Five Worried Candidates in the Ligue 2 Relegation Battle
With just three games left to play, the Ligue 2 relegation battle is really tight. Here is an analysis of all the teams in the mixer at the bottom, and what their respective chances of beating the drop are. The only certainty is that CA Bastia have already been relegated back to the National division following a really poor campaign, but who will join them?
It’s not been too much of a surprise to see Istres struggle this season. Many people fancied them for the drop and those predictions may well come true. ‘Les Violets’ are an extremely attack-minded team and their best talent is in the final third of the field. They are spearheaded by the legend that is Jerome Leroy, who came out of retirement to play for them this season. He’s been their key man and gives them a bit of extra quality – he might be old (39), but this guy still has the class at Ligue 2 level. Young players such as Bagaliy Dabo, Florian Tardieu and Le Havre loanee Geffroy Malfleury have also had good campaigns. Only seven teams have scored more goals than Istres this year, so they haven’t lacked firepower. The big issue has been at the back where they’ve conceded a whopping 63 times! This is by far the worst defence in the division and been their clear downfall. Istres strangely sacked experienced coach Jose Pasqualetti after the 29th game of the season, despite the club picking up 22 points in its previous 15 games, which looked to be a decent recovery after a terrible start. Since his sacking they’ve lost 4 out of 6, so it looks like a bad decision. With matches against both Lens and Angers left on their calendar, and considering such a poor goal difference, they’ll do well to survive.
Key player – Jerome Leroy
Chances of surviving – Low
Opinion was divided on Auxerre pre season. Some even considered them dark horses for promotion, while others believed they lacked sufficient quality to challenge at the top. Somehow, they have ended up desperately in the mire. The main problem for Auxerre is easy to identify, and the opposite if Istres – lack of goals. Only CA Bastia and Clermont have scored less and their 31 goal tally is shockingly poor. Before the winter break, their offence was carried by young star Paul Georges Ntep, but since his transfer to Rennes they have lacked much of a threat in the final third of the field. The Burgundian outfit had 25 points at the halfway stage, which should easily have been enough to avoid getting sucked into any trouble. However, a run of just one win in eleven games forced the club to sack Bernard Casoni after round 28, and he was replaced by Jean Luc Vanucci, a relatively inexperienced coach, certainly at Ligue 2 level. With matches against potentially unmotivated Le Havre and Arles left to play, they have perhaps a half-decent chance of staying up. But do they have enough attacking threat in them? Rennes loanee Axel Ngando has had a really good season but there’s nobody else that really stands out.
Key player – Axel Ngando
Chances of surviving: 50/50
Nimes were expected to build upon their solid top ten placing of the season before, but instead had an absolute nightmare before the winter break. Their tally of just 15 points at Christmas was shockingly low and provoked the sacking of Victor Zvunka. Reports were circulating that he lost the dressing room so this seemed a sensible decision, and Nimes appointed a good replacement in former Nice manager Rene Marsiglia, someone who has experience of relegation battles. And improvement in results was immediate – ‘Les Crocos’ picked up 15 points from their next 8 games and seemed right back on track. But since round 26, they’ve only won once and the Marsiglia honeymoon period seems to have ended. A recent 5-1 hammering away at Dijon was very concerning, although at least their controversial postponed match against Caen will now definitely get played on May 13th. Without doubt, their penultimate match of the season at home to Laval is absolutely massive, but considering the fact that they still have fixtures against Angers and in-form Creteil left to play, their survival remains in the balance.
Key player – Vincent Gragnic
Chances of surviving – 50/50
No team in Ligue 2 has left as many points on the field as Laval have done this season. So many times they’ve succumbed to late goals, and merited more out of matches. Had they picked up what they deserved, ‘Les Tangos’ would be nowhere near this relegation battle. Nevertheless, if you’d offered them this position in the table after 35 games back in August, they’d have probably snapped your hand off. Pre-season they were one of the big relegation favourites and on paper had a really poor-looking squad. They are yet another team who have sacked a manager during the campaign. After a 9-match winless streak, the long-standing Philippe Hinchberger was removed from his post after round 25. Denis Zanko took over and results have been much better since – Laval have picked up 15 points from his 9 games in charge and have now pulled themselves slightly clear of the ‘zone rouge’. Les Tangos have been spearheaded by striker Christian Bekamenga who’s scored a whopping 18 goals so far this season. Tipped by some to be an absolute flop, the ex-Nantes man has proved to be a total stud! Laval have got Nancy, Nimes and Metz left to play, none of which are easy fixtures, but with a two-point cushion and a pretty decent goal difference, the odds are more in their favour of staying up.
Key player – Christian Bekamenga
Chances of surviving – Fairly high
Chateauroux are no strangers to being involved in a relegation battle, as it seems like they’re fighting for their lives virtually every season, but always find a way of staying up. After just 2 wins in their first 12 games, the club sacked inept coach Didier Tholot, replacing him with the far more accomplished Didier Olle Nicolle. The ex Angers and Lens boss has done a really good job for ‘Les Berrichonne’ who are already at the 40-point mark, so you’d have to say it’s unlikely they will go down. One slight concern is that they’ve only won 1 of their last 9 games, but a collection of useful draws has inched them to safety. All of their last three opponents really have nothing left to play for, so you’d have to fancy Le Berry to beat at least one of them. Chateauroux don’t really have a stand-out player, but someone who has caught the eye this season is attacker Christopher Maboulou. Dubbed ‘Mr Handball’ for his controversial goal against Caen a few weeks ago, he has recently been given a 3-match ban for that unsporting incident.
Key player – Christopher Maboulou
Chances of surviving – Very high