Monthly Archives: July 2016

Tippeligaen – Sarpsborg v Start Preview (29/7/16)

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Sarpsborg preview

The home team have been in great form in the last few months, winning 8 of their last 12 games. This is a team which is still fairly hard to predict due to their adaptable nature, but you have to respect their results at the moment. One week it seems they can rely on offense to get the job done, the next week a good old fashioned clean sheets nets them victory. That was the case against Molde last week when they won 1-0 on the road. I quite like how Sarpsborg are playing right now and clearly confidence is high. The have an outside chance of finishing in the medal spots come the end of the season if they keep this up. Only fullback Alexander Groven is injured for tonight, the rest of the squad is fully available. Their home record is very good this year and it’s been nearly 500 minutes since they last conceded a goal in front of their own fans!

Start preview

It’s now 32 matches since Start last won a Tippeligaen match and their misery continued with a 2-4 home defeat against Valerenga last week. Many people saw it as their last chance in their battle to avoid relegation, and it must be said their chances of survival are pretty bleak. Start won't be deterred though and have signed three recent players who could make a difference. They’ll hope midfielder Dulee Johnson can give them something alongside Chidiebere Nwakali. The latter has been impressive recently and they really missed him against VIF due to suspension. Another interesting addition upfront is Ghanaian Dennis Antwi from OBOS ligaen side Jerv. He’s been in good form this year and maybe he can adapt to Tippeligaen level well. Start have desperately lacked a striker this year so he’ll be an automatic upgrade. The visitors have been surprisingly competitive on the road this year, often pushing some sides close like Molde a couple of weeks ago when they obtained a 2-2 draw.

Conclusion & Betting analysis

Many people will presume Sarpsborg will claim victory here and you’d be a brave man to bet against that happening. The hosts have been in great form, playing well and should be good enough to get the three points. But from a betting point of view, the big question is exactly how many will they win by? Bookies have set the asian line between -1.5 and -1.25, so in this instance you’ll need Sarpsborg to win by two clear goals otherwise you lose something. It’s interesting to note that Start havent lost any of their last five away games by more than one goal, and have even managed to draw three of those fixtures surprisingly. It seems they prefer playing on the road. So I won’t take the Sarpsborg handicap, but I will nibble on the over 3 goal line. A lot of recent Start matches have been shootouts and they are very attack minded and open when they fall behind. That will likely happen here and leave all sorts of space for Sarpsborg to exploit. The hosts have a great defensive record at this stadium, but I have a feeling Start will score a goal. Perhaps Sarpsborg might switch off a couple of times due to the low standard of opposition. I’m only going to stake one unit here but I think there should be at least three goals scored and the odds are juicy enough to tempt me.

Prediction: 3-1
Recommended bet 1 unit: Over 3 goals @ 2.04 (minimum odds acceptable 1.90)

 

France Ligue 2 – Tours v Ajaccio Preview (29/7/16)

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Tours preview

The hosts were excellent last week as they dominated Niort in a friendly to win 2-0. They look really well set for the season and had a buzz & energy about them. The squad is in good condition with only midfielder Haris Belkebla missing due to international duty. Tours were often seen as boring under the management of Marco Simone last season, but new man at the helm Fabien Mercadal from National side Dunkerque has promised a more attacking style. Tours look to have some good pace on the wings with Ibrahima Tandia & the newly acquired Denis Bouanga set to cause some problems. Overall though, there haven't been too many changes at Tours during the summer and this is a fairly tight knit group where everyone knows each other pretty well.

Ajaccio preview

It’s been a fairly turbulent off season for ACA. They were only granted ligue status from the financial watchdogs on July 13th, so constantly had a black cloud surrounding them. As such, player recruitment hasn’t really taken hold too much, and they've lost more than they've gained. On the field they have had some nice friendly results, winning 5-0 and 4-0 on occasion. However, in their most recent fixture last week they lost against city rivals GFCA 3-1. This Ajaccio squad looks a bit lightweight in all areas, especially upfront where they lack quality and many options. I’d imagine the coach will be pretty negative here against one of his old clubs. A draw would be seen as a good result. At the time of writing I’m sure entirely sure if they are going to be missing any players, the squad list hasn't been released.

