season preview / line ups

  Manchester City – Southampton FC  

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Man City

Transfer in: Emanuel Adebayor (Tottenham – return from loan), Roque Santa Cruz (att), Betis – return from loan), Jack Rodwell (Everton)
Transfer out: Owen Hargreaves, Stuart Taylor, Wayne Bridge, Vladimír Weiss, Greg Cunningham

Southampton

Transfer in: Jay Rodriguez (Burnley), Paulo Gazzaniga (Gillingham), Steven Davis (Rangers), Nathaniel Clyne (Crystal Palace)
Transfer out: Dan Harding, Bartosz Bialkowski, Lee Holms, Ryan Doble, David Connolly, Radhi Jaidi, Aaron Martin


 
Wigan Athletic vs Chelsea 

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Wigan

Transfer in: Ivan Ramis; Fraser Fyvie; Ryo Miyaichi ( loan from Arsenal); Arouna Kone (Levante)
Transfer out: Hugo Rodallega, Mohamed Diame, Hendry Thomas

Chelsea

Transfer in: Marko Marin (Werder Bremen) Eden Hazard (Lille), Thorgan Hazard (Lens); Oscar (Internacional); Yossi Benayoun (return of loan from Arsenal)
Transfer out: Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Romelu Lukaku; Jacob Melli, Jose Bosingwa

Umbro Athletic Bilbao Home Shirt 2012/13 Athletic Bilbao v Real Betis 

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Athletic Bilbao Season Preview

The escapades of last season surely ranks as one of the greatest years in Bilbao’s recent history as they watched their prodigious squad reach two major finals (Europa League & Copa del Rey) as well as challenge briefly for Champions League qualification. Alas however Los Leones failed in all three pursuits, having the carpet pulled from underneath just as glory beckoned.

Pride remains the predominant keyword associated with Bilbao despite the agonising lengths the club went to in their unsuccessful efforts for victory. Born and bred Basque blooded battlers both on and off of the pitch, the cantera policy ensures that the historic morals of the club remain. Far from xenophobic, the loyalty shown within the San Mames is astonishing as the production line continues to develop exciting players for both Athletic and Spain.

Of those, Iker Muniain is the next youngster causing a stir in Europe. Present in the first team squad since the age of 16, Muniain made the top European clubs really take notice last season as his stellar performances in the Europa League propelled Athletic to the final. Now 19, the hot Pamplona prospect featured in 58 games for the club last year, scoring 9 times from the wing but assisting Fernando Llorente’s goalscoring greatly. He’ll be the main threat for Bilbao this season.

Along with Llorente, Javi Martinez, Markel Susaeta and Ander Herrera, Muniain is the next Bilbao talent to be linked with a  big-money move. Each player from the list has been subjected to transfer speculation so often that it’s difficult to believe that they could still remain at Bilbao for the upcoming season.

Sadly however, Bilbao are heavily reliant on the income from transfers as their new stadium drains funds, giving coach Marcelo Bielsa a headache.

Despite this, the club renewed the contract of their Argentine boss after the impressive 2011/12 season. Bielsa conjured up some insane sorcery to not only guide Bilbao so far but he instructed them to play a brand of football so pleasing to watch which could devastate opposing sides, like Manchester United found out in the Europa League.

As for this year, Bilbao would yet again perform miracles to match the standard of last season. The continual struggle to keep their talented youth products may prove too elusive and the lack of depth could again cause untimely fatigue at the crucial stages of the season. Despite that, Bilbao will play their exciting style of football and will be a danger in domestic competition. Write them off at your peril.

Last Year:

La Liga: 10th

Europa League: Runners-up (Lost 3-0 to Atletico Madrid)

Copa del Rey: Runners-up (Lost 3-0 to Barcelona)

Signings:

In:

Ismael Lopez free from CD Lugo

Aritz Aduriz €2m from Valencia

Out:

Igor Gabilondo Free to AEK Larnaca

Pablo Orbaiz free to Rubin Kazan

One to Watch: Iker Muniain

Prediction: 7th

Betis Season Preview

Returning to La Liga following promotion in 2010/11, Betis’ season of consolidation was about as much as could have been asked of them. A whirlwind start of five wins from their first five games triggered fans to dream and took them to the summit of the league, but inevitably it wasn’t to last. A run of six straight defeats then followed until their results became more sporadic and Betis hovered above the relegation zone for a while.

Avoiding the drop back down to the Segunda straight away was the first objective outlined at the start of the season and it was duly achieved as the Andalucian side finished six points ahead of 18th placed Villarreal.

That target will surely remain once again for the folowing campaign.

Betis were once a force in Spain, regularly challenging for Europe. Those ambitions have been put on hold in recent years however and despite being back in the top tier, the aim of European qualification remains a little farfetched, but not impossible.

Levante were the surprise package of last season and nearly gained qualification for the Champions League. The emergence of Malaga has made that ambition much tougher for the less financially-endowed clubs but the Europa League can still be targeted by Pepe Mel.

Avoiding ‘second season syndrome’ must be conquered prior to that however and if it appears that another season in mid-table beckons for Betis then a late surge could put them into contention. La Liga poses many teams of similar ability though and Betis must be wary of being sucked into the relegation mix before they make a break for 7th.

Currently, Betis appear inferior to surpass the likes of Osasuna, Mallorca, Athletic Bilbao and local rivals Sevilla for those European spots. Whether or not they go on to disprove that depends much on how prolific Ruben will be.

Ruben has spent the majority of his career below La Liga but finished as third-top Spanish scorer in the division last year with 16 goals. He seems to have found his home south of Deportivo at last having been so nomadic during his six year spell in A Coruna. He and Jonathan will aim to improve upon the 47 goals Betis ammounted last season, the highest behind Rayo Vallecano in the bottom half, but the loss of Santa Cruz back to Manchester City will be a blow for the club.

Nevertheless, Betis have Benat behind these two supplying the ammunition.

Benat capped an impressive season by earning a call up to the Spanish squad in May. The 25 year old Bilbao graduate has attracted attention from teams across Europe as he looks to build on last season and remain in the ‘fringe player’ category of the European Champions’ team.

Betis claimed just eight draws to their name last season, most likely attributed to the amount of goals conceded in the final 15 minutes (17). Against a fatigued Atletico Madrid, Betis mauled the Rojiblancos throughout but conceded a 94th minute equaliser and in the process dropped two points. If they can keep it tight for the full 90 minutes and supply Ruben with enough chances then Betis could be an outside bet for the top 10 if the dreaded second season syndrome doesn’t kick in.

Last Season:

La Liga: 13th

Copa del Rey: Round of 32 (lost to Cordoba 2-2 on away goals)

Signings

In:

Paulao Santos free from Saint-Etienne

Joel Campbell loan from Arsenal

Juan Carlos Perez loan from Braga

Ruben Perez loan from Atletico Madrid

Out:

Iriney Santos free to Granada

Inaki Goitia free to CD Mirandes

Ezequiel Calvente loan to Freiburg

Juan Calahorro free to Alcorcon

Javier Matilla loan to Murcia

One to Watch: Benat. Also look out for Mario, sent off thrice in 12 games last season!

Prediction: 12th

 Real Madrid vs Valencia 

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Real Madrid Season Preview

Last season Real Madrid accumulated a record 100 points to clinch La Liga and, in doing so, they wrestled the domestic Spanish title off arguably the greatest club team in European football history. It will count among Jose Mourinho’s greatest achievements in football management and, for someone with the Special One’s track record so far, that is some accolade. Mourinho has now won domestic titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain, which is a first for a top level coach. It would have been easy for Mourinho to walk away having achieved that feat, but he is determined to remain with the Spanish giants until he has won his third European Cup medal in a third different country. Looking at the players the Portuguese has at his disposal, why would he ever want to leave. Although Barcelona may argue that their first eleven is still untouchable, Madrid president Florentino Perez has assembled possibly the greatest squad of players in the history of club football. Real Madrid have a first team which stuns and dazzles – as they showed recently in a 5-1 demolition of Italian giants AC Milan during their pre-season tour of the US – but they could also field a second eleven which would surely finish third in La Liga were they to compete separately and might just win every other domestic league abroad under different circumstances. In lieu of their strength, Real Madrid’s transfer movement this summer has been unprecedentedly quiet. At the time of writing, they hadn’t actually made any new signings from outside of the club entity; the only addition so far is young forward Alvaro Morata, who has been promoted permanently from Real Madrid Castilla. Only one member of the first team squad from last year, Hamit Altintop, has left the club and it looks as though there will be very few changes in 2012-13. It would be very strange if we reached the end of the transfer window and nobody had come in. The Merengues are known to be chasing a second right back to compete with Alvaro Arbeloa for a starting berth and another midfielder to take some of the pressure off the ever-present Xabi Alonso. Luka Modric of Tottenham Hotspur is thought to be the main target and that could lead to the departure of Nuri Sahin – on a loan deal at least – who was plagued by injuries on his debut season at the Bernabeu last year. Whatever happens, Real Madrid will be the team to beat this season both in Spain and in Europe, as they look to retain their La Liga title and end their obsession with earning a tenth European Cup title. They scored a record number of goals last season and, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain furthest forward and Angel di Maria, Kaka and Mesut Ozil offering support, they will have a good go at breaking that record once again.Target:
Winning La Liga is massively important just to keep Barcelona in their place but their burning obsession with winning the Champions League for a tenth time is no secret.

