On Friday night we welcome the return of Ligue 1 and what better way to kick it off than by watching Champions Montpellier take on fellow southerners Toulouse. The Stade de la Mosson will be bathed in late evening sunshine to see a new-look Montpellier side face up to Alain Casanova’s depleted outfit.
After finishing the season poorly with only one win in the last eight games, Le Téfécé ended up in eighth place, slipping out of the Europa League race and into mid-table mediocrity. Expectations were for Casanova to strengthen the squad while possibly losing a few key players but with an income of funds and some smart signings it had the potential to be a positive summer at the Stade Municipal.
That was completely rocked when very early in the window it was announced that the ever-present centre back and club captain Daniel Congré had left the club for €5 million, his destination, French champions Montpellier. This was not the move fans were expecting at all. It makes perfect sense for the player, he has moved to a club on the way up, one that will of course play in the Champions League this season. Not much sense for Toulouse though, and it would be interesting to know Casanova’s thoughts on the deal, surely not one he would have sanctioned.
Action was quickly taken to find Congré’s replacement in the form of 34-year old defender Jonathan Zebina from Brest. Now, Zebina is an excellent signing on his own, he enjoyed a great season at SB29, but this is not exactly a long term option. Toulouse had lost their defensive rock and replaced it with an ageing boulder.
The departures would not stop there; Turkish striker Umut Bulut was next out the door moving back home to Galatasaray. Not exactly a huge loss in terms of quality, but this left only Emmanuel Riviere and Wissam Ben Yedder as the two recognised strikers in the playing squad. Recognised is probably a bit kind to Ben Yedder as he didn’t start a game last season, making nine appearances from the bench. And let’s not get started on Rivière’s record of five goals in 20 starts.
Since then Mohamed Fofana, Remy Riou, and Antoine Devaux have also left the club and it is not looking like many new faces will be coming through the door before September 1st. Also, it seems very unlikely that Toulouse can keep hold of all their remaining players. The next strange decision came midway through July when Alain Casanova announced that Jonathan Zebina would become the new club captain even though the ink on his deal had barely time to dry.
What did this mean for the established Toulouse players like Etienne Capoue, Etienne Didot, Franck Tabanou and even Moussa Sissoko? Any of those players could easily have pulled on the captain’s armband and led this team forward into the new season. Was this a sign of players with very uncertain futures? Capoue has been linked with moves around Europe all summer, and having now been called up to the France squad by Didier Deschamps, it surely won’t be long before one of Europe or France’s top clubs come calling.
Pre-season hasn’t gone well with wins over Chateauroux and Luzenac, both by two goals to nil to show for their efforts. The most recent games were a goalless draw against Ajaccio and a 2-1 defeat to Bordeaux which won’t exactly give the home fans cause for optimism; this could become a very long season for Le Téfécé.
Taking on Montpellier at the Stade de la Mosson on Friday night will be nothing but an uphill task for Alain Casanova’s men. They haven’t won in the city since 2004 when Achille Emana scored the only goal of the game in the first half, sealing all three points in the process. However since then Toulouse hasn’t won in four attempts, while Montpellier has only managed the same number of wins. The games usually end up very tight affairs with one goal usually enough to pick up the points. It is a very tough start for both sides, but Montpellier will be very confident of starting the season with a win, and if La Paillade are playing well it could be a rude awakening for Casanova’s side; a tough start to the season awaits and a morale-sapping defeat could start a very difficult run.
After playing Montpellier away it is Saint-Etienne at home, Nancy away, Reims at home and Paris Saint-Germain away for Casanova’s men and realistically they could only have four points after five games, so the pressure on Casanova would be huge.
Last night Paddy Power had Toulouse at 25/1 to be the first team to change their manager; if they lose on Friday night it could be the start of a slippery slope for Le Téfécé, and as Auxerre will tell you, no team is too good to go down in this division.
YOU CAN WATCH MONTPELLIER v TOULOUSE – LIVE ON @ESPNUK – Friday 10th August – 19:45 UK time.