Conclusion & Betting analysis

I think Tours on a -0.25 handicap is a fairly obvious pick here. Ajaccio have never been a good away team, in any ligue or in any season that I can remember! They only won a solitary road match in the 2015/16 campaign, so to get a nice juicy handicap like this on any team against them is a no brainer decision. Tours seem in a good place right now anyway. Their pre season preparations have been pretty smooth and they can take plenty of confidence out of their performance last week. Ajaccio haven't looked too bad but their usual road issues can’t be ignored, neither can their lack of firepower upfront. The visitors are probably going to rely on a set piece to score, otherwise I think Tours will keep a fairly easy clean sheet. I’m expecting a 1-0 or 2-0 sort of outcome and to get 2.05 on a -0.25 handicap is too big to refuse, even if this is the opening day of the season when betting is traditionally dangerous.

Prediction: 2-0
Recommended bet 2 units: Tours -0.25 @ 2.05 (minimum odds acceptable 1.80)

France Ligue 2 – Orleans v Le Havre Preview (29/7/16)

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Orleans preview

The hosts are missing three players to injury and a couple to suspension. At the back, Anthar Yahia & Gauthier Pinaud are ruled out, whilst defensive midfielder Mathieu Ligoule continues his comeback after a lengthy knee injury. In the final third both Greg Houla & Kevin Dupuis are banned. So Orleans aren’t going to be at full strength here on their return to ligue 2. However, they look a bit better equipped this time around. Two players to watch out for are big centre back Joel Sami and playmaker Karim Ziani, who should be at a much higher level than most of their teammates. The coach played a 4-4-2 system in the national division last year but a return to this tier of football, and having to accommodate Ziani might see him switch to a 4-2-3-1.

Le Havre preview

HAC come into the game with no injuries or suspensions. There are a few players not yet physically ready for competition, such as new left winger Tarik Tissoudali. Le Havre have declared their intent to obtain promotion. It seems nothing less than that is acceptable for them this season and everyone is working towards that ambition. They haven’t exactly been setting the world alight in pre season, but what matters most is the official start of Ligue 2 competition. An interesting side story with them this week has been manager Bob Bradley being linked with EPL side Hull City. He has denied any contact but maybe this could have unsettled him or the players a little bit? Bradley is a major weapon for HAC and losing him would be a big blow.

Conclusion & betting analysis

I personally rate Le Havre as the best side in Ligue 2, but it doesn't necessarily mean they’ll start off the season with a win. Orleans will be highly motivated to improve on the last time they graced this ligue. The hosts actually played really well in a friendly last week, winning 4-0 against Auxerre. There’s no doubt that Le Havre have the better quality but Bob Bradley didn't always have a great away record in 2015/16. I think the visitors will obtain victory, but I can’t be sure. In the early stages of the campaign it's usually best to avoid betting in this type of match, and wait for the safer option of backing the big teams at home. HAC are slight favourites on a DNB line, which is tempting, but not tempting enough for me to back it. I have a feeling this match might go over 2.5 as well but it’d be too much of a risk taking anything in that market.

Prediction: 1-2
Recommended bet: None

France Ligue 2 – Niort v Lens Preview (29/7/16)

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Niort preview

Les Chamois are missing two key midfielders for this tip. New man from Bourg-en-Bresse Aliou Dembele is suspended, whilst another addition Laurent Agouazi is injured. Niort don’t have a lot of quality or depth in the middle of the park so they’ll be pretty lightweight in this department here. The rest of the squad is in good condition and the main strength of the team is going to be in defence this year. That will be less the case tonight with them missing two good DMIDs. Lack of goals could be a big problem for them again, especially as they have a negative coach who will readily accept draws. Les Chamois didn’t have a bad run of pre season friendlies, but were poor last week losing against Tours 2-0. They showed a distinct amount of rust and it was a disappointing performance.

Lens preview

Les Sang et Or are missing left back Anthony Scaramozzino and midfielder Patrick Olsen due to injury. Both would've started the game had they been fit. In creative midfield they lost Wylan Cyprien to Nice on Wednesday and they've yet to sign a replacement. New striker Teddy Chevalier isn’t match fit yet, plus fellow frontmen Nanizayamo & Abdelrafik Gerard aren’t included in the squad, likely because of a lack of match sharpness too. Lens have a few youngsters here who might make their professional debuts. Les Sang et Or had a solid enough pre season, even drawing against Arsenal. They look set to have an improved year under Alain Casanova and their ambitions are always high. But once again a lack of goals could be a problem, at least until Chevalier and a few others return to full fitness.

