Category Archives: Ligue 2 Season Previews 2016/17

France Ligue 2 – Amiens Season Preview 2016/17

AMIENS SP

Amiens defence

The northern outfit had one of the best defences in the National Division last season but at Ligue 2 level it may well struggle. Starting in goal, Regis Gurtner is the #1 custodian. He had one past season when he was the main choice for a team at this level, but he’s effectively a failed GK in Ligue 2, so the jury remains out. I don’t see him being very good, but he’s probably going to be forced into making a number of saves. The backline doesn’t look particularly strong to me, filled with inexperienced players or older guys like left back Julian Ielsch who is basically finished at this level of football. Centre back options include Khaled Adenon, who looks the best of a poor bunch. Mathieu Fontaine was his partner last season but could miss some time because of recent kidney surgery. Amiens appear to have an abundance of left back,s with four players all capable in this role! But they have a strange lack of right backs and this looks set to be a problem position.

Defensive midfield looks better for them at least. They’ll be spearheaded by new signing from Angers Gu N’Gosso who should still have plenty to offer at this level. He’s strong physically and will be hard to break down. Alongside him, Thomas Monconduit is the captain and is one of their few players with proven experience and good performances in Ligue 2. He used to be with Auxerre and should be one of their best players this season. Other options include Guessouma Fofana, Oualid el Hajam & Joachim Eickmayer. Neither are particularly good but do at least add to depth. I expect the two holding midfielders to be quite busy this year because the backline itself might struggle to adapt to Ligue 2 level and concede a number of goals.

Key players: Guy N’Gosso (DM), Thomas Monconduit (DM)

Amiens offense

ASC weren't the greatest scoring team last season and leading marksman was right winger Jonathan Tinhan with 12 goals to his name. This player is highly interesting to me because I remember when he played for Montpellier a few times, he caught my eye. Things didn't work out and he’s had to move down to the third tier of French football to rebuild his career. He could go well for Amiens this season and possesses fast pace and good skills on the wings. Clearly, he has improved his finishing as well. Apart from Tinhan though, it doesn’t look like they have an awful lot else. On the opposite wing, Quentin Cornette comes in from Montpellier and he might be a pleasant surprise. The rest of the team is made up of inexperienced players or guys who have previously failed at this level. Emmanuel Bourgaud will probably be their leading playmaker centrally and might go ok. New signing from CFA side Poissy; Yannick Mamilonne might also be worth watching. He scored 18 goals in 21 appearances last season, but stepping up a full two divisions might prove to be too much for him. Of course, ASC are going to be capable of having good days. But as long as opposition defences keep Tinhan quiet, then Amiens won’t strike much fear into anyone.

Key players: Jonathan Tinhan (RW), Emmanuel Bourgaud (AM)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

In charge is Christophe Pelissier, who is going to be one of their biggest weapons if they’re to survive this season. I am pleased that Pelissier now has the chance to manage in Ligue 2 because he cruelly had the opportunity taken away from him two years ago. He was involved in the controversial and awful Luzenac story, a town with only 650 inhabitants. Involved with the club for seven years, he sensationally led the club to promotion against all the odds. The authorities denied them ascension though and even worse, they had to rebuild life as low as the seventh division,. It’s one of the big injustices of French football so I’m pleased Pelissier now gets his chance. He’s obviously a very strong motivator and extremely strong mentally. He has come through a lot to get here and I’m sure he’ll get his players to fight really hard. On paper the team looks weakest in the division, But Pelissier is used to defying the odds and working with a shoe-string budget. I don’t personally think Amiens will avoid relegation, but with 18th place now concluding with a relegation playoff against 3rd placed team from the National ligue, there’s half a chance they could reach that spot. I expect a committed team which ultimately lacks quality at this level. The last time they were in this division was four years ago and they finished rock bottom. Something similar could happen again and it feels to me like this team wasn’t ready for promotion.I don’t think they’ll survive, but I said that about GFC Ajaccio a couple of years ago and look what happened!

Prediction: 20th

 

AMIENS STARS

France Ligue 2 – Troyes Season Preview 2016/17

TROYES SP

Troyes defence

ESTAC have moved to sign Mamadou Samassa, an experienced goalkeeper from Ligue 1 side Guingamp. He should actually be a decent acquisition and offer a reassuring ability in between the sticks, although is quite old now. Backing him up is Matthieu Dreyer, who is ok at this level. Troyes have signed four new defenders, all of whom should be contenders to start. On the right hand side, Jeremy Cordoval has impressed with Nimes in recent years and is especially good offensively, offering some rare pace to this team. On the left hand side Jordan Obiang arrives from National ligue side Chateauroux. He has played at this level before, although similar to Cordoval he likes to get forwards when he can. This means Troyes will have fullbacks who might be too ambitious, leaving potential holes. In the middle of defence Jeremy Giraudon follows his coach out of Grenoble and joins him here. He’s never played at this level before though, so there are definitely some doubts. The final addition is Christophe Herelle from Creteil. But he was part of an horrific defence last season for a relegated team and hardly brings any reassurances.

Charles Traore is another option at left back who is ok, whilst Johan Martial in the middle seems to have really gone downhill in the last couple of seasons. He once had a great potential but has been ruined by this club. Sadly, the rest of Troyes’ defensive options are effectively in their own separate hospital ward at the club! You have the likes of Kone, Saunier, Rincon & N’Diaye who are still under contract. It’s rare any of them are actually fit and spend more time on the treatment table than on the field! In defensive midfield, ESTAC will rely on yet another player who is often injured - Thiago Xavier. This is someone I actually rate, but he has also regressed in recent years and it’s clear fitness issues have affected him. Alois Confais is their only other real defensive midfielder, and maybe has a bright future. Confais can also play right back if required and could develop into a talent, maybe he’s in the wrong surroundings though. Troyes look a bit lightweight in defensive areas. Things could be worse but there are a lot of question marks surrounding certain players and they lack depth, especially in defensive midfield.

