How Will Monaco Cope after Losing So Many of their Title-Winning Stars?


London- Monaco have made a staggering amount of money from transfers this summer and the rumours continue to swirl about Thomas Lemar leaving for Arsenal and Kylian Mbappé joining Real Madrid. Even if their frenzied selling stops now, manager Leonardo Jardim will have to rebuild and re-energise a team that has won Ligue 1, made it to the Champions League semi-finals and then lost £150m worth of talent in three months.

Mendy (£52m), Tiemoué Bakayoko (£39.6m) and Bernardo Silva (£43.6m) have generated the biggest fees so far, but one shouldn’t underestimate how much Monaco will miss players such as Valère Germain (who has joined Marseille for £6.80m) and Nabil Dirar (who is off to Fenerbahce for £4m); the depth they provided last season will be sorely missed, especially if Monaco progress in the Champions League and in France’s two cup competitions.

The club have been proactive in finding replacements, with Youri Tielemans joining from Anderlecht for £21.5m and Terence Kongolo arriving from Feyenoord for £11.5m. Tielemans, a 20-year-old Belgium international, has the dynamism and attacking flair required to become an immediate upgrade on Bakayoko in central midfield; while the versatile Kongolo, who was the youngest player to represent Holland at the last World Cup, can play at left-back or centre-back. Monaco also have a clutch of highly touted loanees returning, including Rony Lopes (Lille), Adama Traoré (Rio Ave) and Allan Saint-Maximin (Bastia). Their spells away were a bit of mixed bag, but given the lack of attacking talent brought in this summer, Jardim will clearly rely on them to some extent.

Monaco’s success in the upcoming season – which starts in earnest on Saturday when they face Paris Saint-Germain in the Trophée des Champions in Tangier – will depend on Jardim’s tactical approach. In his first season at the club, in 2014-15, the team were quite dour and negative. They advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League but only really started to impress once Silva, Yannick Carrasco and Anthony Martial were given free rein in attack. The departures of Ferreira Carrasco and Martial – along with Layvin Kurzawa and Geoffrey Kondogbia – the following summer left them lacking in identity the 2015-16 season, when they had to rely on a raft of underwhelming loanees.

The story of Monaco’s achievements last season, however, needs little retelling. Jardim took the bold steps of bringing back Radamel Falcao after his frustrating loan spells with Manchester United and Chelsea, signing Mendy from Marseille and bringing in Djibril Sidibé from Lille to build a 4-4-2 that was attack-minded to say the least. They overhauled the mighty Paris Saint-Germain to win the league and made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League as a result, but now Jardim must once again demonstrate his ability to construct a first XI and squad from the set of players he has been given.

While blessed with the effervescence of Mbappé and the presence of Falcao, the manager is unlikely to deviate from the 4-4-2 system that served him so well last season. Tielemans (or João Moutinho) will replace Bakayoko in midfield and one of Kongolo or Jorge (who was signed from Flamengo for £8m in January) can step in for Mendy at full-back.

What complicates matters, however, is the role that Silva played in the team. Nominally the right-sided midfielder, the little Portuguese playmaker was never limited by his position. He popped up on either flank or in the centre, controlling matches not merely by dint of his individual ability, but by an innate, uncanny ability to adapt his role in different situations. Adept at scoring, playing the creator, cutting inside or stretching play, Silva contributed a thoroughly unique skill-set to Monaco’s approach.

Lopes and Saint-Maximin are both capable of supreme bits of skill, but neither have really been tested at the top level. Saint-Maximin is a superb talent, but he often cut a frustrated figure at Bastia; while a season of managerial tumult and injury made Lopes’ loan spell at Lille more often than not underwhelming.

Both are useful players and full of potential (Lopes is 21, Saint-Maximin 20), and will they will certainly be called upon as the team rotates ahead of European fixtures, but they cannot really be counted upon. In Monaco’s recent friendlies, Jardim has persisted with a flat 4-4-2, with either Lopes or Saint-Maximin playing in Silva’s place. Lopes has played slightly more (Saint-Maximin has also been used as part of the front two) but perhaps a different formation would suit the squad better and not place so much responsibility on two returning loanees.