Conclusion & Betting analysis

Come the end of the season I think these two teams will be at the opposite ends of the table. But as far as an opening match goes, it looks difficult to call. Both are missing players and this could be a tight tactical game. I would expect Lens to dominate the midfield areas in their 3-5-2 formation, especially as Niort are missing two key men in the middle. If any team is to win then Lens look the most likely, but their price isn't great. The bookies only just make them slight underdogs on a DNB line and this won’t be an easy place to visit on the opening day. Lens won this fixture towards the end of last season 1-0, but were very lucky that night. I suspect Niort would enjoy some sort of revenge so might be extra motivated. I think a goalless draw is a massive runner here and if someone is to win, then 1-0 either way is the most probable score. This isn’t a match I’m interesting in betting on. I don’t see an edge on the match lines, and the bookies aren’t offering anything for under backers either with a line of 2.0

Prediction: 0-0
Recommended bet: None

France Ligue 2 – GFC Ajaccio v Brest Preview (29/7/16)

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GFC Ajaccio preview

Only fullback Boris Mahon De Monaghan & midfielder Jerome Lemoigne are injured. The latter is an important midfield influence but his absence was expected because he’s missed all of preseason. GFC gave a very good account of themselves last season in Ligue 1 but ultimately fell short of survival. As mentioned in the season preview, I think they have a decent chance of going back up at the first attempt. They have however added 12 new players, which is quite a lot, plus a brand new coach. Most of them have had decent enough time to settle in but when this sort of big changeover happens there'll always be question marks. GFC have looked solid enough in preseason and looked especially sharp against their city rivals AC Ajaccio last week (3-1 win). I wouldn't expect them to lose many home games this campaign. Corsica will always be a fortress for all of its clubs.

Brest preview

For a long time Brest were quiet in this transfer window but have done a lot of business in the last seven days. A total of 8 new players have arrived, most of whom officially signed recently. It all feels like a bit of a rush and it might take some time for certain players to settle in. Brest have a new manager this season in Jean Marc Furlan. He’s going to completely change the typical Brest approach into a more attack minded side this season. Many people will think of the Brittany outfit and imagine a boring tactical team but it could be the opposite now. He said in a recent interview that ‘football should be a show’ Of course, it might take some time for Furlan to get his message across and he won't probably know what his best XI is right now. It also doesn’t help that two centre backs (Castan & Coeff ) might not be registered in time for this game. Brest don’t have any injuries. Any players not included in the squad will either depart soon, or aren’t part of Furlan’s masterplan.

Conclusion & Betting analysis

This is an interesting opening day match between a couple of teams who could finish in the top six this season. Both head into the campaign having undergone a lot of changes so there are understandable question marks on either side. My feeling is that home advantage will be important here. Corsica is a really difficult place to go and GFCA have a formidable record here in recent years. Even in Ligue 1, certain sides struggled visiting Le Stade Ange Casanova. I think the islanders on a -0.25 handicap @ 1.84 looks like a good bet. There is some security here in case of a draw and I think it’s worth a two unit stake. I’m also going to take over 2 goals @1.91. I’m maybe being a bit aggressive here but I think both sides are priced up on past reputation, especially Brest. Furlan will have them playing more attack minded this season and we might not get such juicy odds on them again if this match ends a decent scorer. With a full refund if exactly two goals are scored I’ll have a small punt on the overs as well.

Prediction: 2-1
Recommended bet 2 units: GFC Ajaccio -0.25 @ 1.84 (minimum odds acceptable 1.70)
Recommended bet 1 unit: Over 2 goals @ 1.91 (minimum odds acceptable 1.75)

France Ligue 2 – Amiens Season Preview 2016/17

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Amiens defence

The northern outfit had one of the best defences in the National Division last season but at Ligue 2 level it may well struggle. Starting in goal, Regis Gurtner is the #1 custodian. He had one past season when he was the main choice for a team at this level, but he’s effectively a failed GK in Ligue 2, so the jury remains out. I don’t see him being very good, but he’s probably going to be forced into making a number of saves. The backline doesn’t look particularly strong to me, filled with inexperienced players or older guys like left back Julian Ielsch who is basically finished at this level of football. Centre back options include Khaled Adenon, who looks the best of a poor bunch. Mathieu Fontaine was his partner last season but could miss some time because of recent kidney surgery. Amiens appear to have an abundance of left back,s with four players all capable in this role! But they have a strange lack of right backs and this looks set to be a problem position.

