After reviewing the teams likely to enter the race for the title and Champions League places in the French Ligue 1 Season Preview part 1, we now present you the second part of the season preview, which is all about the mid table sides and those expected to escape the relegation struggle. In French Ligue 1 Season Preview part 3 we will pay attention to teams likely to enter the relegation fight.
The poor finish of the season saw Saint Etienne miss out on European qualification and finish the season in 10th place, but les Verts look capable for much more this term. The club couldn’t prevent star players Blaise Matuidi, Dimitri Payet and Emmanuel Riviere from leaving the club, but they did manage to bring proper replacements. While Guirane N’Daw returned from Zaragoza, Jeremy Mignot, Jeremy Clement, Stephane Ruffier, Florent Sinama Pongolle and Paulao all arrived to Stade Geoffroy Guichard, so the team look at least as strong as last term. The performances and results in pre-season have been very promising, meaning that talented boss Christophe Galtier has reason for optimism. Unlike their rivals for Europa League qualification, Saint Etienne boast a very big squad and that strength in depth could prove vital when injuries and suspensions kick in. The latest capture of Steed Malbranque from Sunderland could prove to be the key in their race for the top 6 finish.
Last season: 10th
Important arrivals: Steed Malbranque (Sunderland), Jeremy Clement (PSG), Florent Sinama Pongolle (Sporting Lisbon), Stephane Ruffier (Monaco), Paulao (Braga), Jeremy Mignot (Auxerre), Fabien Lemoine (Rennes).
Important departures: Blaise Matuidi (PSG), Dimitri Payet (Lille), Emmanuel Riviere (Toulouse), Cristophe Landrin (Arles), Vincent Plante (Guingamp), Gelson Fernandes (Leicester), Steed Malbranque (released), Gonzalo Bergessio (Catania), Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers).
Probable starting line-up (4-4-2): Ruffier – Ebondo, Marchal, Mignot, Paulao– Guilavogui, Perrin, Clement, Sako – Sinama Pongolle, Aubameyang.
Prediction: Top 8 finish
Pick: Saint Etienne to finish above Sochaux
Toulouse have long ago established their reputation as a genuine top table team, but their fans are waiting for them to make the step up and join the race for European places. Le Tefece have done a great job in the transfer window by not only keeping hold of their star midfielder Moussa Sissoko, but also buying some very good players in Pavle Ninkov, Umut Bulut and Emmanuel Riviere. Led by experienced tactician Alain Casanova, Toulouse will remain one of the toughest teams to beat thanks to the very good defence and strong midfield, but their attack should become much more lethal following the arrivals of Bulut and Riviere. Should Tefece manage to convince Moussa Sissoko not to leave the club during this summer, they could seriously enter the race for the Europa League places.
Last season: 8th
Important arrivals: Emmanuel Riviere (Saint Etienne), Umut Bulut (Trabzonspor), Pavle Ninkov (Crvena Zvezda), Aymen Abdennour (Etoile Sahel), Remy Riou (Auxerre).
Important departures: Mauro Cetto (Palermo), Fode Mansare (free), Soren Larsen (AGF Arhus), Luan (Palmeiras), Xavier Pentecote (Nice).
Probable starting line-up (4-3-3): Ahamada – Ninkov, Congre, Abdennour, M’Bengue – Machado, Capoue, Sissoko – Rivere, Bulut, Tabanou.
Prediction: Top 8 finish
Pick: Toulouse to finish above Montpellier
Talented coach Francois Gillot managed to transform Sochaux from the team fighting for survival to the one battling for European places and not only did he manage to lead les Lionceaux to Europa League qualification, but also succeeded in grooming several youngsters into genuine stars along the way. However, a lot has changed since the finish of last league campaign as the aforementioned coach made a switch to Bordeaux, while important players Ideye Brown, Nicolas Maurice-Belay and Jacques Faty all left, while Ligue 1 leading assist maker from last season, Marvin Martin has already expressed his desire to join a bigger club. With Martin likely to be sold before the transfer window is closed and with no big name signings on the horizon, Sochaux will have to settle for mid table finish next season.
Last season: 5th
Important arrivals: Sebastien Corchia (Lens), Steven Mouyokolo (Wolverhampton), Sebastian Roudet (Lens), Papa Demba Camara (Etoile Lusitana).
Important departures: Ideye Brown (Dynamo Kiev), Jacques Faty (Sivasspor), Nicolas Maurice-Belay (Bordeaux), Maxime Josse (Litex).
