How Monaco went top without Ranieri knowing his best XI
Arguably the star performer at the back, however, has been right-back Fabinho, on loan from Portuguese club Rio Ave following a spell with Real Madrid B last season. He’s tall, strong and perhaps more defensively responsible than the cliché about Brazilian full-backs would suggest, and has mixed strong tackling with sporadic forward runs, and a decent end product in the final third. One of the key battles on Sunday evening will be his clash with Ezequiel Lavezzi.
In the centre of midfield, Ranieri surely wants to play his three new recruits – Jeremy Toulalan playing a calm holding role, Geoffrey Kondogbia bringing tenacity and energy to shuttle forward from a deep position, and Joao Moutinho dictating play from the top of the triangle.
While Moutinho is playing a slightly more advanced role than he’s accustomed to, he also drops deep and enables Monaco to dominate the centre of midfield. His set-piece delivery has also been useful - in the narrow victory over Marseille, he created three chances from corners.
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been Ranieri’s apparent distrust of James Rodriguez. The Colombian attacking midfielder was expected to link up seamlessly with former Porto team-mates Moutinho and Falcao, but despite a decent debut in a central role away at Bordeaux on the opening day, he hasn’t started since.
However, playing Riviere upfront compromises the role of Falcao. He’s surely the best pure No.9 in world football, but when used with Riveire he is forced to work the channels and drop deeper – against Montpellier he barely received the ball inside the box, and his only attempt at goal was from a penalty.
Rodriguez can’t get into the side on the wings, either, where Ranieri has favoured a combination of Lucas Ocampos and Yannick Carrasco. The former tends to shoot frequently, while Carrasco is more of a crosser.
In all, it feels like Ranieri is still a long way from fielding Monaco’s optimum starting XI. He’s yet to select Toulalan, Kondogbia and Moutinho together in midfield, hasn’t quite got Falcao firing in his favoured centre-forward position, and still has to find a place for Rodriguez. Only the goalkeeper and back four, none of whom have missed a single minute, seem a settled unit.