Key players: Mamadou Samassa (GK), Thiago Xavier (DM)

Troyes offense

ESTAC don’t lack for options upfront, the problem is they lack for quality. They are desperately hoping someone unexpectedly steps up this year or a couple of youngsters develop into good players. New strikers include Mamadou Sissoko from Le Havre, Jan Kaye from Evian, a returning Raphael Caceres & Mour Paye from Lyon reserves. Only Caceres has any sort of proven history, although Kaye showed some promise with Evian at times last season. One of their own players who will be in contention to start upfront is Deniz Hummet. I don’t personally like the look of this strikeforce. It’s possible someone could produce the goals out of nowhere but I don't think many opponents will look at this lineup and worry too much. Things do look better in attacking midfield and out wide, but again there are plenty of other issues.

Benjamin Nivet is still going, despite being nearly 40. He has never been one to rely on pace and has good technical skills, but he’s really in the twilight of his career now and I’m not sure what’s left in the tank. Tristan Dingome, an ex Monaco and Le Havre player is a new signing who might be useful. He’s always capable of playing on the wings. Stephane Darbion is 32 years old now and will be one of their main players either on the left or right. He’s not particularly fast, but quite a good crosser of the ball. Troyes will hope that guys like Ben Saada, Azamoum or even a young player like Samuel Grandsir can deliver a decent season. ESTAC are waiting for men to stand up. They have plenty of guys on their books in the final third, but it appears to me as though they lack serious quality. I think this is a really difficult attack to predict, but my gut instinct says it’ll struggle unless certain guys raise their game, or unless some better reinforcements are added.

Key players: Raphael Caceres (ATT), Stephane Darbion (winger)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Jean Louis Garcia takes over the helm of this troubled club. Garcia was once a highly sought coach and had a number of superb years managing Angers. But all seemed to go downhill as soon as he took on the Lens job. He effectively failed there, then took Chateauroux to relegation. He regrouped at Grenoble last season, very nearly taking them from the CFA into the National division. Now he takes on a very difficult job at a club where the mood is still very negative. Troyes had an appalling season in Ligue 1, hardly winning a game and putting up some horrific performances. It was an example of a club obtaining promotion, but actually doing them more harm than good. This is now a big rebuilding project. Although fans will expect more, I think a good outcome for them this year is simply to avoid relegation. I’ve seen many teams struggle after coming down from the top flight. Teams like Valenciennes, Evian, Ajaccio & even Sochaux in recent years have encountered difficult campaigns. There are question marks in all areas of the squad, and this is a roster which seems a bit of a mess with lots of arrivals and departures, adding to a lot of dead wood already here. It’s possible ESTAC could surprise, but despite a lot of bookies ranking them as one of the favourites, I think they’ll struggle. This is as really difficult side to predict, but my gut feeling is the best they can achieve is a midtable spot.

Prediction: 13th

 

TROYES STARS

France Ligue 2 – Ajaccio Season Preview 2016/17

AJACCIO

Ajaccio defence

Goalkeeper Anthony Scribe has left the club which means Riffi Mandanda should be the number one custodian for them this season. Jules Goda, signed from city rivals GFCA is another option in this area. Both are reasonable enough keepers without being anything exceptional. They’ll have good and bad days but it’s nice that they appear to have two keepers about the same level who should push each other. The backline will remain somewhat similar. Left back Zie Diabate has departed the club and his replacement is Jordan Pierre Charles from National division side Colmar. I know little about him so can’t really comment, but I always say it’s a huge risk bringing in a defender from a lower ligue. It’s arguably harder for that type of player to adjust, so maybe he could be a bust signing. Zakaria Diallo has recently been lost to Brest and this is a big blow as he was one of the mainstays of the backline. The players who are still here look alright and certainly don’t lack for aggressiveness! Anthony Lippini wears his heart on his sleeve, whilst Joris Sainati returns following a 12 month ban for punching two Tours players last season!

Other options at the back are Pape Cisse & Paul Babiloni. I’d imagine this backline might be difficult to break down at home but will struggle more on the road. Watch out for some stupid red cards as well, especially from the likes of Lippini. Ajaccio look fairly well set in defensive midfield, although will have to do without young star Vincent Marchetti who has been signed by Nancy for about £1m. This isn’t a bad sale for the club, even if they are losing a great young prospect. He is still raw and only started regularly for them since January. Yann Boe Kane is a new addition from Red Star who performed well last season, I think he should go well in this side. Of course, the Corsicans have other remaining players like Christophe Vincent & Laurent Abergel. The spine of the team is fairly good and will be hard to break down in certain matches. Without being elite, Ajaccio will certainly be competitive in this area of the field.

Key players: Anthony Lippini (RB), Yann Boe Kane (DM)

Ajaccio offense

Two of their leading scorers from last season, Julien Toudic and Andrey Panyukov have left the club. Neither are what you’d call high class though, so might not be missed all that much. The problem is that Ajaccio haven't really replaced them. Marvin Gakpa comes in on loan from Lorient and maybe he could shine at Ligue 2 level, but nobody is really sure. Their other striker options are Mouaad Madri or youngsters. Many would argue that Madri better suited out wide than upfront. So the big problem is with strikers until someone of proven quality is brought in. Elsewhere, the Ajaccio attack doesn’t look too bad. They have some alright wide options and playmakers through the middle who will be able to create chances.

