Category Archives: Ligue 2 Season Previews 2016/17

France Ligue 2 – Lens Season Preview 2016/17

LENS SP

Lens defence

Starting In between the sticks, Lens have strong options. Nicolas Douchez has been warming the PSG bench in recent years, almost wasting his time. Now at 36 he’s decided he wants more first team football. Douchez should be class at this level, and backing him up will be Jeremy Vachoux, who is developing nicely. Lens even have a potential strong#3 GK if Belon or Delle remain at the club. Les Sang et Or have lost talented and versatile centre back JP Gbamin to German club Mainz for about £4m. He’ll be missed, as will fullback Jordan Ikoko who returned to PSG from a season long loan. Lens have signed Reims centre back Mohamed Fofana but he’s a downgrade on both of those who have departed. Fofana will do an alright job but he’s the wrong side of 30 and does have a history of injuries, so might not be all that reliable. Lens should still have a fairly strong defence though and this is arguably their best area. Loic Landre & Dusan Cvetinovic are the premier centre back options, although it’s possible Landre will leave the club soon.Another option is Abdoul Ba, whilst the fullback positions are covered well by Anthony Scaramozzino & Kenny Lala.

There’s decent depth here and also quite a few players from elsewhere on the field who can over if required. In addition, you can always guarantee Lens will have some new youngsters waiting in the wings as potential talent. Pierrick Valdivia has been a mainstay of the Lens midfield in recent years, but his constant injuries ensured they lacked someone in the heart of this area pulling the strings. Les Sang et Or have signed Djiman Koukou from Niort and he’s just the sort of defensive midfielder they need. Lens certainly won't lack for bite or ball winning ability with him in the side. Other options in this area of the field include Thomas Olsen, Benjamin Bourigeaud & Guirane N’Daw. You could argue a couple of those guys are natural in a more advanced midfield role, but equally they are capable of playing deeper if required. Crucially, all of them can be classed as decent tacklers, which is what you need from a defensive type midfielder. Lens look well set in defensive areas and should have strong foundations, hard to break down.

Key players - Nicolas Douchez (GK) & Loic Landre (CB)

Lens offense

This is where the northern outfit are lacking a little bit. The big problem in the last couple of seasons has been in front of goal where the firepower simply hasn’t been there. Their top performer has been Pablo Chavarria, but he’s now departed. This is blow because on the right wing he’s been an extremely consistent performer. However, more often than not Lens have been forced to use him upfront which highlights their problem - lack of quality strikers. Right now, Teddy Chevalier, Jonathan Nanizayamo and Simon Banza are the main options but the latter duo are anything special. Chevalier is a more experienced player who has featured for higher league clubs abroad, but his goalscoring record isn't brilliant and I see him more as a deep lying forward, sort of link up striker. Kevin Fortune has been signed from national division side Beziers and arrives with a good goalscoring record, netting nearly 30 times in the last two seasons. But as ever, the big question is whether or not he can do the same at a higher level?

Lens do at least have some good options out wide and in attacking midfield. Mathias Autret is a highly useful player who can cause all sorts of problems at Ligue 2 level. The likes of Wylan Cyprien, Bourigeaud Olsen & new signing John Bostock are are quite capable as well. Lens have signed a couple of new wingers, Abdellah Zoubir & Abdelrafik Gerard. The latter will probably only be a bench player and arrives from recently relegated Creteil. Zoubir meanwhile, might be a potential starter and even has some past experience in the division with Istres. There’s a risk someone like Cyprien might leave the club but right now Lens have some reasonably creative options. It’s not top class though and they still lack a really potent number nine striker who is going to guarantee them a bag of goals.

Key players: Mathias Autret (winger), Wylan Cyprien (versatile attacker)

Edit - Wylan Cyprien left the club on Wednesday 27th July. New key player Teddy Chevalier (ATT)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Long standing coach Antoine Kombouare has departed to Guingamp, and taking over is Alain Casanova. The new manager is known for his time at Toulouse where he often operated a military style dictatorship. Casanova is known for his discipline, but also loyalty to players. Certain players will thrive under him, but he’s not for everyone. It’s expected that Casanova will be employing a 3-5-2 formation, which is fairly unusual in French football, or in any league for that matter. Lens have the biggest stadium in ligue 2 and will have by far the highest average attendance in the division. They will also take the biggest following of away fans to road games. This can bring both positives and negatives. The support they receive is fantastic, but sometimes they can get on the players backs if things aren’t going well. Also, many visiting teams see it as their ‘cup final’ at Le Stade Felix Bollaert. I think Lens have a decent chance of being in the promotion mixer but are maybe lacking one or two pieces, most notably upfront. Maybe this could cost them a top three spot but they are still likely to be one of the stronger sides in the division.

Prediction: 5th

 

LENS STARS 2

France Ligue 2 – Le Havre Season Preview 2016/17

HAC SP

Le Havre defence

Starting goalkeeper is Fabien Farnolle, quite an eccentric custodian but can be a great shot stopper. He will win them a few points, but also concede some weird goals in a bizarre way. Backup is Stephen Milosavljevic who started a few games last season and has developed some experience. The only departure from the defence is left back Jerome Mombris. He’s gone to GFC Ajaccio and decided to leave this project. Le Havre haven’t yet found a replacement for this position so Dennis Bain, Samba Camara or Ferland Mendy are current options. The rest of the defence looks excellent on paper, spearheaded by big centre back and captain Steven Fortes. Issam Chebake is a top quality right back while the likes of Cambon, Puel, Bain & good youth prospects are other options. I’m sure Bob Bradley will sort out a new signing at left back and when he does then this will be one of the best defences in the ligue.

