The Season Just Gone
Everyone knows the story of Ligue 1 in 2015-2016. It was very much Paris Saint-Germain and then everyone else. Monaco and Lyon were the best out of the everyone else group, but the principality club were very much mediocre. Manager Leonardo Jardim found himself giving a number of key minutes to young players and, as so often is the case, inconsistency followed.
Since their return to Ligue 1 with big money backing in 2013, Monaco had relied on veterans and a staunch defense. With a lot of the big money back pulled once ownership realized it was difficult to turn a profit with a team that drew less than 15,000 fans for a match, the club had to find other ways to be successful.
And thus, enter the likes of Thomas Lamar, Fabinho, Adama Traore, Bernardo Silva, et. al. Monaco still had a strong core of veterans, but it was these young players that really shined under the tutelage of Jardim. The team managed to be the 4th highest scoring team in the league, despite not having a single player score more than five league goals, but the defense was woefully inconsistent.
The Season Ahead
Monaco are off to a excellent start to this campaign having forced their way into the group stage of the Champions League after difficult draws against Fenerbache and Villarreal. And what have they done in the league? Oh, only smash PSG at the Stade Louis II and then go on the road to Lille and beat them 4-1 (sure, there was also a narrow win over Nantes and an opening round draw against Guingamp, but let’s not get sidetracked).
Monaco didn’t do much in the summer, but strengthened their back line with the addition of Benjamin Mendy and Kamil Glick. Other players have returned from loan to improve the squad, most notable a trio of strikers: Radamel Falcao, Valere Germain, and Coretin Jean.
The addition of Mendy has allowed Fabinho to shift into his preferred role in central midfield and the team has looked much stronger for it. The partnership he has formed with Tiemoue Bakayoko has been excellent this year and the two seem to work as a true double pivot in the heart of the Monegasque's 4-4-1-1.
Based on the opening of this season, Monaco have positioned themselves to actually challenge PSG for the title. Of course, a lot depends on how consistent the Monaco attack can be and if they can find someone, anyone, to score 10-15 goals this season. Jardim would like Falcao to be that player, but it remains to be seen just how much the Colombian has left in the tank.
As I mentioned, Jardim has preferred a 4-4-1-1 formation this season, but has shown some tactical flexibility in playing 4-4-2, 4-3-3, and 4-2-3-1. What we know for certain is that Monaco will attempt to control the ball, something that they tend to do pretty easily against most Ligue 1 teams and will throw men forward down both flanks. This can, however, leave them exposed at the back if the fullbacks get caught too far up the pitch.
Remember earlier when I said that Monaco’s defense was a bit suspect last season? Yeah, that’s not really a thing anymore. The shift of Fabinho into midfield and the addition of Glik in defense have helped Monaco cut down the number of opportunities their opponents have to score. Thus far this season, Monaco are conceding an average of 7.3 shots per game, lowest by far in Ligue 1. Even mighty PSG managed only 6 total shots in their match against the Monegasques.
Monaco are also pretty good at converting set pieces. The team has a lot of height in defense and midfield and player like Glik and Sidibe have already shown the ability to convert from corners and direct free kicks this season and Tottenham should be wary of that.
Monaco’s attack looks pretty average so far this season. They have a number of talented players across the attacking band, but the team has managed only four open play goals in Ligue 1 so far and their leading scorer is Fabinho with three. None of the strikers have really hit the ground running and despite the creative efforts of Joao Moutinho, Bernardo Silva, and Lemar, things haven’t exactly been clicking.
This have left Monaco in a situation where they are attempting a number of shots from distance and even when they do get into the box to shot, many of the shots come from difficult angles or are just inside the area.
New signing Mendy has been left out of the squad due to a thigh injury for this match, so Andrea Raggi will be a more conservative choice at right back with Djibril Sidibe providing a little more attacking impetus on the left. Thomas Lemar, who featured heavily in Champions League qualifying, but has missed recent matches due to an ankle injury, returns as well.
As for Spurs, Danny Rose is out and Mousa Dembele is actually allowed to play. Who knows how fit Moose is at this point, but my feeling is that if he’s ready to play Pochettino will start him. We could see some rotation in the attacking band with Janssen coming in for Kane or Heung-Min Son retaining his place after a brace against Stoke, but I expect Pochettino will want to send out his strongest team for this fixture and that means same old same old for Spurs.
Last season Tottenham Hotspur, and specifically Erik Lamela thumped Monaco. This team is a little more stout defensively than last year’s version and the youngsters are all a little more experienced. Still, I expect that 90,000 Tottenham fans packed into Wembley will provide the lift that Spurs need for a fairly comfortable 2-0 victory.