Defensive midfield looks better for them at least. They’ll be spearheaded by new signing from Angers Gu N’Gosso who should still have plenty to offer at this level. He’s strong physically and will be hard to break down. Alongside him, Thomas Monconduit is the captain and is one of their few players with proven experience and good performances in Ligue 2. He used to be with Auxerre and should be one of their best players this season. Other options include Guessouma Fofana, Oualid el Hajam & Joachim Eickmayer. Neither are particularly good but do at least add to depth. I expect the two holding midfielders to be quite busy this year because the backline itself might struggle to adapt to Ligue 2 level and concede a number of goals.

Key players: Guy N’Gosso (DM), Thomas Monconduit (DM)

Amiens offense

ASC weren't the greatest scoring team last season and leading marksman was right winger Jonathan Tinhan with 12 goals to his name. This player is highly interesting to me because I remember when he played for Montpellier a few times, he caught my eye. Things didn't work out and he’s had to move down to the third tier of French football to rebuild his career. He could go well for Amiens this season and possesses fast pace and good skills on the wings. Clearly, he has improved his finishing as well. Apart from Tinhan though, it doesn’t look like they have an awful lot else. On the opposite wing, Quentin Cornette comes in from Montpellier and he might be a pleasant surprise. The rest of the team is made up of inexperienced players or guys who have previously failed at this level. Emmanuel Bourgaud will probably be their leading playmaker centrally and might go ok. New signing from CFA side Poissy; Yannick Mamilonne might also be worth watching. He scored 18 goals in 21 appearances last season, but stepping up a full two divisions might prove to be too much for him. Of course, ASC are going to be capable of having good days. But as long as opposition defences keep Tinhan quiet, then Amiens won’t strike much fear into anyone.

Key players: Jonathan Tinhan (RW), Emmanuel Bourgaud (AM)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

In charge is Christophe Pelissier, who is going to be one of their biggest weapons if they’re to survive this season. I am pleased that Pelissier now has the chance to manage in Ligue 2 because he cruelly had the opportunity taken away from him two years ago. He was involved in the controversial and awful Luzenac story, a town with only 650 inhabitants. Involved with the club for seven years, he sensationally led the club to promotion against all the odds. The authorities denied them ascension though and even worse, they had to rebuild life as low as the seventh division,. It’s one of the big injustices of French football so I’m pleased Pelissier now gets his chance. He’s obviously a very strong motivator and extremely strong mentally. He has come through a lot to get here and I’m sure he’ll get his players to fight really hard. On paper the team looks weakest in the division, But Pelissier is used to defying the odds and working with a shoe-string budget. I don’t personally think Amiens will avoid relegation, but with 18th place now concluding with a relegation playoff against 3rd placed team from the National ligue, there’s half a chance they could reach that spot. I expect a committed team which ultimately lacks quality at this level. The last time they were in this division was four years ago and they finished rock bottom. Something similar could happen again and it feels to me like this team wasn’t ready for promotion.I don’t think they’ll survive, but I said that about GFC Ajaccio a couple of years ago and look what happened!

Prediction: 20th

 

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France Ligue 2 – Troyes Season Preview 2016/17

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Troyes defence

ESTAC have moved to sign Mamadou Samassa, an experienced goalkeeper from Ligue 1 side Guingamp. He should actually be a decent acquisition and offer a reassuring ability in between the sticks, although is quite old now. Backing him up is Matthieu Dreyer, who is ok at this level. Troyes have signed four new defenders, all of whom should be contenders to start. On the right hand side, Jeremy Cordoval has impressed with Nimes in recent years and is especially good offensively, offering some rare pace to this team. On the left hand side Jordan Obiang arrives from National ligue side Chateauroux. He has played at this level before, although similar to Cordoval he likes to get forwards when he can. This means Troyes will have fullbacks who might be too ambitious, leaving potential holes. In the middle of defence Jeremy Giraudon follows his coach out of Grenoble and joins him here. He’s never played at this level before though, so there are definitely some doubts. The final addition is Christophe Herelle from Creteil. But he was part of an horrific defence last season for a relegated team and hardly brings any reassurances.

