Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Whither Montpellier?

The transfer window is swinging gently in the breeze, Giroud has relocated to the Francophone enclave that is Arsenal FC, LouLou has come over all sensible (for now) about the target for next season, and René  Girard is seeking to apply the rumoured €15m received for Ligue 1's best striker last year in doubling up in a couple of areas to prepare for fighting on several fronts in 2012/13 including, alleluia, the Champions League.

So far, MHSC have added winger Anthony Mounier (€3.5m) from Nice, striker Gaetan Charbonnier (€1.5m) from Angers, and defender Daniel Congré  (tbc) from Toulouse.  Several loanees are back, the most likely of which to feature next season should be Bengali Fode Koita (4 sub appearances before going to Lens in January), and there are rumours that striker Emmanuel Herrera will be coming in from Union Espanola in Chile.

Having trawled through the full list of L'Equipe's team formations by match, the usual starting team (number of starts in brackets) for MHSC in 2011/12 was:

With apologies for playing the RB so far forward, but I couldn't fit them in on a single line. And the holding mids might be the wrong way around a bit. Anyway.

The key position to cover will of course be the CF - Camara and Utaka stood in once apiece when Olive was on the naughty step, but both have their own preferred positions, and with Dernis having moved on to Brest, Camara's claim on the right would presumably solidify.  Charbonnier claimed on signing that he would be happy to be a back-up striker, but that was before the Giroud deal was closed; if Herrera comes in, and/or Victor Hugo Montaño comes back (another rumour), that would look like a shared position. The purchase of Mounier, a left-winger, might suggest that Utaka could move to the CF position but it seems more likely that they will cover the left between them; a further covering option for either side would be Karim Ait-Fana (5 starts left, 2 right, 5 subs at both), and Montpellier's very own Lolcat Remy Cabella can slot in as well (5 starts right, 13 subs across the park).

In central midfield, Belhanda is the obvious first choice but Cabella has covered there in CAN / ban situations.  Girard has also, where necessary, moved to a 4-3-3 playing all three of his most-used holders (Estrada, Saihi, Marveaux) as the middle three.  Stambouli's versatility comes in useful here, starting and subbing on both as holding mid and centre back, and Romain Pitau (35, having agreed a one-year extension) is available also.

At the back, the go-to four are Bedimo, Hilton, Yanga-Mbiwa and Bocaly; Hilton moving across to cover for his captain, Stambouli / El-Kaoutari slotting in for him, and Cyril Jeunechamp covering both full-back positions as necessary.  The purchase of Congré gave rise to concerns that Mapou might be off to pastures new - nothing is confirmed as yet, but rumour has it he has signed an extension on his contract (otherwise due to end next year): if he stays, this would allow for more rotation in multiple competitions; if he goes, Congré is a good replacement, and can also play at right-back.  If Bedimo goes, as is also rumoured, despite only signing last summer, that could be a bigger problem - Jeunechamp has extended his contract for another season but he's not getting any younger (36), so having an alternative at LB would appear necessary anyway. 

LouLou recently set out his suspiciously reasonable targets for 2012/13 - top five or six in the league, 'pourquoi pas une petite coupe', finishing third in the CL group and going into the Europa League.  Given some of his previous pronouncements, this restraint is a little surprising, but having actually gone and bloody won the title, MHSC are no longer the annoying kid kicking the big boys on the shins and running away; they've got something to defend - and lose - now.

So, while most focus is rightly on replacing Giroud up front, I would also like to see alternative back-up at the left side of defence - if no more preferred starters leave, that would give options in every position and the flexibility of younger players such as Stambouli, Cabella, and Ait-Fana who have not been, until now, majority starters will be very useful.

I will now stand by and watch as the midfield is sold as a package deal to Newcastle, if my predictions history is anything to go by.  When does the window close?