This is part of our 22/23 Ligue 1 Handbook, the ultimate guide to French Football – You can see our end of season predictions and read every team’s profile right here.
Key Man: Branco van den Boomen – With last season’s Ligue 2 top scorer Rhys Healey injured long-term, the importance of Toulouse’s midfield orchestrator, 27-year-old Dutchman Branco van den Boomen, has only grown of late. The technically gifted central organiser became the second tier’s standout player last season thanks to his broad range of passing, pinpoint deliveries from dead-balls and his ability to control the TFC tempo. A major goal threat from free-kicks too, van den Boomen managed an impressive 16 assists in Ligue 2 last season, that was five more than his nearest challenger Youssouf M’Changama of Guingamp, and at least double anyone else. Without Healey, a consistent source of goals will be trickier to find for TFC, but, with van den Boomen and Philippe Montanier’s expansive style, chances certainly won’t be.
Signing To Watch: Zakaria Aboukhlal – Although Dutch second-tier Excelsior’s forward Thijs Dallinga (22) has made an promising start and late-window addition Veljko Birmančević, an attacking midfielder from Malmo, adds quality, Moroccan international forward Zakaria Aboukhlal was TFC’s headline addition in a quiet summer overall. Typically a wide forward, the 22-year-old managed nine league goals in 69 games for AZ Alkmaar, who finished fifth in the Eredivisie last season, after he graduated from PSV’s youth system in 2019. Despite some good European experience and 11 Morocco caps, including four at January’s AFCON, considering the lack of options in the rest of the squad, Aboukhlal’s signing seems odd given he’ll face stiff competition from a host of in-form forwards in the deepest and strongest area of the group – resources might have been better directed elsewhere. However, the Moroccan’s arrival suggests Montanier is considering using a 4-2-3-1 more often than last season.
Transfer Window Analysis – Toulouse enter the new campaign with a very similar squad to their promotion season. Although TFC were comfortably the second tier’s most effective side, they won a weak division, and Montanier had less to work with than Patrice Garande, whose incarnation finished third the year before. Cover for a stable back four is almost non-existent, especially after promising right-back Bafodé Diakité was sold to Lille, while Australian international Denis Genreau is the only reliable option off the bench in midfield. Neither area of the squad received a major addition over the summer. There’s more attacking versatility, however, but Montanier’s squad remains precariously thin, unless TFC plan to trust a raft of promising but largely untested youngsters. However, an eleven which almost picks itself has poise, vision and skill throughout, even if holes could quickly start to appear. Whether Birmančević can replace rapidly developing young forward Nathan N’Goumou’s after his move to Borussia Mönchengladbach remains uncertain.
Strengths – Despite Healey’s importance as a goal threat for Montanier last season, and his injury is a concern for TFC, three others made it into double figures in the league and this TFC team should retain much of its goal threat, aided by van den Boomen and Stijn Spierings as Montanier’s fluid and positive 4-3-3 allows for plenty of chance creation via a trio of midfielders with vision and intelligence. Van den Boomen, himself, managed 12 goals last term, while wide forwards Rafael Ratão and Ado Onaiwu managed 11 and 10 respectively. Winger N’Goumou, who supplanted the skilful pair as Healey’s first choice support act at the end of the campaign, managed eight. However, there will be pressure on untested new signings Birmančević, Dallinga and Aboukhlal to contribute too, but early signs are promising, especially from Dallinga. TFC should be fun to watch this season.
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Weaknesses – So few signings mean that this TFC squad is largely devoid of Ligue 1 experience which could be exposed defensively at this level. Left-back Issiaga Sylla carries the majority of the squad’s top flight appearances but he’s proven a liability in Ligue 1 previously, a loan with Lens also didn’t work out. Goalkeeper Maxime Dupé has seen notable first-team action with Nantes but Toulouse were reportedly worried about his suitability for Ligue 1, despite another solid season, and were looking to replace him at one stage. Valerenga goalkeeper Kjetil Haug has been added as competition. Toulouse’s eclectic recruitment (they’ll likely pick 11 different nationalities at one point this season) has proven deft in recent years, adding starters from varied locations such as Danish football, the J-League and Slovakia to consistent success. However, whether those players are ready for such a jump in quality of opposition here is uncertain.
Verdict – If Montanier can replicate his expansive, attractive style of last season, few will be as enjoyable to watch as Toulouse. They have goals, ingenuity and skill, but the party could be ended by even a moderate injury crisis due to lack of depth, while even their talented first eleven is almost completely unproven at this level. However, much of the bottom half of the table is in a similar position with three promoted sides replacing the underachieving Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne this year. Within that group of clubs, few have the guile or boldness of TFC and, despite the four relegation places, Montanier will be confident of survival.