With the start of the Ligue 2 season upon us we needed a quality preview for the upcoming season. Only one name came to mind “Below The Top League” These guys are the go to guys when it comes to Europe’s second division. Let them get you all excited for the new season in France’s second tier.
The opening weekend of the 2012-13 season is only a matter of hours away with all eyes cast south towards the principality of Monaco. The side from the Stade Louis II have been transformed over the summer & are clear favourites to romp home with the title.
Experienced Coach Claudio Ranieri is in charge of compiling a red & white revolution with the ultimate aim of bringing domestic & European glory back to Monaco. To do that he must first mastermind promotion back to the French top flight & he seems to be going about it the right way following an impressive pre season & some top drawer signings. Andrea Raggi brings a host of Serie A experience at the back including 31 games in the Italian top flight for Bologna last season, Delvin Ndinga has joined from relegated Auxerre where he will be joined in midfield by Jakub Poulsen who has arrived from Midtjyland & Swedish International Emir Bajrami from FC Twente. Sebastian Ribas will add goals, he joins on loan from Italian side Genoa. Ribas was Ligue 2 top scorer the season before last when he was part of a promoted Dijon side.
Relegation has hit Auxerre hard with several of their key players choosing to stay in Ligue 1 and without the funds to compete for the cream of Ligue 2 talent Jean Guy Wallemme’s men face a tough task if they are to make an immediate return, however in players like Rudy Haddad & Maxime Bourgeois they have plenty of Ligue 2 experience. Like Auxerre, Caen have lost a host of their top talent but they have managed to bring in some talented players including Istres midfielder Laurent Agouazi & Mathieu Duhamel who hit 10 goals for a Metz who were relegated to the National. Romain Poyet & Jean Calve will also be expected to shine at this level.
Angers have lost Gaetan Charbonnier to Ligue 1 Champions Montpellier but brought in Richard Socrier from Ajaccio, Socrier bagged 12 goals in Ajaccio’s promotion season & if he can stay clear of injuries then the 33 year old Parisian could prove to be a shrewd piece of business by Stephane Moulin. Angers have also brought in 2 loanee forwards in the shape of highly rated St Etienne youngster Yoric Ravet & Jonas Henrique Passasi who comes in from Brazilian side Gremio.
Clermont have also lost a key player in Romain Alessandrini and it will be a tough task to replace him and for them to mount another promotion challenge under the guidance of new boss Regis Brouard. Dubbed “The Wizard of Quevilly” due to his former sides cup prowess in recent years. Sedan looked to have been hit hard this summer losing talismanic striker Nicolas Fauvergue to Reims and key first teamers Jerome Lemoigne & Ismael Traore to Lens & Brest respectively. Free scoring midfielder Farid Beziouen joins from Red Star FC but the loss of quality coupled with the squads around being strengthened may see the Wild Boars slip down the pecking order.
Le Havre have endured a torrid couple of seasons but with the shiny new Stade Oceane fully functional and some impressive pre season signings HAC could well be challenging at the top come May. Moving to a new stadium is no guarantee of success (just ask Le Mans) but Cedric Daury has been strong in the transfer market bringing in Riad Nouri from Istres, 18 goal Geoffrey Malfluery from Red Star & making Distel Zola’s loan move last season a permanent one. Guingamp have kept hold of their key players & have brought in Christophe Mandanne from Dijon following a successful loan spell last season. Jonathan Pereira joins from Nantes to bolster the defence & Jocelyn Gourvennec will surely be confident of excelling last season’s 7th place finish.
Of the three promoted teams Nimes have strengthened their midfield with the signings of Mathieu Robail from Bastia, Pierre Bouby from Metz and experienced Stephane Dalmat from Rennes. Dalmat however is reported to be considering retirement but Nimes have looked composed without him during pre season games. GFCO Ajaccio reached the semi finals of the Coupe De France last season & are sure to be difficult to beat at their Stade Ange Cassanova home, they have recruited former Grenoble man Jean Jacques Mandrichi & 10 goal Colmar striker Youssef Toure.
