Saint-Etienne find themselves in the unhappy position of being in Ligue 2 for the first time in 19 seasons, having been relegated in a tepid style last term, winning only seven games and conceding 77 goals in the process. With financial problems bubbling in the background and no takeover having been completed, there is a sense that this is a club that is in need of a rebuild.
Fittingly, they have new head coach for the season ahead, with Laurent Batlles appointed after winning promotion into Ligue 1 for Troyes. He made a decent fist of keeping them there, too, before being rather harshly sacked around Christmas. A former Saint-Etienne player, he appears a good fit for this job. He typically plays a style that is unusual, with Troyes playing a lop-sided midfield diamond during his time in charge that was essentially a 3-3-3-1 system. If he follows that pattern, expect Saint-Etienne to be heavily possession based this season.
Naturally, there has been change in the playing staff, too. Much of this has revolved around cutting away the deadwood of the team. A raft of marginalised players have been allowed to leave, while a group who were added on short-term deals have gone too. None of these players will be missed. However, the attack needs a rebuild, with Wahbi Khazri, Romain Hamouma, Arnaud Nordin and Ryad Boudebouz all going. These were essentially their four starters, although Denis Bouanga was their ace last term and so far remains.
Saint-Etienne have not made an addition yet at centre-forward, which is a concern because Charles Abi is probably not good enough to score prolifically even at this level. Jean-Philippe Krasso did a reasonable job with Ajaccio on loan last season but how he fits into Batlles’ system is unclear. They have, however, added some promising attacking midfielders, including Mathieu Cafaro, Dylan Chambost and Victor Lobry.
In defence, too, Saint-Etienne have added players of Ligue 2 knowhow in Anthony Briancon and Jimmy Giraudon.
In sum, Saint-Etienne have the makings of a strong squad and should do well this season.
Saint-Etienne will expect to finish in the top two and return to Ligue 1.