It feels like the first name I mention when talking about the Ajaccio offense is always Johan Cavalli. The old legend is now 35 years old, but he still scored five times and weighed in with a few assists last term. How much more has he got left in the tank? In many ways he’s similar to Brest’s Bruno Grougi and has great technical ability. Along with experience and a great dressing room influence he’s still an asset to this team. As aforementioned, out wide Ajaccio have Mouaad Madri, Riad Nouri and Hugo Videmont who are all decent crossers of the ball. Depth is ok and there is the odd youngster coming through who could make an impact. The Corsicans aren’t anything special going forwards and lack a key focal point unless Gakpa comes good. But they will have some good moments in front of goal and I could see them creating a few chances. Whether many will be taken or if anyone can get on the end of them remains to be seen.

Key players: Johan Cavalli (AM), Riad Nouri (RW)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

The first thing to mention about Ajaccio is that they’ve had a black cloud over them all summer regarding financial status. They were provisionally relegated but managed to prove themselves to the authority. Obviously, this has affected their transfer dealings and we will probably see them fairly active right until the end of August. In charge is still Olivier Pantaloni, an Ajaccio legend who famously took the club up to Ligue 1 and then ensured an almost impossible survival after a shocking start. He is well respected by everyone here and a fine motivator. Tactically, Pantaloni is usually more defensive minded on the road, but in home matches he does like to push for victories and won't settle for a draw very often. Ajaccio will always be strong in front of their own fans on the island of Corsica. But it’s a different story on the road and they had the worst away record in the whole ligue last season, obtaining just one victory. As usual, expect Ajaccio to be solid rather than spectacular. It could be a difficult campaign because they are starting the season well behind the eight-ball in terms of transfers and signings. They desperately need to add reinforcements, both for quality and depth purposes. Don't underestimate the strength of the team spirit here but it looks like a season battling against relegation for ACA.

Prediction: 16th

 

ACA STARS 2

France Ligue 2 – Brest Season Preview 2016/17

BREST SP

Brest defense

One of the big positives for Brest last season was the goalkeeping of Joan Hartock. He seemed to really develop, and whilst still lacking some consistency, managed to single handedly earn them some draws and victories. If he continues his progress he could become one of the best keepers in this ligue. Brest have a strong backup in Donovan Leon who I thought would push Hartock last season. They won’t be downgraded too much should he be needed. The Brittany club had a superb defence a couple of years ago that included the likes of Wilfried Moimbe and Ismael Traore. It regressed last season to just a mediocre level and right now there’s been a complete turnaround regarding players. They look set on the left hand side with Lyon loanee Louis Nganioni coming in, fresh from a season in the Eredivisie. Gaetan Belaud on the right is one of the best in his position in Ligue 2.
As far as centre backs and go, they’ve lost Simon Falette and Baissama Sankoh, both of whom started 30+ games last season. The former has moved up to Ligue 1 level with Metz and will be heavily missed. Sankoh meanwhile, was never a natural centre back but had proven quality at a higher level.

The Brittany club have signed four other new defenders. In the heart of defence Brazilian Luciano Castan comes in. I have absolutely no idea how good or bad he is, except most of his career has been played in Brazilian Serie B. Alongside him, Zakaria Diallo is a more known prospect in this division and been a key player for Ajaccio in recent years. Alexandre Coeff arrives on a two year loan from Udinese and can play in a range of different positions. Julien Faussier is the final addition, best suited to left or right back it seems his primary usage for Brest will be in defensive midfield. Brest have a few defensive midfielders to choose from, but none of them are what I’d call top class at this level. Manuel Perez can have good and bad days, whilst Eric Tie Bi has gone downhill in the last couple of years and looks set to leave. The aforementioned Faussurier and Coeff can both play here, but both are probably better suited elsewhere. So Les Rouges and Blancs aren’t particularly strong in this position. But it might not matter! New coach Jean Marc Furlan has never really been a man to play with two DMIDs, instead preferring a more offensive formation.

Key players: Joan Hartock (GK), Gaetan Belaud (RB)

Brest offense

Under Alex Dupont, Brest were never a strong offensive threat and actually ranked joint second worst for goals scored last season (34 in total). His tactics were the main reason for this, although Brest could also do with a bit more quality in these areas. The only two reinforcements to date are Valentin Lavigne, on loan from Lorient & Neal Maupay from Saint Etienne (loan). Lavigne was at Laval last season and only scored three goals. He can play on the wings a bit as well but he’s hardly the sort of real quality addition they need. Youssef Adnane was their top scorer in 2015/16 with 10 goals in 28 appearances, which is a fairly good hit rate. It looks like he’s going to leave the club though and Neal Maupay will be taking his place. Long touted as a teenage sensation at Nice, he hasn’t been given the game time he needs to develop at Sainte. It’s worth remembering he only turns 20 in August so is still pretty young. Maybe a whole season starting in ligue 2 will do him some good, if he knuckles down he could be a class above this level and her looks a good signing.

This offense could become quite useful under Jean Marc Furlan if he can just add a couple more pieces. Brest legend Bruno Grougi, now 33 years old is retained again. From the no 10 role, Grougi has great technical quality and playmaking ability, although his game time might need to be managed/rotated on occasion. Statistically, Brest’s second best attacker last season was Christian Battocchio. Many would class him as a genuine central midfielder box to box type, but with great playmaking abilities. He just seems like the perfect sort of player that Furlan loves and he could thrive under a new system. Out wide, Bryan Pele and Steven Joseph Monrose are strong wing options too, both capable of rotating on either side. When at full strength the Breton’s look alright going forwards. But they lack some depth and need to sign some more players in case injuries and suspensions kick in.