Last Season:

La Liga: 1st

Copa del Rey: Quarter-finals (lost to Barcelona 4-3 on agg)

Signings:

Out:

Sergio Canales & Fernando Gago €5million each to Valencia

Hamit Altintop €3.5million to Galatasaray

Pedro Leon loan to Getafe

One to Watch: Ronaldo

Valencia Season Preview

Can Valencia win La Liga?

I was always told it was best to begin with a joke. Maybe humour isn’t my strong point…

The fact that the question above is usually followed by an instant dismissal of Valencia’s title dreams, almost as quick as Messi changes direction, makes glum reading for Valencia supporters.

Only in a handful of leagues will the 3rd placed team not have a significant hope of challenging for the title. It’s a dismal situation for Valencia, struggling for success amidst the league, cup and European duopoly of ‘Bardrid’ as Valencia finished a whopping 30 points adrift of runners up Barcelona!

Perhaps a more suitable query would be to ask whether Valencia are the greatest challengers to the La Liga giants. Now I bet that has a few of you scratching your head and/or chin.

Atletico Madrid have strengthened within the last 8 months to become a Champions League contender and we all know about the spending of Malaga (up until now as it seems it could all go up in smoke), no less Valencia who sold Isco and Joaquin to the South coast side last summer.

Atleti halted Valencia’s European run in the semi-finals of the competition on their way to winning it, probably the turning point in the Valencia-3rd place dynasty.

Valencia have always been a selling club, losing key players annually. Jordi Alba departed for Barcelona in the summer yet Atletico maintained their squad from last season, looking to go from strength to strength. Valencia constantly have to rebuild and the resurgence of Atletico and the pressure of an immeasurable Malaga side could begin the club’s downfall after clinging onto 3rd for so many years.

Unai Emery, frequently chastised by the fans, has departed too paving the way for previously inexperienced Mauricio Pellegrino. Things aren’t looking too promising already. Why can’t Rafa Benitez just drop at the gates of the Mestalla?

Pellegrino may be the next best thing however having assisted Rafa at Liverpool and Inter. Can Benitez’s disciple bring similar success as his predecessor? If so it will probably be bigger than the next coming of Jesus!

Pellegrino may have lost Alba and Aduriz but his incoming transfers help ease the loss of the duo. Joao Perreira, Fernando Gago and Sergio Canales are handy players and are likely to be perfect at setting up Roberto Soldado (should Valencia not lose grip of their star man).

The gap, sadly, is growing between the top two and the chasing pack. Valencia simply cannot match the sort of revenue Real, Barca or even Atletico Madrid manage to bring in. The club face a struggle to keep their grip on 3rd place but Champions League qualification should still be attainable. They’ll just have to watch over their shoulder for Atletico Madrid and not focus on the inevitable yardage between themselves and ‘Bardrid’.

Last Season:

La Liga: 3rd

Copa del Rey: Semi-finals (lost to Barcelona 3-1 on agg)

Europa League: Semi-finals (lost to Atletico Madrid 5-2 on agg)

Signings:

In:

Andres Guardado free from Deportivo

Sergio Canales & Fernando Gago both €5million each from Real Madrid

Joao Perreira €3.7million from Sporting Lisbon

Jonathan Vieira €2.5million from Las Palmas

Out:

Hedwiges Maduro free to Sevilla

Michel free to Levante

Angel Dealbert free to Kuban Krasnodar

Bruno Saltor free to Brighton

Aritz Aduriz €2million to Athletic Bilbao

Jordi Alba €14million to Barcelona

Mahmet Topal €4.5million to Fenerbahce

Miguel Angel Moya €1.8million to Getafe

One to Watch: Joao Perreira

Prediction: 3rd

 FC Barcelona vs Real Sociedad 

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FC Barcelona Season Preview

Last Season:

La Liga: 2nd

Copa del Rey: Winners (3-0 over Athletic Bilbao)

Champions League: Semi-final (lost to Chelsea 3-2 on agg)

Signings:

In:

Jordi Alba €14m from Valencia

Out:

Henrique free to Palmeiras

Seydou Keita free to Dalian Aerbin

Ruben Mino free to Mallorca

One to Watch: Messi

It was the end of an era. Pep Guardiola, Barcelona’s legendary midfielder of the 1990s, managed Los Cules during the most successful spell in the club’s history. Barca won 14 major honours in just four seasons under the Catalan boss, including three successive La Liga titles and two Champions League trophies. Now breaks the dawn of a new era under Guardiola’s assistant Tito Vilanova and his first task is to wrestle control back from Barcelona’s great rivals Real Madrid, who usurped Barca as the kings of Spain under controversial manager Jose Mourinho in 2011-12. How the Catalan giants respond to that humiliation could define the success of the club over the next few years. Vilanova will be under an intense spotlight, but there have been no paradigm shifts in the club’s policy to suggest that the blaugrana army will be any weaker under the new management. The players claim nothing has changed and that the Tito Team has very much the same style and approach of the Pep Team; unsurprising when Vilanova has been schooled by Guardiola over the past four years. The team does not look any weaker, either. Even though there has been a slowing down in the transfer market in Spain, brought about inevitably by the deep economic depression the country finds itself in, Barca look stronger if anything having signed Jordi Alba to replace liver tumor victim Eric Abidal at left back and have seen just one senior player, supporting midfielder Seydou Keita, leave the club. Barca expect to be stronger this season thanks to the variety of promising young players who continue to pour out of La Masia. Gerard Deulofeu, Sergi Roberto, Martin Montoya, Marc Bartra and Cristian Tello could all figure prominently this year to supplement the senior veterans. Meanwhile, apart from Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez, nobody is in danger of slowing down due to age – those two (especially Xavi) still lead the way when fit. David Villa’s return to full fitness is like having a new 40 million euro signing so Vilanova will have plenty of options and he is still likely to sign a top class centre back before the transfer window closes. A season preview of Los Cules wouldn’t be complete without mention of the fact that they still have the best player of all-time leading the attack and Lionel Messi, who scored a whopping 73 goals in all competitions for Barca last season to smash all previous records, has looked even sharper in pre-season than he did last year. 

Target:
Barcelona will aim to win everything but the main priority will be bringing the league trophy back to Catalunya. Along with Real Madrid, they will also start the season as Champions League favourites and they will look to live up to that billing.

Real Sociedad Season Preview

Media hype and excitement has been largely focused around two or three teams in the build up to the new La Liga season and that probably suits Sociedad. In fact if it could continue for the remainder of the season then I don’t imagine hearing too many complaints from Philippe Montanier as his team aim to slip beneath the radar.

Levante surprised us with their determined stance last season and it appears that Sociedad are well placed to follow in their path with a vibrant squad centred around an attacking quartet which could bring many admirers.

Northern Spain plays host to many teams who enjoy playing the game in a fluid manner (with the exception of Osasuna at times). Largely overshadowed by their neighbours Bilbao, Sociedad have quietly crawled their way back amongst the chasing pack in La Liga and now possess a dangerous squad which could progress within the next few seasons.

Antoine Greizmann is the gem within the attack-minded midfield. The Frenchman at just 21 is an integral figure in Sociedad’s team and often chips in with crucial goals and assists. He’s also a team player; when through one-on-one against Racing and on a hat-trick, Greizmann set up a teammate to make the score 3-0.

Carlos Vela is another youngster who excelled last season and will look to Greizmann and Xabier Prieto as his folly when in the mood for goals next season. Arsenal finally allowed the Mexican to leave for Spain after a few difficult years there and should capitalise on his 12 goals last year while on loan. Vela formed a destructive partnership with Imano Aggiretxe last year, scoring a combined 24 goals in league and cup competitions.