Sticking with the formation that was so successful last season might seem like the smart move, but Monaco have used different systems in each of Jardim’s years in charge and they might benefit from another tactical tinker this year. Thomas Lemar has been sublime on the left since arriving from Caen, but he also showed some promise as a No10 when he made several appearances in a central role in 2015-16. Freed from having to cover the runs of an overlapping full-back, he could improve further. Playing Lemar off the front two could also give Tielemans more licence to attack – he scored 18 goals and laid on 15 assists last season so clearly has an eye for goal – and it might help Moutinho, who occasionally struggled in a midfield two last season.

Jorge and Terence Kongolo are battling to supplant Mendy at left-back and Sidibé is firmly installed on the right. Neither situation is ideal but if the team operated with a diamond, it would force more positional responsibility from the full-backs. Sidibé struggles in that regard but Almamy Touré, who is a much more capable defender, could step up. The youth-team product is a bit too reliant on his pace in attack but he may already be a more complete player than Sidibé.

Whatever Jardim opts for tactically, a bigger concern could be a lack of depth. Much of Monaco’s rotation last season was down to Silva, Andrea Raggi and Sidibé, a trio of versatile players who can play multiple positions. However, with Silva off to Manchester City, Raggi recently turning 33 and Sidibé doing nothing to convince at left-back, the team are severely lacking in options from the bench.

The willing workers Germain and Dirar are big misses, but Guido Carrillo is a decent enough third striker, and Saint-Maximin, having played a variety of positions in Corsica, may be better suited as a bench player for the time being given his ability to play across the attack. In central midfield, academy product Kévin N’Doram has been increasingly important in friendlies, while former Lille midfielder Soualiho Meïté has also been used extensively, completing a massive overhaul of the side.

The bottom line is that, whether with changed tactics, a less attacking philosophy or some degree of continuity, Jardim will be forced to rely on an even younger squad. It would be foolish to expect the team to contend on multiple fronts as they had last season, but Jardim’s willingness to manage without being wedded to any one approach has paid dividends during his time in Monaco. If he can get the best out of this callow group, the talent is certainly there for similar success, even if it will take a miraculous effort from the manager to do so.

The Guardian Sport

Unai Emery Must Carry the Can for PSG’s ‘Unspeakable’ Defeat at Barcelona


London – “The return of winter.” “The Parisian wreck.” “Unspeakable.” “A huge mess.” “The height of disillusionment.” The Parisian papers and France’s leading sports dailies were unsparing in their assessment of Paris Saint-Germain’s incredible 6-1 defeat by Barcelona. Conceding three goals in the final 10 minutes was a dismal end to the French side’s Champions League campaign, but to do it having secured a seemingly insurmountable first-leg lead was indeed unspeakable.

Losing by that margin alone was painful, but doubly so after how the visitors had come back into the match, particularly after the introduction of Ángel Di María. The Argentinian’s energy and aggression were key in generating a host of chances for Unai Emery’s side, but aside from perhaps Edinson Cavani, the players delivered almost uniformly poor performances.

To their credit, most of the squad were ready to take the blame, with the right-back Thomas Meunier, one of the more culpable parties, telling L’Équipe: “We can only blame ourselves. We were bad.” Some were quick to point to the officials and what they regarded as incorrect penalty decisions, Thiago Silva telling Canal+: “I think that there was no penalty on Suárez. Two penalties against Barcelona which were not given either.” Marco Verratti was dismissive of the captain’s complaint, though, being quoted in France Football as saying: “We lost 6-1; it’s not because of the referee.”

