Chamois Niortais: 2015/16 Ligue 2 Preview
Coach: Regis Brouard
Stadium: Stade René Gaillard
Last Season: 11th in Ligue 2
Niort have one of the best GKs in Ligue 2. Paul Delecroix has been an extremely consistent performer for a couple of years now and it’s a surprise to me that a Ligue 1 team or a bigger L2 outfit haven’t made a move for him. His all-round handling skills are top notch and he’s especially great at reflex shot-stopping. In front of him the backline might be potentially weakened due to the loss of a couple of key players. CB Yoann Barbet impressed so much last season that English Championship side Brentford signed him for close to £500k. On the left, Quentin Bernard is another departure and someone who has been a mainstay for them for a number of years. Barbet should be replaced to an adequate level by Jeremy Choplin. But it’s worth noting that Choplin encountered a difficult season with Metz last year, often warming the bench or dealing with injuries. The left back role will likely be filled by David Kiki, signed from a lower ligue team and I know little about him. Fortunately for Niort they still have a number of very solid players in their ranks. The likes of Sans, Malcuit, Bong and Lahaye are all very experienced at this level and will provide the team with a strong base.
Niort have constantly been lightweight in midfield for a long time now. Unfortunately, the situation actually gets worse this year because they’ve lost Mouhamadou Diaw to Auxerre. He was no spring chicken at 34 years old, but has been one of their best performers in the last few seasons. Adrian Dabasse comes in from Bordeaux B as a replacement but he’s of an unknown quantity so anything is possible with him. Niort’s best player in this area is Djiman Koukou and a lot rests on his shoulders this year. He’s a solid rock at DMID and can also fill in as a CB if required. Sadly for Les Chamois, they don’t have an awful lot else in midfield. They have to hope youngsters like Junior Sambia, Antoine Batisse and Chafik Tigroudja step up and make an impact. There was talk of signing ex-Nimes DMID Omrani, and they definitely need to seriously look at bringing someone in because they lack depth and quality right now.
I’m encouraged by Niort’s attacking lineup at the moment. It makes sense to start with Seydou Kone, who suddenly turned into a stud last season! He was previously a flop at Nimes and Istres but banged in 15 goals which was a real surprise to many. That might prove to be a ‘one-off’ season but he looked really sharp at times and I expect him to go well again. A lot of assists (11) were provided by left winger Florian Martin who is a really classy player and someone I rate highly. He has great technical skills and is a wizard from set pieces, very nice on the eye. Niort also have playmaker Jimmy Roye in their ranks and he’ll hope to rebound from a slightly disappointing last campaign. There was a time when Roye was head and shoulders above anyone else in this team, but his importance has reduced due to others stepping up. Niort have decent depth in attack with the likes of Dona N’Doh, Rocheteau and youngster Jeremy Grain. Kone netted more than a third of their goals last season so they could do with more players chipping in. But overall I think this offence will score plenty this year and I’m optimistic for them in this area.
Regis Brouard is now what I’d class as highly experienced at Ligue 2 level. He knows this division inside out and overall I’d say he’s a major asset to the club. On the downside, he can be too negative at times, but there were signs last year he might be willing to be more offensive in certain situations. Niort played much more open that I expected, especially towards the back end of the season. The bottom line is that Brouard knows what he is doing and I rate him in terms of motivation, man-management and tactics. Les Chamois have historically been good at home so will be disappointed to only finish 11th best in front of their home fans last year. Brouard is a good away coach and can set his team up accordingly to be hard to break down if required.
It was inevitable that Niort would drop down from their 2013/14 fifth placed finish. But their drop wasn’t massive and at times they played some very encouraging football. I would expect them to move back into the top ten this year, but they aren’t a particularly ambitious club so it’s unlikely they can launch a promotion challenge. Lack of midfield depth is also a worry but they look well set in defence and in the final third. With little pressure on their shoulders they could be a dark horse and capable of beating anyone on the day.
Prediction – 8th