Youth isn’t just an isolated feature in the attacking department; all of Sociedad’s first XI are under 30 after Mikel Aranburu retired last season. Aranburu spent his whole career with Sociedad and sadly hung up his boots at the climax of the last campaign. His absence should introduce 19 year old Ruben Pardo to the squad, another exciting central midfielder who has been blooded through the famous youth system, Bilbao kept at an arms length constantly (notoriously famous for their predation of Sociedad’s youngsters).

And defensively Sociedad have strong, youthful players in Martinez and Estrada, as well as Mikel Gonzalez. Martinez has attracted plenty of attention following a solid season and was named in many pundit’s teams of the year. The youngster is unlikely to begin the season however as he will be part of the Spanish Olympic football team for the early weeks in August.

Montanier has a strong, youthful squad at his disposal and more importantly one which can score goals. The only forseeable problems could be having to cope with the loss of Aranburu and the lack of experience available and the all important opening game. Barcelona.

Sociedad can quite easily challenge for Europe this season but a number of injuries could alter the shape of the whole team. Getting the first game out of the way and putting together a consistent run of results will be the tricky part but they have plenty of quality and look a good bet to be the surprise package of La Liga this season.

Last Season:

La Liga: 12th

Copa del Rey: Round of 16 (lost to Mallorca 6-3 on agg)

Signings:

In:

Gonzalo Castro free from Mallorca

Out:

Mikel Aranburu retired

Borja Viguira free to Alaves

Vadim Demidov free to Eintracht Frankfurt

One to Watch: Carlos Vela

Prediction: 9th

 Levante vs Atletico Madrid 

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Levante Season Preview

Who says La Liga is boring and predictable? Ok the title race proved a pretty elitist affair in contrast to the rest of the division and Real Madrid and Barcelona’s finances do explode off the chart compared to their 18 fellow Primera amigos, but when teams like Levante surprise us all by finishing 6th then much of the previous becomes insignificant.

To understand the scale of what Levante achieved last year, try to imagine Wigan leading the Premier League for a bit, beating Manchester City in the 3rd game and maintaining their charge to finish in a Europa League position. And that their transfer budget amounts to half a million pounds over the last four years combined!

Spectacularly enough, all of that happened, albeit in Spain where Los Blancos rule and the Blaugrana clean up elsewhere. Ignoring the overwhelming dominance of two indomitable presences, Levante proved to Europe that success didn’t necessarily have to be built on the quickly-disappearing Euro. You might agree that a touch of Madrid’s limelight deservedly shone on Levante as their fairytale season came to an end.

In his first season with the club, Juan Ignacio Martinez took Levante to the top of La Liga and into Europe for the first time ever. Considering the team had managed a 14th place finish last term with almost all of the same players, the achievement speaks for itself. His team surprised many and managed to finish above the likes of Bilbao, Sevilla and Villarreal.

An overwhelming surprise package, Martinez’s tactics are quite the opposite. Vehemently sticking to basic orders of defending stoutly and working hard when out of possession, Levante managed to carve out wins irrespective of the growing age of their squad.

Many expected naivety to settle in whilst the team clung onto their lofty position. Fatigue and a lack of cojones became frequent words to fall from bedazzled pundit’s gaping mouths yet none of those factors affected the determined Valencian outfit. For much of the season Levante barely fluttered an eyelid and beat Real Madrid, Malaga and Atletico Madrid in the process despite the lack of chances that came their way.

Reborn, Arouna Kone became the revelation of the season. Emile Heskey’s goalscoring record looked like Lionel Messi’s compared to the Ivorian’s but 17 goals later, posting a tidy chance to goals strike ratio, and Kone had become a revered man in La Liga. Thankfully for Levante, his deal has become a permanent one this summer as more expectation lies upon his shoulders.

As impressive as they were last season, Levante surely can’t expect a similar season to the last. Limited resources will peg back the club as an extended European season beckons. A faded smugness has returned in journalist’s pieces as the joyous period in Levante’s history is predicted to return to normal. And even if it does then a season in Europe might just be the best treatment.

Martinez’s team will stick to similar tactics and Arouna Kone will again be the dangerman. Growing knowledge of a simple strategy around La Liga could affect them this year and Kone will be lucky to get as much space as he did last year as a result. Yet their impressive resolve shown last season by no means labels them as a one hit wonder.

A long drawn out season in the Europa League could prevent them from mounting another 6th placed challenge and the resulting fatigue could make relegation an issue but Levante are organised and bullish. They’ve set the bar high and the achievements of last year won’t perish their self-belief. Avoiding relegation is vital and anything else would be a bonus. Levante just want to enjoy as much of this golden period as they can.

Last Season:

La Liga: 6th

Copa del Rey: Quarter-finals (lost to Valencia 7-1 on agg)

Signings:

In:

Arouna Kone free from Sevilla

Angel Rodriguez free from Elche

Michel free from Valencia

Pedro Rios free from Getafe

Keylor Navas €200,000 from Albacete

Nickolaos Karabelas free from AEK Athens

Pape Diop €200,000 from Racing

Out:

Valdo free to Atlante

Ruben Suarez free to Guizhou Renhe

Javi Venta free to Villarreal

Xavi Torres €0.5m to Getafe

One to Watch: Michel

Prediction: 14th

Atletico Madrid Season Preview

Monaco is the venue where two managers who were given similar tasks last year will meet to discuss how they fared. Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo managed to steer his beloved club to a maiden Champions League victory against all odds in Munich last May whilst concurrently Diego Simeone guided Atletico Madrid to an emphatic Europa League final win in Bucharest and both will be vying to win the European Super Cup on August 24th.

Simeone had only been in charge since the winter break ended in late January but revitalised the club and leads them into another season of European football and a brighter future.

Tactics were tweaked and Madrid began to turn more defeats into draws, sometimes better. The team, languishing in mid-table obscurity, made a sharp dash for the Champions League qualification spots but were pipped by Malaga in the end. Nevertheless, another campaign in Europe, with retaining their Europa League crown a secondary goal, provides the stepping stone so to ensure that the Champions League doesn’t elude them once again.

The 3-0 success over Athletic Bilbao gives Simeone time and confidence within the boardroom and the platform to go on and battle with Malaga and Valencia for 3rd and 4th spot.

Simeone deploys stubborn tactics which aren’t always easy to watch, but are supremely effective. If Madrid can prevent the opposition from scoring then they certainly have a chance to sneak a win through Falcao and Adrian.

These two scored 55 goals between them last season and pose a real threat to any opposition. It has taken time for their partnership to blossom but next season could result in even more goals. However, an injury to either one would be damaging to Atleti’s ambitions so another striker might be necessary ahead of the season opener against Levante, despite winger Cristian Rodriguez arriving from Porto.

Financing a transfer for an able striker might be tricky however as the club are currently millions of Euros in debt and are forced to sell key players on a regular basis. Highly rated central-defender/right-back Alvaro Dominguez was vital to the club’s success last year but has since been sold to German club Borussia Monchengladbach for €8m. A young, versatile player, Dominguez’s absence will be felt significantly in the Atleti back line, especially as Cata Diaz is likely to be his replacement. The 32 year old signed for €1m from Getafe but will surely struggle to match the standards Dominguez set in his time at the Vicente Calderon.

Defensively, Atletico still appear resolute. Diego Godin and Miranda create a strong presence in the middle whilst despite the loss of Antonio Lopez to Mallorca, Filipe is more than capable at left back. In goal, Madrid once again have Thibault Courtois between the posts as he extended his loan from Chelsea for another year.

As a result, matches can be won at both ends of the pitch with supreme firepower upfront and stern defensive bodies behind them, not forgetting exciting players such as Juanfran and Koke in midfield. Simeone has a powerful squad at his disposal but is likely to continue playing a mundane style of play. If it proves effective enough then he shouldn’t hear too many complaints. Atletico haven’t been as effective as they should have in recent years and that’s one reason why they have failed to qualify for the Champions League so often. Will this season be any different?

