VAFC had the best defensive record in the entire league last season and one of the main reasons for that was thanks to the performances of goalkeeper Jerome Prior. The ex Bordeaux man was exceptional and there have been rumours of him leaving during this transfer window. Should that happen then the club would have to act quickly. Nicolas Kocik and Hillel Konate aren’t the best of backups. Prior missed one game last season due to suspension and Valenciennes lost it 1-3 at Clermont, the most they conceded in a game all year. The backline will have one change this season. Lillian Brassier goes back to Rennes after a successful loan spell and Grenoble man Eric Vandenabeele is signed. He will be reunited with old teammate Maxime Spano who had a stellar year at the back for VA in his first season at the club. Valenciennes have strong fullback or wingback options in the form of Laurent Dos Santos, Aly Abeid and Joffrey Cuffaut. The latter is also being converted into a centre back sometimes in a three man pairing. Defensive midfield isn’t really an area of strength for VAFC. They don’t tend to employ someone in this position that often and most of their midfielders are more a creative type. They probably lack a general type of physical presence here and it can be a weak spot. Despite this, I would fully expect Valenciennes to have one of the better defensive records in the league again whilst Olivier Guegan remains as coach.
Key players - Jerome Prior (GK), Maxime Spano (DC)
It was quite a lean year for VAFC, only scoring 24 goals in total. Striker Teddy Chevalier had a great personal return though netting 13 times. It goes without saying he is a key man upfront for Valenciennes and the perfect sort of complete striker they need. Baptiste Gauillaume sometimes plays alongside him upfront and much more of a return is needed from him. More is needed from the wide areas in terms of creativity. Arsene Elogo and Moussa Guel are new signings who could possibly make an impact, even if its just off the bench. Valenciennes have signed two young guys on loan from Rennes in the form of Mathis Picouleau (CM) and Metehan Guclu (ATT). Unfortunately, Malek Chergui has ruptured his achilles and will be out of action for several months. Kevin Cabral could be a winger who steps up this season but in the past he’s always been far too inconsistent and flaky. There are some signs that Valenceinnes could score more goals this season and the Chevalier - Guillaume combination is quite strong upfront. However, the tendency to be negative with tactics by the coach is always a concern and definitely a possible hindrance.
Key players - Teddy Chevalier (ATT), Baptiste Guillaume (ATT)
Youngster to watch - Moussa Guel (Winger)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Valenciennes were expected to become much more disciplined under the management of Olivier Guegan and he delivered upon that promise. They had the best defensive record in the league and were very hard to break down in his 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 style formation. In terms of betting, VAFC only had 5 out of 28 games end over 2.5 goals and most of those were in the last few games. I was beginning to see more signs of Guegan willing to open up more, offering a greater threat. They hammered Pau 3-0 in the opening round this season and Valenciennes have suddenly turned Les Stade Nungesser into a fortress again. They had an excellent 7-5-2 record in front of their own fans and actually had an average attendance of nearly 8,000. They could be hit slightly by the crowd restrictions but based on that first fixture not too much will change. Valenciennes were in 7th place when COVID stopped the league last season. I see them in the top ten places again with their very solid defence being a major weapon. However, they just lack a bit of extra class and possibly goals compared to some of the other top teams who are more attack minded. This kind of limits their potential and probably why they won’t qualify for the playoffs.
Prediction: 9th Top half