Charles Traore is another option at left back who is ok, whilst Johan Martial in the middle seems to have really gone downhill in the last couple of seasons. He once had a great potential but has been ruined by this club. Sadly, the rest of Troyes’ defensive options are effectively in their own separate hospital ward at the club! You have the likes of Kone, Saunier, Rincon & N’Diaye who are still under contract. It’s rare any of them are actually fit and spend more time on the treatment table than on the field! In defensive midfield, ESTAC will rely on yet another player who is often injured - Thiago Xavier. This is someone I actually rate, but he has also regressed in recent years and it’s clear fitness issues have affected him. Alois Confais is their only other real defensive midfielder, and maybe has a bright future. Confais can also play right back if required and could develop into a talent, maybe he’s in the wrong surroundings though. Troyes look a bit lightweight in defensive areas. Things could be worse but there are a lot of question marks surrounding certain players and they lack depth, especially in defensive midfield.

Key players: Mamadou Samassa (GK), Thiago Xavier (DM)

Troyes offense

ESTAC don’t lack for options upfront, the problem is they lack for quality. They are desperately hoping someone unexpectedly steps up this year or a couple of youngsters develop into good players. New strikers include Mamadou Sissoko from Le Havre, Jan Kaye from Evian, a returning Raphael Caceres & Mour Paye from Lyon reserves. Only Caceres has any sort of proven history, although Kaye showed some promise with Evian at times last season. One of their own players who will be in contention to start upfront is Deniz Hummet. I don’t personally like the look of this strikeforce. It’s possible someone could produce the goals out of nowhere but I don't think many opponents will look at this lineup and worry too much. Things do look better in attacking midfield and out wide, but again there are plenty of other issues.

Benjamin Nivet is still going, despite being nearly 40. He has never been one to rely on pace and has good technical skills, but he’s really in the twilight of his career now and I’m not sure what’s left in the tank. Tristan Dingome, an ex Monaco and Le Havre player is a new signing who might be useful. He’s always capable of playing on the wings. Stephane Darbion is 32 years old now and will be one of their main players either on the left or right. He’s not particularly fast, but quite a good crosser of the ball. Troyes will hope that guys like Ben Saada, Azamoum or even a young player like Samuel Grandsir can deliver a decent season. ESTAC are waiting for men to stand up. They have plenty of guys on their books in the final third, but it appears to me as though they lack serious quality. I think this is a really difficult attack to predict, but my gut instinct says it’ll struggle unless certain guys raise their game, or unless some better reinforcements are added.

Key players: Raphael Caceres (ATT), Stephane Darbion (winger)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Jean Louis Garcia takes over the helm of this troubled club. Garcia was once a highly sought coach and had a number of superb years managing Angers. But all seemed to go downhill as soon as he took on the Lens job. He effectively failed there, then took Chateauroux to relegation. He regrouped at Grenoble last season, very nearly taking them from the CFA into the National division. Now he takes on a very difficult job at a club where the mood is still very negative. Troyes had an appalling season in Ligue 1, hardly winning a game and putting up some horrific performances. It was an example of a club obtaining promotion, but actually doing them more harm than good. This is now a big rebuilding project. Although fans will expect more, I think a good outcome for them this year is simply to avoid relegation. I’ve seen many teams struggle after coming down from the top flight. Teams like Valenciennes, Evian, Ajaccio & even Sochaux in recent years have encountered difficult campaigns. There are question marks in all areas of the squad, and this is a roster which seems a bit of a mess with lots of arrivals and departures, adding to a lot of dead wood already here. It’s possible ESTAC could surprise, but despite a lot of bookies ranking them as one of the favourites, I think they’ll struggle. This is as really difficult side to predict, but my gut feeling is the best they can achieve is a midtable spot.

Prediction: 13th

 

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France Ligue 2 – Ajaccio Season Preview 2016/17

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Ajaccio defence

Goalkeeper Anthony Scribe has left the club which means Riffi Mandanda should be the number one custodian for them this season. Jules Goda, signed from city rivals GFCA is another option in this area. Both are reasonable enough keepers without being anything exceptional. They’ll have good and bad days but it’s nice that they appear to have two keepers about the same level who should push each other. The backline will remain somewhat similar. Left back Zie Diabate has departed the club and his replacement is Jordan Pierre Charles from National division side Colmar. I know little about him so can’t really comment, but I always say it’s a huge risk bringing in a defender from a lower ligue. It’s arguably harder for that type of player to adjust, so maybe he could be a bust signing. Zakaria Diallo has recently been lost to Brest and this is a big blow as he was one of the mainstays of the backline. The players who are still here look alright and certainly don’t lack for aggressiveness! Anthony Lippini wears his heart on his sleeve, whilst Joris Sainati returns following a 12 month ban for punching two Tours players last season!

