Valere Germain and Radamel Falcao lead the Monaco line, but they are only a sample of the attacking punch available to Leonardo Jardim’s side.VALERY HACHE/Getty Images
January 25, 2017
It was a typical weekend afternoon at Stade Louis II, if ever there was one. In front of a crowd of just over 5,500, top-level football unfolded with the atypical accompaniments of audible shouts from players and exhortations of their coaches.
What has become just as perpetual in this corner of “Le Rocher” is the sound of the ball hitting the net, as Leonardo Jardim‘s side put their latest opponents to the sword. That was again the case on Sunday afternoon, as Lorient were dispatched 4-0, with Monaco retaining their position as Ligue 1 leaders.
It might have been a big result for another team. For Monaco, it was simply normal. Jardim‘s thrilling side are managing to make the spectacular look ordinary. It was certainly routine, and with the hosts leading by three at half-time and the game all but done and dusted, thoughts sharply shifted to the big one: the visit to champions Paris Saint-Germain on the coming Sunday night.
After the players finished what had the feeling of a particularly intense training exercise and left the pitch, it was really the only topic on the menu. Even captain Valere Germain, fresh from two goals against Lorient but hardly known for aggrandisement or overstatement, was forced to acknowledge the significance of the biggest match in the French domestic season to date.
“Certainly, it would be huge to win in Paris,” he told L’Equipe (in French). “We’d be landing a (big) blow. But if we went on to lose the match after that, it would be difficult.”
That is the Monaco party line, of consistency, with their spectacularly bad end to last season still a cautionary tale. Yet Germain’s next line was a particularly interesting one.
“With that said,” the striker continued, “you feel that Paris are slightly less good this year.” From somebody as mild-mannered and polite as Germain, that means something. In short, Monaco smell blood, and when they do, they’re very dangerous.
Monaco are indisputably the most entertaining team in Europe’s top five leagues, rolling along at an average of more than three goals scored per game with more than half the season gone. The numbers have been oft-quoted since autumn, but they bear repeating.
After Sunday’s demolition of bottom club Lorient (in which they could easily have had a hatful more), Monaco are 21 games into their season and have struck 64 goals. That’s 23 more than PSG, the division’s second top scorers. The tally of Jardim‘s men already stands at seven more than they managed in the whole of the last Ligue 1 season.
If they continued scoring at the current rate, Monaco would end the league season with 115 goals—some way clear of the 102 racked up by last season’s imperious PSG team. Their unprecedented ruthlessness is the main pillar of what has lifted them from the ranks of the contenders to, arguably, the status of the team to beat.
In recent seasons, Jardim‘s teams have had difficulty putting teams away as they should at the Louis II. Monaco lost only five Ligue 1 matches at home in his first two seasons at the club combined. They drew a total of 17 in that time, however, which has been a considerable break on both the Portuguese coach’s, and the club’s, ambitions at the table’s summit.
Not any more. Since the 2-2 draw with Guingamp (who have since proved to be one of the division’s surprise packages) on the season’s opening day, Monaco have won nine out of the 10 Ligue 1 games on their patch. Those to return home with their tails between their legs have included PSG, who were beaten 3-1 in the first encounter between the sides back in August, and Marseille.
PSG were well beaten in the first encounter between the teams in August.Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
Lorient were the sixth team to leave the principality having shipped at least four goals. Nancy and Montpellier both conceded six. The only home defeat, in a thrilling toe-to-toe encounter with Lyon, included the considerable handicap of Benjamin Mendy’s first-half red card.
This Monaco don’t beat teams—they bludgeon them into submission. What’s more is that they do it as a group of, as Germain described them in his post-match interview on Sunday, “15 or 16 starters.” There is no overreliance on one player, a pertinent realisation in the midst of a campaign in which Edinson Cavani, finally taking centre stage in the French capital, has contributed 49 per cent of PSG‘s league goals.
Further south, the resurgent Radamel Falcao has chipped in with a very handy 12 Ligue 1 goals (in just 11 starts, too), but he is far from ploughing a singular furrow. He is one of 14 different scorers for Monaco in the league, and Germain—now one of three members of the squad to have scored seven, along with Thomas Lemar and back-up striker Guido Carrillo—is right to highlight the options open to Jardim.
Gabriel Boschilia is another fine example of the phenomenon that the captain was underlining. Jardim decided to leave out Lemar, who has been on a bit of a hot streak of late, for the Lorient game, and brought in another left-footer in the 20-year-old Boschilia to fill the gap in only his fourth Ligue 1 start of the season. He responded with a well-taken brace, taking his own personal tally up to six.
Gabriel Boschilia celebrates with Benjamin Mendy after scoring against Lorient.VALERY HACHE/Getty Images
Jardim‘s skill is in getting the most out of a really diverse group of characters—from Germain, the modest homebird who enjoyed his loan to Nice last season as he didn’t have to move house, to Falcao, the big name who has been through a clutch of top clubs and contrasting fortunes. Those two, surrounded by athletic and technically excellent youngsters like Bernardo Silva and Djibril Sidibe, are having the time of their lives.
Even as leaders, they go to the Parc des Princes with little pressure. It is PSG who will be expected to impose their authority, all the while knowing in the backs of their minds just how dangerous Monaco are away from home.
They have scored 26 of their Ligue 1 goals in 10 away games, as well as winning at Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League. Jardim and company are already the aesthetic champions. On Sunday, they could take a huge step towards tangible reward for that against Unai Emery’s side, who have been far from convincing to date.
Looking at Boschilia‘s display at the weekend tempts you to think that there could even be some sort of future in this group as contenders, medium-term. Lemar and Sidibe lead the list of those likely to be sold for big money in the summer, but Boschilia will be ready to step in—as will, if spaces open up in the front line, teenage forward Kylian Mbappe.
The sheer strength in depth of Jardim‘s attacking machine should be in evidence in the Coupe de la Ligue semi-final against Nancy on January 25.
Just before Christmas, Jardim made seven changes to his first-choice XI to face Rennes in the same competition and pulverised Christian Gourcuff’s side, 7-0, with Mbappe hitting a hat-trick.
Monaco have built smartly enough to have options, without the extravagant spending of yesteryear. That is why they will remain a threat to PSG, regardless of the result of Sunday’s match.