The goalkeeping situation doesn’t look that great. Last season they had Alexis Guendouz on loan from St Etienne but he doesn’t return this year. Instead, Pau have opted to sign ex Nantes man Alexandre Olliero. He has started matches at this level before when on loan at Niort and probably won’t be that bad but he isn’t what you’d call top class or anything close to that. Pau have reinforced at the back by adding four new players. Out wide veteran Anthony Scaramozzino adds some experience but at the age of 35 I have to question whether this is his sort of level anymore. Young Zahary has been signed on a permanent deal from Caen after he was on loan here from January onwards. Scotty Sadzoutte is on loan from Lille and I know little about this left back who can also play on the wings. Erwin Koffi was a failed product at Lorient but maybe at Ligue 2 level he can be useful. He’s a versatile player who can slot anyone on the right hand side or even midfield. Pau will hope that Mamadou Kamissoko and Damon Bansais can be good enough at this level. A key man for the newly promoted club will be Antoine Batisse who can play defensive midfield or centre back. Batisse, who is an ex Niort player is the captain here but the last time he featured in Ligue 2 he wasn’t really up to the standard. Pau won’t be disgraced but they look fairly weak defensively and there could be a few holes for the opposition to exploit.
Key players - Antoine Batisse (DM), Mamadou Kamissoko (DC)
They were the highest scoring team in the National Division last season but have lost two key pieces from the offense. Both Lamine Gueye and Cheikh Tidiane Sabaly combined for a whopping 24 goals and 13 assists between them. Both now reside at Ligue 1 club Metz and leave two massive holes to fill. Pau have signed Romain Armand, a proven goalscorer at this level but he is a different type of target man striker. Nevertheless, if given the service he should find the back of the net a few times. Quite what else they have in the final third is questionable though. Ebenezer Assifuah is a new signing from Le Havre and he can be hit or miss. Playmaker Romain Bayard is an interesting player with perhaps something still to give at this level after a couple of seasons down in the National Division. Steeve Beusnard looked alright at times with Beziers in Ligue 2 but is out injured until the new year with ACL damage. To be honest, they look a bit lightweight in attack and probably lack depth.
Key players - Romain Armand (ATT), Romain Bayard (Playmaker)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Similar to fellow promoted club Dunkerque, Pau also have a new manager to lead them into Ligue 2. Bruno Irles left the club after effectively resigning. Replacing him is Didier Tholot, a man who has plenty of experience at this level but also has a history of failings. The last time Tholot was seen in action was at Nancy where he was given the boot after a torrid start to the 2018/19 campaign. Tholot is a good honest guy who will generally give things a good go. He won’t go down without a fight and generally likes to be positive if and when he can. Tholot however lacks tactical nous and has a knack of making poor decisions. Pau have a small budget, have lost two of their big attacking weapons and overall on paper probably have the worst squad in the league. They are going to be heavily involved in the relegation and from what I’ve seen in the first two matches it could be quite a struggle. They got blasted apart in the first match vs Valenciennes and knowing Tholot’s management style they will be far too open at times. Pau’s own Stadium isn’t fit for Ligue 2 purpose yet, so until January at least they will be playing their games at Le Stade du Hameau which is the rugby ground in the city. This ground has a capacity of nearly 20,000 and local authorities have been relaxed about letting in up to 8,000 for their next home game. It is interesting to see another team from the South West region of France have a team in Ligue 2. The city itself, which seems to get a stage of Le Tour de France every year is known as the gateway to the Pyrenees and maybe there will be plenty of support from the locals to see their team at this level of football. It is however going to be a struggling campaign and I would be personally surprised if they avoided relegation. They are my tip to finish bottom of the table.
Prediction:- 20th Bottom of the table
Starting keeper is going to be captain Axel Maraval. He once had half a season in between the sticks for AC Arles in Ligue 1 about 5-6 years ago but this will be the first time he’s a regular at this level. Backing him up, or indeed perhaps trying to compete for the spot is new signing from relegated Orleans, Jeremy Vachoux. This looks an acceptable goalkeeping lineup to be honest. Dunkerque have also brought in centre back Alioune Ba from Orleans and he will add some experience and strength to the backline. So far, most of the defence has consisted of new players with ex Angers man Ibrahim Cisse slotting in alongside new man from Laval Adon Gomis. The good thing about Cisse is his versatility and he can play anywhere in defence. The same can be said about Demba Thiam who is the only remaining mainstay of the defence last year. Ex Red Star man Harouna Sy who has previous Ligue 2 experience under his belt seems to have settled into the left back slot. In defensive midfield it looks like Leverton Pierre could be a regular starter. He used to be a striker in his Metz days so that is an interesting conversion. One new signing I like in this area is ex Paris FC man Redouane Kerrouche. He started 33 games at this level during the 2017/18 season before floating around a few clubs. I always rated Kerrouche and was surprised Paris FC let him go. There have been a lot of new additions defensively for Dunkerque but perhaps this was wise. They have only conceded one goal in their first two games so far and on paper there is enough here to keep them competitive in my opinion.