Other options at the back are Pape Cisse & Paul Babiloni. I’d imagine this backline might be difficult to break down at home but will struggle more on the road. Watch out for some stupid red cards as well, especially from the likes of Lippini. Ajaccio look fairly well set in defensive midfield, although will have to do without young star Vincent Marchetti who has been signed by Nancy for about £1m. This isn’t a bad sale for the club, even if they are losing a great young prospect. He is still raw and only started regularly for them since January. Yann Boe Kane is a new addition from Red Star who performed well last season, I think he should go well in this side. Of course, the Corsicans have other remaining players like Christophe Vincent & Laurent Abergel. The spine of the team is fairly good and will be hard to break down in certain matches. Without being elite, Ajaccio will certainly be competitive in this area of the field.

Key players: Anthony Lippini (RB), Yann Boe Kane (DM)

Ajaccio offense

Two of their leading scorers from last season, Julien Toudic and Andrey Panyukov have left the club. Neither are what you’d call high class though, so might not be missed all that much. The problem is that Ajaccio haven't really replaced them. Marvin Gakpa comes in on loan from Lorient and maybe he could shine at Ligue 2 level, but nobody is really sure. Their other striker options are Mouaad Madri or youngsters. Many would argue that Madri better suited out wide than upfront. So the big problem is with strikers until someone of proven quality is brought in. Elsewhere, the Ajaccio attack doesn’t look too bad. They have some alright wide options and playmakers through the middle who will be able to create chances.

It feels like the first name I mention when talking about the Ajaccio offense is always Johan Cavalli. The old legend is now 35 years old, but he still scored five times and weighed in with a few assists last term. How much more has he got left in the tank? In many ways he’s similar to Brest’s Bruno Grougi and has great technical ability. Along with experience and a great dressing room influence he’s still an asset to this team. As aforementioned, out wide Ajaccio have Mouaad Madri, Riad Nouri and Hugo Videmont who are all decent crossers of the ball. Depth is ok and there is the odd youngster coming through who could make an impact. The Corsicans aren’t anything special going forwards and lack a key focal point unless Gakpa comes good. But they will have some good moments in front of goal and I could see them creating a few chances. Whether many will be taken or if anyone can get on the end of them remains to be seen.

Key players: Johan Cavalli (AM), Riad Nouri (RW)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

The first thing to mention about Ajaccio is that they’ve had a black cloud over them all summer regarding financial status. They were provisionally relegated but managed to prove themselves to the authority. Obviously, this has affected their transfer dealings and we will probably see them fairly active right until the end of August. In charge is still Olivier Pantaloni, an Ajaccio legend who famously took the club up to Ligue 1 and then ensured an almost impossible survival after a shocking start. He is well respected by everyone here and a fine motivator. Tactically, Pantaloni is usually more defensive minded on the road, but in home matches he does like to push for victories and won't settle for a draw very often. Ajaccio will always be strong in front of their own fans on the island of Corsica. But it’s a different story on the road and they had the worst away record in the whole ligue last season, obtaining just one victory. As usual, expect Ajaccio to be solid rather than spectacular. It could be a difficult campaign because they are starting the season well behind the eight-ball in terms of transfers and signings. They desperately need to add reinforcements, both for quality and depth purposes. Don't underestimate the strength of the team spirit here but it looks like a season battling against relegation for ACA.

Prediction: 16th

 

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France Ligue 2 – Brest Season Preview 2016/17

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Brest defense

One of the big positives for Brest last season was the goalkeeping of Joan Hartock. He seemed to really develop, and whilst still lacking some consistency, managed to single handedly earn them some draws and victories. If he continues his progress he could become one of the best keepers in this ligue. Brest have a strong backup in Donovan Leon who I thought would push Hartock last season. They won’t be downgraded too much should he be needed. The Brittany club had a superb defence a couple of years ago that included the likes of Wilfried Moimbe and Ismael Traore. It regressed last season to just a mediocre level and right now there’s been a complete turnaround regarding players. They look set on the left hand side with Lyon loanee Louis Nganioni coming in, fresh from a season in the Eredivisie. Gaetan Belaud on the right is one of the best in his position in Ligue 2.
As far as centre backs and go, they’ve lost Simon Falette and Baissama Sankoh, both of whom started 30+ games last season. The former has moved up to Ligue 1 level with Metz and will be heavily missed. Sankoh meanwhile, was never a natural centre back but had proven quality at a higher level.

