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Key Man: Franck Honorat – In a league that famously describes itself as the ‘League of Talents’, Franck Honorat is the league’s biggest talent to remain a secret. Still just 25, the versatile French forward has quietly and authoritatively carried the unfashionable Brest for close to two years. Last season, fellow attacking midfielder, the more skilful but also more flaky, Romain Faivre, now 24, undeservedly grabbed much of the attention from those outside the Stade Francis-Le Blé. When Faivre left for Lyon in January and struggled to find form, Honorat and Brest continued on their way as a solid and efficient midtable side capable of causing an upset while happily keeping a low profile. Honorat is an old-fashioned nuts and bolts attacker stylistically, lacking the grace and vision of the balletic Faivre, but his intensity, directness, intelligence and precise technical ability make him just as effective, if not more so. Playing for a lower-midtable side, his 27-goal contributions over the last two seasons makes for impressive reading.
Signing to Watch: Mathias Pereira-Lage – Much of the club’s off-season focus will be on the signing of relegated Premier League side Norwich City’s midfielder Pierre Lees-Melou. However, having been a surprise pick-up for an English side after he largely underwhelmed at Nice, a mid-table Ligue 1 club like Brest represents the right level for the 29-year-old water-carrier. Mathias Pereira-Lage’s arrival from Angers, however, could be significantly more useful. Having spent three seasons in Ligue 1 with Le SCO, Pereira-Lage oddly struggled to secure a consistent starting berth, despite his technical quality, particularly from crosses, and an ability to be equally useful across the midfield or attack. This snappy Brest team under Michel Der Zakarian, who often play with four overtly attacking players, will suit Pereira-Lage’s neat interplay, eye for a pass and whipped deliveries. Despite being a low-key arrival at a low-key club, Pereira-Lage’s signing should be seen as an astute piece of business come next May.
Squad Analysis – Although lacking stars beyond Honorat, Der Zakarian has build a well-balanced, if increasingly small, squad at Brest. After a shaky start, Dutch international goalkeeper Marco Bizot has finally found the consistency to support a physical back four that could use a little more guile and depth, with only three largely untested options for the support this season. Lees-Melou strengthens an even, if uninspiring, midfield group while Der Zakarian’s variety of attacking options remain his team’s strength, even if the imposing Mounie lacks an obvious understudy.
Strengths – As is the case for all bottom-half Ligue 1 sides, finding a reliable source of goals is crucial for stability season-on-season. Brest, however, are unusual in that, beyond Honorat’s exacting finishing which produced 11 league strikes last season, they are home to a variety of genuine threats besides. Although in and out of form last season, the bulky former Huddersfield and Montpellier striker Steve Mounie added nine goals while Jérémy Le Douaron (5), Youcef Belaïli (3, in half a season) and Irvin Cardona (4) all ably assisted too. Der Zakarian boasts a group of waspish, skilful, pacey forwards who can interchange sharply behind Mounie, providing a variety of setup options. Romain Del Castillo and the returning Romain Philippoteaux both also fit nicely with that intensity. Top scorers amongst the bottom 11 sides last year, other than the bottom club, Bordeaux, Brest will be a serious attacking threat once more.
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Weaknesses – As one of the bottom half’s more expansive teams, Brest can be exposed defensively in a largely pragmatic division otherwise. Despite finishing eleventh last season, only the bottom five teams conceded more than Brest’s 57 goals and, with the departure of Ronaël Pierre-Gabriel for Strasbourg and Finnish international left-back Jere Uronen a little out of his depth in Ligue 1, Brest’s back four is looking increasingly agricultural. Having successfully converted central defenders Jean-Kévin Duverne and Lillian Brassier to full-backs last season, Der Zakarian is likely to effectively line up with four centre-backs. Although that has advantages defensively and physically, and centre-back pairing Brendan Chardonnet and Christophe Hérelle are often underrated, technical quality, outside Hérelle, is thin. As a result, Brest could be pinned back as they struggle to play their way out of trouble or overlap their wide forwards effectively this season.
Verdict – Largely swapping like-for-like in the transfer market, little has changed at Brest over the summer. Der Zakarian will be hoping that such consistency extends to his team maintaining at least the same middle-of-the-road form until next off-season. With a largely workmanlike but useful and experienced squad, that seems likely. As a host of weaker sides (on paper) fight over the four relegation places, Brest are likely to be one the few, if not only, Ligue 1 club not to threaten either end of the table at any stage this season.