Key players - Ibrahim Cisse (All defence), Redouane Kerrouche (DM)
USLD were the second highest scorers in the National Division last season bagging 42 goals. A dozen of those were netted by Mohammed Bayo who has returned back to Clermont on loan. It seems like two players I am unfamiliar with, Dimitri Boudaud and Guillaume Bosca were important men for them in the final third, weighing in with a combination of goals and assists. Boudaud is a club legend and has been with them since the 2009/10 campaign whilst Bosca was a great pickup from fellow third tier outfit Marignane. Neither player has ever featured at this level of football before though, save for Boudaud’s one appearance for Sedan many years ago. This slightly concerns me because if they were actually any good then surely someone would've signed them up at this level before now? Boudaud is 33 years old, so what is left in his tank, and Bosca is knocking on the door of 31. Dunkerque have signed Billy Ketkeophomphone who looks like an excellent pickup. It was only a few years ago he was starting matches for Angers in Ligue 1 and he can play pretty much anywhere in the final third. A strong technical and physical player, I would expect him to be a key man. Malik Tchokounte is another smart addition from Caen. Things never worked out for him there but if he can find his Paris FC scoring boots from a few years ago then he can be a major asset. There’s some backup players who are currently injured like Kevin Rocheteau and Jorris Romil who both know what it’s like at Ligue 2 level.
Key players - Billy Ketkeophomphone (All attack), Guillaume Bosca (Winger)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Dunkerque were in second place just one point above Boulogne when COVID stopped the National Division, so maybe some could say it was a fortunate promotion. They have signed a dozen new players and clearly realised they needed to reinforce in order to give them a chance at this level. I like the business they have done in the market and so far they’ve picked up 4 points from their first two games, keeping the same XI in each fixture. USLD didn’t renew the contract of coach Claude Robin, instead opting for one of their old bosses Fabien Mercadal. He has great experience both at Ligue 2 and Ligue 1 level and is a smart hire. Marcadal is a 4-2-3-1 merchant who generally has a balanced approach. Dunkerque have been ruthless with this hire and also ensuring that nearly half of their current lineup is full of new signings. They have recognised that a lot of the players they had simply weren't good enough to start matches regularly at this level. I don’t anticipate they will be too much better than a relegation battle but the reinforcements added have given them a fighting chance of avoiding the drop and they will be more than competitive. Unlike some other teams who have been promoted in recent years, USLD will be playing at their own Stade Marcel Tribut Stadium which has a capacity of 4,200. It looks like a typical sort of smaller ground which might be awkward for travelling teams and a bit of a ‘banana skin’ location. It will of course be a tough battle to stay up but don’t underestimate Dunkerque.
Prediction:- 16th Relegation battle but very competitive
VAFC had the best defensive record in the entire league last season and one of the main reasons for that was thanks to the performances of goalkeeper Jerome Prior. The ex Bordeaux man was exceptional and there have been rumours of him leaving during this transfer window. Should that happen then the club would have to act quickly. Nicolas Kocik and Hillel Konate aren’t the best of backups. Prior missed one game last season due to suspension and Valenciennes lost it 1-3 at Clermont, the most they conceded in a game all year. The backline will have one change this season. Lillian Brassier goes back to Rennes after a successful loan spell and Grenoble man Eric Vandenabeele is signed. He will be reunited with old teammate Maxime Spano who had a stellar year at the back for VA in his first season at the club. Valenciennes have strong fullback or wingback options in the form of Laurent Dos Santos, Aly Abeid and Joffrey Cuffaut. The latter is also being converted into a centre back sometimes in a three man pairing. Defensive midfield isn’t really an area of strength for VAFC. They don’t tend to employ someone in this position that often and most of their midfielders are more a creative type. They probably lack a general type of physical presence here and it can be a weak spot. Despite this, I would fully expect Valenciennes to have one of the better defensive records in the league again whilst Olivier Guegan remains as coach.