Last Year:

La Liga: 5th

Europa League: Winners (3-0 over Athletic Bilbao)

Copa del Rey: Round of 32 (lost to Albacete 3-1 on agg)

Signings:

In:

Thibaut Courtois loan from Chelsea

Cata Diaz €1 from Getafe

Cristian Rodriguez free from Porto

Emre free from Fenerbahce

Out:

Perea free to Cruz Azul

Fran Merida free to Hercules

Leandro Cabrera loan to Hercules

Eduardo Salvio €10m to Benfica

Ruben Perez loan to Betis

Antonio Lopez free to Mallorca

Ruben Micael loan to Braga

Alvaro Dominguez €8m to Borussia Monchengladbach

One to Watch: Torn between Thibaut Courtois and Adrian Lopez

Prediction: 4th

Friendly, Napoli (Ita) – Olympiakos Piraeus (Gre)

NAPOLI (3-5-1-1): 1 De Sanctis; 14 Campagnaro, 28 Cannavaro, 5 Britos; 11
Maggio, 85 Behrami, 88 Inler, 17 Hamsik, 6 Aronica; 24 Insigne; 29 Pandev. A
disposizione: 83 Rosati, 21 Fernandez, 20 Dzemaili, 18 Zuniga, 8 Dossena, 23
Gargano, 9 Vargas. Allenatore: Mazzarri

OLIMPIACOS (4-4-2): 42 Megyeri; 2 Maniatis, 8 Fejsa, 6 Papazoglu, 20 Cholevas;

18 Fetfazidis, 23 Siovas, 22 Tatos, 35 Torosidis; 93 Abdoun, 29 Mitroglou. A
disposizione: 1 Carrol, 9 Pantelci, 14 Castillo, 7 Fernandez, 27 Greco, 190
Torrijos, 3 Modesto. Allenatore: Valverde.

ARBITRO: Damato di Barletta

France Ligue I

Season Preview 2012/2013

AC Ajaccio

In:
Faty (mid) (Aris FC), Diarra (mid) (FC Lorient), Deville (def) (RSC Anderlecht), Belghazouani (mid) (SV Zulte Waregem), Sissoko (gk) (FC Metz)

Out:
Socrier (sp)(att) (Angers SCO), Ilan (sp)(att) (SC Bastia), N’Diaye (def) (Marseille), Oberhauser (gk), Cilia (def), Debes (sp)(gk), Gigliarelli (gk) (GFC Ajaccio)

Ajaccio exceeded expectations last season by successfully defending their place in the French top flight. They were very poor in the first half of the season, showing a lack of consistency and organisation, but after Christmas their fortunes changed drastically. Despite this, they have jettisoned head coach Olivier Pantaloni, allowing former Brest coach Alex Dupont to benefit from the momentum gained last term. Dupont’s Brest sides were based around a strong defensive foundation, and it is hard to imagine that he will transform Ajaccio into an exciting attacking side, particularly given the tools at his disposal. None of the key members of the squad from last season have left the squad, while the unit would appear to have been marginally strengthened over the course of the summer. Deville arrives from Anderlecht to strengthen the defence, while Ricardo Faty, a player never to reach his true potential, will add more weight to the midfield. In terms of attacking options, Eduardo will shoulder much of the goalscoring burden after a useful conclusion to last season, but the Brazilian has never been a reliable long-term solution in Ligue 1 and goals will have to arrive from elsewhere, too, particularly as Ilan has left to join island rivals Bastia, with whom the derbies will be particularly fierce. Key at the back will be Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, whose calibre is far above the level of the team around him. Last season he was not well protected, but this time around it must be expected that Dupont will have drilled the defence well and they will be very tight. Ajaccio will not be an attractive side to watch for attacking football, but they should be functional and will again compete hard against avoiding the drop.

Target:
Like last season, avoiding relegation is the simple target.

Evian TG

In:
Dhaouadi (att) (Club Africain), Mbarki (def) (CA Bizertin), Kone (mid) (Dinamo Bucarest), Salamone (gk) (Paris Saint-Germain)

Out:
Poulsen (k)(mid), Kahlenberg (r)(mid) (VfL Wolfsburg), Leroy (sp)(mid), Rippert (sp)(def), Westberg (gk) (Luzenac), Duran (gk), Farina (mid), Cilinsek (def)

Last season, Evian firmly established themselves as a force in Ligue 1 as they finished midway up the table, taking several notable scalps in the process. Scepticism that they could crumbled after sacking Bernard Casoni at Christmas quickly gave way to optimism as Pablo Correa impressed in his stead, not adopting the dour, defensive approach that was anticipated. They might not be quite as exciting as they once were going forward, but their results have ultimately improved. They will be aiming for a further step forward this season. The prospects for the Annecy club look good. Most of their key players have been retained, although they have so far failed to recapture Thomas Kahlenburg following a loan spell. Christian Poulsen is the only other notable member of their squad who will not be available this season, having elected to leave the club after one successful campaign. On the other hand, fellow Dane Daniel Wass remains, having been one of their stars down the right after joining from Sporting CP initially on loan. The dynamic of their starting XI is not expected to change greatly, although they have added some unknown quantities in the form of forward Zouheir Dhaouadi, a forward, Djakaridja Kone, who will play in midfield, and Iheb M’barki, who will feature at the back. These players will likely integrate over time. Striker Yannick Sagbo, who performed above expectations last season, will lead the offensive line for the club, assuming he is not sold. Several sides are after the front man, though Evian have reasonable strength in depth in this area, not boasting any outstanding players, but commanding enough artillery to ensure that goals will not be in too short supply. Veteran Cedric Barbosa was in terrific form last term, and the playmaker will again be relied upon to provide excellence this time around too as there is a dearth of innovation in the centre of the park for les Roses. Life will become tough if he fails to recapture his best.

Target:
Evian will be aiming to push for a top-half finish, and if they can replicate their form of last season, this should be well attainable.

Girondins de Bordeaux

In:
None

Out:
S. Sane (sp)(mid) (AS Nancy Lorraine), Modeste (sp)(att) (SC Bastia – loan), Krychowiak (mid) (Stade de Reims), Savic (sp)(def) (SG Dynamo Dresden – loan), Chevalier (mid) (GFC Ajaccio – loan), Sala (US Orléans – loan)

Bordeaux endured a season of transition last term but finished strongly and only just missed out on the European places. Having impressed late in the last campaign, they’ll be eager to improve their level again and push higher even this season under Francis Gillot, whose primary task last time around was simply to steady a ship that was threatening to sink. He did this using a 3-5-2 formation that he admitted was against his usual attacking instincts, and it’s likely that at some point in this campaign he will attempt to move away from this out-moded setup to something more to his taste. If the new system does not work, he will always have this tactic to fall back on. Remarkably, their squad has gone virtually untouched over the summer, with no major players leaving or arriving. Key midfielder Jaroslav Plasil has confessed that he may seek a move from the club at some point, and if he were to depart before the September 4 deadline that would represent a big blow to their efforts this season. He is an offensive catalyst and a solid defensive player and is probably the key element in the side. Further forward, Yoan Gouffran is an often-lamented talent, yet he has performed well on the whole for the club and boasted an impressive scoring record last term. He will again be seen as their key source of goals this time around. Much of his supply comes from the wide areas, where wing-backs Mariano and Benoit Tremoulinas are standout performers. Both are highly energetic and highly effective. In the heart of the defence, Bordeaux can be a little slow and over-reliant on their physical attributes, but behind the central defenders, they boast Cedric Carrasso, who is one of the strongest goalkeepers in the league. They finished last season well, and they will expect to go well this term too.

Target:
Bordeaux will aim to build on last season’s positive effort, and European football is the ultimate goal. They could surprise some people.

Lille OSC

In:
Kalou (att) (Chelsea) Martin (mid) (FC Sochaux-Montbéliard), Elana (gk) (Stade Brestois 29), Sidibe (def) (ESTAC Troyes), Klonaridis (AEK Athens)

Out:
Hazard (k)(att) (Chelsea), Cole (sp)(mid) (Liverpool – loan ends), Cetto (r)(def) (Palermo – loan ends)

Lille finished third in Ligue 1 last term, and they’ll be aiming to secure a hat-trick of podium finishes this time around. Head coach Rudi Garcia has proven himself an extremely shrewd operator in the transfer window, with les Dogues posting a huge profit from the sale of Eden Hazard to Chelsea. Of course the Belgian was the key man in the Lille side, but they were more than just him, and there is still immense quality in this squad. So far they’ve managed to retain all of their other key men, although right-back Mathieu Debuchy is pushing for a move to England against the wishes of the club. In the place of Hazard, Lille have added three players of quality, also making up for the loss of Joe Cole, who was not retained after his loan. Salomon Kalou arrives on a free transfer from Chelsea, while Marvin Martin will aim to get his career back on track after it stalled somewhat last season. Klondaris is a hot young prospect from Greece that Lille hope is the next Hazard, but he will certainly not have the same immediate impact. Further back, improvements have also been made, but as Mauro Cetto’s loan has ended, Lille are in the market for another central defender. Sidibe will be a valuable addition in the right-back slot, bringing depth and potential after his time from Troyes, while there will be a real scrap over the goalkeeping jersey as Steeve Elana has joined from Brest, where he proved himself as one of the best in the league. It is hard to imagine that either he or Mickael Landreau will be on the bench next season, while Nigeria international Vincent Enyeama will be third choice unless he leaves the club, which is expected. Lille’s slow but gradual evolution of their side continues, and each season they appear to come through equally as strong. They should remain an exciting attacking team as they have a host of offensive options, while their defensive line is often under-rated.

