Les Grenats have had a weird goalkeeping situation in recent years but everyone has been shown the door, including the erratic Eiki Kawashima who showed his vulnerabilities on the World Cup stage this summer for Japan. Coming in as undisputed no1 is Alexandre Oukidja from local rivals Strasbourg. He was one of the best goalkeepers in Ligue 2 a couple of years ago and should do a solid job for them. Paul Delecroix has been signed as a #2 from Lorient. He was once decent but seems to have lost his way at Les Merlus. The backline itself is also going to be much changed. Metz have signed two strong solid Africans at centre back and I expect both John Boye and Stoppila Sunzu to do a fairly good job, even if pace could be an issue at times. Laurent Jans is a new right back from the Belgian league and will do battle with Jonathan Rivierez in this spot. Technically, Ivan Balliu is still on the books but will surely leave before the end of the transfer window. Left back could be a slight issue and it looks like youngster Matthieu Udol should get the starting spot. He has talent and been unlucky with injuries in his career so could this be his break out year? Les Grenats have a bunch of younger backup players who shouldn't be too bad - like Selimovic, Basin and Peugnet. If Sunzu and Boye are as strong as I anticipated then this backline could actually be pretty decent. It also helps their cause that defensive midfield looks to be stocked up fairly well. Three new signings, Maiga, Fofana and Lahssaini along with what is already here like Cohade and Poblete should ensure backbone in midfield, something the new coach Frederic Antonetti is known for.
Key players - Stoppila Sunzu (DC), John Boye (DC)
On the face of things there’s enough here for the Lorraine outfit to be fairly competitive. Striker options include Habib Diallo who returns from a loan spell at Brest and new man Marvin Gakpa from relegated Quevilly-Rouen. Both bagged themselves around ten goals in this division last season so are no mugs. Emmanuel Riviere is still on the books but will almost certainly leave before the end of the transfer window. On the wings Metz have some quality players like Mathieu Dossevi and Opa Nguette who really should be able to thrive in Ligue 2. It is quite possible and indeed likely that Dossevi will leave the club before the end of August though. Creative central midfield isn’t their strongest spot and they will hope that the often injury plagued Farid Boulaya can stay fit this season. If he can, then this player is one to watch. Renaud Cohade is getting on a bit but can still be a creative force from midfield if required. Like most of the rest of their squad, Metz have a few decent younger backup options in attack such as Ibrahima Niane, Gauthier Hein and newly signed Cheikh Sabaly. If the coach allows this team to express itself (which isn't always a guarantee) then Metz have plenty of goal threat in them.
Key players - Mathieu Dossevi (RW), Marvin Gakpa (ATT)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Frederic Hantz did his best to try and save Metz last season but ultimately losing 14 of their first 16 games proved too much of a deficit to make up. Les Grenats ended up with a respectable points tally of 26 and likely would have survived if Hantz had been in charge all season. He’s now gone though and in charge will be Frederic Antonetti, who makes a return to the sidelines after a year and a half out of the game. He is often a controversial and outspoken coach but has bags of experience and in all truth is probably quite a coup for the club. It’s been a while since he managed in Ligue 2 so it will be interesting to see how the ex Nice and Lille man adapts. But as a whole result wise, I consider him to be a strong positive for the club. His style is mostly defensive and Antonetti teams as a general rule don’t concede goals easily. From an offensive point of view his negative tactics can sometimes limit things and he tends to place a lot of an emphasis on discipline, tactics and keeping things tight. He will be more than happy to win numerous matches 1-0 if needed but Metz fans won’t complain if he can deliver them promotion. In Ligue 1 last season the club lost a massive 12 home games out of 18, but I would expect Le Stade Saint Symphorien to be more of a fortress at this level of football. General expectations from fans and pundits are that Metz should be a serious promotion contender. I would agree with that, but it’s not always easy for teams to bounce back from relegation at the first attempt. For example it took Reims a couple of campaigns to manage it and an extra year to rebuild is sometimes necessary - especially now that only two teams automatically go up. One senses that with Antonetti on board this place will become a bit of a circus at times with loads of media attention and potential distractions. Maybe this will cost them at some stage but Les Grenats should be in the mixer to go up.
Prediction - Promotion challenge