Niort have bagged themselves some Ligue 2 experience with the signing of Jerome Lafourcade from Chateauroux whilst centre back Nicolas Pallois joins from Valenciennes having spent last season on loan at Laval.
Nantes unearthed a diamond in the form of Florian Raspentino who left for Marseille in the summer his replacement Damien Mayenga joins from Lucon having hit 16 goals last term, Lucas Deaux is an inspired signing from Reims & if former Lens defender Gabriel Cichero can control his temper then Nantes have a real chance of pulling themselves out of the doldrums and back challenging for a place at the top table of French football. Michel Der Zakarian is back at the Beaujoire for his 2nd spell in charge having turned Clermont into promotion contenders, and the Nantes faithful will expect similar results.
Lens were expected to challenge last season but that hope never materialised. They have managed to keep hold of top scorer David Pollet but have lost Geoffrey Kondogbia to Seville & perhaps more surprising Thorgen Hazard to Chelsea, Jerome Lemoigne will add to Jean Louis Garcia’s well supported squad who will expected to fare much better this time around.
Arles have added a huge amount of players to their squad most notably David Suarez who hit 9 goals for last season’s Champions Bastia, Maurice Dale will play alongside Suarez after making his loan move from Nantes permanent. Chateauroux have lost several key players in the summer but seem to have replaced like for like, Claude Beauvais joins on a permanent basis & Clement Tainmont arrives from Reims as LBC will surely have enough quality to avoid being sucked in to a relegation battle.
Dijon have had the least amount of transfer activity & so far have managed to hold on to the likes of Brice Jovial & Benjamin Corgnet. New Manager Oliver Dall’Oglio has a strong squad at Ligue 2 level but whether Dijon have enough to mount another promotion campaign is open to debate. Istres have lost Julian Palmieri to Bastia, Nouri to Le Havre & Agouazi to Le Havre but Kevin Bru has been brought in from Boulogne as perennial over achieving Istres will no doubt shock more people this season.
Tours have lost some established players & replaced them with hungry young talent none more interesting than Christian Kouakou who has been plying his trade in Thailand where he has scored 22 goals in 53 games, Laval have also gone abroad for goal scoring talent & have brought in Ousmane Traore from Belgian side Turnhout who notched 11 goals in just 18 starts & with striking talent such as Julian Viale, Fabrice Do Marcelinho & Ghislain Gimbert already in place at the Stade Francis Le Basser Laval could be an entertaining side to watch.
Finally spare a thought for Le Mans, they have had a poor pre season (hardly surprising given the threat of demotion which has finally been lifted) , the financially stricken side have been helped by the local authority regarding rent for their stunning MMArena home but have been forced to lose Jeff Louis to Nancy & most recently top scorer Idir Ouali to German 2nd tier side Dynamo Dresden and with the remaining talent seemingly up for auction Le Mans could do well to match last season’s 17th place finish.
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Looking on PaddyPower.com and they agree that Monaco are the favourites to win the league at 5/4. Ligue 2 new boys Caen and Auxerre are next at 9/2 and 5/1 respectively, Nantes are fourth favourites at 10/1. Dijon sit at 12/1 and Lens are at 14/1
To be promoted Monaco are 1/3, Caen sit at evens, Auxerre 6/5, Nantes 13/5 and Dijon are 11/4. My dark horse (Andrew) Sedan are at 9/2.
Down at the bottom of the table new boys Niort are the evens favourites to be relegated. GFC Ajaccio aren’t far off at 13/10. Other newly promoted side Nimes are surprisingly decent odds at 7/2 to go down, seventh favourites in fact. You can also have Laval at 9/5, Chateauroux at 5/2, Istres at 11/4 and Arles-Avignon at 3/1. Personally I think Le Mans are worth a few quid at 7/2 after the demotion saga. Even Lens at 33/1 are worth a shout after losing Kondogbia and Thorgan Hazard.