Ligue 2 Preview: 2014/15
Ligue 2 kicks off on Friday night and it is set to be a very exciting and unpredictable season. Our resident Ligue 2 expert Steve Wyss brings you up to date with all the summer goings on, and looks at the contenders up and down the table.
When mentioning promotion contenders, the first place to start has to be Troyes. Arguably, the club managed by Jean Marc Furlan have the strongest looking squad out of anyone in the division, especially in midfield and attack. Key men for ESTAC are striker Ghislain Gimbert and old legend Benjamin Nivet, who at 37 just keeps going on strong with his wonderful playmaking ability. Troyes will be a very nice side to watch and may well achieve promotion based on sheer attacking strength alone, although one or two defensive issues could cost them at some stage.
Nancy came up just short last season but this time around they’ll have Pablo Correa in charge of them for the whole season, which is a massive boost. They perhaps have the best player in Ligue 2 at their disposal – Jeff Louis. The Haitian ended last season in amazing form and if he picks up where he left off, he’ll wreak havoc on opposition defences. Nancy also look set to have a very formidable defence, and as you’d expect under any Correa side, organisation will be impressive. Squad depth could be a slight issue, but they are sure to be in the reckoning come the end of the season.
One team who could surprise is Angers. The Western outfit have had a number of near misses in recent seasons, not least last year when they blew a great position. But they look stronger and the squad has far more depth this time around, so they should be able to cope with their usual injury problems much better. Expectations are for Angers to go well this year, but they aren’t massively high, and this could work in their favour. They don’t really rely on one key player and should have a great team spirit.
Brest ended last season in fantastic form and if they could carry that sort of momentum through to this campaign, then they’ll be right in the mixer. Their key man is striker Nicolas Verdier who is capable of scoring 15+ goals. Brest’s biggest strength however is their defensive toughness and organisation. Coach Alex Dupont knows how to get the job done, having already achieved a promotion with them in the past. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he managed to repeat that feat.
The final team that would appear to have the strength on paper to launch a promotion push are Le Havre. Last season was a flop for them considering the talent at their disposal, but their form was encouraging after the winter break. Losing key playmaker Walid Mesloub is far from ideal but they have a lot of squad depth, and look set to have one of the best defences in the division. Le Havre are a selling club though and if some of their young stalwarts are having great campaigns, it’s definitely possible one or more could be sold in January. Obviously, this would potentially derail any sort of promotion bid and is perhaps a reason why they’ll come up short.
How will the relegated teams fare?
The bookmakers have set Sochaux as one of the favourites to win Ligue 2, but looking at Les Lionceaux in more detail they might have to be content with just a season of consolidation. For a start, losing coach Herve Renard is a massive blow. He made a huge difference to them last season and was one of the main reasons they nearly managed to pull off a miraculous survival. Ex-Nice man Olivier Echouafni takes over, but they’ve lost an awful lot of players during the off-season and it could be a struggle for them to adapt to life in Ligue 2.
Ajaccio are in a similar boat to Sochaux in that adaptation to the second tier might be more difficult than expected. The Corsicans are coming off a long tough relegation campaign in which they had little to cheer. Some decent players remain, such as Johan Cavalli, but they lack overall quality compared to teams like Troyes and Nancy. It might be that a season of stability could set them up for a promotion bid the following campaign, but this time around it’s a tough ask.
Sochaux and Ajaccio have their problems, but Valenciennes would bite anyone’s hand off to be in their position right now! VA have endured a torrid summer in which they were initially relegated to CFA level by the DNCG. Upon appeal they were reinstated to Ligue 2, but their pre-season preparations have been virtually non-existent. They’ve lost key players and as yet haven’t really signed enough replacements. Long-term they should gradually get better as the season progresses but Bernard Casoni’s men look set for an extremely difficult start.
The mid-table battle
Auxerre nearly went down last season but appear to have strengthened during the summer, especially in attack. It’s unlikely they could push for the top three, but they could be a slight dark horse. Dijon have been knocking on the promotion door in recent years, but look to have stood still this off-season and it’s doubtful things will change for them. A top ten place is highly probable, but it’s doubtful they can take that extra step forward. Niort did superbly well to finish 5th last year, but an inevitable regression is likely. The loss of a couple of key players plus an influential manager won’t help their cause. Tours are another likely to drop down the table. Due to their dodgy financial position, new signings aren’t yet possible, They will sell key striker Andy Delort, so might be able to use those funds to free up some of the wage bill, but mid-table looks to be their limit this time around.
A lot of eyes will be on Clermont this season, but not necessarily watching the players on the field. Instead, everyone is interested to see how well female coach Corinne Diacre performs in the hot seat. The club had already surprised everyone by appointing another female coach, Helena Costa, but relations turned sour and she resigned from her post. On paper, Diacre has some talent to work with, but the team could be very unpredictable. Creteil are another outfit who look difficult to forecast, but should have enough ability to stay clear of the drop zone. One of the most boring teams in Ligue 2 this season is likely to be Arles-Avignon. Renowned for their low scoring games, entertainment will be at a premium when they’re involved. This sort of style should at least ensure they avoid the relegation battle though.
In the mixer at the bottom
As far as relegation is concerned, the bookmakers have made the two promoted clubs, GFC Ajaccio and Orleans favourites for the drop. It would be a surprise if either managed to stay clear of trouble, but perfectly feasible one (or both) could ultimately survive. It’s unlikely that there will be a CA Bastia type club this year that gets cast adrift at the bottom; things should be much tighter. Laval just managed to stay up last season but the loss of a number of players could cost them. They look to have one of the poorest squads on paper and will struggle to stay up. Nimes are another team who might seriously regress. Key individuals have departed and they haven’t been left with much talent. One more team likely to be in the mixer at the bottom are Chateauroux, who were relegated but then reinstated due to the Luzenac situation. At least they’ve appointed a good coach in Pascal Gastien and signed a few decent players, factors which might ultimately see them to safety.
At the time of writing, there is still the chance of Ligue 2 being a 21 team ligue this season, depending upon Luzenac’s appeal. Should they be allowed entrance into the division, it’s highly likely they’d be another side battling bravely against relegation.