Jordan Russell gives his two pence on the Les Monégasques project and reflects on what awaits for Leonardo Jardim and his Monaco side.
Some observers will tell you that Monaco’s decline in form was inevitable, given the fact several key players were sold during the summer for astonishing sums of money. Combine this with the fact Paris Saint-Germain made Neymar the world’s most expensive player and signed Kylian Mbappé from Les Monégasques themselves, then clearly Leonardo Jardim and his side would find it much tougher to maintain the kind of form which had made them Europe’s most exciting team to watch last season.
One of the main reasons why Monaco were so successful in 2016/17 was that, like all great teams, they had a preferred XI,players who would start the vast majority of games. Of course, others would sometimes step in one or two at a time in order to give guys like Falcao a rest from time to time, but the shape of the team very rarely changed. Jardim’s 4-4-2 (4-2-2-2, if you will) not only gave his four attacking players lots of freedom to express themselves, but it also allowed the side to defend in two solid banks of four before hitting teams off guard with their deadly counter-attack.
One of the Portuguese coach’s most baffling decisions to date was when he opted to deploy a five-man defence when runaway league leaders PSG visited the principality a few weeks ago. In doing so, he completely abandoned everything on which his success as a coach has been built so far. Why? This ineptitude basically handed the initiative straight to Unai Emery’s side, not that they need too much encouragement given the embarrassment of riches they possess at the top end of the pitch.
Despite being forced to sell several of their best players in order to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations, Monaco still have a very good group of players who, on their day, remain capable of turning over most sides. They are super talented. What they require is an identity, and a clear understanding of what their objectives are as a collective. This was always going to be a transition season – no one should have been in any doubt about that from the outset.
All this does is throw up a question which Jardim himself must answer sooner rather than later: which formation is best-suited to the players at his disposal? Given the strength in depth he has in the attacking midfield and wide areas, he ought to persist with his default 4-2-3-1 which did promise a lot domestically in the early stages of the campaign. Truth be told, the team’s disastrous form in the Champions League has destroyed their self-confidence which has consequently left them utterly bereft of creativity and spontaneity in dangerous areas of the pitch.
Having once again been forced to bring in a host of new players to replace outgoing stars, the latest incarnation of Les Rouges et Blancs must be built around the supreme talents of Senegalese forward Keita Baldé Diao, who joined from Lazio in August for a considerable €30 million – the most expensive of their ten new arrivals. Youri Tielemans and Adama Diakhaby have also shown enough to suggest that a bright future lies ahead for the principality club once more. Just as it took time – three years to be exact – to build last season’s title-winning squad, it will once again require a lot of patience to find the right blend.
The likes of Terence Kongolo and Jordi Mboula were also brought to the club with another three or four-year project in mind, by which point ASM should be in rude financial health, with improved infrastructure and even greater stability: an ideal platform on which to once again challenge for the Ligue 1 crown and the best Europe has to offer too. Of course, Jardim will be given the time he needs – he as earned that much with his exploits so far since moving from Lisbon to Monte Carlo.
Despite earlier criticism of the coach, Monaco’s hierarchy are well aware of the fact they could not have a better-suited coach at the helm of their project. While their means are modest compared to the likes of PSG and Manchester City, be in no doubt that they remain every bit as ambitious as the continent’s heavyweights. The recent arrival of former Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo signals the club’s intent to continue improving their scouting and recruitment, as well as its impressive youth academy structure.
Everything is in place for Les Monégasques to continue setting an example for the rest of world football to follow, in terms of developing youngsters in order to achieve tangible success. The next phase is for Jardim to settle on a style of play, tactical system and identity which suits his current crop of talent. Only then can they look to repeat the unbelievable success of last season and maintain a level of achievement which can set a long-lasting legacy for the eight-time champions of France.
Feature Image via Tifo Football
Monaco celebration image via Sky Sports
Terence Kongolo image via AS Monacao
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