LIGUE 1 PREVIEW | Cup winners Toulouse face European stage with depleted squad

One to watch: Thijs Dallinga – The Dutchman was signed from Excelsior Rotterdam last summer, and came into his own after the turn of the year. He ended the campaign with 18 goals in all competitions, including two in the cup final drubbing of Nantes. 

The 23-year-old is a clinical finisher in the penalty area, and his expertly-timed runs often prove too much for his marker to handle. Ahead of an uncertain season, Dallinga’s eye for goal may be the constant that keeps Toulouse on track.

Key signing: Niklas Schmidt – The former German youth international’s arrival from Werder Bremen has probably been Le Téfécé’s highest-profile transfer of the summer. He helped his formative club return to the top flight, and in his maiden Bundesliga season made 24 appearances, chipping in with three goals as the team finished in mid-table. Schmidt can play both as an attacking midfielder and slightly further back, and at 25 he is already among the elder statesmen in a squad that Les Violets are constantly rejuvenating.

Strength: Toulouse fluctuated wildly between five-goal thrashings and long drought spells in front of goal last season, but the attacking talent in the squad is unquestionable. Beyond Dallinga’s finishing prowess, the fact that both Zakaria Aboukhlal and Farès Chaïbi look set to stay will be a game-changer for the team’s creative department. The two wingers, aged 23 and 20 respectively, notched 23 goals and 12 assists last season put together in all competitions

Weakness: The fact that Toulouse have lost their entire starting midfield (all on free transfer, no less) in one fell swoop will, at the very least, take a few months to recover from. The trio of Stijn Spierings, Branco van den Boomen, and Brecht Dejaegere, the latter having been captain – led the team to two titles in as many years. Their replacements include Vincent Sierro – a January signing from Swiss side Young Boys who is now captain himself – Spanish midfielder César Gelabert, and Venezuela’s Cristian Cásseres. They’ll have little time to forge a cohesive unit before the team starts playing three games a week, and could need even longer to replicate the presence of the Dutch-Belgian trifecta.

Maxime Dupé’s departure on a free transfer for Anderlecht is also a major blow, with the French goalkeeper having been key in Toulouse’s rise from the bottom of Ligue 2 to Europe in his three years there. The 18-year-old Guillaume Restes will take his spot between the sticks – a number one appointment reminiscent of Alban Lafont’s breakthrough at just 16 at the same club. Restes, a French youth international, has yet to make a first-team appearance before this season – he will now be the starting shot-stopper for a team involved in the Europa League. Will he be able to step up to the challenge?

Verdict: It’s not often that a Coupe de France holder, who’ll be playing in the Europa League group stages, starts the season shrouded in this much uncertainty – and perhaps even pessimism. The complete squad overhaul, guided by the club’s trusted data-led approach, sees a new-look squad handed over to a rookie in Carlos Martínez Novell. The Spaniard has not been handed the easiest of assignments for his first stint as head coach – the objective will invariably be to avoid being dragged into a relegation battle, and go toe-to-toe with their opponents in Europe. A return to the continental stage next season would be an even more impressive feat.

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