From toppling an empire to rebuilding from scratch in just 18 months, the story of AS Monaco over the past few seasons has been staggering. An unexpected Ligue 1 title and Champions League semi-final run in 2016/17 triggered a max exodus of talent over the following two summers, as they seemingly clung on to anyone that would stay aboard.
With most of their top talent gone and replaced by young, inexperienced prospects, they have sunk to the Ligue 1 relegation zone, winning just six points from their opening nine league games. Having failed to taste victory since the opening weekend, what has gone all too wrong for Leonardo Jardim’s men this campaign?
1 | Too much too soon?
The Monegasques prided themselves on their ability to buy young, develop and sell expensive. It was the lifeblood of their team and even after they let many key players in the summer of 2015 (James Rodriguez), they reached the quarter-finals of the Champions’ League, showing that their recruitment process was so impressive that they already had a back-up plan ready to step in.
This cycle has however not been nearly as successful. Youngsters already at the club in the mould of Youri Tielemans have proven to be categorically not ready to take up the mantle of a key player and those brought in are unfortunately having to bear too much, too soon. Sofiane Diop, Jordi Mboula and Moussa Sylla had barely a game of senior experience under their belt between them before this calendar year and each have made three starts in 2018/19, which showcases just how quickly they have had to throw them in the deep end.
Kylian Mbappé’s rocket to the top was controlled in spurts, as he was allowed to blossom slowly and never given too much responsibility before he was ready, instead breaking into the first team halfway through the 2016/17 campaign, because as shown so far this season, it’s a tough burden for any teen to carry otherwise.
2 | Experienced players underperforming
Monaco’s title win in 2017 was not just about the great talent emerging, it was how they balanced that with astute veterans that complimented them and helped balance the team.
The problem this season is that the experienced heads in the squad are making the sizeable mistakes. Kamil Glik has not covered himself in glory, albeit he is given a different central defensive partner nearly every week recently because another player with plenty of historic game-time in his locker, Jemerson, has been simply awful.
We all knew Djibril Sidibé can be a liability going backwards which has meant a shift further up-field, goalkeeper Daniel Subasic flapped at Rennes’ winner at the weekend and all their performances can be summed up by Andrea Raggi’s embarrassing “punch” on Clement Grenier, with fans only being happy that it might mean an extended spell on the sidelines for the lacklustre Italian.
3 | What is their best eleven?
A regular question mark for struggling teams, it seems as if Jardim has fallen into the “I don’t know my best starting team each week,” category as he tries to find his best formula, when in previous seasons he has settled on a shape in pre-season and stuck to it.
The 4-4-2 that won them the league title has taken a major back-seat without the players in midfield or at full-back to execute it, but a switch to a 4-3-3 has not ignited the team’s season. Another move to a back three went pretty disastrously at the weekend, with many feeling that the Portuguese coach just can’t find a formation that compliments all of his somewhat limited assets.
Injuries have played their part, especially to the likes of Rony Lopes, Stevan Jovetic and Aleksandr Golovin. Jardim will be aware of that and will be desperate to find a settled team that can get back on track post-international break.
4 | Losing the killer instinct
From being the deadliest goal-scorers in Europe halfway through 2017 to scoring nine goals in nine games in all competitions at the start of the 2018/19 campaign. Three of those came in the win against Nantes, but they have also failed to find the back of the net in three of their last four games in all competitions.
Radamel Falcao has grabbed four goals so far, but there’s no one even close to getting a similar tally and especially for some of the younger players, they are severely lacking confidence in front of goal. They managed 16 shots with just one goal against Nimes, with plenty of excellent opportunities spurned and could not even hit the target all game in their 1-0 loss to Angers.
Some will argue that those coming back into the fold (Rony Lopes especially) will help in this department, but they are in serious need of someone to walk into town and allow them to give them a drubbing, because a little confidence when attacking will go a long way. Falcao is currently, ironically in pretty inspirational form, but his confidence is not rubbing off in his colleagues.
5 | The loss of Fabinho
This cannot be underestimated, despite the fact he’s barely played for Liverpool since his move in the summer. Fabinho was the mould that kept the side together, especially in some testing moments last season and the balance he gave to the team was integral to their success.
The loss of Tiemoué Bakayoko did mean he was required to evolve his role in 2017/18, and he certainly stood out less because of it, but the Brazilian was quietly their most important player and now we are seeing why.
Fabinho covered such extensive ground, was so intelligent defensively, whilst simultaneously linking defence to attack, that you almost have to replace him with two or three players in different positions just to make up for his strengths that have now departed the team. More than any loss they have had, his absence in the middle of midfield has been clearly felt the heaviest.