Target:
Now established as one of France’s elite, Lille are equipped to finish as high as second in the league, and this should be imminently achievable, despite the loss of Hazard.

Lorient

In:
Traore (mid) (Auxerre), Giuly (mid) (Monaco)

Out:
Douniama (sp)(att) (AC Arles Avignon – loan), Diarra (r)(mid) (AC Ajaccio), Campbell (sp)(att) (Arsenal – loan return), Doukoure (att) (SA Epinal)

Lorient have typically been a model of stability in their most recent appearance in Ligue 1, which has last half a decade, but last season Yoann Gourcuff’s side were forced to battle against relegation for the first time seriously. Injuries ravaged the Breton side, with many of their top performers cut down, and as a result, they were unable to accelerate in the manner that they would have wanted. This summer, they’ve retained their canny stance in the transfer window and have not panicked because of last term’s poor performance. Sigamary Diarra, who never showed his strongest form last season after recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, has departed for Ajaccio, but on the other hand, Lorient’s starting midfield has been strengthened. FCL have taken advantage of the freedom Ludovic Giuly has to sign the veteran winger, who will probably act as something of a wildcard, but they’ve also broken the bank to swoop for Auxerre’s Alain Traore, who will become the heartbeat of their midfield and upon whom much will rely. Offensively, Lorient must improve. They did not show enough offensively last season to shoot themselves away from danger, although there are good finishers in their squad. They must show this more often, and the return to fitness of Julien Quercia should be a big boost after he missed most of last term. Kevin Monnet-Pacquet is a player who must show more out wide, particularly as he is well capable. At the back, Lorient were surprisingly strong last term, and they now have significant depth across their defensive line, meaning that they will be robust against injuries and suspensions. Typically, they’ve been a team to build their success on their home form, using their synthetic home surface to out pass teams. Like last term, they are not as technically sound as they’ve been in the past, but they will certainly hope for a stronger season than last term.

Target:
After nearly being sucked into Ligue 2, a comfortable finish is all Lorient will seek this season.

Montpellier HSC

In:
Herrera (att) (CD Unión Espanola), Mounier (att) (OGC Nice), Congre (def) (Toulouse FC), Charbonnier (att) (Angers SCO)

Out:
Giroud (k)(att) (Arsenal), Dernis (sp)(mid) (Stade Brestois 29), Lacombe (att) (Clermont Foot)

Montpellier surprised everyone in the French game last season as they picked up the Ligue 1 crown, showing remarkable consistency in the second half of the campaign to fend off the challenge of big-spending PSG, who were expected to sweep their way to the title. Rene Girard performed a miracle last term, and he’ll be looking to repeat that effort over the course of the next 10 months, albeit to an even greater degree as the power of the Parisian club has grown. Contrary to expectations, Montpellier have so far managed to preserve their title-winning team, with the exception of Olivier Giroud, who has moved to Arsenal. All the other key elements, such as Younes Belhanda, Marco Estrada, Henri Bedimo and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, remains, although the latter of these players has threatened to move to AC Milan. But Montpellier have not only succeeded in retaining their panel, it’s actually been strengthened, too. Last term they relied upon players not picking up injuries, but this time around they actually have some depth to their panel. Both Gaetan Charbonnier and Herrara have looked good additions to the offensive line, while Anthony Mounier was one of the outstanding wingers in the whole league last term and should make a big impression on joining from Nice, where he shouldered the burden for the entire attack. In the back four, the only big change is the addition of Daniel Congre, who will compete with Hilton to start alongside Yanga-Mbiwa, assuming the youngster remains in France next season. With a great squad spirit and an excellent chemistry between the players, there is little to suggest that la Paillade should not be a strong force in Ligue 1 again in the coming campaign, as they have shown themselves to be strong all over the field.

Target:
Winning the title again would be staggering, but Montpellier are well capable of challenging for a top three finish once more.

Nancy

In:
Grange (mid) (Châteauroux), Ayasse (mid) (AC Arles Avignon), Louis (mid) (Le Mans FC), Muratori (def), Dampha (def) (Neuchâtel Xamax FC), Zenke (att) (Samsunspor)

Out:
Traore (r)(mid) (AC Milan), Jeannot (att) (Châteauroux – loan), Calve (def) (SM Caen), Niculae (att) (AS Monaco FC – loan return), Cuvillier (mid) (SM Caen – loan), Lemaitre (sp)(def), Zola (mid) (Havre AC), Pillot (gk)

Of all the clubs in Ligue 1, no team has overseen a greater transition of players than Nancy. This widespread change is a risky tactic for a team who actually performed rather well under Jean Fernandez last season after a tricky start to the campaign. Perhaps only one important player has been lost, though, with Bakaye Traore, a particular influence in the second half of the season, going to AC Milan on a free transfer. Many of the other players to go were only at the club on loan or were on the fringes of the squad. Equally, Nancy’s squad depth may have increased, but the quality of their panel has not taken a significant jump. Thomas Ayasse will play the role of Traore this season as the dynamic attacking midfielder, but he’s thus far not been successful in the top flight previously, and Fernandez is set to gamble on several such players to fill his panel for the season ahead. The highly-regarded Romain Grange is another midfielder in this position, along with Jeff Louis, who is likely to be the least used of this trio. In terms of the starting XI, there will be few changes made by the coach. Once again solidarity at the back will be paramount, but Nancy were more attacking last season than many had anticipated, with the capture of attacker Yohan Mollo, who has now joined permanently, playing a key role in this. Ultimately, though, it will be the performance of the defence that determines their success this season. They are strong at the back and well organised, with goalkeeper Guy Ndy Assembe having proved himself a strong shot-stopper, if a little erratic from crossed balls. With a powerful defence in front of him, which is marshalled primarily by Andre Luiz, this weakness is often not easily exposed. At home, Nancy play on a synthetic surface, but they are typically a very direct team who thrive on hitting sides on the counterattack; taking the scalp of PSG in such a manner last term.

Target:
Nancy are a team firmly established in Ligue 1, and they’ll expect another mid-table finish this season.

Nice

In:
Bautheac (att) (Dijon FCO), Traore (mid) (FC Metz – loan return), Genevois (mid) (Tours FC), Delle (gk) (FC Metz), Kolodzieczak (def) (Olympique Lyonnais)

Out:
Goncalves (sp)(att) (Rio Ave), Mounier (k)(mid) (Montpellier Hérault SC), Mouloungui (r)(att) (Al Wahda), Hellebuyck (mid), Sable (sp)(mid), Clerc (r)(def) (AS Saint-Etienne), Diakite (sp)(mid), Veronese (gk) (FC Istres)

Nice have spent recent seasons battling against the threat of demotion from France’s top flight, but former Olympique Lyonnais head coach Claude Puel arrived at the Stade du Ray in the summer with a very different mindset. Over the course of his contract, the ex-Lille boss has suggested that he could see les Aiglons reach the Champions League, and if that’s to be achieved, the first steps must be taken this season. Nice may have seen a cut in their budget, but their squad appears to have been reinforced cleverly in the crucial areas. Going forward, Anthony Mounier was Nice’s only significant threat last season. He has been offloaded to Lille in the summer, giving Puel a clean slate to work from. Ajax striker Darío Cvitanich has been added to the club’s roster and should finally provide them with a centre-forward presence that has been missing since Loic Remy was sold to Marseille. In the midfield, too, Nice appear to have bolstered their team cleverly. Eric Bautheac will be a vital attacking presence from this sector after a fine and somewhat under-rated season with Dijon. At the back, there were never any issues about the quality of les Aiglons’ defence. Renato Civelli and Nemanja Pejcinovic are a well-established centre-back pairing, while Lucas Monzon in the left-back slot is not only a threat from set pieces, he is also one of the outstanding players in his role in France. They have done well to keep hold of Monzon over the course of the summer, and also goalkeeper David Ospina, who was courted by larger clubs. These players will form the basis of the long-term success of the club this season, but much relies on their success to replace Mounier. If Nice can find some cutting edge, they will be dangerous indeed, particularly under Puel, who is a coach known for being able to marshal defences.