I’d imagine Bradley line his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation most weeks and they are well set with their defensive midfield options. Key man is Jean Pascal Fontaine, who actually led the team in assists last season with nine. It’s debatable which category, either defense or offense in which to fit him. Fontaine is a genuine central midfielder capable of playing any role. Alongside him, the likes of Dylan Louiserre or Thomas Ayasse will probably feature. Another interesting possibility is Victor Lekhal, someone who's had a bad history of injuries. Of course, defenders like Cedric Cambon and Dennis Bain are both capable of filling in at DMID if required. Bob Bradley has loads of options in the middle of the park and is spoilt for choice.

Key players: Steven Fortes (CB), Jean Pascal Fontaine (DM/CM)

Le Havre offense

Les Ciel et Marine are absolutely spoilt in this department. First, let's start with the one negative which is the departure of young striker Lys Mousset to Bournemouth. He was last season's top scorer with 14 goals in just 17 starts. But HAC got a lot of money for him (£6m) which should really help them in the long run. Coming in as a replacement is Mana Dembele, a failure at Ligue 1 level but someone who always thrives in this division. Le Havre have a number of quality strikers anyway! For some reason Mathieu Duhamel and Ghislain Gimbert didn’t perform as well under Bob Bradley, but let's not forget their previous goalscoring record and both could easily rebound this campaign. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion one of them might leave before the end of August.

HAC have signed versatile winger Tarik Tissoudali from the Dutch second division in which he had some great statistics last season (18 goals & 9 assists). He won't find life as easy in French football but he looks a promising signing. Another new signing out wide is Zinedine Ferhat from the Algerian league. He will probably be replacing Joseph Mendes who signed with English club Reading. Mendes contributed well last year but is definitely replaceable and I don’t think they’ll miss him too much. Still the main focal point in the #10 role will be Alexandre Bonnet. He only weighed in with five goals and seven assists last season but he’s a top quality player and highly influential. He is probably their best left wing option if Bob Bradley wants him there too. Add in guys like Gamboa, Manzala, youngster Nathael Julan plus the aforementioned JP Fontaine if used in an advanced role. This Le Havre attack is absolutely top class, loaded with great quality and depth. No team in this division can match them in this area.

Key players: Alexandre Bonnet (AM), Ghislain Gimbert (ATT)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Along with Michel der Zakarian, Bob Bradley is probably the best coach in Ligue 2. The legendary American shouldn’t really be in this ligue, and instead managing at a much higher level. He achieved great things in Norway coaching Stabaek for a couple of seasons, another example of a strange career choice. Bradley is a superb tactical and motivational coach who usually gets the most out of his players. Le Havre came just one goal away from promotion last term, which hurt everyone at the club. But if they can pick themselves up properly from that disappointment then they are definitely one of the favourites to make it up to Ligue 1 this campaign. Bradley developed a strong home advantage since taking charge, with only Dijon and Nancy beating them here at Le Stade Oceane. The American is naturally an attack minded coach but showed signs of adapting to this ligue, realising the importance of smart tactics at the right time. Right across the board, Le Havre have great strength though, especially going forwards so they should be full of goals. I make them favourites to win the ligue and have a massive chance of going up.

Prediction: 1st

 

HAC STARS2

France Ligue 2 – Laval Season Preview 2016/17

LAVAL SP

Laval defence

Les Tangos were one of the stronger defensive teams last season and they should be fairly hard to break down again this year. Coach Denis Zanko is one of the more organised managers in Ligue 2 so it’s not a surprise that this will probably be their best department. In between the sticks Lionel Cappone is highly experienced. The 37 year still does a decent enough job and although his agility isn’t what it once was, he’ll be respectable. Maxime Hautbois is his backup and in the two games he played at the end of last season seemed ok. Laval will have to do without two starters from 2016, Djibril Konate & Fouad Chafik. The former was getting old and actually didn't play from February onwards due to injury. His replacement looks set to be new signing Aaron Appindangoye, but he wasn’t anything special for Evian last year. Laval have other options as well though. The experienced Malik Couturier, Kevin Perrot, Kevin Afougou, & youngster Nordi Mukiele can all play in the middle of defence. Another possibility is Adrien Monfray who could move down from DMID.

On the left hand side Erwan Quintin is the undisputable starter and although not elite anymore, he did used to be one of the best left backs in Ligue 2. Who starts on the opposite side remains to be seen, there’s talk it will be Mukiele, although Kevin Perrot is another possibility. In defensive midfield, Adrien Monfray is the standout star, although they lack other options. Laval have lost key man Anthony Goncalves who was such a rock for them in the middle of the park and will be badly missed. If Monfray misses out for whatever reason then Modibo Dembele will get the nod, but he’s only an average player at best. Laval really lack depth in midfield and need more options here.

Key players: Erwan Quintin (LB), Adrien Monfray (DM)

Laval offense

Les Tangos have lost playmaker Romain Habran who was actually their leading assister in 2015/16, setting up five goals. They’ve also lost their leading goalscorer Rachid Aliaoui (8) so once again it looks like Denis Zanko’s men will be fairly toothless. Laval only scored 35 times in the previous campaign and were especially horrible after the winter break in which they fired blanks in so many different halves of football. Any goals they had tended to come in clutches but overall this isn't a team that strikes much fear into opposition defences, and it's likely to be the same again this term. Seydou Kone has signed from Niort, someone who bagged 15 goals a couple of seasons ago. But he predictably declined last term, only finding the net three times. At 32, it looks like he’s in the downswing of his career but Laval don’t appear to have much else upfront. Their actual striking options are poor.