Key players - Jerome Prior (GK), Maxime Spano (DC)
It was quite a lean year for VAFC, only scoring 24 goals in total. Striker Teddy Chevalier had a great personal return though netting 13 times. It goes without saying he is a key man upfront for Valenciennes and the perfect sort of complete striker they need. Baptiste Gauillaume sometimes plays alongside him upfront and much more of a return is needed from him. More is needed from the wide areas in terms of creativity. Arsene Elogo and Moussa Guel are new signings who could possibly make an impact, even if its just off the bench. Valenciennes have signed two young guys on loan from Rennes in the form of Mathis Picouleau (CM) and Metehan Guclu (ATT). Unfortunately, Malek Chergui has ruptured his achilles and will be out of action for several months. Kevin Cabral could be a winger who steps up this season but in the past he’s always been far too inconsistent and flaky. There are some signs that Valenceinnes could score more goals this season and the Chevalier - Guillaume combination is quite strong upfront. However, the tendency to be negative with tactics by the coach is always a concern and definitely a possible hindrance.
Key players - Teddy Chevalier (ATT), Baptiste Guillaume (ATT)
Youngster to watch - Moussa Guel (Winger)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Valenciennes were expected to become much more disciplined under the management of Olivier Guegan and he delivered upon that promise. They had the best defensive record in the league and were very hard to break down in his 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 style formation. In terms of betting, VAFC only had 5 out of 28 games end over 2.5 goals and most of those were in the last few games. I was beginning to see more signs of Guegan willing to open up more, offering a greater threat. They hammered Pau 3-0 in the opening round this season and Valenciennes have suddenly turned Les Stade Nungesser into a fortress again. They had an excellent 7-5-2 record in front of their own fans and actually had an average attendance of nearly 8,000. They could be hit slightly by the crowd restrictions but based on that first fixture not too much will change. Valenciennes were in 7th place when COVID stopped the league last season. I see them in the top ten places again with their very solid defence being a major weapon. However, they just lack a bit of extra class and possibly goals compared to some of the other top teams who are more attack minded. This kind of limits their potential and probably why they won’t qualify for the playoffs.
Prediction: 9th Top half
Gauthier Gallon is the #1 keeper and is just an average sort of custodian at this level. He will do a decent job but is nothing special. Sebastian Renot offers good experience as backup. The defence has lost big man Kiki Kouyate who was actually their top scorer last season with five goals. He is a huge physical and aerial unit who was lethal from set pieces and they will miss his presence. Coming in as a replacement is Gabriel Mutombo from relegated side Orleans. He is actually someone I’ve always rated and he is definitely a good signing. Troyes had the best defensive record away from home last season and there are some solid and reliable players here like Yoann Salmier, Jimmy Giraudon and Oualid El Hajam. Left back could be a problem area with the departure of Pape Gueye. Youngster Stone Mambo looks like the primary starter in that position now but his skills are probably better suited to centre back. If they really want to be competing right at the top end of the Ligue 2 table then adding an elite left back would be advantageous. ESTAC are well covered in defensive midfield with the likes of Florian Tardiu, Rayan Raveloson, Rui Pires and Rominigue Kouame. The quality is there for Troyes to have a very solid base again.
Key players - Jimmy Giraudon (DC), Florian Tardieu (DM)
Youngster to watch - Remy Vita (DL)
This is definitely an area that ESTAC knew they had to work on. A total of 34 goals scored wasn’t too bad but when your top scorer is a centre back (Kouyate) with 5 goals then you know there’s some sort of problem. Troyes need at least one striker to reach double digit goals this year but the good news is that there’s enough ability to deliver. Yoann Touzghar is no spring chicken, nearly at the age of 34 but is still an excellent ‘complete forward’ type of striker who can do a lot of things well. Let's not forget he was injured for a large chunk of last season and 4 goals in 16 games was an ‘ok’ return. Hyun Jun Suk was signed in the January transfer market and only played five games. The South Korean offers a more pacey technical threat and can get in behind defences. Troyes have signed Dylan Saint Louis who was once seen as an exceptional talent back in his Laval days. He hasn’t progressed as many expected but perhaps Troyes can unleash his full potential. Probably the key player for ESTAC in attack is Maxime Barthelme. He can play pretty much anywhere in the final third but is best used on the wings where he supplied 8 assists last season. Barthelme is a very good technical player and also excellent from set pieces. They perhaps lack quality depth in other creative areas. The likes of St Louis and Suk will probably play out wide sometimes. Englisman Levi Lumeka is an interesting signing from the Portuguese 2nd division and could provide a pacey threat out on the wings as well. Lenny Pintor has been brought back on loan from Lyon. In more central areas Dylan Chambost should get more starts this season and could be one to watch in terms of development.