Key players: Christian Battocchio (AM), Neal Maupay (ATT)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

New coach Jean Marc Furlan arrives following a bitter-sweet spell at Troyes. Furlan seems to be one of those coaches who is great at managing in the second tier, but things then fall apart in the top flight. He has managed to obtain promotion from this ligue on three separate occasions, so clearly Brest will hope he can do the same with them. Furlan is usually quite an attack minded coach and his sides are pleasing on the eye. Le Stade Francis le Ble can be an intimidating place, and the sort of stadium nobody likes to visit in the winter with the harsh Breton coastal weather at its worst. But the pitch quality can deteriorate and this might not suit Furlan’s style of technical football. He was spoiled by the excellent pitch in Troyes. Brest finished 10th last season, although due to the nature of some performances it felt worse. I think Furlan will bring about an improvement, although quite how much I’m not sure. Brest have signed a lot of players late in July and I expect maybe a couple more in August too. It might take some time for the squad to settle down and it could ultimately take 2-3 transfer windows for the new coach to stamp his authority on this club. I don’t think they’ll have enough to obtain promotion yet. But I could see Brest knocking on the door of the top six places and maybe in the second half of the season they could be one of the better sides in Ligue 2. Everything just feels to quick and hectic with them right now. New players have only just arrived and it could take some time for the identity of the team to settle down.

Prediction: 6th

 

BREST STARS 2

France Ligue 2 – Sochaux Season Preview 2016/17

SOCHAUX SP

Sochaux defence

Goalkeeping wasn’t a great strength for Sochaux last season. They used three starting keepers, two of which return this year. Oliver Werner is the number one and should do a decent enough job. He didn’t really impress much throughout most of last season, but did end the campaign well making some good saves. Backing him up is Maxence Prevot who is young and raw, maybe with some potential. Christopher Dilo has signed from Dijon as another possible option. This is an ok goalkeeping lineup without being anything special. At the back Les Lionceaux welcome two new starters - both of whom have transferred from Bourg-en-Bresse. Mickael Alphonse is going to replace the departed Julien Faussurier at right back, whilst Florent Ogier should compete for a centre back spot. But he'll find it very hard to dislodge the current duo of Adolphe Teikeu & Jerome Onguene. Both were impressive last season and form one of the best centre back pairings in Ligue 2. Both are physically strong and technically excellent.

Left back is the one big problem position for Sochaux and they are definitely in the market to sign someone. Pierre Gibaud is currently an option there but it’s not his natural position. Instead, he can play anywhere on the right hand side with great effect and is usually employed as a wide midfielder or winger. Sochaux have some extremely good defensive midfield options - possibly the best in the entire ligue. Florian Tardieu has always been touted as a top prospect. He delivered an excellent 2015/16 campaign, to such an extent a number of ligue 1 clubs are interested. They might not be able to keep hold of him before the end of August, but right now Sochaux have a great talent at their disposal. Johann Ramare, Marco Ilaimaharitra and another upcoming prospect Jeandro Fuchs are other options for them in defensive midfield. Les Lionceaux have a superb looking crop of players here, and coupled with a likely solid defence will be very strong defensively. They do need to sign a quality left back though, because right now that’s their one big weak spot.

Sochaux offense

The big negative is that leading scorer Karl Toko Ekambi has left the club. Sochaux got close to £900k for his services which is a pretty good outcome though, especially for a striker who still sometimes resembles a donkey on occasion. Toko Ekambi scored a combined 25 ligue 2 goals in the last couple of seasons, but there are those who argue he should've scored a lot more and missed too many good chances. Sochaux have brought in three new strikers, all of whom add a different dimension. Youngster Franck Honorat comes in from Nice and he could prove hit or miss and is still very raw. Another unproven sort of player is Goran Karanovic on loan from Ligue 1 side Angers. Deemed surplus to requirements at that club, he could certainly replace the physical being that Toko Ekambi was. The final addition is Faneva Andriatsima who transfers from relegated Creteil. This is someone who’s pretty experienced with with ligue 2 football and actually has a good record in this division.

Probably the most important player in this Sochaux offense is left winger Florian Martin though. He can pretty much play on either side, or in an attacking midfield role. Las year, he weighed in with six assists, three goals and has great technical mastery of a football. Sochaux will miss winger Sekou Cisse who was their second top scorer in 2015/16. One positive factor is that youngsters like Thuram, Robinet and Baptise Leo might develop. Moussa Sao is another option upfront, whilst Florian Berenguer is probably going to fill an attacking midfield role. The Sochaux offense isn’t as strong as their defence and because the coach is quite negative, don’t expect too many fireworks from them in this department. There’s some reasonable quality here though and the odd really good player like Martin. Les Lionceaux won’t be heavy scorers, but should find the back of the net enough times.

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Albert Cartier managed to keep them afloat after a really difficult campaign in which they sacked the horrible Olivier Echouafni fairly early on. Cartier has a good past record in this division, taking Metz up to Ligue 1 with his first attempt. But he’s never going to be the sort of coach who produces eyecatching football. He likes his teams to be solid, effective and to have strong foundations. It was a long tough ride just to avoid relegation but Sochaux can now put a line through what was a disastrous campaign. There’s enough quality in this team to launch a promotion bid. In defensive areas especially, I expect them to be one of the best in the division. Offensively, they still lack some pieces, and the coach might lack ambition on too many occasions. But because Les Lionceaux will probably keep things tight at the back on a regular basis, they might only need one or two goals to win matches. It's worth noting that Sochaux have three players who were involved in the French U19 European Championship winning squad (Onuengue, Fuchs & Thuram),  so they have some good youth here. Homefield advantage isn't something Les Lionceaux are particularly renowned for. Cartier had that massively in his favour at Metz but it's different here. Nevertheless, Sochaux should have a good chance of finishing in the top six. Whether or not they actually have quite enough to secure a top three spot remains to be seen.

