Angelo Fulgini can play DMID, but is better suited in other areas. They’ll hope that younger players Kabore, Azbague or Tameze can step up this year and develop.
Key players: Loic Nestor (CB), Eloge Enza Yamissi (DM)
VA didn’t particularly shine in this area last season, although some encouragement was the performance of Nuno da Costa. The Cape Verdean topped their scoring charts with 10 goals and VA will hope he can return something similar this campaign. The northerners have enough strikers in their roster, the problem is they are lacking quality. Ex Sochaux captain Teddy Butin can be useful when fit, but that's a rarity. Maybe he can stay on the field for a more prolonged period of time this year, if he could then it’d be a bonus. Youngsters; Andy Faustin, Lamine Ndao and Pierre Slidja could perhaps develop this season but they’re all far too hit or miss and have big question marks surrounding them. Valenciennes don't have strikers who will put the fear into opponents and that seems to be the general theme of their whole attack. Most of their creativity will come out wide. Their winger options are reasonable enough, spearheaded by Sigamary Diarra on the left and Ndao on the right. Isaac Mbenza is a youngster with potential but it looks like he’ll leave the club before the end of the transfer window. Valenciennes have relatively few attacking midfield options, with Sebastien Roudet and Angelo Fulgini perhaps their only real players of note here. Roudet is another injury prone player though and 35 now, so I’m not sure what he’s got left in the tank. I expect VA to focus their attack out wide and they need to hope goals are contributed by their wingers and midfielders.
Key players: Nuno da Costa (ATT), Sigamary Diarra (LW)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Faruk Hadzibegic is in charge and the Bosnian is a very experienced coach who knows French football well. He came in and did a good job with VA last season, keeping them from relegation after David Le Frapper was sacked. He’s a fairly balanced coach with a tendency to prefer negative tactics. His teams aren’t usually very flashy but there are more boring coaches than him out there. Valenciennes had a shockingly poor home record last season winning only three times at Le Stade du Hainaut. Two of those came later on in the campaign as they were held to a ridiculous 11 draws in front of their own fans! That must surely change this time around and I’d expect them to improve upon those statistics. VA at least had a good away record (6th best) and won seven times on the road. The last couple of campaigns have been painful for Valenciennes fans and on both occasions they've only just avoided relegation. It might be that the club is over it’s really difficult period following relegation from the top flight in 2014. I think they will improve this term and should move towards a comfortable midtable position. There’s no guarantees about this though and a lack of general attacking strength could be a problem again.