Key players - Yoann Touzghar (ATT), Maxime Barthelme (Winger)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Big news off the field is that ESTAC are now owned by the City group. I think we will see them getting plenty of investment into the playing squad over the next few years, although quite how soon I'm not entirely sure. The debut coaching season of Laurent Battles was a huge success. He guided Troyes to 5th position and they were hugely in the automatic promotion hunt before COVID stopped the league. Troyes can consider themselves unlucky that they never had the chance to complete the campaign but can still take plenty of positives. The weird thing was that ESTAC only had 3 draws out of 28 matches which is an exceptionally low figure for this division. They seemed to be an ‘all or nothing’ type of team and it will be interesting to see if that continues. Battles proved himself to be a decent tactician and also a strong motivator. It looks hiring him was a masterstroke and I personally think he got the maximum out of the team. Troyes look very similar this season with relatively little movement in and out of the club (so far) If their attack force can fire and score more goals from open play then there’s every reason to suggest they’ll be in the promotion hunt. Their average attendance was just over 6,000 last season so the reduced fans won’t impact them too much. Ideally they could do with a top class goalkeeper, left back and maybe another central playmaker but there is enough all round quality within this squad to compete towards the top of the table. Still with a month left and the whole of the January transfer window, I expect the City group will act by reinforcing. Troyes are one of the front runners for promotion this season because of that.
Prediction:- 2nd Automatic promotion
In goal TFC have signed Maxime Dupe from Nantes. He was on loan at Clermont last season and proved to be one of the best keepers in Ligue 2. Mauro Goicoechea will be a very able backup at this level. On paper, perhaps the best area of this Toulouse squad would appear to be at the back. Captain Ruben Gabrielsen is a big unit and authoritative whilst the likes of Bafode Diakate and Kelvin Amian are powerful players. Out wide they’ve signed Deiver Machado, a Colombian left back from Belgian side Gent. Steven Moreira when he returns to fitness can be employed on either flank. There’s some backup with the likes of Moussa Diarra, Augustin Rogel and Mathieu Goncalves. One they get settled into this league the potential is certainly there for Toulouse to be solid defensively. I am surprised to see Ibrahim Sangre still on the roster. The stud defensive midfielder must surely leave the club at some stage this season. He is too good for Ligue 2 level and will be difficult to replace. For now, he’s still part of the team though. Branco van den Boomen has been signed from Dutch side De Graafschap although he seems more of a box to box type midfielder.
Key players - Ruben Gabrielsen (DC), Ibrahim Sangare (DM)
Youngster to watch - Bafode Diakite (DC)
TFC scored a pathetic 22 goals in the top flight last season. Gone are the likes of Max Gradel, Mathieu Dossevi and the often injury prone Yaya Sanogo. Vakoun Issouf Bayo looks like a decent addition on loan from Celtic. The Ivorian striker scored twice on his debut and at this level of football should be a threat. Englishman Rhys Healey is an interesting, and perhaps surprising addition. He had an excellent goalscoring record in English League 1 last season and if he settles into life at this level could prove to be a decent capture. Wesley Said is out injured until the new year after recovering from ACL surgery. There are youngsters like Janis Antiste, Nathan N’Goumou and Amine Adli who could potentially step up. More is needed from Aaron Leya Iseka who often misses too many big chances. Toulouse lack central playmakers and that is a clear area of weakness right now. Youngster Manu Kone is one to keep an eye on though. I suspect they aren’t yet done with some of their transfer dealings but they could definitely do with adding a playmaker. There’s probably enough goals in the team but still a few question marks for sure. Edit - on the day of publishing this preview TFC have signed Brecht Dejaegere from Belgian side Gent on loan with an option to buy. He is a central midfield playmaker.
Key players - Vakoun Issouf Bayo (ATT), Kouadio Kone (CM)
Youngster to watch - Janis Antiste (Winger)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Toulouse were rock bottom of the table when COVID stopped the league, nearly so far adrift to be officially relegated. They can have no complaints and were well on their way down to Ligue 2. It feels like Toulouse had been flirting with relegation for a while and it finally happened. The club needed a reset and maybe this will do them some good in the long term. TFC ended last season losing 17 of their last 18 matches and have already started this campaign with two straight defeats. This is a club in a funk which might take some time to turn around. Ex Caen boss Patrice Garande has been hired as manager and he should be a solid sort of appointment. Garande has a history of changing up his tactics and already here in two games he’s gone with a 4-3-3 and a 3-5-2 system. Expectations are high in the violet city with the club president claiming anything less than promotion would be unacceptable. But as I also mentioned in my Amiens preview, it’s not easy these days to expect a bounce back promotion. It could take them a couple of even three transfer windows before that have the squad they need. There’s been a lot of movement both in and out of the club and it could take some time to settle down. The bad start of two losses won’t help and maybe they will be chasing throughout the campaign. Toulouse have enough quality on the field to fight at least for the playoffs but I certainly don’t think this will be an easy campaign by any means. They are easily the biggest club in the division and have a massive target on their back which everyone wants to beat. TFC averaged nearly 15,000 attendances last season so one of their biggest weapons of a large support will be significantly reduced by the new crowd restrictions. I don’t personally think we will see them make an immediate return to Ligue 1 unless it's via the playoffs.