Attacking midfield is a better spot for Les Tangos. Mathieu Coutadeur has signed for the club and he could develop into one of their few genuine class acts. The former Le Mans & Lorient man has great technical ability although the one big negative to him is fitness. Injuries have badly plagued Coutadeur in recent seasons but should he stay fit then Laval have a real asset. He can play in any midfield position, but is best used at the tip of a diamond. They have signed Romain Bayard from National division side Dunquerque. He could be a promising signing and scored nine times, supplying six assists last season. Hassan Alla should stay as a starter too, despite being 35 years old now. Quite how effective he can be any more remains to be seen. Laval don’t have a lot of quality out wide but Cesar Zeoula and Chris Malonga aren’t too bad. Again, you could argue both are better suited to a #10 role. The spine of Laval looks decent enough but striking options are poor and they aren’t great out wide. Once again they’ll be one of the lowest scoring teams in the division.

Key players: Mathieu Coutadeur (AM), Cesar Zeoula (AM/winger)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out how Laval will operate this season. In nearly every fixture, both at home and away they’ll aim to be compact, hard to break down and in numerous cases simply park the bus. They had one of the best defensive records on the road in terms of conceding goals, but also scored very few. Watch out for Laval being involved in a lot of drawn matches, their coach will happily take a point in any fixture if offered it. Denis Zanko has made them hard to beat both at home and away. Traditionally at home, Le Stade Francis le Basser is a tricky place for the opposition to visit. I personally hate betting in Laval matches due to the high nature of draws, in addition to so many low scoring matches. Their games are usually better off left alone..and best watched if you want to fall asleep! I expect Les Tangos to be involved in a relegation scrap and it's touch and go if they survive or not.

Prediction: 18th

 

LAVAL STARS 2

France Ligue 2 – GFC Ajaccio Season Preview 2016/17

GFCA SP

GFC Ajaccio defence

The Corsicans look strong in between the sticks. Clement Maury had a good season in ligue 1 last year but he’ll be challenged by new signing Steeve Elana. The ex Brest man has sat on the Lille bench the last few campaigns but even though he’s 36, could easily start for most teams in Ligue 2. It’s going to be interesting to see who gets the nod, but both are really strong for this level of football. Defence has the potential to be strong, but there are question marks surrounding it. A lot of the regular starters from last year have all gone. The likes of Sylla, Martinez, Filippi are already at new clubs and it seems unlikely they’ll be able to tempt back Kader Mangane or even Alexandre Coeff.  GFC have at least reinforced wisely. Cedric Hountondji has signed from Rennes, a proven quality performer on loan in this division for 2 or 3 years now. Francois Clerc is another addition from St Etienne, and he could be quite a coup providing his fitness issues are over. Jerome Mombris from Le Havre is another useful signing.

Of course, GFC will still rely on Jeremie Brechet in the middle. Brechet is 37 now, a real dinosaur in football terms and surely this will be his last campaign. Pace certainly isn't his strong suit although he does still bring plenty of experience to the table. Another old relic still around is David Ducourtioux. He’s versatile though and can play in a number of positions in addition to being a strong dressing room motivator. GFC have some strong defensive midfield options. Amos Youga, Jerome Lemoigne & the newly signed Remi Mulumba are all well capable at this level. GFC have a lot of depth in this area with a lot of guys capable of filling in if required. The same can be said for the backline where versatility is in abundance. Despite losing a number of starters, I’d still expect GFC to be really strong and hard to break down in defensive areas this season.

Key players: Francois Clerc (RB), Remi Mulumba (DM)

GFC Ajaccio offence

Goalscoring has generally been a big problem for GFC in both of the last two seasons. Even in their promotion year, nobody scored more than eight times. Mohamed Larbi was leading scorer in both the previous campaigns, and considering he plays in attacking midfield that's quite impressive.  Larbi has outgrown GFC and will transfer away from the club very soon, I'm not sure where to exactly. Second highest scorer from their ligue 1 adventure was Khaled Boutaib and he’s already transferred out of the club. GFC are left with Jacques Zoua (who will probably go) and John Tshibumbu upfront, but neither are anything special. On the positive side, GFC have signed Yoann Court form Troyes, a versatile attacker capable of playing on either wing or attacking midfield. Sekou Cisse is another who signed and he did well for Sochaux in 2015/16 scoring eight times. He's more of a left winger but might eventually play upfront. GFCA lack a star player in the final third but they do have a lot of options and versatility in attacking midfield and wide areas. It would help matters a lot of they could find a proper scorer, a really good number nine, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

Key players: Yoann Court (AM/winger), Sekou Cisse (LW/ATT)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

The man who led GFC to successive promotions has left the club. Thierry Laurey departs the island as a hero but he’s moved to pastures new in Strasbourg. Laurey achieved so much here with a limited budget. They simply had no right to get promoted considering the squad on paper. Few gave them any chance at all of avoiding relegation, or even reaching the 20 point mark. But they bravely took the fight until the last day of the season, falling just short. Taking over is Jean Luc Vannuchi following a reasonably successful spell with Auxerre. Vanussi never quite delivered in the ligue as he’d have wanted, but has demonstrated enough strengths to suggest he'll go well here in Ajaccio. The highlight of his time in Auxerre was a trip to the Coupe de France final. Vanucci is a very strong tactician and an excellent away manager. His style should suit GFC perfectly. One thing he never had with Auxerre was a fortress home stadium, but it’s the opposite here. Le Stade Ange Casanova is the sort of place nobody wants to visit and the pitch can get really awkward in the winter. I would expect GFC to be very strong here this season. The Corsicans have a chance of going straight back up at the first time of asking and look strong in defence and midfield. Perhaps a lack of goals, maybe coupled with some away problems could hinder them. But on the whole GFCA could surprise yet again and launch a decent promotion bid.

