Saturnin Allagbe is the #1 keeper but he’s nothing more than average in my opinion. He has good and bad days and I’m sure that will continue to happen. Backing him up this year is a youngster that Niort have signed from the lower leagues Enzo Pauchet. He could be anything but I wouldn’t say the goalkeeping situation is that great for Les Chamois. The defence doesn’t look very impressive either in all honesty. They’ve lost an experienced guy like Jeremy Choplin, although at least managed to retain Mathieu Sans just this week when it looked like he was going to leave. Even still, at least 2 or even 3 of the starters at the back will be new players. Probably the best of them will be Ibrahima Conte who is on loan from Lorient. It should do him good starting a whole season at a club like Niort and this guy is a talent who could develop. Florian Lapis and Dylan Fontani have been signed from the lower leagues and this sort of thing always worries me, especially as both are set to feature prominently. Cyriaque Rivieran and Julien DaCosta along with the more experienced Jonathan Brison are other options at the back for Niort. I don’t mind DaCosta but overall this backline could be quite shaky and it needs some of the new signings to settle quickly. Niort are weak at defensive midfield with only old dog Laurent Agouazi and youngster Yacine Bourhane as proper options. The former has always been a solid Ligue 2 player but isn't getting any younger and his productivity started showing signs of lowering last season. The departure of key man Aliou Dembele in this area of the field will likely hit them hard.
Key players - Mathieu Sans (DC), Laurent Agouazi (DM)
The one true quality player for them in this area of the field is striker Andre Dona Ndoh. In 142 Ligue 2 appearances he averages a goal every 186 mins on the field, which is actually a pretty good return in this league. He netted 15 times for Les Chamois last season and I would expect him to get something similar again as long as he gets the right sort of service. This is questionable because Niort are going to be relying on some younger players like Tom Lebeau, Goduine Koyalipou and new signing Valentin Jacob to step up and deliver the goods. They’ve lost Jimmy Roye who was the mainstay of their creative midfield for quite a long time. They will really miss his influence in that #10 role and I think he’ll be really hard to replace. Other new signings include Dylan Louiserre from Le Havre and Gabon international Louis Ameka Autchanga who could be a bit of a wildcard. David Djigla and Thibaut Vion offer some backup depth but overall I feel like there are an awful lot of question marks surrounding this offense. I don't think it will be that bad and especially out wide they could go well with some of their speedy wingers. But lack of proven quality experience goes against them overall. Dona Ndoh upfront gives them a chance though and he will be able to convert opportunities.
Key player - Andre Dona Ndoh (ATT)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Niort have a new head coach for this season, Patrice Lair. He isn’t a manager I've come across before, mostly because he's been coaching women's teams since 2010. He had an excellent record with OL and PSG, but I can’t quite help but feel this is a different kettle of fish. Suddenly managing a mens team after being so used to the opposite sex could be weirdly challenging because the dynamics are different. We saw Corinne Diacre do this to good effect at Clermont, but I always felt as a woman she commanded extra respect. It might be more difficult for Lair to adapt, but let's wait and see. He inherits a team that will be involved in the relegation battle in my opinion. The squad on paper is one of the weakest in the league and their recruitment shows that with more than half of their transfers being players from lower leagues. Niort are going to have to rely on a lot of younger players to perform, so if things get tough then it might be hard in the dressing room to react to difficult moments. It just screams out to me that they will be a team fighting for their lives at the bottom of the table. Les Chamois are unlikely to have any extra things in their favour like a strong home record. So I’m not sure if Niort will survive this season, it will be quite challenging.
Prediction - Relegation battle