Ligue 1: A look at Barcelona and Arsenal target Almamy Toure

Almamy-Toure

Monaco have an impressive array of attacking talent. There’s the ex-Benfica man Bernardo Silva, who cost the club a whopping €15.75 million, and there’s the man they call the Pharaoh, Stephan El Shaarawy. Then, of course, there’s €25 million worth of Joao Moutinho and another €9 million worth of Guido Carrillo. When combined, it’s probably fair to suggest that Leonardo Jardim’s side should be sitting a little higher than the sixth place they currently occupy on the Ligue 1 ladder.

Irrespective of that, though, it’s also worth noting that not many of those high-price recruits feature atop the club’s goalscoring charts. Silva excluded, who is one of four players to have scored three goals in the league this season, thus making him Monaco’s joint-top goalscorer, none of those mentioned above have found the back of the net more than once. In fact, neither El Shaarawy nor Moutinho have troubled the scorers at all.

In contrast, the guys who sit alongside Silva, on three goals, are all relative unknowns. Mario Pasalic, a youngster currently on loan from Chelsea, is one of them, as is the 20-year-old Thomas Lemar. And while both of those names might come as something of a surprise to seasoned observers, surely the biggest shock is that of teenager Almamy Toure, a centre-back by trade, who also finds himself at the apex of Monaco’s scoring records.

Toure only broke into the first-team last season, largely due to injury concerns elsewhere in the squad. He made his debut on February 11 this year, in a match against Rennes in the Coupe de France. Given his impressive goalscoring exploits during the current campaign, perhaps it shouldn’t come as any surprise that he also scored in that game, netting the opener in Monaco’s eventual 3-1 victory. Only a few days later he made his first Ligue 1 appearance, and to round out a massive month for the youngster, he started at right-back, against Arsenal, in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.

He didn’t look out of place under the floodlights at Emirates Stadium either, and in many ways, he was responsible for kickstarting the principality club’s surprise 3-1 win with a lovely interception in the 38th minute. He beat Danny Welbeck to the ball on this occasion and then, with a cool head, found a teammate, Moutinho, in transition. The Portuguese quickly laid on a pass for Geoffrey Kondogbia, and though the athletic Frenchman’s strike was aided by a deflection, it proved enough to allow Monaco to open the scoring.

Toure started at right-back for that game, and during his time in the first-team under Jardim, that’s more or less where he’s remained. “It is quite new for me to play right-back,” he said last season. “The coach asked me to play as a wing-back in training – I did my best and he was happy with my efforts. Then I had to play as a right-back to cover for some injured players. That went OK so I was given a few more games.”

Toure’s quest to progress as a fullback has continued throughout this campaign, and in his nine league appearances this season, he hasn’t been moved from the right side of defence. As a 19-year-old, he still shows occasional moments of rawness, and in his most recent match against Caen he was caught ball-watching during a late set-piece, which allowed Ronny Rodelin to score an equaliser with only 10 minutes remaining. But even that shouldn’t detract from his overall contribution to the match, as earlier on in proceedings he whipped in a lovely looping cross to assist Carrillo’s opener.

The game ended 1-1, but there was so much to like about Toure’s efforts in attack. He worked the right-hand side with a great degree of application, and his ability to link up with right-winger Silva along the touchline was impressive. This was most apparent when Toure motored towards the final third, and with Silva floating infield at every available opportunity, the youthful defender had plenty of room in which to overlap. He used it effectively, too, and he would often get so high as to draw out Caen left-back Chaker Alhadhur to close him down.

The nice thing about this scenario was that it gave Silva the chance to then sprint in behind Alhadhur, and due to Toure’s solid if not spectacular passing game, he was able to find the Portuguese dynamo in a number of promising situations. Just nine minutes in, for instance, the Mali-born defender drew Alhadhur out from the back four after receiving a pass from Fabinho. Silva then zipped in behind, down the right-hand touchline. Toure soon obliged his run with a smart piece of passing, and although Silva’s cross eventually came to nothing, this was typical of how the pair coalesced on the night.

Naturally enough, then, Silva supplied Toure with possession just before the right-back crossed for Carrillo’s first league goal the season. It was an impressive attacking highlight for the pacey defender, but in comparison to his exploits over the previous weekend it actually wasn’t all that exciting. Indeed his single assist against Caen failed to stack up to his brace against Ligue 1 giants Marseille on Matchday 15.

The first of these goals followed a Fabio Coentrao set-piece, as Toure worked his way clear of the congestion to prod the ball home, but his second was the true standout. Here, he picked up the ball on the halfway line before motoring forward in customarily powerful fashion. He initially did enough to beat a defender and, as he was confronted with another, slipped a neat pass into the feet of Carrillo. The Argentine striker quickly returned the one-two as Toure continued his progress, and at this point the wiry defender found himself up against Marseille centre-back Karim Rekik. Toure took a couple of longer strides, as if to assess his next move, and then he cut the ball back inside. Rekik slipped over, completely bamboozled. Toure was now one-on-one with goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, and after steadying himself with a light touch of the ball, he slotted it home at the near post.

It was a sequence which mixed speed and technique, and though Toure is far from a gifted technician, he has a happy knack of driving forward and making something happen. There’s a kind of rugged efficiency to his play in the final third, and perhaps because of this Jardim feels there’s a bit of Branislav Ivanovic about him.

Toure recently extended his contract until 2019, and given his impressive run at right-back, Monaco must be excited about what they can do with him. He offers them a powerful presence in defence who can also hurt the opposition going forward, and all before the age of 20. With so much promise, the principality club probably aren’t surprised that the likes of Barcelona, Arsenal and Juventus have registered an interest, but they’ll be hoping he sticks around for a little while longer yet.

After all, he’s only just establishing himself in the first-team, and playing alongside experienced campaigners such as Coentrao and Ricardo Carvalho can only aid his development. The talent is there but he hasn’t refined his game just yet, but given time and the number of opportunities he is currently receiving in the French top-flight, there’s no reason why he can’t become an excellent defender.

Toure’s progress looks set to continue as he’s now a regular member of Jardim’s side, and given Monaco’s struggles in front of goal, everyone at the club will be hoping he can maintain his strike rate in the final third as well.