Prediction: 3rd

 

GFC STARS 2

France Ligue 2 – Clermont Season Preview 2016/17

CLERMONT SP

Clermont defence

Nothing has changed in this department and Clermont have retained all of its main defensive players from last season. In between the sticks, Mehdi Jeanin generally asserted himself as the number one keeper, although Marc Aurele Caillard will be waiting in the wings should Jeanin go through a slump phase like he did at one stage last season. Jeanin is a big unit and can come up big, but I wouldn’t class him as exceptional. The backline did concede a lot of goals last season but that's partly due to Clermont's more attacking nature. Cedric Avinel is their best defender and the big centre back is crucial to their success. However, it seems he can’t avoid at least some sort of injury every year, so when he inevitably misses a few games they could struggle. On the left hand side Karim Djellabi is now 33 years old, so no spring chicken. Former Auxerre man Thomas Fontaine has been bought in as competition. Fontaine arrives here on the back of an ACL injury though and is definitely more suited to centre back, so there are some doubts over him.

Cyril Rivieyran is a lock-in starter at right back whilst the other centre back position will be between Julian Laporte and Jacques Salze, in all probability the former will get the nod most weeks. This whole backline will know each other extremely well which is a big positive, but it's hard to see how they significantly improve on last season, unless Avinel can play the whole campaign injury-free. Old legend Eugene Ekobo (35) will be the starter at DMID, but how much longer can he continue to be effective for? Clermont have a few other defensive minded midfielders in their ranks, with new signing Joseph Lopy the best prospect. It’ll be up to the likes of Michael Espinosa and Enzo Reale to step up when needed too. Overall, I think Clermont will be slightly improved in defensive areas. Continuity of players, plus the addition of Fontaine & Lopy should help their cause. It's also possible the coach might be slightly more cautious this year due to lack of firepower elsewhere.

Key players: Cedric Avinel (CB) & Eugene Ekobo (DM)

Clermont offense

The Auvergne side were one of the most entertaining to watch last season and only Creteil were involved in more over 2.5 goals matches in Ligue 2. Diacre has shown herself to be quite an offensive minded coach compared to many in French football. She has always had some decent attacking weapons to work with though and that might not be the case this term. The big stud last season was striker Famara Diedhiou, who with 21 goals was head and shoulders clear in the top goalscorer market. Incredibly, he was on loan from Sochaux and Clermont opted to trigger a clause in which they could buy him for £300k. Just a week or so later they sold him to Angers for £1.3 million. That's good business but they haven't yet managed to find a suitable replacement. Mamadou Thiam comes in on loan from Dijon but he’s an unproven quantity. To find someone big enough to fill Diedhiou’s boots will be a massive ask for Clermont, almost impossible.

But perhaps a bigger problem which many people might forget is the supply line from last season is also gone. Adrien Hunou, who was on loan from Rennes had a stellar campaign, weighing in with seven goals and six assists. Farid Boulaya had similar statistics. The latter is still at the club but injured his ACL in April and won't be seen until after the winter break. It’s possible another team might even risk signing him following such a great season. Another loanee who did well under the radar was Gaetan Laborde (8 goals in 16 appearances). The Bordeaux man actually finished the season in much better form than Diedhiou. All Clermont have done to replace these players is sign the often injury prone Thomas Guerbert, who had a poor season at Sochaux. So many goals and assists have been taken out of this team that an awful lot rests on the shoulders of Remy Dugimont, who is a versatile attacker capable of playing upfront or on the wings. Diacre said she wanted to add to her offensive ranks and right winger Alexis Busin comes in on loan for a season from Nancy. It looks like young Angers striker Ludovic Ajorque will also be joining soon. Neither have historically been given much playing time with their respective clubs, but given the right amount of minutes, could potentially shine. Nobody really knows but Clermont should at least retain some pace in the final third.

Key players: Remy Dugimont (ATT/Winger), Thomas Guerbert (AM/Winger)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

This will be Corinne Diacre’s third season in charge of the club. It was big news when she first took over and she’s been surprisingly good here in Clermont. I never thought a woman coach would work in this ligue but a twelfth placed finish followed by an impressive seventh last term shows the excellent job she’s done. Diacre is an offensively minded coach and is willing to gamble. Her teams have all been about outscoring the opposition, clean sheets aren't as common under her guidance. Since she took over, Clermont are 19-11-8 at home, which is a fairly good record. Her road record isn't as strong and sometimes naive tactics have been to blame. Man management is clearly a good skill of hers and she tends to get the most out of her squad. But in her first two years in charge Diacre was fortunate to have two stud strikers at her disposal, Idriss Saadi & Famara Diedhiou. This year she hasn’t got as many quality offensive weapons and it might be a challange to keep outscoring teams. I think Clermont will regress a bit this year unless guys like Busin & Ajorque are unexpectedly good. Even if they prove to be a pleasant surprise, replacing Diedhiou is almost impossible.

