Starting keeper is going to be captain Axel Maraval. He once had half a season in between the sticks for AC Arles in Ligue 1 about 5-6 years ago but this will be the first time he’s a regular at this level. Backing him up, or indeed perhaps trying to compete for the spot is new signing from relegated Orleans, Jeremy Vachoux. This looks an acceptable goalkeeping lineup to be honest. Dunkerque have also brought in centre back Alioune Ba from Orleans and he will add some experience and strength to the backline. So far, most of the defence has consisted of new players with ex Angers man Ibrahim Cisse slotting in alongside new man from Laval Adon Gomis. The good thing about Cisse is his versatility and he can play anywhere in defence. The same can be said about Demba Thiam who is the only remaining mainstay of the defence last year. Ex Red Star man Harouna Sy who has previous Ligue 2 experience under his belt seems to have settled into the left back slot. In defensive midfield it looks like Leverton Pierre could be a regular starter. He used to be a striker in his Metz days so that is an interesting conversion. One new signing I like in this area is ex Paris FC man Redouane Kerrouche. He started 33 games at this level during the 2017/18 season before floating around a few clubs. I always rated Kerrouche and was surprised Paris FC let him go. There have been a lot of new additions defensively for Dunkerque but perhaps this was wise. They have only conceded one goal in their first two games so far and on paper there is enough here to keep them competitive in my opinion.
Key players - Ibrahim Cisse (All defence), Redouane Kerrouche (DM)
USLD were the second highest scorers in the National Division last season bagging 42 goals. A dozen of those were netted by Mohammed Bayo who has returned back to Clermont on loan. It seems like two players I am unfamiliar with, Dimitri Boudaud and Guillaume Bosca were important men for them in the final third, weighing in with a combination of goals and assists. Boudaud is a club legend and has been with them since the 2009/10 campaign whilst Bosca was a great pickup from fellow third tier outfit Marignane. Neither player has ever featured at this level of football before though, save for Boudaud’s one appearance for Sedan many years ago. This slightly concerns me because if they were actually any good then surely someone would've signed them up at this level before now? Boudaud is 33 years old, so what is left in his tank, and Bosca is knocking on the door of 31. Dunkerque have signed Billy Ketkeophomphone who looks like an excellent pickup. It was only a few years ago he was starting matches for Angers in Ligue 1 and he can play pretty much anywhere in the final third. A strong technical and physical player, I would expect him to be a key man. Malik Tchokounte is another smart addition from Caen. Things never worked out for him there but if he can find his Paris FC scoring boots from a few years ago then he can be a major asset. There’s some backup players who are currently injured like Kevin Rocheteau and Jorris Romil who both know what it’s like at Ligue 2 level.
Key players - Billy Ketkeophomphone (All attack), Guillaume Bosca (Winger)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Dunkerque were in second place just one point above Boulogne when COVID stopped the National Division, so maybe some could say it was a fortunate promotion. They have signed a dozen new players and clearly realised they needed to reinforce in order to give them a chance at this level. I like the business they have done in the market and so far they’ve picked up 4 points from their first two games, keeping the same XI in each fixture. USLD didn’t renew the contract of coach Claude Robin, instead opting for one of their old bosses Fabien Mercadal. He has great experience both at Ligue 2 and Ligue 1 level and is a smart hire. Marcadal is a 4-2-3-1 merchant who generally has a balanced approach. Dunkerque have been ruthless with this hire and also ensuring that nearly half of their current lineup is full of new signings. They have recognised that a lot of the players they had simply weren't good enough to start matches regularly at this level. I don’t anticipate they will be too much better than a relegation battle but the reinforcements added have given them a fighting chance of avoiding the drop and they will be more than competitive. Unlike some other teams who have been promoted in recent years, USLD will be playing at their own Stade Marcel Tribut Stadium which has a capacity of 4,200. It looks like a typical sort of smaller ground which might be awkward for travelling teams and a bit of a ‘banana skin’ location. It will of course be a tough battle to stay up but don’t underestimate Dunkerque.
Prediction:- 16th Relegation battle but very competitive