Target:
Comfortable survival would be seen as a good season for Le Gym.

Olympique Lyonnais

In:
None

Out:
Ederson (sp)(mid) (Lazio), Kallstrom (r)(mid) (FC Spartak Moscow), Yattara (ESTAC Troyes – loan), Mensah (def), Touncara (gk) (Clermont Foot), Kolodzieczak (def), Seguin (def) (Tours FC), Fontaine (def) (Tours FC)

With only a week remaining before the start of the Ligue 1 season, Olympique Lyonnais are in the remarkable position of being one of the only clubs not to have made a signing. Like fellow heavyweights Marseille, Lyon have been forced to tighten their belts financially, and if they are going to add to their squad, it is likely that they are going to have to first make some sales. High earners will be the players pushed through the door as the change to a focus on youth at Stade Gerland continues. In terms of high profile players to depart the club, Ederson has gone to Lazio on a free transfer, but by far a greater loss to the first team will be Kim Kallstrom, who was always a quietly effective presence in the heart of the team. There is no experienced replacement for the Swede, and therefore head coach Remi Garde will be forced to rely upon a youth academy which was rated the third best in France last year. This will be the case all over the field, particularly as Michel Bastos is set to leave, with Hugo Lloris’ future distinctly uncertain. It would be a huge blow for Lyon to lose players of such calibre all at once, with the goalkeeper showing his worth with a sparkling performance as OL defeated Montpellier to lift the Trophee des Champions. President Jean-Michel Aulas still talks confidently of the future of the club, and it would be easy to play down the quality Lyon still posses. There is perhaps no deadlier striker in Ligue 1 than Lisandro Lopez, while Bafetimbi Gomis remains. Yoann Gourcuff will be given more responsibility after two poor seasons, and he is liable to dictate whether OL’s season is to be a roaring success or not. The biggest problem remains in the centre of the defence, which has been weak for a whole year now. Cris is old and failing, while Dejan Lovren comes into this season struggling. On the flanks, OL are far from secure, and Aly Cissokho is another player who could leave. If their youths cannot come good and injuries strike, Lyon will suffer problems.

Target:
President Jean-Michel Aulas has targeted a top-three finish, but on paper this Lyon side is not one of the best in France. Matching last season’s fourth would be a solid effort.

Olympique Marseille

In:
Raspentino (att) (Nantes)

Out:
Brandao (sp)(att), Traore (sp)(def), Sabo (sp)(def), Andrade (gk)

Marseille have endured perhaps the most traumatic summer of any club in France’s top flight. OM lost head coach Didier Deschamps and announced that there would be no significant money available to add to their squad before struggling badly in their pre-season friendlies. When it finally came time for play, they started reasonably in the Europa League by scoring a 1-1 draw away against Eskisehirspor. Although no definitive conclusions about Marseille’s season can yet be drawn, the evidence would suggest it will be a struggle. The appointment of Elie Baup to replace the popular Deschamps was largely met with derision from the club’s fans. Although he lifted the French title previously with Bordeaux, he is remembered for his time with Toulouse, where his side were incredibly dour, and also Nantes, whom he allowed to be relegated, never to return. What’s more, there is tension within the squad. Andre Ayew and Jordan Ayew have both been involved in spats with their team-mates over the course of pre-season, and the tension has not been relieved any by fresh additions. Indeed, the only player to be signed by OM this summer has been Florian Raspentino, who is an attacking prospect to arrive from Nantes. Although he has enjoyed a good pre-season, he cannot be expected to play any more than a bit-part role this term. In an attempt to cut the wage bill of their side, Marseille have allowed some fringe players to go, the most prominent of whom are Brandao and Djimi Traore. It seems that they will rely on a healthy youth system to replace these men, although this in itself is something of a gamble. After drawing in Turkey in the Europa League, the squad spoke buoyantly and confidently about what the future may hold, but after such a disastrous conclusion to last term, no further investment and a downgrading of coaching, it is easy to see Marseille slipping back into a mid-table position next term. With the squad they have, they are capable of better, but they will have to tread carefully in the transfer market.

Target:
Marseille’s aim is always Champions League football, but the way the club is at the moment, top five would be considered a decent effort. This would not be accepted by the fans, though.

Paris St Germain

In:
Ibrahimovic (att) (AC Milan), Thiago Silva (def) (AC Milan), Lavezzi (mid) (SS. Napoli), Verratti (mid) (Pescara)

Out:
Ceara (def), Bahebeck (mid) (ESTAC Troyes – loan), Ngoyi (mid) (ESTAC Troyes), Salamone (gk) (Evian TG FC)

Paris Saint-Germain have been catching the headlines in the French media for the last year since the takeover of QSI, but this was stepped up a level further over the course of the summer as their spending and profile reached new heights. Runners-up under Carlo Ancelotti last season, the Qatari-owned club have set themselves up not only to go one better in the league, but also to perform strongly in Europe. The arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the big news this summer, yet the Swedish striker, who is widely renowned as one of the best in the game, was only the club’s third biggest signing. Ezequiel Lavezzi will come into an offensive line riddled with talent, while Thiago Silva, the best defender in the world according to many, was added for €42 million to strengthen a defence that was an Achilles heel of the team previously. Both Ibrahimovic and Silva have worked previously with Ancelotti and will know what to expect. PSG’s advantages over their rivals are huge, with a budget estimated as being more than twice as large as their nearest competitors, and their squad is now the match of any in Europe, both in terms of quality and depth. Vying with Lavezzi and Ibrahimovic for attacking berths are Nene, Jeremy Menez, Javier Pastore and France internationals Guillaume Hoarau and Kevin Gameiro, both of whom could depart the club before the end of the transfer window due to a potential lack of opportunities. Their talent pool all over the field is as deep, and many commentators have suggested that if they had two sides, both could finish in France’s top five. Perhaps their only problems could come from within. Infighting and lack of satisfaction over game time could upset the rhythm of the team, while the new arrivals could take Ligue 1 too lightly after playing in Italy over the last few years. Without complacency, and assuming the new players can gel in even remotely quickly, it’s difficult to see anyone unseating PSG this time around.

Target:
Anything less than the title and a good run in the Champions League will be seen as a below-par effort.

Reims

In:
Fauvergue (att) (CS Sedan), Toudic (att) (RC Lens – loan), Fofana (def) (Toulouse FC), Krychowiak (mid) (Girondins de Bordeaux), Signorino (def) (Stade Lavallois), Devaux (mid) (Toulouse FC)

Out:
Faure (r)(att) (EA Guingamp), Amalfitano (r)(mid) (Newcastle United FC), Tainmont (sp)(def) (Châteauroux), Deaux (sp)(mid) (FC Nantes), Fontaine (sp)(mid) (FC Rouen 1899), Collet (mid), Aubey (def), Kodjia (gk) (Amiens – loan)

Reims were once one of the heavyweights of European football, almost attaining the pinnacle of European football in the 1950s, and after a spell out of the spotlight, they have returned to the top level of the French game. Hubert Fournier led his team to an unexpected top three finish last term in spite of a relatively small budget. Although the coach has had his hands freed to spend a little more this summer, these sums are dwarfed by many of the teams around his, and a battle against relegation would appear to be on the cards. Fournier has gambled by signing Nicolas Fauvergue from Sedan, a player around which he will build his offence. Although he was a highly-reliable goal scorer in Ligue 2, Fauvergue flopped previously while Lille, but the coach will hope the young striker has matured enough to make a success of his second go at Ligue 1. It will be vital he is able to establish himself successfully. Reims do have other talented players, of course. Kamel Ghilas will float just behind the central striker and would be expected to be their top scorer, even from the No.10 position. Out wide, Odair Fortes is exceptionally quick but sometimes wasteful, and will have to raise his level for this challenge. Midfield will be a crucial area for the newly promoted club, and they’ve strengthened accordingly, shedding Lucas Deaux and adding Gregorz Krychowiak and Antoine Deveaux – two very canny signings. Perhaps where they are most vulnerable, though, is in defence, which was an area that looked uncertain at times even a level down. Franck Signorino is added to add experience, while Mohamed Fofana arrives from Toulouse to supply muscle. A lack of depth all over the team will be a big handicap if injuries and suspensions strike the squad, although last season they showed themselves to be a physically reliable team who were mentally sound too. After basing their success on their home form last season, they will again have to excel at the Stade August Delaune.

Target:
Avoiding relegation will be tricky for Reims, and this is what their attention is focussed on.

