Why Monaco are surging ahead at top of French league?
Monaco are top of Ligue 1, putting previously untouchable PSG in the shade. But now some rather strange things have been going on in France.
The first is that PSG have stopped doing what PSG do. Such has been the nature of their dominance of French football, the chief reservation aired last summer against Manchester United’s signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic was that he had spent so long in a one-team division that his recent statistics could not be trusted.
After all, what value could you attach to goals scored by the dozen when PSG’s opposition was so far below their own standard? In order of the past four seasons, they had won Ligue 1 by 31 points, eight points, nine points and 12 points. It was a flat track and they were the bullies.
Except this season it has got a little unusual and PSG are not top of the table. Perhaps that is further evidence of the Ibrahimovic effect – take him away and watch the cards fall. But that would play a touch too much to his ego, for it is also indicative of the sudden and quite dramatic resurgence of Monaco. They are the team leading what recently seemed to be an unwinnable league. And they look good.
That is down in a large part to the second strange happening in France – the reawakening of Radamel Falcao, the maligned nomad of recent years who looks like a deadly striker once again.
After what he has been through, namely the injuries and those two woeful spells on loan at Manchester United and Chelsea from 2014 to 2016, only the heartless would grudge him what has been an excellent season. The last of those two seasons yielded one league start.
The mystery had always been whether he could recover from the atrocious knee injury he suffered in January 2014, a few months after he joined Monaco from Atletico Madrid for £50 million on a five-year deal. The Colombian had arrived as one of the elite strikers in Europe with 142 goals in his previous four seasons at Atletico and Porto, the most ambitious signing of the Dmitry Rybolovlev era.
He came in as part of a recruitment drive that also included Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez. Suffice to say, the next few years did not go as planned for club and individual.
For Falcao, there was the match against fourth-tier Monts d’Or Azergues in the Coupe de France. He had just scored his 11th goal in 19 games for the side when he was clumsily brought down by Soner Ertek, a primary school teacher, and ruptured his knee ligaments. Ertek received death threats; Falaco’s career flat lined.
Crucially, so did elements of Monaco’s project, owing to a seismic family dispute. In May 2014 Rybolovlev was ordered to pay his former wife $4.5 bn in what was reported as the most expensive divorce in history.
The club’s CEO, Vadim Vasilyev, outlined their new reality in September 2014: ‘There were two possible roads to go down. The first was to spend big, that’s what we did at the beginning. The second, now, is to build a project for the long haul. Yes, it takes longer, it is less glorious, we will be talked about less in the press, people will be worried, there are no longer stars and there is less glamour, but we believe in it.’
It has taken time to come off. They finished third in each of the past two seasons under Leonardo Jardim, specks in the distance for PSG.
But in that time they have also built an increasingly impressive side, built on the likes of Valere Germain, Bernardo Silva and Thomas Lemar in attacking positions in an aggressive 4-4-2.
Silva, 22, is a £70 m target for Manchester United, Lemar, 21, has been compared to Andres Iniesta and Germain, 26, has been worth eight goals and two assists in a side that has scored an outstanding 70 goals in 24 Ligue 1 fixtures. Coming through is Kylian Mbappe, an 18-year-old forward considered to be one of the most wanted young players in Europe.
Adding to the youth and vibrancy of that attack, factor in the experience of Moutinho and Falcao, the old heads at 30, with the latter very much the catalyst of this season.
Falcao has scored 17 goals in 23 appearances in all competitions, a quite brilliant return for a player reasonably considered to be finished. Among them was his first Champions League goal in 2,352 days when he scored against Fenerbahce in July.
It seemed early then to suggest he was back. But there are certainly grounds for an optimism now.
Source of text and photo: www.dailymail.co.uk