Probable starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Richert – Corchia, Perquis, Brechet, Sauget – Anin, Nogueira – Boudebouz, Martin, Roudet – Maiga.
Prediction: Lower mid table finish
Pick: Sochaux to be best in East (higher placed than Auxerre, Nancy and Dijon)
Montpellier were the surprise package of the Ligue 1 campaign two years back, but they just couldn’t repeat such results last season. Rene Girard’s side had had a pretty good start to the season, but they soon suffered a big dip in form and couldn’t recover from it. While finishing the league campaign in 14th place, Montpellier made it to the Coupe de la Ligue final, where they were beaten by Marseille, thus putting an end to a pretty disappointing season. The club have big ambitions this term, but with almost the same squad as last term, I really doubt Montpellier can do better than mid table finish. They have enough quality to avoid the relegation struggle, but are not good enough to fight for European places.
Last season: 14th
Important arrivals: Hilton (Marseille), Henri Bedimo (Lens), Jonathan Tinhan (Grenoble).
Important departures: Emir Spahic (Sevilla).
Probable starting line-up (4-3-3): Jourdren – Jeunechamp, Yanga-Mbiwa, Hilton, Bedimo – Pitau, J. Marveaux, Belhanda – Cabella, Utaka, Giroud.
Prediction: Mid table
Having finished last two league campaign just above the relegation places, Nice will be looking to avoid the survival battle this season and find their way to a mid table finish. Les Aiglons have shown some potential in the second part of the season, especially at their Stade Municipal du Ray, while the 1:0 win over Udinese in the final preparation game hinted that Nice could be ready for big things this season. Having already signed Fabian Monzon, Camel Meriem and Kevin Gomis, the club produced quite a coup by bringing excellent midfielder Fabrice Abriel from Marseille, adding more quality to the centre of the park. It looks as though that transfer window is not yet finished for les Aiglons, but if they manage to keep hold of their star players Ospina and Mounier, Nice should be able to avoid the relegation struggle.
Last season: 17th
Important arrivals: Fabrice Abriel (Marseille), Fabian Monzon (Boca Juniors), Camel Meriem (Arles), Kevin Gomis (Naval), Fabrice Abriel (Marseille), Franck Dja Djedje (Arles), Yannick Djalo (Sporting Lisbon), Xavier Pentecote (Toulouse).
Important departures: Danijel Ljuboja (Legia Warsaw), Gregory Paisley (Guingamp), Ismael Gace (Boulogne), Alain Cantareil, Habib Bamogo, Mamadou Bagayoko, Chaouki Ben Saada (all released).
Probable starting line-up (4-3-3): Ospina – Clerc, Civelli, Pejcinovic, Monzon – Abriel, Digard, Fae – Meriem, Djalo, Mounier.
Prediction: Mid table finish
Pick: Nice to finish above Evian
Lorient are definitely very interesting side as they somehow manage to finish every season in mid table despite selling their star players year after year. In addition to the very good scouting network that allows them to buy good players at cut back prices, the key to les Merlus’ uptrend in fortunes is excellent coach Christian Gourcuff. He always manages to find the real balance in the squad, despite the numerous arrivals and departures in every transfer window and I have absolutely no doubts that he will again manage to steer Lorient to the safety of mid table. The club have acquired the services of Mathieu Coutadeur, Jeremy Aliadiere, Julien Quercia and Lucas Mareque among others, although key players Kevin Gameiro, Morgan Amalfitano and Jeremy Morel all left. Nevertheless, I expect Lorient to easily avoid the drop this term.
Last season: 11th
Important arrivals: Matheiu Coutadeur (Monaco), Jeremy Aliadiere (free), Pedrinho (Academica), Julien Quercia (Auxerre), Lucas Mareque (Independiente), Adama Toure (PSG), Joel Campbell (Arsenal, loan), Innocent Emeghara (Grasshoppers), Kevin Monnet-Paquet (Lens), Giles Sunu (Arsenal).
Important departures: Kevin Gameiro (PSG), Morgan Amalfitano, Jeremy Morel (both Marseille), James Fanchone (Havre), Franco Sosa (Boca Juniors).
Probable starting line-up (4-4-2): Audard – Pedrinho, Bourillon, Ecuele-Manga, Mareque – Romao, Mvuemba, Jouffre, Monnet-Paquet – Coutadeur, Quercia.
Prediction: Lower mid table finish
Pick: Lorient to finish above Auxerre