Prediction: 5th Playoffs
Les Lionceaux have a strong keeper lineup in the form of Maxence Prevot, Mehdi Jeannin & AP Long. Prevot is one of the better goalkeepers in the division and Jeannin is about as good as they come for backup. Even Long as 3rd choice can more than hold his own. From a defensive point of view Sochaux lost Maxence Lacroix to Wolfsburg but they did at least get nearly £5m for his services. Adolphe Teikeu is another departure so they have lost a couple of strong players here. There still remains a very physical and tough looking defence though. Christophe Diedhiou is strong, no nonsense and experienced, whilst the addition of Florentin Pogba (brother of Paul) looks to be a shrewd addition. Pape Paye is a fast full back on the right hand side whilst the addition of Abdallah N’Dour from Strasbourg also looks like a smart move. Sochaux have a couple of good youngsters, Boris Moltenis (CB) & Romain Sans (DL) who were mostly injured last season but have started this campaign on the bench. One of their old players, Joseph Lopy has been signed from relegated club Orleans and he should offer a strong presence at defensive midfield. Les Lionceaux also have Ousseynou Thioune as a decent option in this position, whilst youngster Rassoul N’Diaye is one to keep an eye on. Losing two important centre backs is a blow but I think Sochaux will still be a solid defensive unit this season.
Key players - Maxence Prevot (GK), Christophe Diedhiou (DC)
Youngsters to watch - Boris Moltenis (DC), Romain Sans (DL)
There was a lack of goals and cutting edge at times with Sochaux scoring just 28 goals in 28 games. This was better than some teams but unfortunately they’ve lost two of their top scorers from last season, Abdoulaye Sane & Jeremy Livolant. It was hoped that ex Lyon man Yann Kitala would fill the hole upfront but he broke his leg in the first game and will be out of action for several months. This means that Chris Bedia, signed from Troyes will likely lead the line in his absence. Bedia could do a decent job and is a big target man type of striker. Bryan Lasme is another big unit upfront but broke his toe and won’t be available until October. Sochaux lack proven creativity in the final third of the field, although Steve Ambri looks like a decent enough addition from Valenciennes. They need to hope Dijon loanee Bryan Soumare along with the likes of Fabien Ourega & Gaetan Weissbeck all step up and improve this season. Younes Kaabouni is a fine midfield talent who tore his ACL in January and is expected back soon, but it would be understandable if it took him some time to get back to peak sharpness. Les Lionceaux won’t be that bad in front of goal but I expect a similar sort of return to last season where they sometimes lack creativity and end product.
Key players - Fabien Ourega (Winger), Yann Kitala (ATT)
Youngster to watch - Rassoul N'Diaye (CM)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Sochaux have started the season well with two wins out of two. They actually began last season in similar fashion too, but then drifted alarmingly winning just 1 of their last 14 games. Manager Omar Daf is one of their strongest assets and has done an exceptional job here since taking over. Sochaux have been a mess both on and off the field in recent years but under Daf they have stabilized. He plays in a 4-2-3-1 formation which is often fairly no nonsense, relying on strong defensive solidity. They can be a difficult side to break down and a frustration to face. It was a surprise to me that Sochaux had the 7th best home record in the league last season. Their average attendance was over 6,000 and this is a club still reasonably well supported. The new crowd restrictions are unlikely to affect them negatively though. Sochaux still have one of the better youth academies in the area and good talent often develops at this club. Daf will do enough to ensure they are probably a comfortable midtable club. Lack of goals could cost them at some stage and the unlucky injury to Kitala is a blow upfront. But maybe they could be a pleasant surprise and compete in the top half, proving their form doesn’t drop in the second half of the season.
Prediction:- 11th Midtable
Number one goalkeeper Arthur Demas has left the club and I think this is quite a blow. Desmas actually impressed me last season by making a string of good saves and he definitely earned them a few points on his own. Coming in as a replacement is Theo Guivarch from Guingamp who will now be a mainstream starter at this level for the first time in his life. Lionel M’Pasi remains as the backup although maybe both of these keepers will compete for the gloves this season. Guivarch is ok but he is definitely a downgrade on what Desmas was. The defence is pretty much unchanged and I would expect Rodez to line up with 3 central defenders in either a 3-4-3 or 5-3-2 type system. In Roche, Bardy, Dieng and Chougrani they have a solid, if not spectacular set of centre back options. Rodez have a very good right wing back in the form of Valentin Henry and look to have signed well by adding Johann Obiang on the left hand side. It wasn’t so long ago that Obiang was playing Ligue 1 football for Troyes and he should suit the Rodez system perfectly. Defensive midfield isn’t the worst area for Rodez either. They will sometimes just employ a midfield duo who need to be more creative minded. David Douline is probably their best option here but he is only a mediocre talent. Loic Pujol is another alternative who can also play centre back if needed. Remy Boissier was a good signing from Le Mans and he is more of a box to box type midfielder. This defence will have good and bad days and likely lack consistency.