Prediction: 4th

 

SOX STARS

France Ligue 2 – Orleans Season Preview 2016/17

ORLEANS SP

Orleans defence

USO look reasonably well set in between the sticks. Oumar Sissoko will be starting the season as #1 keeper and he’s played at this level before so knows what ligue 2 is all about. Backing him up will be Thomas Renault & Sebastian Mpeck. The former started most games for Orleans last time they were in ligue 2, but he completely ruptured his achilles tendon last summer and missed all of their National campaign. I’m not fully sure of his physical condition right now. The big signing for Orleans at the back (quite literally) is Joel Sami. He is a physical beast and will be one of the best centre backs in ligue 2. He’s getting a bit older now but should give them a steadying presence at the back. The remainder of the Orleans backline is retained from their promotion campaign. Other centre back options include Anthar Yahia, who is often injured but should be a touch of class in this ligue even at 34 years old. Left back will be a straight fight between ex Clermont player Adrien Pagerie and new signing Edson Seidou. On the right hand side, Gauthier Pinaud & Benjaloud Youssef will be competing. Some have a bit of experience at this level but there are definitely a lot of question marks. Sami is the standout star in defence for sure.

USO have three solid defensive midfielders who won't be anything special but can do a job. Pierre Bouby, an ex Auxerre man is the best of the bunch and played half a season with the club last year. Bouby is quite a good technical player and can also play centre back if required. Mathieu Ligoule is another option and has some past Ligue 2 experience, starting 35 games a couple of years ago. He got injured last November and only just came back, so it might take him some time to get back to his best. An interesting player is Jean Eudes Aholou, who developed in the Lille reserve team. Last season was the first time he started games regularly, so it’ll be interesting to see how he copes at this level. Orleans will be competitive in defensive areas but apart from Joel Sami, possibly Pierre Bouby and maybe Anthar Yahia (if he stays fit) then there isn’t much serious proven quality.

Key players: Joel Sami (CB), Pierre Bouby (DM)

Orleans offense

Of all the three promoted sides, Orleans were the highest scorers with 50 goals. In fact, only one team actually scored more than them in the entire division and a number of strikers weighed in with good contributions. Romain Armand scored 12 times, whilst Kevin Dupuis grabbed 11. In the past, both of these two did ok in Ligue 2, without setting the world alight. Maybe now with some more goals and confidence under their belts, they can deliver a good return. I’m not sure if Orleans will be playing one or two guys upfront, but if only one man gets the nod then new signing Livio Nabab also comes into contention. Historically, he’s got a pretty good record in this division although has fallen off the rails a little bit in recent years. He can also be a difficult character to deal with, but if used correctly can be a decent asset either upfront or on the right wing. So the USO strikers have boom or bust potential, I’m not really sure yet, but chances should be supplied at least.

Orleans have signed a very interesting player with attacking midfielder Karim Ziani. The ex Marseille and Lorient man was once sold to Wolfsburg for nearly £6m, and despite being 34 years now, should offer plenty of the team. Ziani will have great technical skills and flair, above most players in this division. He’ll be the supply line for the forwards, but Orleans have some other AMIDs too. The likes of Farid Beziouen, Greg Houla & Mickael Barretto can all feature centrally if required. Out wide, pretty much the same players will be in operation. Jordi Delclos is another option in these areas too. I wouldn't say Orleans are loaded with attacking talent. But they are competent enough in all areas, and spearheaded by Ziani as a playmaker might do alright. I admit there are still more question marks than answers but the last time they were in this ligue lack of goals cost them relegation. Maybe this time around those lessons have been learned and they’re willing to be more positive.

Key players: Karim Ziani (AM), Livio Nabab (ATT/RW)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Olivier Frapolli has been in charge of the club since 2012 and is extremely familiar with how this place works. Orleans were relegated from ligue 2 in 2014/15 under his management, but the president and board stuck with him. That decision proved a good one because USO bounced back at the first attempt, the question now is whether they’ve learned their lessons from that failed campaign? Orleans didn’t score enough goals or pick up enough home points back then. My memory of Frapolli was him being a fairly negative coach, often settling for draws and relying on defence to do well. They drew 11 of their first 25 contests that year before going on a poor losing run. I think the signs are that Frapolli is willing to be a bit more adventurous this time around. This squad is slightly better than it was previously, although still one of the five weakest in the division. Make no mistake about it, Orleans will be in the relegation battle, it’d be a surprise if they were anything better than that. Home form at Le Stade de la Source will be key. The pitch here can get very poor in the winter if memory serves me correctly, but it didn’t seem to favour Orleans two years ago. Maybe this time around they can avoid relegation, but it’ll be a close call.

Prediction: 17th

 

ORLEANS STARS

France Ligue 2 – Strasbourg Season Preview 2016/17

STRASBOURG SP

Strasbourg defence

Starting goalkeeper is Alexandre Oukidja, a custodian who I’ve never personally seen in action. He spent a lot of his career in the Lille reserve team before finally getting some regular starts in the Belgian second tier. This will be the highest level for him as a regular starter, so the jury is out. Reportedly, he’s not bad and a good shotstopper. But until he proves himself in ligue 2 there will always be doubts. Backup custodian is the highly experienced Landry Bonnefoi. If Oukidja proves to be a flop then at least they have an able enough replacement. The Strasbourg backline was extremely solid in the National division and retains its four main starters. In the middle, Felipe Saad & Ernest Seka will be the main partnership. The latter has never played higher than National level before and is close to 30 years old, so there’s every possibility he might struggle. However, being alongside Felipe Saad should help. It wasn’t so long ago that Saad was plying his trade at Ligue 1 level and has a wealth of experience. He was miles too good for National level and should still be very strong in Ligue 2 as well.On the right hand side of defence, Eric Marester should be a banker starter for Les Alsatians. Last season was one of the few in which he played below Ligue 2 level and he’s more than good enough in this division. I’ve always rated Marester and he could be a key player for them this season.

