MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) ever-popular European NAP returns for 2017/18. His first selection arrives from France on Saturday night.
St Etienne v Amiens | Saturday 19th August 2017, 19:00
After eight years in charge at St Etienne, head coach Christophe Galtier stepped down in the summer following their worst Ligue 1 finish (eighth) since 2011. Fans were becoming frustrated with the defence-first football served up and the club agreed to look elsewhere.
Former Brighton boss Oscar Garcia is the new man in charge at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard and has shaken things up. Midfield general Jordan Veretout and Kevin Malcuit were the only significant departures, mind. And the capture of Lois Diony from Dijon should help fill Veretout’s void.
Without European football to worry about, I believe Les Verts can return to the top-six this season, as long as they find the extra yard going forward. Last season St Etienne drew nine home games – 14 in total – costing the club vital points but Garcia should ensure a more forward-thinking approach this time around.
Saturday night’s hosts have began their campaign with back-to-back 1-0 victories over Nice and Caen. Being careful not to change too much too soon, Garcia has kept Les Verts resolute at the back and it’s certainly paid off.
Romain Hamouma’s re-found his form and Jonathan Bamba’s made key contributions to both games whilst ASSE should have been out of sight before half-time away at Caen last weekend. Bossing possession, St Etienne now boast a cutting edge going forward.
Les Verts too good to ignore
I certainly expect St Etienne to win on Saturday night. But I’m going to add Under 3.5 Goals into the mix for odds of 13/10 with BetStars.
Les Verts have W10-D5-L0 when welcoming newly-promoted sides across the past five campaigns with only two of those tussles featuring more than three goals. The hosts have kept 12 (80%) clean sheets in that sample.
Elsewhere, a huge 32/39 (82%) of Stade Geoffroy-Guichard league games have fallen below the 3.5 goals line since the beginning of 2015/16 with 15 of their 18 victories in that period arriving alongside Under 3.5 Goals.
Amiens could struggle
Following back-to-back promotions, Amiens always looked like potentially struggling this season. A 2-0 reverse at PSG on the opening weekend was understandable but a lacklustre 2-0 loss at home to Angers last time out has served as a bit of a wake-up call.
Les Licornes (The Unicorns) were second-best for large swathes of that encounter and could easily have been three goals down before the break. It’s a far cry from the jubilant scenes that greeted their first promotion to France’s top-flight in the club's 116-year history.
A six-game winning streak to conclude their campaign – including a 96th minute goal on the final day – edged Amiens into the automatic promotion places on goal difference. But crucially, Christophe Pelissier’s charges lost top goalscorer Aboubakar Kamara to Fulham during the off-season.
Kamara was their only player to hit double figures last season and while Moussa Konate has arrived from Switzerland this week they remain short in attacking areas and I’m not sure the visitors from the Hauts-de-France will be good enough to successfully compete in the top-flight in their current guise.
St Etienne v Amiens – St Etienne to win and Under 3.5 Goals (11/10 BetStars)