The Brittany club have signed four other new defenders. In the heart of defence Brazilian Luciano Castan comes in. I have absolutely no idea how good or bad he is, except most of his career has been played in Brazilian Serie B. Alongside him, Zakaria Diallo is a more known prospect in this division and been a key player for Ajaccio in recent years. Alexandre Coeff arrives on a two year loan from Udinese and can play in a range of different positions. Julien Faussier is the final addition, best suited to left or right back it seems his primary usage for Brest will be in defensive midfield. Brest have a few defensive midfielders to choose from, but none of them are what I’d call top class at this level. Manuel Perez can have good and bad days, whilst Eric Tie Bi has gone downhill in the last couple of years and looks set to leave. The aforementioned Faussurier and Coeff can both play here, but both are probably better suited elsewhere. So Les Rouges and Blancs aren’t particularly strong in this position. But it might not matter! New coach Jean Marc Furlan has never really been a man to play with two DMIDs, instead preferring a more offensive formation.

Key players: Joan Hartock (GK), Gaetan Belaud (RB)

Brest offense

Under Alex Dupont, Brest were never a strong offensive threat and actually ranked joint second worst for goals scored last season (34 in total). His tactics were the main reason for this, although Brest could also do with a bit more quality in these areas. The only two reinforcements to date are Valentin Lavigne, on loan from Lorient & Neal Maupay from Saint Etienne (loan). Lavigne was at Laval last season and only scored three goals. He can play on the wings a bit as well but he’s hardly the sort of real quality addition they need. Youssef Adnane was their top scorer in 2015/16 with 10 goals in 28 appearances, which is a fairly good hit rate. It looks like he’s going to leave the club though and Neal Maupay will be taking his place. Long touted as a teenage sensation at Nice, he hasn’t been given the game time he needs to develop at Sainte. It’s worth remembering he only turns 20 in August so is still pretty young. Maybe a whole season starting in ligue 2 will do him some good, if he knuckles down he could be a class above this level and her looks a good signing.

This offense could become quite useful under Jean Marc Furlan if he can just add a couple more pieces. Brest legend Bruno Grougi, now 33 years old is retained again. From the no 10 role, Grougi has great technical quality and playmaking ability, although his game time might need to be managed/rotated on occasion. Statistically, Brest’s second best attacker last season was Christian Battocchio. Many would class him as a genuine central midfielder box to box type, but with great playmaking abilities. He just seems like the perfect sort of player that Furlan loves and he could thrive under a new system. Out wide, Bryan Pele and Steven Joseph Monrose are strong wing options too, both capable of rotating on either side. When at full strength the Breton’s look alright going forwards. But they lack some depth and need to sign some more players in case injuries and suspensions kick in.

Key players: Christian Battocchio (AM), Neal Maupay (ATT)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

New coach Jean Marc Furlan arrives following a bitter-sweet spell at Troyes. Furlan seems to be one of those coaches who is great at managing in the second tier, but things then fall apart in the top flight. He has managed to obtain promotion from this ligue on three separate occasions, so clearly Brest will hope he can do the same with them. Furlan is usually quite an attack minded coach and his sides are pleasing on the eye. Le Stade Francis le Ble can be an intimidating place, and the sort of stadium nobody likes to visit in the winter with the harsh Breton coastal weather at its worst. But the pitch quality can deteriorate and this might not suit Furlan’s style of technical football. He was spoiled by the excellent pitch in Troyes. Brest finished 10th last season, although due to the nature of some performances it felt worse. I think Furlan will bring about an improvement, although quite how much I’m not sure. Brest have signed a lot of players late in July and I expect maybe a couple more in August too. It might take some time for the squad to settle down and it could ultimately take 2-3 transfer windows for the new coach to stamp his authority on this club. I don’t think they’ll have enough to obtain promotion yet. But I could see Brest knocking on the door of the top six places and maybe in the second half of the season they could be one of the better sides in Ligue 2. Everything just feels to quick and hectic with them right now. New players have only just arrived and it could take some time for the identity of the team to settle down.

