At the start of this season, if one had said that Monaco would be on top of Ligue 1, many would have scoffed.
If one had said that Les Rouges-et-Blancs would be representing France in the quarter-finals of the UCL, many would have asked, “Yeah, but what about PSG?”
If one had said that Radamel Falcao would be re-finding his form after a frustrating couple of years, the reply would have been “Really? Isn’t he washed up already?”
If one had said that Leonardo Jardim’s men would be the highest-scoring side in Europe, eyebrows would have been raised as many cast their thoughts towards the feared attacks of Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid.
And if one had mentioned Kylian Mbappe Lottin’s name, it’s a guarantee that it is not one that would have rung a bell.
However, we are in March. And Monaco are the only French side remaining in the UCL. They will face a tough test against Dortmund, but having seen off Manchester City in an enthralling two-legged encounter that saw a whopping 12 goals scored, Jardim’s hungry and ambitious side are definitely not one to write off.
Meanwhile, in Ligue 1, they are also flying high. With eight rounds to go, Monaco are still sitting three points clear of reigning champions PSG. They have not lost since December 18th, when they succumbed to a 3-1 reversal to Lyon. And they have already played their fellow title challengers, meaning that the run-in between now and May is a lot more straightforward. After being humiliated 4-0 by Nice back in September, Jardim’s troops rebounded to mete out revenge as they clipped Les Aiglons’ wings to win 3-0.
Despite settling for a 1-1 draw with PSG, they won the reverse fixture in convincing fashion to make it a four points out of a possible six against Les Parisiens, which, naturally is an impressive feat in itself. Yes, PSG may not have Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but they still boast stars like the in-form Edinson Cavani, who is likely to clinch the top scorer prize in the league (although Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette will want to have a say in that race for as long as possible).
The question is, does Monaco’s success represent a categorical shift in Ligue 1, or is this just a one-off? We did see Leicester City win the Premier League last term and that clearly has proven to be a clear cut case of a one-hit wonder, a fluke that we likely will not see anytime soon. Over in Italy, Juventus has taken over again as the no. 1 team after a period of dominance by Inter, who took advantage of the Calciopoli scandal to enjoy several years on top of the league. But La Vecchia Signora are clearly no fluke as the Bianconeri are on the cusp of making it an unprecedented sixth straight Scudetto this May.
In Monaco’s case, one can certainly argue that Les-Rouges-et-Blancs have been a project in the making for a while. They certainly are no strangers to success – both on the domestic, and moderately on the international stage. Although Monaco haven’t won the Ligue 1 title since the 1999/2000 season, they have won it seven times in total, whilst they made waves by making it to the Champions League final in 2004 before losing to Porto.
As such, they certainly have what it takes to cause a major shift in the power balance in Ligue 1. What is essential, of course, is that they take that chance, starting from when they return to the pitch after the international hiatus at the end of this month. With an exciting crop of young stars and veterans eager to make an impression, coupled with an innovative tactician who doesn’t play the “traditional” and “practical” football some have associated with Portuguese coaches (just look at Fernando Santos who led Greece and Portugal to the EURO title, but bored fans to tears with their ultra-defensive tactics), the sky is only the limit for the principality-based club.
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