Key players - Valentin Henry (Wing back), Joris Chougrani (DC)
Without doubt, the key man for Rodez last season was striker Ugo Bonnet. He had never played at this level of football before but bagged 11 goals in 28 games which was an excellent return. He is a good finisher and has a knack of getting into some great positions. RAF will hope he can deliver a similar sort of return again this year. Pape Sane isn’t a bad backup option but he isn’t the same player he was 5 years ago when he was scoring goals for fun at Bourg-en-Bresse. Malaly Dembele has been signed from Nancy to provide more competition upfront and out wide. Rodez need more output from some of their creative midfielders and wingers. It is true that a big part of their game is their wing backs getting forward and putting crosses into the box, but players like Ouhafsa, Alexis Alegue and maybe some of the central midfielders such as Aurelien Tertereau need to step up. There always seems to be a lot of rotation in this area of the field for Rodez, as if the manager doesn’t quite know what his best lineup is. Pierre Ruffaut actually led their assist charts last season but rarely seems to ever last the 90 mins or is benched. The key to this Rodez offense is Ugo Bonnet. But if he got injured for a prolonged period, or his goals dried up then there are question marks whether others can hit the back of the net regularly enough.
Key player - Ugo Bonnet (ATT)
Youngster to watch - Alan Keroudan (Winger)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Laurent Peyrelade has now been in charge of the club for 5 years and has achieved two promotions with Rodez. Last season they were 16th when COVID stopped the league. It always felt they were ‘just’ about comfortably clear of the relegation zone all season and picked up results when they needed them. Peyrelade likes to use a 3-4-3 or 5-3-2 system or something which employs a 3 man central defence anyway. Their results were up and down and there was never any real consistency with RAF. Quite literally, they had some good and bad days and I don’t see much changing this season either. I personally found Rodez extremely difficult to predict and I’m expecting something similar in terms of random results and overall finishing position. There is every chance RAF could get sucked into a relegation battle but they should probably just about have enough to hover above general safety. It is a boost they can play all the whole season at their own Stade Paul Lignon. It’s a small ground at an awkward location and the restriction on attendance shouldn’t affect them too much. Overall, a tough team to predict and expect anything.
Prediction:- 16th Lower midtable/relegation battle
Paris FC Defence
Vincent De Marconnay remains the #1 keeper although he has stated this might be his last season before retirement. He was one of the standout goalkeepers two years ago but was more shaky during the 2019/20 campaign, even losing his place in the team to backup Anthony Maisonnial around the autumn. De Marconnay is no spring chicken at 37 years old but Paris FC should still get a decent campaign out of him. The whole backline has been completely re-jigged with only centre backs Ousmane Kante or Axel Bamba likely to retain their spot in the lineup. Paris FC have signed Youssoupha NDiaye from National side Lyon Duchere and he looks like a powerful beast, also capable of playing in defensive midfield. PFC have dramatically improved their fullback situation by adding Florent Hanin and Gaetan Belaud. The former is a bit of a journeyman who has played for numerous clubs but he should bring obvious qualities. Belaud meanwhile, comes in from Brest where Ligue 1 football was probably becoming too much for him, but at this level he can still be a stud. Defensive midfield now looks like a much more promising area with Cyril Mandouki, new signing Moustapha Name and the aforementioned NDiaye all good strong physical options.
Key players - Gaetan Belaud (DR), Youssoupha NDiaye (DC)
Youngster to watch - Ousmane Camara (DC)
Paris FC Offense
Only rock bottom Orleans scored less goals than Paris FC last season and they’ve lost their top scorer, target man Romain Armand who has moved to Pau. Gaetan Laura comes in from National Division side Quevilly-Rouen and so far he looks very useful with 2 goals in 2 games. Laura appears to be a decent all round type of ‘complete forward’ who has a lot of dimensions to his game. Paris FC certainly have playmaking ability in the form of veterans Lalaina Nomenjanahary, Jonathan Pitroipa & Florian Martin. Both are technically excellent players and Martin can be lethal from set pieces. PFC have signed Marvin Gakpa from Ligue 1 side Metz and he looks to be an excellent addition, someone who can play pretty much everywhere in midfield and attack. In Lamine Diaby Fadiga they have a fine young talent and he was a good signing following his controversy at Nice. Striker Morgan Guilavogui is another addition from the National (3rd) division. Paris FC really raided that third tier this summer and Said Arab comes in from cross city rivals Red Star. He has been operating as a midfield playmaker so far but can play out wide as well. Paris FC have gradually been improving the offensive strength and depth of their squad over the last 18 months. Now that they finally have a manager who will get the most out of this talent then the Parisians should be a dangerous side in the final third.