Prediction: 6th

 

BREST STARS 2

France Ligue 2 – Sochaux Season Preview 2016/17

SOCHAUX SP

Sochaux defence

Goalkeeping wasn’t a great strength for Sochaux last season. They used three starting keepers, two of which return this year. Oliver Werner is the number one and should do a decent enough job. He didn’t really impress much throughout most of last season, but did end the campaign well making some good saves. Backing him up is Maxence Prevot who is young and raw, maybe with some potential. Christopher Dilo has signed from Dijon as another possible option. This is an ok goalkeeping lineup without being anything special. At the back Les Lionceaux welcome two new starters - both of whom have transferred from Bourg-en-Bresse. Mickael Alphonse is going to replace the departed Julien Faussurier at right back, whilst Florent Ogier should compete for a centre back spot. But he'll find it very hard to dislodge the current duo of Adolphe Teikeu & Jerome Onguene. Both were impressive last season and form one of the best centre back pairings in Ligue 2. Both are physically strong and technically excellent.

Left back is the one big problem position for Sochaux and they are definitely in the market to sign someone. Pierre Gibaud is currently an option there but it’s not his natural position. Instead, he can play anywhere on the right hand side with great effect and is usually employed as a wide midfielder or winger. Sochaux have some extremely good defensive midfield options - possibly the best in the entire ligue. Florian Tardieu has always been touted as a top prospect. He delivered an excellent 2015/16 campaign, to such an extent a number of ligue 1 clubs are interested. They might not be able to keep hold of him before the end of August, but right now Sochaux have a great talent at their disposal. Johann Ramare, Marco Ilaimaharitra and another upcoming prospect Jeandro Fuchs are other options for them in defensive midfield. Les Lionceaux have a superb looking crop of players here, and coupled with a likely solid defence will be very strong defensively. They do need to sign a quality left back though, because right now that’s their one big weak spot.

Sochaux offense

The big negative is that leading scorer Karl Toko Ekambi has left the club. Sochaux got close to £900k for his services which is a pretty good outcome though, especially for a striker who still sometimes resembles a donkey on occasion. Toko Ekambi scored a combined 25 ligue 2 goals in the last couple of seasons, but there are those who argue he should've scored a lot more and missed too many good chances. Sochaux have brought in three new strikers, all of whom add a different dimension. Youngster Franck Honorat comes in from Nice and he could prove hit or miss and is still very raw. Another unproven sort of player is Goran Karanovic on loan from Ligue 1 side Angers. Deemed surplus to requirements at that club, he could certainly replace the physical being that Toko Ekambi was. The final addition is Faneva Andriatsima who transfers from relegated Creteil. This is someone who’s pretty experienced with with ligue 2 football and actually has a good record in this division.

Probably the most important player in this Sochaux offense is left winger Florian Martin though. He can pretty much play on either side, or in an attacking midfield role. Las year, he weighed in with six assists, three goals and has great technical mastery of a football. Sochaux will miss winger Sekou Cisse who was their second top scorer in 2015/16. One positive factor is that youngsters like Thuram, Robinet and Baptise Leo might develop. Moussa Sao is another option upfront, whilst Florian Berenguer is probably going to fill an attacking midfield role. The Sochaux offense isn’t as strong as their defence and because the coach is quite negative, don’t expect too many fireworks from them in this department. There’s some reasonable quality here though and the odd really good player like Martin. Les Lionceaux won’t be heavy scorers, but should find the back of the net enough times.

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Albert Cartier managed to keep them afloat after a really difficult campaign in which they sacked the horrible Olivier Echouafni fairly early on. Cartier has a good past record in this division, taking Metz up to Ligue 1 with his first attempt. But he’s never going to be the sort of coach who produces eyecatching football. He likes his teams to be solid, effective and to have strong foundations. It was a long tough ride just to avoid relegation but Sochaux can now put a line through what was a disastrous campaign. There’s enough quality in this team to launch a promotion bid. In defensive areas especially, I expect them to be one of the best in the division. Offensively, they still lack some pieces, and the coach might lack ambition on too many occasions. But because Les Lionceaux will probably keep things tight at the back on a regular basis, they might only need one or two goals to win matches. It's worth noting that Sochaux have three players who were involved in the French U19 European Championship winning squad (Onuengue, Fuchs & Thuram),  so they have some good youth here. Homefield advantage isn't something Les Lionceaux are particularly renowned for. Cartier had that massively in his favour at Metz but it's different here. Nevertheless, Sochaux should have a good chance of finishing in the top six. Whether or not they actually have quite enough to secure a top three spot remains to be seen.

Prediction: 4th

 

SOX STARS