Monaco were expecting to lose a full back this summer. Crucial to their success, both Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibé marauded along their respective touchlines throughout last season. Sidibé had arrived from Lille last summer for €13m, a deal that reportedly included agreement allowing the player to leave the following off-season should Monaco perform well. However, despite some interest, most notably from Arsenal, it was Mendy who eventually joined Manchester City for £51m. Sidibé’s errant defensive display in Monaco’s 4-0 drubbing at Nice this weekend highlights why.
In a number ways, Sidibé is the quintessential modern full-back. He boasts pace, a good touch, decent crossing ability and the extensive stamina needed to forage up and down his flank for 90 minutes. Add to this a bullish physique and even the ability to add his name to the scoresheet once in a while equals a sizeable talent with a variety of ways to affect the game. These weapons were used repeatedly by Leonardo Jardim last season as Sidibé often stood out with Monaco often in the ascendancy, adding 5 assists in Ligue 1, the same as Marco Verratti.
However, in instances of sustained pressure Sidibé was regularly rumbled when glaring defensive blind spots in his positional play and lack of concentration were exposed, traits exploited by Mario Balotelli for Nice’s third goal on Saturday afternoon. Nice, as they did repeatedly, hit Monaco with an incisive counter. Arnaud Souquet burst down the Monaco left and easily outpaced left back Jorge to fire a low cross across the face goal, in front of centre backs Jemerson and Kamil Glik, who were holding a decent enough line, for Balotelli to stroll in at the far post to tap home. Sidibé, at right back (often used at left back too, especially at Lille) had left the Italian to jog into a position of danger completely unchecked, despite the run being a frustratingly obvious one.
Lapses in concentration are not unforgivable but Sidibé is a repeated offender of this easily eradicated mistake. He failed to track Adrien Rabiot’s run in the Trophée des Champions, whose resulting header won the game while Mario Mandzukic was left to ghost in at Subasic’s far post during Monaco’s Champions League semifinal second leg with Juventus to effectively end the tie unchallenged. Although in that particular instance Sidibé was deployed at wing back the principle remains the same and Sidibé’s slow reactions remain baffling as does the sheer volume of examples of his lack of defensive rigour, most often from crosses. Leroy Sané and John Stones were both beneficiaries during the previous round.
Rash and often reckless decision-making can prove equally as destructive. Another swift Nice counter on Saturday afternoon, utilising the pace of Allan Saint-Maximin and Alassane Pléa, dragged Sidibé out of position and he in turn inexplicably dragged down Balotelli from a resulting cross to concede a needless penalty as early as the 5 minute, the Nice forward posing relatively little danger at the time.
Manhandling Julian Draxler in Paris last season to give away a late penalty, a game which Monaco only just escaped with a point having deserved more, being another prime example of careless play born out of his inability to effective track his man. Worryingly for Leonardo Jardim these examples are often drawn from pivotal games where one such error can prove costly.
This is not to say Sidibé is completely devoid of defensive ability. His strength and pace make him far more of challenge in one on one situations in full-back areas than most of his peers as his build and height, standing at 6 foot, is traditionally more suited to a center back or even a central midfielder. Perhaps a midfield berth could be an option for Jardim in the future, Sidibé showed with his cute finish and uncharacteristic composure in the Trophée des Champions this season that he can be dangerous from wide on the right, playing ahead of Almamy Touré when fit.
Monaco find themselves in an even Champions’ League group alongside Besiktas, Porto and RB Leipzig with Les Monegasques opening their campaign with a trip to Germany on Wednesday night, a game that could resemble the encounter with Nice in a number of ways. Meaning Sidibé, should he line up at full back, could be under pressure once more. Nice’s switch to 4-4-2 and the speed on the counter that caused Monaco’s back four so many issues could be mirrored by RBL with Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen flanked by Marcel Sabitzer and Emil Forsberg.
A fluid front four supported by the dynamic Naby Keita that will be difficult to track in a game that could well be as open as the first half in Nice with the Monaco defence likely to be put repeatedly under pressure on more, a combination that has exposed Sidibé’s defensive frailties before.
It can’t be overlooked that Sidibé is often a key player for Monaco and has recently broken into the French national side but after the display against Nice, it may be time for Leonardo Jardim to sure up his back four and move Sidibé into midfield.
Although Monaco have, before Saturday, proved they could live without Silva, Bakayoko and Mbappé, their departures mean that, for now, Monaco can’t counterpunch as effectively or as often as they did last season and a slightly more pragmatic approach could be employed for now, allowing a new team time to settle.
Nevertheless, Jardim, renowned for improving his players, has some way to go if he is to mould his marauding right back into the calm, composed and consistent defender that Monaco need and that bigger clubs are looking for.