Saint Etienne

In:
Hamouma (mid) (SM Caen), Cohade (mid) (Valenciennes FC), Clerc (def) (OGC Nice)

Out:
Sinama-Pongolle (sp)(att) (Sporting CP – loan return), Marchal (r)(def) (SC Bastia), Batlles (sp)(mid), Janot (sp)(gk) (Le Mans FC), Ebondo (sp)(def), Ravet (att) (Angers SCO – loan), Nery (sp)(def) (Valenciennes FC), Paulao (sp)(def) (Betis)

Saint-Etienne coach Christophe Galtier may have seen his budget cut marginally in the lead up to the new campaign, but ASSE go into the season with quiet confidence that they are building a team capable of threatening the European places. Galtier has done a strong job so far at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, leading the club to consecutive top 10 finishes. Although going a step further may be a little beyond the club’s capabilities, it is a fair aim for a capable squad. Losing Florent Sinama-Pongolle, one of their top earners on loan from Sporting CP, has allowed the club to invest wisely in Ligue 1-proven talent such as Renaud Cohade, who will become the fulcrum of the midfield having previously excelled at Valenciennes. Even the loss of Sylvain Marchal in the heart of the defence has been adequately covered by the present depth of the squad, and most starkly the emergence of teenage defender Kurt Zouma, who has been tipped as one of the outstanding teenagers to watch in the French game. Going forward, Saint-Etienne’s play is marked by quick attacking breaks, personified best by the talents of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose ability to refine his finishing last season was one of the factors that lifted in to the realms of a feared top-flight forward. Max Gradel’s performances on the wing in pre-season suggest that he could be a real presence in Ligue 1 this term, while in the midfield, Sainte are also well armed. Jeremy Clement and Fabien Lemoine are two players excellent at providing the legwork while Cohade plays, and that’s not even taking into account Josuha Guilavogui, a quickly-developing dynamic central player. Les Verts are not expected to have any one particular weakness in their play, although their team as a whole is not quite up to the level of the best in France. A lack of guile can be evident at times, while their defence has not been hard-nosed enough in the past, despite the presence of excellent goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier, who enjoyed a magnificent debut campaign.

Target:
Strides are being made under Christophe Galtier, and Sainte will be aiming for Europe. Realistically, this will be a little beyond them.

SC Bastia

In:
Ilan (att) (AC Ajaccio), Marchal (def) (AS Saint-Etienne), Palmieri (FC Istres), Modeste (att) (Girondins de Bordeaux), Yatabare (mid) (AS Monaco FC), Bonnefoi (gk) (Angers), Varenne (Cournon)

Out:
Diallo (k)(mid) (Stade Rennais FC) Genest (sp)(mid) (FC Istres), Suarez (sp)(att) (AC Arles Avignon), Periatambee (mid), Robail (sp)(mid) (Nîmes Olympique), Sanaia (sp)(def)

Bastia handily won Ligue 2 last season, and this time around they’ll hold high hopes of establishing themselves in France’s top flight. The Corsican outfit were by some distance the classiest offensive outfit last term, boasting talented players such as Jerome Rothen, whose experience and talent proved to be too much for their rivals. This time around, life will not be so simple. At home, they will aim to replicate the unbeaten performances that were the bedrock of their success last time. Losing exciting offensive midfielder Sadio Diallo, who provided firepower from long range, will be something of a blow for the Bastia, but otherwise David Suarez is the only other really meaningful player to depart. Coming into the team, though, they have a nice blend of youth and experience. Ilan will bolster their offensive line, bringing considerable knowhow to the attack, while Sylvain Marchal’s arrival will add experience to the heart of the defence. There are also some fresh faces who arrive, including Anthony Modeste, who remains a desired striker despite a poor record in the top flight. Additionally, former Monaco midfielder Sambou Yatabare arrives with a point to prove after two disappointing seasons, though he is a player of immense potential still. The rearguard may not be an area of particular concern, but there were weaknesses exposed in this aspect of their play away from home last season, meaning that Bastia lost half the time they played on the road. Head coach Frederic Hantz must find a formula that allows them to be more competitive on the road if they are to thrive, and that may mean adopting a more defensive system that is against his natural instincts. Hantz does have experience in the top flight previously, and this is likely to be vital for his side as the season develops.

Target:
Bastia will seek to avoid the drop, and they are the best placed of the promoted sides to achieve this.

Sochaux

In:
Yartey (att) (SL Benfica), Contout (att) (AJ Auxerre), Kante (def) (Panathinaikos), Pouplin (gk) (SC Fribourg), Doubai (mid) (Udinese Calcio), Daf (def) (Stade Brestois 29)

Out:
Martin (k)(mid) (LOSC Lille), Maiga (r)(att) (West Ham), Richert (k)(gk), Brechet (k)(def), Davies (att)

Sochaux had to battle against relegation until the very last day of the season, but one of Ligue 1’s most historic clubs managed to scramble themselves to safety just when it mattered. Mecha Bazdarevic’s appointment as coach last summer proved to be a disastrous move, and it was not until Eric Hely took the reins near the end of the campaign that they finally started to look a team of standard. However, an opportunity to develop the club was crucially lost, with the talents of Ryad Boudebouz and Marvin Martin forced to stagnate for much of the campaign. Martin has departed the club for Lille, and although Boudebouz remains, it is expected that he will fly to one of Ligue 1’s big guns over the remainder of the transfer window. Other experienced players have gone, too. Modibo Maiga, an enigmatic but effective striker, has gone to England, while veteran defender Jeremie Brechet has left the club. The baton will be passed to new members of the youth academy to take over, with the likes of Joseph Lopy excelling under Hely’s guidance towards the end of last season. But les Lionceaux are not a team who will rely on youth alone. Sebastien Roudet has the potential to be a Ligue 1 playmaker of some note, yet this was not evident in his performances under Bazdarevic last season. During the summer the club have acted to attract several fresh faces, but many of these are relative unknowns in the world of Ligue 1, and it remains to be seen how effectively they can settle into their new surrounds – something that will almost certainly act to define Sochaux’s campaign. Yartey is the most intriguing of their new additions, but players such as Simon Pouplin and Cedric Kante, who are returning to Ligue 1 after stints away, should certainly serve to bolster the side very much. Auxerre’s Roy Contout also arrives, though he is notoriously frustrating.

Target:
After going close to the drop last season, avoiding relegation is key. With this squad, they should achieve that, but making inroads into the top 10 will be difficult.

Stade Brestois

In:
Traore (def) (CS Sedan), Benschop (att) (AZ Alkmaar), Thebaux (gk) (SM Caen), Chafni (mid) (Auxerre), Mendy (OB Odense), Dernis (Montpellier Hérault SC), Sissoko (Udinese Calcio – loan)

Out:
Poyet (sp)(att) (SM Caen), Zebina (k)(def) (Toulouse FC), Gentiletti (sp)(def) (Argentinos juniors, ARG), Jemaa (sp)(att) (Auxerre), Elana (k)(gk) (LOSC), Ewolo (sp)(mid) (Stade Lavallois), Daf (r)(def) (FC Sochaux-Montbéliard), Bigne (mid)

Brest just avoided relegation last season as Courentins Martin took the reins at the last minute from the sacked Alex Dupont and steered the Breton club to safety. Martin, however, will not remain in charge of first-team affairs, with Landry Chauvin taking charge. Chauvin has pushed for promotion into the top flight with Nantes and Sedan unsuccessfully in recent times, so it is something of a gamble appointing him, particularly as he represents something of a departure from the dull, defensive football that has been so synonymous with the Stade Francis Le Ble club over the course of the last two seasons. They have been incredibly difficult to beat, particularly at home, and this is something that Chauvin must maintain in this side if they are to thrive this term. There has been a big turnover of players in the summer months, but so far it seems that they have failed to solve their goalscoring problems. Alexandre Alphonse was expected to provide some firepower after arriving in January but has largely failed to contribute, though with Kamel Chafni signed to provide some creativity in the No.10 role or out wide, more opportunities should be forthcoming. Brest were incredibly reliant on set pieces to produce them goals last season, though in Bruno Grougi they have arguably Ligue 1’s deadliest player over direct free kicks. He is no slouch when it comes to delivering corners or free kicks, either. Geoffrey Dernis, meanwhile, has been added to provide stability, depth and experience alongside him in the midfield. Keystone defender Jonathan Zebina may have opted to make a Bosman move to Toulouse and excellent goalkeeper Steeve Elana may have fled to Lille, but Brest have reinforced an already strong rearguard. Ismael Traore arrives from Sedan, where Chauvin knew him well, while goalkeeper Alevxis Thebault was perhaps the league’s most under-rated in his position last season, when he could not help Caen avoid the drop.