Left back looks set to be Abdallah N’Dour, although there are more question marks regarding him. This will be his first experience of anything higher than the National, so is unproven at this level. Strasbourg have signed Laurent Dos Santos from Guingamp. He’s featured in about half a dozen ligue 1 games for each of the last two seasons and is capable of playing on either side of defence. He could definitely push N’Dour for a starting spot and gives good cover to the fullback positions. Strasbourg have signed two excellent defensive midfielders. The first is Anthony Goncalves from Laval, someone who has been Les Tango’s best player for the last 2-3 years. His presence in the middle will be important. Vincent Nogueira comes in from MLS side Philadelphia Union. He had a nice stint stateside and has actually developed into a genuine box to box midfielder. He could be a top player in this division. Jeremy Grimm will be the main starter in an anchor man role. He is vastly experienced at national division level but despite being close to 30, has never played any higher. Strasbourg will hope he can adapt well. Les Alsatians look reasonably good in defensive areas. Backup depth isn’t great so they could be in some trouble if injuries and suspensions kick in. But the main starters look decent and I like how they have bolstered midfielder with two proven signings.

Key players: Felipe Saad (CB), Anthony Goncalves (DM)

Strasbourg offense

Jeremy Blayac was their leading scorer last season with eight goals. But he’s going to be starting the season injured and it looks like a bunch of new signings are going to be ahead of him in the pecking order. Strasbourg only scored 35 goals in 34 National division games, which is pretty pathetic for a team who were champions. To remedy the goalscoring problem new coach Thierry Laurey has signed three players of proven quality. The first is youngster Baptiste Guillaume who impressed a couple of years ago with Lens in Ligue 1. Lille signed him for over £3m but things didn't go to plan in 2015/16 and he’s now been given a season long loan here. Guillaume could potentially be way too good for Ligue 2 level if he concentrates and applies himself properly. Another player who has done well in the top tier has also signed - Khalid Boutaib. The new coach knows him extremely well from GFC Ajaccio and at this level of football should be able to find the net a few times. Add in Blayac who could still be useful, this Strasbourg striker lineup should be pretty strong. Its likely they'll play with two men upfront and offer a duel threat.

So who can provide the goals? Well, let's start by mentioning the one glaring hole in this squad which is a lack of wide playmakers. There isn't really anyone of genuine quality who is a natural out wide. The coach is probably going to employ a 4-3-1-2 formation and most of their creativity will come through the middle of the park. Guys like Guillaume, plus some midfielders like Nogueira will have to drift left or right to create space from time to time. Attacking midfield is a strong area for Strasbourg and new signing Vincent Gragnic could be vital. He is someone who I rate very highly at this level and should contribute plenty of goals and assists providing he can stay fit. Of course, avoiding injury could be his big problem and sadly he’s someone who has a really bad fitness record in recent seasons. Another attacking midfielder who might get some starts is Dimitri Lienard. Of course, the aforementioned Nogueira and to some extents Goncalves can all provide creativity through the middle as well. The spine of the Strasbourg team is strong and they should be much more threatening upfront than they were last season.

Key players: Baptiste Guillaume (ATT), Vincent Gragnic (AM)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Strasbourg legend Jacky Dugueperoux got the team promoted but has since retired and new man in charge is Thierry Laurey. The key to Les Alsatian’s promotion last season was defensive organisation and keeping a lot of clean sheets. They were a pretty boring team and didn’t score many goals. You could argue that both coaches are like chalk and cheese though and I expect a different identity from Strasbourg this season. Laurey likes to play a formation with two strikers upfront and for his teams to offer a decent threat. He is a smart signing for the club and obtained 2 promotions in 3 seasons for GFC Ajaccio! With extremely limited resources he very nearly kept them in Ligue 1, which would've been a remarkable achievement. Strasbourg are historically a big club in France who’ve had some very lean recent years in lower ligues. Excitement will be great amongst the fans and I’d expect them to be well supported at Le Stade Meinau. Strasbourg have only lost three home games in the last two years and will be hard to beat here. I think they’ll be the best of the promoted teams and should enjoy their season. There’s some decent quality all over the park and they have a good coach. I would expect Les Alsatians to be in the comfort of midtable, they shouldn't be in any trouble. Maybe they could even be a dark horse and challenge in higher positions.

Prediction: 8th

 

STRASBOURG STARS

France Ligue 2 – Red Star Season Preview 2016/17

RS SP

Red Star defence

Arnaud Balijon is the number one goalkeeper but he ruptured his achilles tendon in April and will probably be out until at least September, maybe later. Balijon is a reasonably good keeper with plenty of experience, but if he returns a bit rusty it won't be a surprise. His backups are Pierrick Cros and Bobby Allain, both of whom are very raw and unproven. Red Star might have some trouble with the goalkeeping position this season and I don’t see it as a particular strength. The backline was so strong last year but has lost two crucial elements, Remi Fournier and Julian Jeanvier. Both are big units and their presence at the back will be missed. Naby Sarr from Charlton and Formose Mendy from Belgium are their replacements. I don’t know an awful lot about either so only time will tell if they are good replacements. But for sure they have big boots to fill and it could be a challenge for Red Star to remain as tight. One newer addition is centre back Jean Charles Castelletto on loan form Club Bruges. He is a more proven quality option at this level and should be decent.

