8th – Sochaux: When making this prediction, I am wondering if I might be putting Sochaux a little higher than they deserve to be. Yes, last year they were able to pull off a shocking 5th place finish in the Ligue 1 standings, which nobody saw coming. But if you look at the talent on their team, it isn’t a surprise. Yes, some of the players were passively observed in the past, but now we know their names by heart.
But looking at the summer, it seems as if Sochaux had a few blows. First of all, Jacques Faty left, which we all expected. Still, even with Faty’s departure, Sochaux should still be able to cope. He was injured during the last few matches of the season, but the team was still able to play some strong football without him.
In addition to Faty’s departure, Ideye Brown as also left the team for Dynamo Kyiv, where he has made an immediate impact, with four goals in two matches. Ideye was easily one of last year’s surprises, scoring 15 goals last season. Still, with Ideye’s departure, Václav Svěrkoš is returning from a loan deal and should be able to help Sochaux up front.
Even with the European spotlight being turned on Sochaux, many of their players did stay on with the team for another year. Modibo Maiga, Marvin Martin, Ryad Boudebouz where on many European target lists. But in the end, all of them are still with Sochaux. Martin continues to prove his worth on the French National Team as well.
Another interesting position to watch is at goalkeeper. Teddy Richert is Sochaux’s traditional keeper. But last year, youngster Pierrick Cros showed he has what it takes to play in France’s top flight of football. Could we see Cros play more matches this season? For the player’s sake, hopefully so.
Overall, Sochaux should remain very close to the team they were last year. Yes, there are some big departures from the team, but many of their key players remained and they should be able to continue where they left off. In addition, they built up more on defense during the summer transfers. But Sochaux could, again, be a surprise this year and challenge for a Europa League spot.
7th – Montpellier: Montpellier didn’t have the best of seasons last year. Along with a number of injuries to key players, the team just didn’t seem to gel. But this could be understandable. Victor Montano and Alberto Costa left the team, which required Rene Girard to come up with a new attacking plan. In addition, injuries and “anger management issues” also plagued the defense last year.
But with all of that behind them, now Montpellier can maybe start anew. Looking at the summer, Montpellier didn’t really lose anyone except Emir Spahic (whom I was referring to when I mentioned “anger management issues” above). Still, in the last few days, the team was able to bring in Hilton from Marseille, who should be a good replacement for Spahic.
As far as offense, Montpellier still have a lot to prove. Last year, many expected that Olivier Giroud and Marco Estrada to be the answer to Montano and Costa. Hopefully these two players will create the magic that we expected last year. In addition, the team still has Karim Ait Fana (who has hot and cold seasons), Souleymane Camara and Hasan Kabze (who was extremely unimpressive last year) up front. Therefore, Montpellier can have a lot of options up front, if they stay healthy.
As far as the rest of the team, the midfield and defense still has the services of Romain Pitau, Younes Belhanda, Abdelhamid El Kaoutari, Mapou Yangambiwa, Cryil Jeunechamp, Garry Bocaly and a number of others from last year. In addition, the defense has been helped by the arrival of Henri Bedimo from Lens.
Even with all the talk of Ligue 1 teams getting a face-lift this season, Montpellier has stayed intact. And while luck wasn’t exactly on their side last year, maybe that will change this year. This team isn’t much different from the team that was so impressive two seasons ago. But in order for Montpellier to make an impression, the offense will have to step it up. The defense on this team always does their job, but now they need the goals to back it up.
6th – Rennes: Last year, Rennes started off the season on fire. At the end of the season, they almost went down in those same flames. While relying on both a mixture of youth and experience, Rennes were able to assemble an overall good season. But will they be able to do it again?
First of all, the team did suffer a number of big losses. Nicholas Douchez and Sylvain Marveaux are gone. In addition, Jerome Leroy has departed, as well as Johann Carrasso. Douchez, Marveaux and, to a lesser extent, Leroy played an important part in last year’s success. Carrasso was expected to be Douchez’s replacement as well.
But before people start screaming that the ship is sinking, Rennes are still in a good position. In the off-season, the team picked up Jonathan Pitroipa, who will be an offensive threat on the right wing for Rennes. In addition to Pitroipa, Julien Feret was brought in from Nancy. Hopefully the combination of these two players will make Rennes supporters forget about Marveaux.
Benoît Costil, Ligue 2′s best goalkeeper last year, was also added to the team from Sedan. And in keeping with the youth direction that Rennes is going, former Camp des Loges product Chris Mavinga also joins the team.
In addition to the newly arriving players, Rennes still has Yann M’Vila, Victor Montano, Romain Danze, Onyekachi Apam (who will hopefully be healthy this season), Alexander Tetty, Razak Boukari, Kader Mangane, Stephane Dalmat and others. This lineup along shows that they are a highly balanced team and can play both sides of the ball extremely well.
Rennes is easily one of the “safe bets” as far as making it to the Europa League, as long as the cup winners qualify by league position as well. And if one or two of the top teams slip up, Rennes could the team that could sneak from behind and take them for a Champions League position. But the biggest problem might be their youthful age. While youthful talent is always great as far as looking into the future, will their inexperience hurt them when crunch time comes along? It did at the end of last year.