Key players - Gaetan Laura (ATT), Jonathan Pitroipa (Winger)
Youngster to watch - Lamine Diaby Fadiga (ATT)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Mecha Bazdarevic led Paris FC to an excellent fourth place during the 2018/19 campaign, but was sacked mid way through last season after a shocking run of results. The problem was that Paris FC lost its defensive core which served them so well and Bazdarevic was never the right sort of man to get enough out of their attacking players. Paris FC acted accordingly though and brought in ex Montpellier and Lille coach Rene Girard. Famous for winning an improbable Ligue 1 title with Montpellier back in 2012, Girard brings with him a wealth of experience and an aura of class. He effectively led them to safety and winning 5 of their last 7 games was crucial just before the league was stopped because of COVID. Paris FC have a top class coach in Girard and they have been backing him in the transfer market. I like some of the moves they have made, trying to raid the next tier for the best talent in addition to also signing some proven experience. The crowd restrictions will probably help rather than hinder this club who play their games at Le Stade Charlety which is rarely more than 3,000 full anyway. This is a team not to be underestimated and an ambitious club who want to be up there fighting for promotion. With good all round strength I think we can expect Paris FC to be in the mixer for at least the playoffs. Perhaps the only concern is the high turnover of players but they have started the season well with 2 wins out of 2 and it feels like this group of players have already gelled together nicely.
Prediction:- 4th Playoff/Promotion contender
Probably the best aspect for Niort defensively is the goalkeeping lineup. Saturnin Allagbe is a decent custodian who has a knack of making good saves whilst Quentin Braat backing him up is also fairly strong. It’s a good job they have secure keepers because on paper I don’t really like the look of this defence very much. Niort have started off the season using the centre back pairing of Issouf Paro & Bryan Passi. These guys are ok at absolute best and Nirot will have to hope that Ibrahima Conte returns to fitness soon. The ex Lorient man has been out of action for nearly 18 months now after having two surgeries on his knee. You have to think he might not be the same as he once was and there are question marks there. In the fullback spots Darlin Yongwa and Guy Kilama just aren’t good enough in my opinion. Kilama is more of a centre back type and maybe new signing from the lower leagues Joris Moutachy could be a better option at right back. There is a lack of depth in defence as well and Niort will be relying on youngsters should injuries occur. Things are more promising at defensive midfield where Olivier Kemen is a strong option. Dylan Louiserre is a nice deep lying playmaker in this position too, whilst the likes of Brahim Konate & Brahima Doukansy are other possibilities here. There is enough physicality in defensive areas that will keep Niort competitive but from a technical point of view they definitely lack.
Key players - Saturnin Allagbe (GK), Olivier Kemen (DM)
Youngster to watch - Brahima Doukansy (DM)
Ibrahima Sissoko scored 15 goals last season which was exactly half of their overall tally. His performances really surprised me because Sissoko had never previously shown any signs of delivering that sort of output, especially in such a poor team. The bad news for Niort is that that sort of goalscoring often attracts attention and there’s a good chance he could leave before the end of the transfer window. Sissoko has missed the first two matches of the season due to injury anyway and Niort have looked fairly toothless without him. New signing Pape Ibnou Ba has been starting upfront in his absence and actually scored on debut vs Guingamp. Maybe he could be a pleasant surprise but he’s not proven at this level. The one other ray of light for Niort in attack is winger Goduine Koyalipou. He’s talented and could maybe break through this year. Niort don’t have too much else to shout about in the final third of the field though. To put things bluntly, the likes of David Djigla, Autchanga & Baroan aren’t good enough for Ligue 2 standard and Niort lack depth in the final third. All could hinge on whether Sissoko and Koyalipou stay at the club and if they stay fit. Take them out of the side and this attack force is toothless.