Lloyd Palun is an excellent right back at this level and will be a key man. They also have Pierrick Cros as a centre back option. Left back is slightly more problematic, with either Jerome Hergault or new signing Tiecoro Keita likely to start there. I wouldn't class either as a natural left back though and it could be a weak spot. Red Star have also lost two influential defensive midfielders in Danilson Da Cruz and Yann Boe Kane. The former was especially strong last season and has departed to Reims. A new arrival is Mehdi Jean from Paris FC, but he is a definite downgrade. Florian Makhedjouf remains but there’s not a lot else in defensive midfield. They had such powerful anchor men last year and I just don’t think Red Star will be as effective in this part of the field in 2016/17. The Parisians will still be fairly good at the back but because they've lost four key players I think it's understandable to expect a downgrade.

Key players: Lloyd Palun (RB), Jerome Hergault (Versatile defender)

Red Star offense

Last season the Red Star attack was propelled by three key men - Naim Sliti, Hamer Bouazza & Anatole Ngamukol. It looks like Sliti will probably be leaving the club for Lille within the next few weeks so with the transfer money they get for him, a suitable replacement needs to be found. Sliti is a very versatile attacker, best used in the #10 role. Ngamukol was the leading scorer with 11 goals and is dangerous upfront if supplied properly. He's a big unit and has a decent mix of technique and physique. Bouazza meanwhile, was probably their best player last season going forwards and the left winger weighed in with 10 goals and 8 assists, which was an excellent return. The Parisians look to have plenty of options on the wings, especially left hand side. The likes of Diaz, Bouazza, Keita, Chavalerin, plus a couple of others can all play there. I would imagine at least one or two will be used as an inside winger on the right flank.

In attacking midfield losing Sliti will be a blow, but we have to presume Red Star will bring in someone who is at least half decent as a replacement. Chavalerin, Diaz and new signing from Auxerre Gregory Lefebre can all play the #10 role if required though and aren't too bad. Ngamukol will be starting upfront on his own in most matches. They lack other strikers and Issa Baradji is next in line should Ngamukol get injured. He’s nothing special though and Red Star would probably be better off starting Bouazza upfront in that scenario. Because they were so strong at the back, they didn’t have to rely on the offense too much last season. But this time around I think Rui Almeida’s men will have to lean more on their front men. There’s some decent quality here but nothing screams out exceptional apart from Bouazza, and there’s no guarantee he’ll have such a good campaign.

Key players: Hameur Bouazza (LW) & Anatole Ngamukol (ATT)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Rui Almeida did an excellent job with this team last season, Despite failing to win any of their first five games, Red Star ended up making an unlikely promotion push and actually only ended up one point behind third placed Metz. Almeida is an excellent tactical and defensive coach and Red Star won't be beaten easily by anyone. Of all the teams who finished up there in the promotion mixer, they had easily the worst quality on paper and reminded me a lot of GFC Ajaccio who obtained promotion a couple of years ago mostly thanks to great tactics, a solid defence and team spirit. Red Star were badly hindered at home in the previous campaign, playing all matches in Beauvais over 50 miles away. This term they are ground sharing with rugby club Stade Francais at Le Stade Jean Bouin in Paris. This is a much better arrangement and should help them a lot. Red Star had the best away record in Ligue 2 and only conceded 12 goals which just demonstrates how solid they were. I think it’ll be very hard for them to match last season's achievements. The loss of key players in defensive areas is the biggest blow and whilst I think they’ll still be solid, a repeat of fourth place seems unlikely. This is a team that overachieved with few resources. Usually with cases like this, the following campaign is difficult to maintain that sort of level.

Prediction: 9th

 

RS STARS 2

France Ligue 2 – Nimes Season Preview 2016/17

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Nimes defence

Mathieu Michel is the number one keeper and he’s one of the best in the ligue. In the previous campaign he had a stellar season, making save after save and his reflexes are excellent. Many thought he would leave the club this summer but so far he remains at Nimes. It’s still possible he might depart before the end of August, but until he does then Les Crocos have a powerful weapon in between the sticks. Backup is Gauthier Gallon, who wasn’t seen much last year but he’s not that bad. The Nimes backline is going to be much changed this season with a number of new arrivals and departures. Starting at right back, Jeremy Cordoval has moved to Troyes and his replacement is the experienced Gael Angoula from Ligue 1 side Angers. From a defensive point of view, Angoula is probably a slight upgrade, but don't expect the fast runs forward and the cross threat that Cordoval provided. Left back was an issue for Nimes last year but Zie Diabate has been acquired from Ajaccio. He's a solid signing, nothing special but will do an ok job. In the middle, Fethi Harek is probably their best defender, with Anthony Briancon starting alongside him.

Nimes actually have a lot of versatile players in defence, examples being Gaetan Paquiez and the aforementioned Harek. They have plenty of depth in this area of the field, and whilst not looking elite on paper, this is a backline which will have some good days. There will also be occasions when it struggles and might lack for consistency. Defensive midfield is probably the weakest part of Les Crocos’ squad. Larry Azouni is their one out and out natural DMID and he is another inconsistent player. These days, Teji Savanier is playing in a deeper role. But he will always be at his best when creating chances and venturing forwards. He isn't a natural ball winner or a great tackler, although is gradually improving in that department. There are guys like Briancon and Paquiez who can play DMID if needed. But the coach will probably use either a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 formation and his system doesn’t need that many defensive midfielders. Its just as well because they are lacking depth and quality in this position.

Key players: Mathieu Michel (GK), Fethi Harek (CB)

Nimes offense

Les Crocos will be much changed going forwards as well. A lot of goals and assists have been taken out of the team, but Nimes are hoping they have recruited wisely and replaced them well. Steve Mounie was a great loan signing for them last season scoring 11 goals and weighing in with 5 assists. Anthony Koura was their second top scorer with nine goals, but both have departed. It looks like winger Ousmane Cissokho won’t be staying either, plus old legend Toifilou Malouida is moving onto pastures new. So the Nimes attack will have a new look. The first new signing is Slimane Sissoko, deemed surplus to requirements at Ligue 1 side Angers. He might prove hit and miss but has looked sharp in preseason so far, he could maybe prove a bit hit in Ligue 2. Rachid Aliaoui is another addition and someone more known at this level, finishing as Laval’s top scorer last season. Andrey Panyukov is back for another campaign in France following what must be classed as a disappointing year at Ajaccio.