Prediction: 11th

 

CLERMONT STARS 2

 

France Ligue 2 – Bourg-en-Bresse Season Preview 2016/17

BP SP

Bourg-en-Bresse defence

The goalkeeping lineup is nothing spectacular, but it’s solid enough. Julien Fabri is the number one custodian and a whole season starting matches won't have done him any harm. Backup Sebastien Callamand was seen a few times last season and his performances suggest he’ll be an able deputy. The backline itself has undergone a number of changes. Just one starter from last year remains, and that's left back Vital N’Simba. He impressed me at times during the previous campaign and has to be classed as their most important defender. Bourg have decided to invest in some big centre halves this year. Antoine Pontory comes in from Orleans, and old legend Bruce Abdoulaye from Grenoble. Clevid Dikamona has been signed from English League 2 side Dag & Red.

All three of those aforementioned players are big and strong, although might lack for pace and struggle against good technical players. Bourg will have to do without right back Mickael Alphonse who has departed. He played in nearly every match last season and so far they've replaced him with two guys I know little about from lower ligues. Right back could be a potential weak spot. Bourg have a lot of defensive midfielders but Jimmy Nirlo is the only real quality player and a key man for them in this position. They’ll have to do without box to box man Aliou Dembele who’s gone to Niort. Dembele started in every single match last campaign and was widely regarded as one of their best players. Thomas Gamiette has signed from relegated club Paris FC, but fresh on the back of a poor campaign it remains to be seen if he’ll rebound.

Key players - Vital N’Simba (LB), Jimmy Nirlo (DM)

Bourg-en-Bresse offense

Key man and leading scorer Pape Sane has departed to Caen, although this was already known as he signed for them in January. Sane scored a lot of goals before the winter break, but his performances from January onwards weren't so impressive. It’s possible they might not miss him as much as many people think. Lakdar Boussaha now takes over the reginas as their leading marksman and he weighed in with nine goals last term. He will be joined upfront by new signing Wilfried Louisy Daniel from Chambly. Daniel scored 15 times last year in the National ligue, but in his only previous Ligue 2 adventure he had a poor campaign with Orleans. The jury is still out with Louisy Daniel but it’s possible that in a better and more offensive team he could be useful. Many would argue the most crucial part of the Bourg-en-Bresse offense is playmaker Jason Berthomier. He scored six times and also assisted a decent number last season. He’ll once again be vital. Another player Bourg-en-Bresse have signed from Chambly is attacking midfielder Guillaume Henry. His statistics, especially in the goalscoring department have been very impressive in both of the last two years in the National division, but can he make the step up?

Their most recent addition is Kevin Hoggas from relegated side Evian. Hoggas was one of the few bright sparks in that team and can both score goals and assist. He will bolster up the attacking midfield and can play out wide if needed. Bourg have a lot of depth upfront and loanee from Lyon Romain del Castillo might prove to be highly effective and classy at this level. Julien Begue has completed a move from Guingamp following a successful loan spell last season. Overall, despite the loss of Sane I think they are upgraded in attack. A lot of their play will run through the middle though and they appear to lack natural wide players. This might not be a problem, many good teams down the years have concentrated their attacks down the middle. Bourg could become too one dimensional though without quality out wide. It all depends if Hoggas can become a quality option in those positions. He's more naturally suited centrally though.

Key players: Jason Berthomier (AM), Lakdar Boussaha (ATT)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Herve Della Maggiore did an excellent job last season with a team everyone expected to finish rock bottom. On paper, they had the weakest squad in the ligue, but players developed and got better, team spirit was really good and a willingness to gamble paid off. No team had fewer draws in the ligue than Bourg-en-Bresse (just 8) which is a really low number for French football. In contrast, only one team suffered more defeats and conceded more goals than them, yet they managed to finish a comfortable 11th! It just goes to prove that taking a gamble by going for three points is better than settling for a draw in many cases. Maggiore is a naturally offensive coach and Bourg-en-Bresse are likely to be one of the most attacking teams in Ligue 2. Half of their games last season were played at a neutral venue but now they’re back on their own patch fully, which should help. Overall, I think Bourg should stay around midtable again, or maybe even slightly improve. The defence and the more risky tactics will probably see them concede too many again. But there should be plenty of goals in this team which keeps them highly competitive. As long as they don’t suffer ‘second season syndrome’ then there’s enough reason to think the club will continue to punch above its weight in the French footballing hierarchy.

Prediction: 15th

 

 

BP STARS 2

 

 

 

France Ligue 2 – Auxerre Season Preview 2016/17

AUXERRE SP

Auxerre defence

I don’t think AJA will be as strong this side of the ball in 2016/17. For now, they have an excellent goalkeeper in Zacharie Boucher who was one of the best custodians in ligue 2 last season. He was worth about a dozen points to Auxerre and in some games cases he single handedly won or drew them matches. Because of his quality, there’s no guarantee they can keep hold of him until the end of the transfer window. Backup keeper Xavier Lenogue never played a minute last year so is an unknown. The backline has changed significantly. Gone are proven players like Puygrenier, Hountondji & Fontaine who were a core makeup of the side. Remi Fournier is a new signing from Red Star and he had a stellar campaign last season, but at 33 he’s no spring chicken. Baba Traore is another centre back addition from Bourg-en-Bresse, but he’s nothing special.

It actually seems like Traore has been bought in primarily to play left back, because another mainstay Salimo Sylla has also departed. There will be some competition at right back for the often injured Ruben Aguilar, as Romain Laspalles comes in from Guingamp reserves. A couple of later additions for them are Mickael Tacalfred from Reims, although he’s 35 and will miss the first 6 weeks due to injury. Stephane Sparanga is a loanee from Marseille and might be alright, only time will tell. Overall, Auxerre seem to be downgraded at the back this season. In defensive midfield, Auxerre have Brahim Konate who is an absolute physical beast, but they’ve lost Ibrahima Seck who was another big unit in the middle. Lionel Mathis has been signed from Guingamp, a proven and experienced campaigner who might yet have a couple of decent seasons left in him. But at 34 years old, he’s hardly one for the future. Compared to last season I don’t think Auxerre will be as strong defensively and they’ve lost both a strong physical and technical presence.

