There has been a big shock in Ligue 1 this season, especially for the bookies who were backing PSG to dominate before the campaign had even kicked off. Fresh off the back of an extremely dominant season where they achieved a domestic quadruple (if you count the French equivalent of the Charity Shield) and a Champions’ League quarter final appearance, it seemed that they would go into 2016/17 without a suitable challenger in the French top flight. Fast forward to the last few games of the season however and AS Monaco are right up their, equal on points to PSG and ahead on goal difference with a game in hand.
They are also set to face PSG in a red hot French cup semi final (following the League Cup final earlier in the year which saw PSG win narrowly), with either team facing weaker opposition in the final. Monaco could not only clinch the league and cup, but have gone further than PSG in the Champions’ League as well, booking themselves into the semi-finals against Juventus. Although they don’t seem to come close to PSG on paper, Monaco have somehow managed to steer themselves into an excellent position which could see them lift silverware in several competitions.
Portuguese Leonardo Jardim has been at the helm since 2014, managing Monaco to respectable finishes in both France and Europe without any real flair or excitement until this year. His managerial record isn’t necessarily spectacular either, managing in Portugal and Greece with his time at Sporting being most notable.
Perhaps it is just proof that talented managers need a few seasons to build their squad and develop team strategy, or maybe that he has had a fire lit underneath him which has inspired some brave managerial choices. It seems that Jardim’s free-flowing attacking style and player nurturing abilities have turned the heads of Europe’s elite, with links to the Juventus and Arsenal jobs at the end of the season popping up in the papers.
Looking at the squad, it is clear that the manager has done a lot to get the most out of his less experienced players and has looked to his veterans for consistency and inspiration. Radamel Falcao, who returned to Monaco after some frankly miserable years in the Premier League, is finally showing his true class, scoring some incredible goals at the Stade Louis II and demolishing weaker defences to set up others.
Portugal star João Moutinho has also brought oodles of experience and seems to hold the midfield together, certainly benefitting from having a fellow countryman and former manager in charge. These key players will no doubt have an influence over their younger team mates, with some sterling performances coming from frankly unknown and untested youngsters.
It seems that the coaching staff have an eye for youth talent, with the likes of Thomas Lemar and Kylian Mbappé turning heads throughout the season. They seem suited too, which is one of the key reasons Monaco have been so hard to play against this year.
Having a level head has also helped the squad throughout the season. Jardim has repeatedly played down his chances of league, cup and European victories, taking the pressure off his players and giving them the mental edge over stronger competition. Behind the scenes however, it seems that strong coaching mixed with a tight backroom staff is paying off greatly and Monaco will do well to hold onto some of their developing youngsters in the summer.
There is still everything to play for in the league, with odds indicating that pretty much anything could happen between the top two yet. PSG are still baying for blood, with plenty of fire-power in their team that could knock the kids off the perch. The league and cup almost won’t matter however if Monaco manage to get past a strong Juventus side and book their place in an entirely winnable Champion’s League final in May.