Target:
Brest will be amongst the sides fighting for survival, but a lack of goals could really cost them.

Stade Rennais

In:
Alessandrini (mid) (CS Sedan), Diallo (mid) (SC Bastia)

Out:
Mangane (r)(def) (Al-Hilal), Doumbia (sp)(mid) (Wolverhampton – loan), Dalmat (mid) (Nîmes Olympique), Hadji (sp)(att) (Al-Arabi), Carrasso (sp)(gk) (FC Metz),Rouger (mid) (EA Guingamp – loan), Boyer (mid) (Angers SCO), N’Diaye (gk)

Rennes were one of the great underachievers of last season, failing to grab a European spot despite boasting a panel of players that was perhaps capable of challenging the top three or four in the league. The Breton club started the campaign explosively but quickly faded, leading to rumours that head coach Frederic Antonetti could be sacked, yet he remains in charge heading into the fresh campaign. Les Rouge et Noir will expect a significant improvement and a Europa League spot will be a requirement for a team known for failing against lower league opposition in the cups – as they did crucially twice last season. Yann M’Vila has made most of the headlines this summer as he has not yet left the club, and it’s still unclear what the future holds for the holding midfielder, who has rather gone out of frashion after a difficult conclusion to last term. He may not be the all-action midfielder held up in the media, but he is a very steady performer and could still be a giant influence for Rennes on his day. It’s going forward where Rennes’ greatest inconsistencies show. Jonathan Pitroipa is potentially outstanding, but can just as easily flop, and he is the embodiment of an offensive line that lacks any continuity. Antonetti is partly to blame for this as the squad is too big and often means he rotates his panel unnecessarily, although this should not be such a big problem this term given that Rennes will not be in Europe. Some trimming has already been done, although it has not been as extensive as envisaged earlier this summer. Kader Mangane is one of the leaders gone from the defence, but the likes of Jean-Armel Kana-Biyik, who has been attracting interest from AC Milan, and Romain Danze, who was linked with a move away from the club, remain. Goalkeeper Benoit Costil proved himself one of the league’s most reliable last term and will be a good base from which the rest of the squad can be constructed from.

Target:
Anything less than a European finish will see the end of Antonetti. They have been too inconsistent in recent times to expect a top six spot, though.

Toulouse

In:
Zebina (def) (Brest), Blondel (gk) (ESTAC)

Out:
Congre (r)(def) (Montpellier Hérault SC), Bulut (sp)(att) (Galatasaray – loan), Fofana (sp)(def) (Stade de Reims), Riou (sp)(gk) (FC Nantes), Deveaux (sp)(mid) (Stade de Reims), Loustallout (gk) (Rodez), Soukouna (att) (US Luzenac – loan)

Toulouse achieved an impressive campaign in Ligue 1 last time out, despite failing to achieve European football. Alain Casanova’s side might have been a rather dour outfit to watch – a claim that the coach vehemently denied in spite of damning evidence to the contrary – but they were certainly effective, and at their best they were rather devastating. Matching that performance will be their aim this season. In terms of players they have lost, Daniel Congre will be the key man from the defensive line. A versatile performer, he was important in one of the league’s strongest back fours. On the other hand, le Tefece have done well to instead recruit veteran Jonathan Zebina, who provided Brest with sterling service last term and who can be equally influential with the Garonne outfit this time around. Troublingly, no strides have been made to improve an offensive line that was too reliant on set pieces to produce goals last season. Emmanuel Riviere remains, and he will be expected to do more to justify the €4 million fee that was given to Saint-Etienne 12 months ago. In the midfield, Toulouse remain exceptionally solid. Etienne Capoue was arguably the best holding midfielder in the whole league last season and was courted by Arsenal and Barcelona over the summer, and again forms the fulcrum of the whole side – assuming there is no last-minute transfer activity. On the left side, Franck Tabanou is a player that Toulouse have done exceptionally well to hold on to for the last two years and who will provide much of the expected creativity from the midfield. Toulouse are dangerous down both flanks but are let down by their lack of consistent centre-forward threat and the fact that they do not have a high level playmaker who is trusted by the coach. Casanova’s side should be expected to be well disciplined, but they will produce few fireworks, with low scoring games regular.

Target:
Matching last term’s success will be the aim, but realistically they will be in the mid-table mix and could well finish closer to the bottom of the standings than the top.

Troyes

In:
Yattara (mid) (Olympique Lyonnais – loan), Nivet (mid) (SM Caen), Darbion (mid) (Skoda Xanthi FC), Dreyer (gk) (Fréjus), Gope-Fenepej (def) (AS Magenta), Bahebeck (mid) (Paris Saint-Germain – loan), Ngoyi (mid) (Paris Saint-Germain)

Out:
Caceres (r)(att) (Dijon FCO – loan), Beauvue (sp)(mid) (Châteauroux), Sidibe (r)(def) (LOSC Lille), Blondel (r)(gk) (Toulouse FC)

Troyes sneaked into Ligue 1 in the closing weeks last term, finishing third in Ligue 2 after an epic battle that involved nearly half the league. No team in the whole of the league was more difficult to beat that Jean-Marc Furlan’s outfit, and they’ll be aiming to be just as stubborn when they feature in the top flight. After scoring a paltry 45 goals last season, they’ll need to make a big improvement in front of goal. Given their summer signings, a dramatic change would be surprising as they have failed as yet to add to their striking panel. Offensive midfielder Stephane Darbion will join Troyes’ ranks along with Benjamin Nivet, whose contributions were brief but often profound for Caen last season as he enters the twilight of his career with a club that he knows well. Jean-Christophe Bahebeck has joined from PSG, yet his arrival is very recent and it will take him time to bed in. In any case, he has not looked ready for the rigours of regular top-flight football during his few appearances. Otherwise, their changes have largely been of the defensive variety. Grandi Ngoyi will add steel to the midfield after joining from PSG, having starred for Nantes in Ligue 2 last term, but otherwise the squad has been depleted at the back, where it was strongest. Djibril Sidibe, their exciting right-back, has left for Lille, while reliable goalkeeper Olivier Blondel has left for Toulouse. Yohann Thuram-Ulien remains, and though he’s shown some potential, starting the season with him as a first choice is a risky business indeed. There is still some real strength at the back still, but this is sure to be pushed to the limit over the course of the season as their reliance on this area of the team would appear likely to be total. Unless they can strengthen significantly, a long season would appear to be in store.

Target:
Troyes will be favourites for relegation, with their offensive weaknesses a particular worry. Safety is their aim.

Valenciennes

In:
Nery (def) (Saint-Etienne)

Out:
Carlos Sanchez (k)(mid) (Bolton Wanderers FC), Cohade (r)(mid) (AS Saint-Etienne), Pallois (def) (Chamois Niortais), Traore (sp)(def) (Stade Lavallois)

Valenciennes have been permanent strugglers against relegation since their promotion to France’s top level half a decade ago, and for the northern club there is likely to be no dramatic change in their fortunes heading into this campaign. For a period under Philippe Montanier and Antoine Kombouare they had anchored themselves in the heart of the table, but last term under Daniel Sanchez was something of a step backwards, and it was only in the closing weeks of the campaign that their survival was assured. Sanchez achieved a par score last season for his performance, but failure to do so again this term will result in relegation. VA’s task does not look easy either. Their midfield has been picked apart, with the departures of Renaud Cohade and Carlos Sanchez potentially very damaging. Gael Danic remains but has a high level of expectation to match. Further forward, VA will need striker Gregory Pujol to remain fit if they’re to launch a serious challenge for early safety. The striker has been a fulcrum of their attack for several seasons, and his presence on the sidelines due to injury last season was one of the major reasons they often struggled. At times, they can be a very exciting attacking force, with young attacker Vincent Aboubakar certainly a player to watch because of his speed and dynamism. At the back, improvements must be made. Nicolas Isimat was a strong performer last term and will be expected to perform to such a standard again this season, while Gil should be more secure after a difficult start to life in France. On the left side of the defence, Gaetan Bong is a potentially outstanding performer, yet he could be shifted on to another club before the close of the transfer window. Over the summer, VA have weakened significantly in their midfield, and it is how the newly-constructed central area copes that will have the key determining factor on their season.

Target:
Losing some key members of their squad leaves Valenciennes vulnerable to the drop, and any position in safety has to be their target.