Key players: Zacharie Boucher (GK), Remi Fournier (CB)

Auxerre offense

The key man for AJA going forward is Gaetan Courtet. Last season he weighed in with a massive 11 goals & 11 assists. Obviously, those statistics demonstrate how important he is to the side. But they've lost Serhou Guirassy who scored 8 goals in just 16 appearances following a loan spell from Lille after christmas. Playmaker Gregoire Lefebre is another who’s left the club, in addition to the often injured Vincent Gragnic. There are a lack of options for the number 10 role, so some youngsters are going to have to step up. In fact, that's the theme with Auxerre. Younger players are going to have to feature alongside Courtet and deliver this season. Auxerre do have some promising young talent but nobody stands out right now as exceptional. The one new addition they have made is striker Yoann Touzghar and he is of proven quality at this level of football. Strong physically and technically, he should link up well with Courtet. There’s some promise about Auxerre going forward and unlike the defence, they aren’t downgraded in this department. You could even argue they are slightly upgraded by adding Touzghar. But there are still too many question marks surrounding younger players or guys who seem nothing better than average.

Key players: Gaetan Courtet (ATT), Yoann Touzghar (ATT)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Viorel Moldovan has taken charge of the club. He was quite a famous Romanian striker back in the day, even playing in the EPL on one occasion for Coventry City. In recent years he’s been manager of the Romania U21 side and also assistant to the main national team. So it’s going to be interesting to see how he adapts back to club level. Past indications seem to be that he might prefer to go with two strikers up front, possibly in a 4-4-2 formation. Being a striker, there’s a good chance he might be more attack minded than a lot of French coaches. Considering his past record as a player, he’s the sort of manager who should command plenty of respect. There’s definitely more question marks than answers surrounding him right now though.

Unfortunately, Auxerre don't have a great home field advantage in recent years. Le Stade L’abbe Deschamps can resemble a morgue at times and they don't have a particularly big fanbase. This stadium won't be the fortress that some will be in ligue 2 this season. Overall, I think Auxerre will decline this year. It looks like they’ll be vulnerable to conceding more goals and they currently lack quality depth. There’s some hope that the arrival as Moldovan as coach might make them one of the more watchable sides in the ligue at least. In conclusion, I think a lower midtable finishing spot for Auxerre seems pretty likely. I can’t see them challenging the top six this term. They could even get sucked into some trouble if Moldovan doesn’t work out as a coach.

Prediction: 14th

 

AUXERRE STARS

France Ligue 2 – Reims Season Preview 2016/17

REIMS SP

Reims defence

In between the sticks it looks like Johann Carrasso is going to be the #1 keeper. Reims have had goalkeeping issues in recent years and used as many as four last season! Johnny Placide has departed and Kossi Agassa is being forced out of the club. They've signed Edouard Mendy from Marseille who will be the backup custodian. Carasso used to be fairly good at this level but a poor year in Ligue 1 rocked his confidence. He should be decent but there are a few question marks. Reims have sold talented defender Aissa Mandi to Real Betis for over £3m. He’ll be missed but they got good money and replaced him wisely. Coming in is big centre back Julien Jeanvier form Lille. He impressed on loan in this division last season with Red Star and was one of the standout defenders in the entire league. Reims have also signed a renowned proven talent in Samuel Bouhours from Tours. He’s going to be used primarily as a left back but is equally able in the heart of defence.

The Champagne club already have plenty of quality in their squad for this level of football. Antoine Conte, Hamari Traore & Anthony Weber should feel nicely at home in Ligue 2. Returning from a loan spell at Paris FC is right back Christopher Glombard, but even he’s alright and can do a job. Despite losing Mandi, I like what Reims have done with this backline. They signed two of the best defenders from last season and I think this is a really smart tactic. They’ve done exactly the same in defensive midfield too. Danilson da Cruz was an absolute rock in the middle of the park for Red Star in 2015/16 and Reims have moved to sign him. He’ll join the likes of Antoine Devaux, Alexis Peuget, Mfulu & Hassane Kamara. It looks like Prince Oniangue and Jaba Kankava will be leaving the club. It would be nice to have them at this level but it's understandable they need to move on. Reims look to have some extremely strong options in defensive areas and will be very formidable, especially as the coach is a renowned tactician.

Key players: Julian Jeanvier (CB) & Samuel Bouhours (LB)

Reims offense

Les Rouges et Blanc didn’t have much to shout about last season in this part of the field, but their standout star Nicolas de Preville is set to leave the club. At the time of writing he hasn’t gone yet, but someone like Lille will probably sign him. De Preville weighed in with seven goals and nine assists last season so will be missed. Thievy Bifouma and Lass Bangiura have already returned to other clubs following loan spells, but neither did anything worth noting. Most of the Reims attack force will be the same as last season, which could be good or bad, depending on your point of view. Clearly, as an attack they weren't quite good enough for Ligue 1 level, but there are players here who should thrive in the second tier. An example is Gaetan Charbonnier. The last time he graced this ligue, he totally stormed it. The ex Angers & Montpellier man is going to be their main focal point upfront, but also watch out for youngsters Jordan Siebatcheu & Grejohn Kyei. The latter has been linked with moves out of the club but now looks set to stay.