The post-match dialogue in France has taken a predictably negative slant but have any of these soundbites done anything to identify the underlying issue? Everything had been going well in 2017 for Paris Saint-Germain. They were thrashing all comers and the winter arrival of Julian Draxler seemed to have lit something of a spark under Di María, whose professionalism and commitment had been roundly questioned in the season’s first half. More questions, though, had been asked of Emery. Admittedly, the task of replacing Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s productivity and leadership would be difficult, but the former Sevilla coach’s aborted attempt at changing the formation was seemingly the first of many missteps. Add in his failed summer signings (Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jesé and Hatem Ben Arfa) and his personnel decisions looked as fallible as his tactical ones.

The arrival of Draxler, though, and Meunier’s improving form offered some redemption. Although PSG have failed to gain much ground on Monaco in the league, they were a juggernaut in the domestic cup competitions and much more decisive in general. A 4-0 win over Barcelona at the Parc des Princes looked to be a final validation for Emery’s methods, specifically his faith in youth. Presnel Kimpembe and Rabiot had been little- or ill-used by Emery’s predecessors, and the two were at the heart of all that was right on that momentous evening three weeks ago.

To say things look a bit different now would be a charitable understatement. But is Emery, such a ready punch bag early in the season, really the culprit? The performances of Silva, Marquinhos and Meunier were abysmal and is it fair to ask that Emery legislate for individual mistakes? Ultimately, the blame does lie largely at the feet of the manager, but perhaps for more reasons than were revealed in the course of the match.

There are many avenues to approach his role in the outcome, but the one with the most immediate impact is surely the choices of Silva and Marquinhos at center-back. Silva is the captain and has been a generally reliable servant but he had not played in the first leg, supposedly because of a minor injury, and there were hints he was not mentally ready.

Omitted was Kimpembe, a 21-year-old academy graduate who has impressed this season, earning a France call-up. He was booked in his past two league appearances, so there might have been something nagging Emery about Kimpembe’s discipline. Silva’s passing ability was perhaps viewed as a necessary outlet against Barcelona’s press.

The elephant in the room is Silva’s position as captain. Even if there were tactical reasons for dropping Silva, his outsize influence in the dressing room, evident most prominently in his preference for Brazilian team-mates, has posed enough of a threat to Emery’s predecessors that Silva generally ended up getting his way. This is where Emery really comes in for criticism, Silva’s inclusion being all but indefensible. Yes, he is the captain, but Kimpembe and Marquinhos had kept a clean sheet against Barcelona in the first leg. Kimpembe ought to have played at the Camp Nou, for his performance in the home game and for the message it would have allowed Emery to send.

Emery has struggled to exert his influence on the squad tactically but has transformed the player hierarchy. The sale of David Luiz, Silva’s preferred center-back partner, was the first step but Meunier being given the chance ahead of Serge Aurier, and Rabiot shining in protecting the back four in a role that might have gone to Thiago Motta in the recent past showed how the coach was slowly making his mark. Emery’s dropping of Lucas Moura and Di María on occasion since Draxler’s arrival continued the pattern.

Successful though Emery has been in the past two months, his failure to pick his team not only on merit but with a sense of continuity at this crucial moment, in the competition for which his expertise was supposedly required, was PSG’s undoing.

This team’s growth under Qatari ownership has been intriguing, but rarely have they improved with an eye towards the future. Rarely, that is, until the past two months, when Emery’s trust in players such as Rabiot, Kimpembe and, to a lesser extent, Draxler and the academy product Christopher Nkunku had PSG playing with the ruthlessness that they had at their best with Ibrahimovic.

That promise seems to have evaporated with Emery’s inclusion of Silva. A domestic treble is still achievable but the manager’s situation is tenuous, with the president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, saying: “Everyone is annoyed. Is Emery in trouble? That is not even a question.” With the international break looming and no meaningful matches until the Coupe de la Ligue final on 1 April, Emery’s assessment of the match perhaps ended up being more prophetic than he intended: “What happened on the pitch is a negative experience. Individually, we lost a great opportunity to grow.”

Growth, progress, whatever the catchphrase – once so unlikely at Paris Saint-Germain – seems to have disappeared before it even had its chance, and the manager must take full responsibility.

The Guardian