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)
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.