Out wide, Reims have signed Pablo Chavarria from Lens. He’s done very well at this level in the last couple of years and been a standout player for Les Sang et Or. He will probably lineup up on the right wing, whilst on the left hand side star playmaker Diego Rigonato should feature. He might prove to be a class above most in Ligue 2 and has excellent technical skills. He’s a total wizard from set pieces and will be one of the best players in the league. Odair Fortes and Frederic Bulot are other options out wide for the Champagne outfit and they are well set with wingers. Central attacking midfield is one of their slightly weaker spots, although watch out for new signing from Auxerre Gregory Berthier. The youngster looks set to have a decent future. Guys like Bulot, Diego & Antoine Devaux can all play attacking midfield if needed, so it’s not as if they lack for options. They do lack a standout star in that department, but overall Reims should be very threatening going forwards. Their biggest strength is pace and technical skill, whilst handily Charbonnier is a bigger unit and offers something different.

Key players: Diego Rigonato (winger), Gaetan Charbonnier (ATT)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

I’ve been impressed with a lot of Reims’ new signings this summer, but perhaps their most impressive capture of all is new coach Michel der Zakarian. He comes here after a four year stint with Ligue 1 side Nantes with whom he was very successful. De Zakarian has a great record in this division as well, obtaining two promotions and nearly achieving a third with Clermont. He’s a very good coach and I’m surprised he’s ended up here, rather than with a bigger club. I would say his biggest strength is tactics and keeping things tight at the back. You can tell by the type of players he’s bought this summer that he wants some strong physical players in defence, along with pace & flair out wide. Only Bob Bradley can match De Zakarian as far as quality coaches go this season in Ligue 2 and he’s a massive asset to the club. Reims look like a major contender for promotion and have great strengths in every department. I could see them winning a lot of matches to nil this season and they won’t lose very often. Relegated teams don’t have a great record in Ligue 2. But Metz bounced straight back last term and Reims are well equipped to launch a major promotion bid this time around.

Prediction: 2nd

 

REIMS STARS

France Ligue 2 – Valenciennes Season Preview 2016/17

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Valenciennes defence

VA have a reliable #1 keeper in Damien Perquis. He’s proven himself at this level and is now one of the more experienced players. Some would say he’s even good enough for Ligue 1 level. Backing Perquis up will be Paul Charreau and youngster Nicolas Kocik. This is a fairly strong goalkeeping lineup for VA and definitely one of their strengths. The defensive line has lost two regular starters from last season - Yunis Abdulhamid & Baptiste Aloe. The former was one of the best defenders in Ligue 2 and would be missed by any side. Coming in as a replacement is Ahmed Kantari, a centre back who I actually rate quite highly. He had a spell over in MLS for Toronto which didn't work out but now he’s back in France. Kantari is a very good technical defender but his big downside is injuries. He rarely has a season of full fitness and will likely be out of action at some stage. The rest of the VA defence looks pretty strong and there are a number of proven performers here. At centre back Loic Nestor was a rock last campaign, whilst youngsters Niakhate and Ntim are both developing into solid players.

Out wide, Loris Nery prolonged his contract and I still think there’s a good future for him. Once touted as a really good prospect, his career seems to have stalled. Remember, he played half a dozen games for France U21s but he hasn’t developed as he'd have liked. Nery will be a strong option at either left or right back. Saliou Ciss should be starting on the left hand side but is another highly injury prone player who could get crocked at any stage. Overall, the defence looks very strong despite the departure of Abdelhamid. There’s plenty of quality here and the only worry is that some guys are a bit injury prone. Defensive midfield is an ok area for VA with Eloge Enza Yamissi leading them in this department. He’s powerful, strong and has proven ability at this level of football. Unfortunately it looks like Sekou Baradji looks set to leave the club. He’s still technically with them but keeps refusing new contracts. He was a powerful beast for VA last season and will be missed. The talented Angelo Fulgini can play DMID, but is better suited in other areas. They’ll hope that younger players Kabore, Azbague or Tameze can step up this year and develop.

Key players: Loic Nestor (CB), Eloge Enza Yamissi (DM)

Valenciennes offense

VA didn’t particularly shine in this area last season, although some encouragement was the performance of Nuno da Costa. The Cape Verdean topped their scoring charts with 10 goals and VA will hope he can return something similar this campaign. The northerners have enough strikers in their roster, the problem is they are lacking quality. Ex Sochaux captain Teddy Butin can be useful when fit, but that's a rarity. Maybe he can stay on the field for a more prolonged period of time this year, if he could then it’d be a bonus. Youngsters; Andy Faustin, Lamine Ndao and Pierre Slidja could perhaps develop this season but they’re all far too hit or miss and have big question marks surrounding them. Valenciennes don't have strikers who will put the fear into opponents and that seems to be the general theme of their whole attack. Most of their creativity will come out wide. Their winger options are reasonable enough, spearheaded by Sigamary Diarra on the left and Ndao on the right. Isaac Mbenza is a youngster with potential but it looks like he’ll leave the club before the end of the transfer window. Valenciennes have relatively few attacking midfield options, with Sebastien Roudet and Angelo Fulgini perhaps their only real players of note here. Roudet is another injury prone player though and 35 now, so I’m not sure what he’s got left in the tank. I expect VA to focus their attack out wide and they need to hope goals are contributed by their wingers and midfielders.

