Starting goalkeeper is Alexandre Oukidja, a custodian who I’ve never personally seen in action. He spent a lot of his career in the Lille reserve team before finally getting some regular starts in the Belgian second tier. This will be the highest level for him as a regular starter, so the jury is out. Reportedly, he’s not bad and a good shotstopper. But until he proves himself in ligue 2 there will always be doubts. Backup custodian is the highly experienced Landry Bonnefoi. If Oukidja proves to be a flop then at least they have an able enough replacement. The Strasbourg backline was extremely solid in the National division and retains its four main starters. In the middle, Felipe Saad & Ernest Seka will be the main partnership. The latter has never played higher than National level before and is close to 30 years old, so there’s every possibility he might struggle. However, being alongside Felipe Saad should help. It wasn’t so long ago that Saad was plying his trade at Ligue 1 level and has a wealth of experience. He was miles too good for National level and should still be very strong in Ligue 2 as well.On the right hand side of defence, Eric Marester should be a banker starter for Les Alsatians. Last season was one of the few in which he played below Ligue 2 level and he’s more than good enough in this division. I’ve always rated Marester and he could be a key player for them this season.
Left back looks set to be Abdallah N’Dour, although there are more question marks regarding him. This will be his first experience of anything higher than the National, so is unproven at this level. Strasbourg have signed Laurent Dos Santos from Guingamp. He’s featured in about half a dozen ligue 1 games for each of the last two seasons and is capable of playing on either side of defence. He could definitely push N’Dour for a starting spot and gives good cover to the fullback positions. Strasbourg have signed two excellent defensive midfielders. The first is Anthony Goncalves from Laval, someone who has been Les Tango’s best player for the last 2-3 years. His presence in the middle will be important. Vincent Nogueira comes in from MLS side Philadelphia Union. He had a nice stint stateside and has actually developed into a genuine box to box midfielder. He could be a top player in this division. Jeremy Grimm will be the main starter in an anchor man role. He is vastly experienced at national division level but despite being close to 30, has never played any higher. Strasbourg will hope he can adapt well. Les Alsatians look reasonably good in defensive areas. Backup depth isn’t great so they could be in some trouble if injuries and suspensions kick in. But the main starters look decent and I like how they have bolstered midfielder with two proven signings.
Key players: Felipe Saad (CB), Anthony Goncalves (DM)
Jeremy Blayac was their leading scorer last season with eight goals. But he’s going to be starting the season injured and it looks like a bunch of new signings are going to be ahead of him in the pecking order. Strasbourg only scored 35 goals in 34 National division games, which is pretty pathetic for a team who were champions. To remedy the goalscoring problem new coach Thierry Laurey has signed three players of proven quality. The first is youngster Baptiste Guillaume who impressed a couple of years ago with Lens in Ligue 1. Lille signed him for over £3m but things didn't go to plan in 2015/16 and he’s now been given a season long loan here. Guillaume could potentially be way too good for Ligue 2 level if he concentrates and applies himself properly. Another player who has done well in the top tier has also signed - Khalid Boutaib. The new coach knows him extremely well from GFC Ajaccio and at this level of football should be able to find the net a few times. Add in Blayac who could still be useful, this Strasbourg striker lineup should be pretty strong. Its likely they'll play with two men upfront and offer a duel threat.
So who can provide the goals? Well, let's start by mentioning the one glaring hole in this squad which is a lack of wide playmakers. There isn't really anyone of genuine quality who is a natural out wide. The coach is probably going to employ a 4-3-1-2 formation and most of their creativity will come through the middle of the park. Guys like Guillaume, plus some midfielders like Nogueira will have to drift left or right to create space from time to time. Attacking midfield is a strong area for Strasbourg and new signing Vincent Gragnic could be vital. He is someone who I rate very highly at this level and should contribute plenty of goals and assists providing he can stay fit. Of course, avoiding injury could be his big problem and sadly he’s someone who has a really bad fitness record in recent seasons. Another attacking midfielder who might get some starts is Dimitri Lienard. Of course, the aforementioned Nogueira and to some extents Goncalves can all provide creativity through the middle as well. The spine of the Strasbourg team is strong and they should be much more threatening upfront than they were last season.
Key players: Baptiste Guillaume (ATT), Vincent Gragnic (AM)
Coaching, other factors & conclusion
Strasbourg legend Jacky Dugueperoux got the team promoted but has since retired and new man in charge is Thierry Laurey. The key to Les Alsatian’s promotion last season was defensive organisation and keeping a lot of clean sheets. They were a pretty boring team and didn’t score many goals. You could argue that both coaches are like chalk and cheese though and I expect a different identity from Strasbourg this season. Laurey likes to play a formation with two strikers upfront and for his teams to offer a decent threat. He is a smart signing for the club and obtained 2 promotions in 3 seasons for GFC Ajaccio! With extremely limited resources he very nearly kept them in Ligue 1, which would've been a remarkable achievement. Strasbourg are historically a big club in France who’ve had some very lean recent years in lower ligues. Excitement will be great amongst the fans and I’d expect them to be well supported at Le Stade Meinau. Strasbourg have only lost three home games in the last two years and will be hard to beat here. I think they’ll be the best of the promoted teams and should enjoy their season. There’s some decent quality all over the park and they have a good coach. I would expect Les Alsatians to be in the comfort of midtable, they shouldn't be in any trouble. Maybe they could even be a dark horse and challenge in higher positions.