Key players - Ibrahim Sissoko (ATT), Goduine Koyalipou (Winger)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Niort haven’t been very stable in terms of managers the last couple of seasons. It looks like they might have finally found someone of sufficient calibre though in Sebastian Desabre. Probably best known for his spell in charge of the Uganda National team which reached the last 16 of the 2019 African Cup of Nations, most of his club management has also taken place in that continent. A step into French football makes a change and it will be interesting to see how he does. It’s too early to judge Desabre but Niort have picked up 4 points from their first two games which is a solid start. I don’t think this is a great squad of players though and they will surely be involved in a relegation scrap. Les Chamois were lucky to stay up last season and only survived on goal difference when the league was scrapped due to COVID. They were hanging on for dear life and in my opinion they would’ve finished in the bottom two places if a full 38 game campaign had been completed. There is a sprinkling of class in the squad like Kemen, Sissoko & Koyalipou but they are definitely lacking depth and quality. The crowd restrictions are unlikely to affect them too negatively but it is worth noting that Niort had the second worst away record in the league last season. The new manager is an interesting enigma which might give them more of a chance but I struggle to see them anything better than involved a relegation battle.
Prediction:- 18th Relegation battle
Baptiste Valette is the starting goalkeeper and to be honest I have never been personally convinced by him. He has his good and bad moments but isn’t the sort of keeper I would ever call ‘elite’ at this level of football. Martin Sourzac is the proper definition of a ‘backup’ and only once in his whole career was he a regular starter in any campaign. The defence itself perhaps lacks some depth but when at full strength the Nancy backline should be fairly decent. Ernest Seka and Abdelhamid El Kaoutari are two very experienced and physical defenders who are dependable. Out wide, Saliou Ciss and Souleymane Karamoko aren’t bad either, with Ciss especially a great option anywhere on the left hand side. Nancy have signed full back Rosario Latouchent from Laval in the National (3rd) Division and welcome back Sega Coulibaly and Mathias Fischer from loans. Perhaps they could do with some more quality depth but this defence is very acceptable. Nancy’s best defensive midfielder is Ogou Akichi and they have some playmakers at this position like Gregoire Lefebre, Kenny Rocha Santos and youngster to keep an eye on Giovanni Haug.
Key players - Saliou Ciss (DL), Ernest Seka (DM)
Youngster to watch - Giovanni Haag (DM)
Goalscoring wasn’t exactly their greatest strength last season, netting just 27 times in 28 games. They have lost both Vagner and Makhtar Gueye who contributed 12 of those goals between them. To be honest, their offense was never really the same after Wagner went down injured at the end of November. Saliou Ciss actually weighed in with 6 goals last year, but that was when he operated from wide midfield or left wing. I don’t think they can expect the same sort of output if he becomes the main left back. Nancy’s most talented attacking player is Amine Bassi. Every year he is linked with a move away from the club but the latest rumour is he will sign a new 1 year contract extension. Bassi could leave for free next summer and he is a moody type of guy who can blow hot or cold. If he is in the mood Bassi is a major asset for Nancy though. New signing from lower league side Epinal Mickael Biron has started well by bagging a brace vs Guingamp. He is listed as a primary striker but has played more as a #10 so far and looks useful. Ousmane Cissokho offers some experience out wide and Dona Ndoh a veteran striker backup option. It looks like youngster returning from loan Vinni Triboulet is going to be the main starting striker, for now. Nancy could probably do with a proper class #9 upfront and some extra depth in this area. They will be competitive enough but probably not frighten good defences too much unless Bassi is in great form. From creative midfield it’s a shame new signing Mehdi Merghem has injured his ACL and will be out until at least February.
Key players - Amine Bassi (AM), Mickael Biron (ATT/AM)
Youngster to watch - Vinni Triboulet (ATT)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Nancy have had off the field problems with money for a few years now. They have been indebted to Jacques Rousselot who has single handedly kept this club out of the red in recent years. We know he is looking to sell to someone this season. The ‘City Group’ were linked but have instead decided to invest at Troyes. In Jean Louis Garcia Nancy have a solid sort of manager who is dependable and experienced at this level of football. Garcia has achieved a promotion out of Ligue 2 before and is a good balanced sort of manager. Nancy drew a ridiculous number of matches last season - a whopping 16 out of 28! They have started this new campaign with a 0-1 loss at Amiens and then already one draw on their card vs Guingamp (2-2). I see them as a mid table sort of outfit somewhere between 10th and 13th. I just don’t think there is enough overall squad depth or quality to launch a bid towards the top half, but equally Nancy should have enough to easily avoid any sort of relegation fight. The Lorraine outfit had the 3rd highest average attendance in the league last season (10,195) so it will hit them a bit to basically have just half of that crowd under the new restrictions. It could be an inconsistent campaign because on their day they can probably beat anyone, but also struggle against someone poor. Lack of goals might be a problem and they probably need to strengthen in the final third.
Prediction:- 13th Midtable