Key players: Nuno da Costa (ATT), Sigamary Diarra (LW)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Faruk Hadzibegic is in charge and the Bosnian is a very experienced coach who knows French football well. He came in and did a good job with VA last season, keeping them from relegation after David Le Frapper was sacked. He’s a fairly balanced coach with a tendency to prefer negative tactics. His teams aren’t usually very flashy but there are more boring coaches than him out there. Valenciennes had a shockingly poor home record last season winning only three times at Le Stade du Hainaut. Two of those came later on in the campaign as they were held to a ridiculous 11 draws in front of their own fans! That must surely change this time around and I’d expect them to improve upon those statistics. VA at least had a good away record (6th best) and won seven times on the road. The last couple of campaigns have been painful for Valenciennes fans and on both occasions they've only just avoided relegation. It might be that the club is over it’s really difficult period following relegation from the top flight in 2014. I think they will improve this term and should move towards a comfortable midtable position. There’s no guarantees about this though and a lack of general attacking strength could be a problem again.

Prediction: 12th

 

VA STARS

France Ligue 2 – Tours Season Preview 2016/17

TFC SP

Tours defence

It’s slightly difficult to rate Tours in the goalkeeping department. At the moment, promising talent Bingourou Kamara is still on their books but he looks set to transfer away from the club. He’s got great potential although, even last season his head seemed in the cloud at times regarding potential transfers. Quentin Westberg has been given the starting spot pre season and looks set to keep it. The American has been around Ligue 2 for a while, often as a backup but he should do a reasonable job without being anything special. Esteban Salles will probably back him up when Kamara leaves the club. The Tours backline should be fairly strong, although losing key man Samuel Bouhours was a blow. He was their best defender and capable of playing in the middle or left hand side. This is quite a young defence, with only centre back Cyriaque Louvion offering much experience here. But there's some good young talent like Florian Miguel, Thibault Cillard & Jonathan Gradit.

One of the few other older guys is Bogdan Milosevic (CB) but he will probably start the season on the bench. Tours don’t have a standout star at the back and there could be plenty of competition for places. Their one weak spot is left back. Right now, Ibrahima Cisse is going to be the starter. But he’s right footed and better suited to playing on the other side. Daouda Konate has transferred to the club from Paris FC, although didn’t actually play in Ligue 2 last season because he was on loan. He is a more natural left back and could be a potential starter there too. Tours look well set in defensive midfield despite losing Laurent Agouazi. Ousseynou Cisse has signed and he used to be a pretty good player at this level for Dijon. Add in the likes of Haris Belkebla, Mohamed Maouche, plus a couple of half decent youngsters and TFC seem well set in this position. I wouldn't say they have elite talent in defensive areas, but they are more than competitive. It’s also the one area of their squad where depth seems better as well.

Key players: Jonathan Gradit (RB), Ousseynou Cisse (DM)

Tours offense

TFC certainly didn’t pull up any trees with their attack force last season and on paper this is their poorest area. I’ll start with the obvious weak spot which is upfront. Tours will likely field a 4-2-3-1 formation for most of the season so they only need one focal point. Quite who that will be remains to be seen. New signing from Paris FC Cheick Diarra looks favourite to fill the role right now. He’s might do a half decent job and had some good moments towards the end of last season with the relegated capital club. Another new signing is youngster from the Belgian 2nd tier Mayron de Almeida. But his goalscoring record isn’t anything eye catching and he seems quite raw, relatively unproven. Luca Miracoli is another option for them here, but he flopped last season only scoring one goal.

Of course, Tours could opt to employ Bryan Bergougnoux or Geoffroy Malfeury as a striker if they wanted to, but neither are naturally suited to the role. Maybe someone like Dairra will come off and score 10+ goals but I think they lack a proven quality finisher at the moment. Key playmaker will be the aforementioned Bergougnoux, but he’ll turn 34 in January and in the twilight of his career. Similar to Grougi at Brest and Cavalli at Ajaccio, his workload will have to be managed due to age. Tours don't have an awful lot else to fill the #10 role should he get injured. Most of their other midfielders are more defensive minded and the departed Baptiste Santamaria, who had six assists last season will be missed. Out wide, TFC have a couple of decent starters in Geoffrey Malfleury and Ibrahima Tandia. The latter is especially worth watching and has caught the eye of some Ligue 1 clubs. He’s looked sharp in preseason and should cause opponents problems on the right wing. Tours lack overall depth in attack though in all positions. They have admitted they’re in the market for at least another winger, specifically on the left hand ideally. They’ll have some decent days in front of goal and a positive approach should help. But the new coach needs to build up this area of the squad.

Key players: Bryan Bergougnoux (AM), Ibrahima Tandia (RW)

Coaching, other factors & conclusion

Marco Simone has left the club and Fabien Mercadal takes over. Simone divided opinion both with fans and pundits alike. One one hand Tours were pretty hard to beat and were one of the best tactical sides in the division. To be fair you couldn't argue much with their results either. TFC were comfortably in midtable all year. But Simone was extremely negative, even for French Ligue standards. He was often criticised for anti football and for focusing way too much on defence. The new coach has been managing National division side Dunkerque for the last four seasons, finishing inside the top six every time at that level. It looks like Mercadal will keep with a 4-2-3-1 formation, but won't be quite so defensive orientated. I still expect Tours’ main strength to be in defensive areas and they should play a smart tactical game in most games. But I think we’ll see them open up more compared to 2015/16. The new coach said he wants them to be more positive at home anyway. Mercadal had a good home record at Dunkerque and Tours are traditionally strong at Le Stade Vallee Du Cher. So it’ll be interesting to see if he can maintain a strong home field advantage here as well. I think TFC will lack offensive ammunition from time to time but I’d imagine they settle fairly comfortably into midtable again. The squad is relatively small but team spirit and togetherness is usually quite strong here.

Prediction: 10th

 

TOURS STARS