France Ligue 2 – RC Lens Season Preview 2018/19

Lens defence

It looks like the goalkeeping situation is very strong at Lens. Battling it out for the no1 spot will be Jeremy Vachoux and new signing Jean-Louis Leca. In my mind Leca will ultimately win out because he's simply the better keeper - good enough to be a Ligue 1 starting keeper in my opinion. Vachoux is no mug though and will provide stern competition. Valentin Belon as a third choice demonstrates their depth as well. Whoever is in goal might be busy at times because the backline itself is going to be completely changed. Dusan Cvetinovic is out of the club and his partner in recent years Jean-Kevin Duverne is likely injured until at least Christmas with an ACL. Duverne is a quality prospect and probably would’ve been snapped up by someone bigger this summer had he not suffered such a bad injury back in May. Fullbacks Karim Hafez and Frederic Duplus have both left the club so it’s all change in defence for Les Sang et Or. I quite like some of their additions but it might take some time for them to settle into a partnership. Massadio Haidara, ultimately a failure at Newcastle United should in theory go really well at Ligue 2 level. The addition of Fabien Centonze from Clermont may well turn out to be a shrewd piece of business too. He looks set to have a bright future and is also an extremely versatile player, effectively capable of playing in any position out wide both defensively and offensively. In the middle of the backline Aleksandar Radovanovic has transferred from Serbian side Vojvodina and reports suggest he’ll be solid. Lens do perhaps lack a bit of steel in midfield. New signing Mehdi Jean would be ideal in a holding midfield role, but right now it looks like he’ll be employed in central defence instead. Jean Bellegarde Ricner can play this sort of role if needed but I prefer him as a genuine central midfielder who offers something offensively too. El Hadji Ba has signed from Sochaux and should give extra depth at least, even if he was inconsistent last year for Les Lionceaux.

Key players - Jean Louis Leca (GK), Massadio Haidara (DL)

Lens offense

The Northerners only scored 48 goals last season and that is a figure which has to improve by at least 15-20 if they want to consider themselves a promotion force. One big problem for Lens in recent years has been the lack of a genuine star quality #9 type striker and unfortunately it doesn't look like they solved the issue yet. Key man for them upfront will be Kevin Fortune who netted 9 times last season and was also their top assist maker. I quite like this player and he would be very useful as a support sort of striker, alongside someone of genuine class. But it looks like he will be leading the line instead, and the only new addition is Yannick Gomis from Orleans. I quite like this signing, Gomis showed plenty of ability last season by scoring 12 times. There is a chance he could develop into the star striker that Lens need, but I remain questionable about whether this can happen. For the most part Lens lack enough quality creative options. Walid Mesloub and Cyrille Bayala can do an ok job but this is definitely the area that Lens need to reinforce more in my opinion. They especially lack wide options right now, but I do expect them to try and reinforce before the end of the transfer window.

Key players - Kevin Fortune (ATT), Yannick Gomis (ATT)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Lens have a new coach at the helm this year in Philippe Montanier. I think he has to be considered quite a coup for any Ligue 2 side because he would’ve commanded a much better position in a higher league. This is a man who had great success with Real Sociedad in La Liga and didn't do a bad job with Rennes either. The one blemish on his managerial career was with Nottingham Forest , but I’m happy to forgive him there because any foreigner managing in the English Championship can be very hit or miss. A return to French football at a club like Lens should suit him well, but I think he has quite a tough job to revitalise this fallen giant. Les Sang at Or have been a club in turmoil for quite some time. Last year they had an absolute nightmare losing the first seven matches. This was recovered and ultimately managed to avoid relegation with relative comfort. But for a team that was expected to challenge then it was a total flop. As per always, expectations will be high here but I suspect it might take Montanier a second full season to get them out of this league. A lot of new additions in defensive areas might take some time to gel, whilst the offense still looks quite a few key pieces light of what is required. I could see Lens being the sort of team that gets better as the season goes on - maybe they could even sneak into the the playoff spots. In theory with such a big stadium and fans they should be able to have a dominant home record, but this isn't always the case. Lens often play on Sundays or Monday nights which over the course of the whole campaign can be quite demanding. Overall, I think this team are quite tough to predict. They should be top ten, but I don’t see them as a major promotion force yet.

Prediction - Top ten finish