In general, Nimes have a ton of options upfront with a lot of different strikers at their disposal. They look well set in attacking midfield as well, where the likes of Teji Savanier and new signing Sada Thioub are options. On the right wing, Renaud Ripart should go well again, although Nimes do currently lack a left winger of genuine quality. It's in wide areas where you’d say they are weakest, which is important if they are going to be using a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 regularly. Because of so many changes then there are obvious question marks about Nimes in the final third. But I personally think they will be quite dangerous, and of course it helps having an attacking coach who will be positive in a lot of matches.

Key players: Slimane Sissoko (ATT), Teji Savanier (AM)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Bernard Blaquart is head coach and his achievement keeping the club up last season was remarkable. Nimes started the season on minus -8 points, and only had three wins before the winter break. Blaquart replaced Jose Pasqualetti around the end of November and ended up with a 12-6-6 record in charge. They were one of the best teams after the winter break playing some great football. Nimes will have headed into the summer with great momentum and it’ll be interesting to see if they can build on that by starting this campaign in red hot form. Blaquart is quite an attack minded coach, but has shown on occasion a willingness to mix things up. An example being when they brilliantly beat Dijon 1-0 away from home with a memorable rearguard action. Le Stade Costieres is one of the great fortresses in Ligue 2 and Nimes are always well supported by their passionate fans. It’s an intimidating atmosphere for opposition players and they only lost twice here last year. I think Nimes are a dark horse and one to watch. There has been a big player turn around so there’s obviously some doubts. But the atmosphere is strong here and Bernard Blaquart is building a decent side.

Prediction: 7th

 

NIMES STARS 2

France Ligue 2 – Niort Season Preview 2016/17

NIORT SP

Niort defence

The first problem Niort have is the goalkeeper position. Paul Delecroix has left to Ligue 1 side Lorient and this is a massive blow. Delecroix was one of the top five custodians in this division last season and won them many points on his own. Replacing him is Saturnin Allagbe who started a few games at the back end of the previous campaign. He looked ok, but nothing special. Backing him up is Alexandre Bouchard, who was Paris FC #3. Allagbe might prove to be decent eventually, but right now Niort look very weak in between the sticks compared to some sides. The backline stays mostly in tact and is likely to be one of their stronger areas. The starting quartet of Choplin, Lahaye, Kiki and Sans is fairly good at this level of football. Niort have signed experienced left back Jonathan Brison from St Etienne who adds a bit of depth.

In general, the overall depth at the back isn’t great though and they are in trouble if injuries or suspensions kick in. Les Chamois are however, well covered in defensive midfield. It's a blow to lose Djiman Koukou to Lens. He started all 38 ligue matches last term and is a proven performer in Ligue 2. At least they've replaced him with possibly an even better player in Aliou Dembele. The new addition had a great 2015/16 campaign with Bourg-en-Bresse and will be a more than able replacement. Laurent Agouazi also arrives from Tours and although his better days might be behind him, he’s a shrewd signing in Ligue 2. With the likes of Sambia & Batisse also on the books, Niort don’t lack for depth in this position. This is important because they'll probably start with at least two DMIDs in each game and rely on a solid midfield. Les Chamois will be quite a negative team and it’s no surprise defence is expected to be their best department. They aren’t elite here and the lack of a proven goalkeeper might hinder them, but I still expect them to be fairly hard to penetrate.

Key players: Jeremy Choplin (CB), Aliou Dembele (DM)

Niort offense

Les Chamois weren’t much of an attacking threat last season, only netting 38 goals. An important fact to remember is that nine of those goals actually came in the last three games which just shows how woeful they generally were for most of the year. Ande Dona Ndoh was their leading scorer with 13 goals, which is a very good return in such a poor offensive team. Once again he’ll be the key man upfront but I’m not totally convinced he’ll be able to bag as many. An important supply line to him is playmaker Jimmy Roye who has been pulling the strings in this team for a number of years now. Niort have signed winger Romain Grange from relegated club Paris FC. He will add some much needed technical flair to the team. But he’s a lightweight player and often injured so there are question marks surrounding him. There’s not a lot else to shout about regarding the Niort offense. All of their other attackers are mediocre at best or youngsters hoping to have breakout seasons. It must be noted that right sided creator Faiz Selemani who was one of their better players in 2015/16 has departed to Lorient. Les Chamois won’t scare many opposition defences this season and will rely on individuals like Roye and Ndoh to shine.

Key players: Jimmy Roye (AM), Ande Dona Ndoh (ATT)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Niort sacked the awfully negative Regis Brouard towards the end of last season when it became apparent they were in big relegation trouble. They survived thanks to a combination of joint coaches, but have now appointed a full time manager in Denis Renaud. This is someone who was sacked halfway through last season for Paris FC after just 1 win in 18 games! Renaud drew a lot of those contests and his team were hard to beat, but the lack of intent to go on and get three points was quite obvious. Sound familiar? Yes! He’s basically Regis Brouard mark II and it seems Niort love appointing this type of coach. I expect them to be very similar to the last campaign; involved in a number of low scoring matches and a high % of draws. For sure, Niort will be in the relegation dogfight and maybe this season they aren't so fortunate end up going down. Le Stade Rene Gaillard can be a tough place for opposing sides to visit, but I think fans will once again be frustrated by the lack of positive football on the field.

Prediction: 19th

 

NIORT STARS 2