Fullbacks, Wide Men and Replacements: A look at Monaco’s 1-0 Win over Metz

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It’s been a big summer of upheaval at AS Monaco. Following last season’s Ligue 1 success, they’ve lost a number of quality players to big spending opposition. Manchester City has swooped in for Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva, Tiemoue Bakayako has joined Chelsea and Valere Germain has left for Marseille. Add in the heavy speculation linking wonderkid Kylian Mbappe and athletic midfielder Fabinho with Paris Saint-Germain, and it looks like there are still a few players yet to end up on the list of departures.

All of this means Monaco have work to do. They need to re-calibrate in order to find a similar level to last season, and in their transfer business so far, they’ve shown signs of regeneration. As has been their strategy in recent times, youth has been at the forefront of this process. 20-year-old Youri Tielemans is the headline signing, having made his way to the principality via a 25 million transfer from Anderlecht, while Terence Kongolo, a 23-year-old defender, has joined from Dutch side Feyenoord. Adama Diakhaby, an unrefined frontline speedster, has also found a spot on the roster, having come across from Rennes, as has Rachid Ghezzal, who used to line up for Olympique Lyon.

There are others sprinkled into the mix as well, but those discussed above are probably the biggest moves Monaco have made so far. In addition to the newly acquired members of the squad, the club also have existing players who can fill some of the holes left behind by the many departures. Portuguese veteran Joao Moutinho is one of those guys, and he’s currently slotting into a central midfield position. Rony Lopes, who was out on loan at Lille last season, is another. He’s currently occupying one of the wings, while left-back Jorge has also forced his way into the starting line-up, having previously operated as something of an understudy in that position.

This process of reformatting the first-team squad looks to be an ongoing one, but in Monaco’s recent match against Metz, they looked to be finding something approaching a workable system. The first half was a little scrappy, but the ideas attached to Monaco’s 4-4-2 were easily identifiable. On the left, Leonardo Jardim fielded Thomas Lemar on the wing and Jorge in the fullback slot, but they were anything but glued to those stations. Lemar drifted infield continually, dropping deep and trying to link the play, and Jorge charged up the touchline in a bid to contribute to the Monagasques’ attacking exploits. Throw in the assistance of left-sided central midfielder Fabinho, who often filtered into the positions left vacant by the onrushing Jorge, and there was plenty to like about this side of the field.

The right-hand side operated in a similar fashion, but Lopes varied his movement a little more than Lemar. He stayed wide to start with before shifting inside as Monaco progressed the ball forward, which meant that right-back Djibril Sidibe had to be a little more circumspect in the way he ventured into the final third. Monaco’s right-sided central midfielder, Moutinho, also tended to float forward from time to time, and though this meant there wasn’t as much in the way of cover in the event of a turnover, it also gave the team more numbers through that part of the pitch.

Up front, Monaco tried to find a similar set-up to the Mbappe-Falcao partnership by pairing the Colombian with Diakhaby. That ensured the traditional target man/speedster strike combination remained in place, but with Metz often sitting deep in defence, the youngster didn’t really find many opportunities to use his pace. That problem was compounded by Monaco’s struggles when working the ball through the middle of Metz’s packed defensive structure, and aside from the odd moment of Moutinho magic, which tended to involve a cracking long ball in transition, there wasn’t a lot in the way of chance creation for the reigning Ligue 1 champions. They therefore needed to adjust at the interval, and by removing Lopes and replacing him with centre-forward Guido Carrillo, they did just that.

Diakhaby then shifted out to the right-hand side, and instead of sitting wide, he almost operated as an additional forward. He darted infield whenever he could, and when combined with Carrillo’s presence, this change in emphasis had a couple of knock-on effects.

The first of these involved crossing. With two big men in the area, as well as Diakhaby arriving from the right, Monaco were happier to swing the ball into the box. The Monagasques crossed 26 times throughout the course of the match, and 15 of these came in the second 45 minutes. That doesn’t sound like a massive leap in output, but when you consider how much more they looked to find the fullbacks, and how much more open the wings were left for the wide defenders, the change in style was quite pronounced. Indeed, with Lopes off, it wasn’t only Lemar filtering infield from the left but also Diakhaby from the right, meaning that Sidibe now had much more room into which he could overlap as well.

This is illustrated by the fact that the France international didn’t cross once in the first half, but, following the changes made at the break, he crossed four times after the interval. Left-back Jorge also had a greater number of crosses in the second half compared to his first-half figures, and when Ghezzal came on for Diakhaby 66 minutes in, things only got better for Monaco.

Indeed, whereas Diakhaby was more of a striking presence who moved into central positions, Ghezzal was a more creative one. He still came infield and still cleared room for Sidibe, but he also added variety. The 25-year-old allowed Sidibe to hit little cutbacks into his feet, and when he dropped deeper, Ghezzal could also be the player to pick it up in between the lines. The idea was still the same – get it into the two strikers in the penalty area – but instead of just whipping in balls from the right, Monaco now had more playmaking capability on that side of the field to further assist them.

Of course, with Monaco chasing the win, this left their defence exposed from time to time – Sidibe and Jorge both bombed on, meaning the two centre-backs were often prone to being isolated in transition – but it created some lovely interplay along the flanks. Jorge and Sidibe offered a lot, Lemar and Ghezzal came inside and exchanged passes fluidly and, with Moutinho able to spray passes from one side to the other, Jardim and his players were able to change the point of attack with regularity.

Eventually, this is exactly what brought about the game’s only goal in Monaco’s 1-0 win. The move started to take shape when Ghezzal played a neat pass back into the feet of Sidibe, and at that point, the former Lyon man floated infield into a left-of-centre location. Sidibe then took his time before punching a sharp pass into Ghezzal, who now had the ball in between the lines. He cut inside and, upon seeing Falcao’s run into the area, lobbed a ball over the opposition backline. The former Chelsea striker didn’t disappoint either, finishing the job in customary fashion. He used his first touch to take goalkeeper Thomas Didillon out of the equation before firing home from close range, at which point all of Monaco’s hard work had paid off.

Of course, it was by no means a complete display. They were still a massive threat from set-pieces – 5 of their 8 league goals this season have come from dead-ball scenarios – and they looked capable of advancing into attack, but the cutting-edge wasn’t always present in open play. Consider the fact that they may still have another set of departures, and it could take a while for last season’s verve to be regained.

Despite these problems, though, Monaco appear to have bought well in the transfer market and, if they get even more money from further sales, they will probably do so again. This club tends to spend wisely in the market, buying youngsters with potential and turning them into strong contributors, and with an excellent youth academy to go along with that transfer strategy, they should come again.

The principality club currently sit in 2nd on the Ligue 1 table, having won all three of their games to date. That doesn’t mean everything has come together just yet, and though it might take some time to successfully align all of the pieces, Jardim has a strong system and a strong set of players.

Monaco will aim to use this foundation as one to improve upon the season progresses, and while teams like PSG will be incredibly difficult to stop, there’s no doubt the Monagasques will give it their best shot. It’s tough to tell how they will go in their quest for yet more silverware, but with a squad that drips with potential, it should be fun to watch the progress regardless. Who knows, they might even find the next Mbappe in the process.

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