Rebuilt Monaco aim to go again in Europe against Spurs – but progress is slow
Last season, Monaco arrived at the Emirates Stadium as unfancied underdogs without much hope of progression in the Champions League. It was deemed a success that they'd even reached the knockout stages. But despite being written off by nearly everyone, the Ligue 1 side played the tie perfectly.
After stunning Arsenal with a 3-1 away win in North London, it was backs to the wall in the second leg as they held on for the away goals victory and a meeting with Juventus. Just six months on, however, the Monaco side that welcomes Spurs to the Stade Louis II stadium on Thursday is almost unrecognisable.
- Anthony Martial (Man United)
- Geoffrey Kondogbia (Inter)
- Aymen Abdennour (Valencia)
- Layvin Kurzawa (PSG)
- Yannick Ferreira Carrasco (Atletico Madrid)
- Lucas Ocampos (Marseille)
- Nicolas Isimat-Mirin (PSV Eindhoven)
- Gaetano Monachello (Atalanta)
- Dimitar Berbatov (Free)
Boss Leonardo Jardim can now only pick five of the XI players who lined up against Arsene Wenger’s side, with another three from the bench also having left the club. It’s safe to say that Les Monegasques have been victims of their own success – and their recent results shows the impact wholesale changes can have.
Monaco have only won three of their first eight games in the league, one of which took a late Fabinho penalty to see off lowly Montpellier. While Tottenham came back to beat Manchester City 4-1 at White Hart Lane on Saturday, the principality side threw three leads away to draw 3-3 at Guingamp on Sunday.
The sale of James Rodriguez after the World Cup indicated that this was primarily a selling club, but this summer Monaco v2 was born as the project accelerated its progression towards the similar philosophy shown by FC Porto and Atletico Madrid. Buy young, sell big, look to develop talent and repeat. In that case, the departures of Geoffrey Kondogbia (to Inter), Yannick Ferreira Carrasco (to Atletico), Layvin Kurzawa (to PSG) and Aymen Abdennour (to Valencia) were in many ways expected.
The killer exit came on transfer deadline day, though. Just like the €80 million deal that took James Rodriguez to Real Madrid, there was no way Monaco could reject the amount of money Manchester United offered for Anthony Martial. Vadim Vasilyev, Monaco’s vice-president, told France Football this week that there had been no plans to sell the teenage striker, but the player's desire to leave and United's determination to pursue him put them in a strong position to get the best possible deal.
However, it gave Monaco no time to bring in a replacement. The club will argue that they already had the players in place, but that’s a hard pill to swallow. If you tell yourself something enough times you'll eventually believe it, but Martial was the jewel in Prince Albert’s crown.
The No.9 was to lead Monaco's line, and the way he ended the season – with eight goals in his last 12 league games – meant the Ligue 1 club's expectations were understandably high.
Without him, the attack looks disjointed and Jardim is still looking for his best frontline combination. Portuguese striker Ivan Cavaleiro – signed for €15m – looks dangerous in patches.
Stephan El Shaarawy is still settling and Guido Carrillo has struggled to make a telling impact since arriving. In 1,149 minutes of league play, those three forwards have combined for a grand total of zero goals.
- Ivan Cavaleiro (Benfica)
- Adama Traore (Lille)
- Rony Lopes (Man City)
- Gabriel Boschilia (Sao Paulo)
- Guido Carrillo (Estudiantes)
- Fabinho (Rio Ave)
- Allan Saint-Maximin (Saint-Etienne)
- Corentin Jean (Troyes)
- Thomas Lemar (Caen)
- Fares Bahlouli (Lyon)
- Stephan El Shaarawy (Milan, loan)
- Helder Costa (Benfica, loan)
- Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid, loan)
- Mario Pasalic (Chelsea, loan)
This season, two players who can be considered positives are Bernardo Silva and summer signing Thomas Lemar – the 19-year-old and his left foot are worth keeping an eye on. Jardim won’t be too worried about the attack – that will come with time. The biggest cause for concern is the defence, however – the position in which they built their success around last season. Monaco have already conceded 19 goals this season. Nine of those came in the five games that midfield general Jeremy Toulalan has missed through injury, including the 3-3 draw at Guingamp.
Fabinho can slot into his position when the former France enforcer is out, but that weakens the defence and the knock-on effect is felt across the backline. After impressing last year, Brazilian centre-back Wallace has looked off the pace and Ricardo Carvalho isn't getting any younger. Signing Fabio Coentrao from Real Madrid has added much-needed European experience, but it doesn’t cover the weaknesses through the centre.
On Sunday, the goals they lost in Brittany highlighted the current problems. Sloan Privat was allowed to win a header from a standing jump – positioning himself between the two centre-backs, it shouldn’t have been so easy. For Guingamp’s second equaliser, the Monaco defence was carved apart by a simple ball down the channel. Andrea Raggi, playing at left-back, was caught turning in the wrong direction, forcing Carvalho to rush out to close down the danger. Fabinho had tucked in, but that left Nicolas Benezet free to time his volley at the back post. No one in the Monaco midfield had the experience or sense to cover, and these were schoolboy mistakes rarely seen from Jardim’s defence last season.
Monaco didn’t enjoy the best start to their league campaign last year, but Jardim turned it around and transformed them into a strong, impenetrable counter-attacking unit both at home and abroad. The attacking elements look similar, but leaks at the back are undermining their strength.
There is hope for Jardim this week with Toulalan’s return to training. It should help give them much-needed stability, but it may not be enough. Through the likes of Harry Kane, Erik Lamela and Clinton Njie, Tottenham will be confident of causing the Ligue 1 side plenty of problems on Thursday.
Pace and movement will provide the way past this Monaco defence. Last season, better players were able to track runners, swap roles, rotate and deal with danger down the flanks. This new-look side has a long way to go before it can even stop Ligue 1 attacks, let alone tougher ones in the Europa League.