Preview: Ligue 2 – Week 22: Clermont on the Front Foot
At the top of Ligue 2, both Nancy and Dijon are starting to pull away from the pack, while below them seven teams are divided by just six points. From Le Havre in third to Auxerre in sixth, with even Tours and Laval just another point back.
AS Nancy v Nimes Olympique: Friday 19:00 – @meatmansoccer
Nancy were forced to accept a draw last week away against Brest. It was a match they dominated for the most part, but they fell behind in the first half and only a penalty rescued them after the break. Nancy are a quality team but their lack of goals recently must be a slight concern to Pablo Correa. That was the fourth straight game in which they scored just one goal. Now, this isn’t too bad of course, especially when they won three of those encounters 1-0, but the coach would ideally like to see more shots hit the back of the net. Maybe a few will come here, but the fitness of key winger Anthony Robic is in doubt, plus important midfield lynchpin Diallo Guidileye is ruled out for a month because of injury.
The visitors Nimes are an interesting case. Docked eight points at the start of the season due to a match-fixing scandal a couple of years ago, for most of the campaign they’ve seemed doomed and the weight on their shoulders of this deduction has been clear to see. But two straight wins at the start of 2016 has given them real hope. For the first time this season they are off the bottom of the table and safety is potentially within sight. I’ve been really impressed with their performances since the winter break. 2-0 and 6-2 wins against Brest and Clermont respectively have been richly deserved. This is a far more tricky fixture and one which they are expected to lose, but for Nancy I’d say it’s an extremely dangerous encounter. The hosts may show their quality and eventually prevail, but don’t presume this an easy victory for the Lorraine outfit.
RC Lens v Dijon FCO: Saturday 13:00 – @meatmansoccer
This is a real heavyweight clash between two of the biggest clubs in Ligue 2. Lens are of course a huge power in terms of fan base, history and prestige. But footballing matters on the pitch in recent years have been far from great. They struggled to initially adapt this season following a tough relegation, but a recent run of 11 unbeaten games has propelled them into 6th spot. Lens are a team who have good all-round quality at the back and in midfield. Upfront, they lack quality strikers but the rest of the team can at least contribute. Playmaker Pablo Chavarria is one to watch, whilst they will hope that up and coming youngster Simon Banza can start to improve matters in the final third. At home, Lens have only lost one match all season but a collection of draws have stagnated their progress a bit.
Dijon have to be classed as the most exciting team in Ligue 2. They are always operating with a positive mindset, trying to outscore their opponents both home and away. They also head into this match off a seven match unbeaten run, so should be confident. Their victory last week facing Bourg-en-Bresse was important, because it’s been around this time of year they’ve struggled historically. Their one weakness can be against teams hard to break down and who sit back, but they should enjoy this encounter because Lens fans will demand their side take the initiative. Matches between these two are usually quite exciting and it should be a good contest to watch. Les Sang et Or will have to be extremely careful not to leave themselves exposed, because Dijon could be deadly on the break.
Clermont Foot v Le Havre AC: Monday 19:30 – @FRfootballWillG
Clermont have been the surprise package this season, currently sitting in 4th place and just one point away from Le Havre. Coach Corinne Diacre has played down expectations of late, though they have a very real chance of promotion especially with striking ace Famara Diedhiou on their books. Diedhiou has been a revelation in Ligue 2 this campaign. With 19 notched in 20 appearances he leads the goalscoring charts by a mile (Pape Sané of Bourg has 10) and at the age of just 23 will have several suitors from Ligue 1 looking at him this summer. A run of five games unbeaten and three consecutive wins was abruptly stopped last week by Nimes as Clermont were humbled 6-2 by the bottom side, but they will be keen to put this behind them quickly and Diacre will trust her very settled XI to get back to their best. Youngster Gaetan Laborde has been loaned from Bordeaux until the end of the season to add further ammunition to an already very potent attack, though Clermont may be reluctant to bring in more new faces given the success of the squad so far.
Le Havre have put their early season inconsistency behind them and now look ready for a promotion charge. A run of four wins in a row propelled them up the league between October and November and they are now five unbeaten since the start of December. They are set to draw more interest and success off the pitch given the appointment of American coach Bob Bradley whose impact should not be underestimated given his previous experience. Bradley’s influence will surely yield more signings before the end of the month and he will be confident of taking Le Havre to the top tier in what will be a new challenge in his career. Despite boasting perhaps one of the most talented attacking duos in the league they have not been hugely prolific, with Mathieu Duhamel and Ghislain Gimbert notching just five each and this may be something Bradley looks to address. This is definitely the standout fixture at the top this weekend with both teams eager to cling on to their respective league positions.