Monaco’s victory against Rennes meant that Nico Kovac’s men went into the Christmas break on a high. Despite a difficult start to the campaign, they are still fighting on all fronts, and the second act holds much promise.
The forlorn figure of Ruben Aguilar lying on the turf in Kiev, having scored the fatal own goal that destroyed Monaco’s Champions League hopes, was a visualisation of Monaco’s start to the season. The injury-time loss in August’s Champions League qualifier, which came in such cruel circumstances, coupled with a disastrous start to their domestic division, had the potential to derail Monaco’s campaign before it had even started.
Images of that night in Kiev have since dissipated, replaced by much fonder, more recent memories of a Monaco side that has shrugged off that difficult start and reasserted itself as a force both domestically and in Europe.
Monaco’s journey back into domestic contention has at times been arduous and riddled with setbacks along the way. But now finding themselves back within striking distance of the European places, Monaco will be hoping to convert their comeback into a Champions League spot. Their impeccable Europa League campaign thus far and progression in the Coupe de France also leaves open the tantalising possibility of silverware, meaning that Kovac’s men have everything to play for going into the new year.
The early season slump undoubtedly marked the lowest point of Monaco’s season, and in fact of their calendar year. Falling out of the Champions League at the first hurdle, having fought so gallantly to get there the year before, and having registered only one victory in the opening five Ligue 1 matches, Monaco fans may have felt that they’d have to buckle in for a hard season.
There may well have even been a sense of deja vu for supporters, having experienced for years the boom-and-bust nature of the club. Monaco of course won the league in 2017, yet just two years later the club were flirting with relegation back into Ligue 2. This erraticness, however, now seems to be a characteristic of the past, and the relatively recent restructuring of the club that saw the appointment of Paul Mitchell as sporting director has brought some much needed stability.
A dire August gave way to a more positive September. Wins against Clermont Foot and Saint Etienne, as well as a draw against local rivals Nice, saw Kovac’s men climb the table. A win against Sturm Graz and a draw away in Sociedad, also got their Europa League campaign off to the ideal start.
Pivotal in many of these performances were Benoit Badiashile and Caio Henrique. The former has continued to excel throughout the campaign, becoming an integral part of Kovac’s defence be it in a three or as a two. Henrique’s form, however, has fluctuated. After a brilliant start to the season in which he quickly notched up seven assists, his form has tailed off somewhat in November and December, and has recently found himself in a rotation with summer signing Ismail Jakobs.
Jakobs, as well as fellow signings Myron Boadu, Aleksandr Nubel and Jean Lucas, have all needed time to be bedded in, though many are now showing promising signs.
Nubel, in particular, had a nervy start to life at the Stade Louis II. The German goalkeeper, on loan from Bayern Munich, has since gone on to make some crucial saves, improved with the ball at his feet, and in doing so repaid the faith that Kovac kept in him during his difficult spell.
Jean Lucas has had bright sparks, notably a great half against Strasbourg in November, but has lacked the consistency to convince. His tendency to lose the ball in dangerous areas, rather than his undoubted dribbling ability and passing range, have often caught the eye.
Perhaps the most divisive of the summer signings amongst the fan base has been Boadu. His off-the-ball work, pressing and link up play have rightfully earned him plaudits in recent weeks, but it is his finishing that leaves a little to be desired. This was most evident in the pre-Christmas game against Rennes when, just six yards out, unmarked, he unsuccessfully attempted to cushion the ball for a teammate when it seemed easier to score himself.
Confidence is clearly an issue for the Dutch striker, but he is still young and trying to find his feet in a new league and a new country. Kovac’s trust in the player, as well as a set of attributes that complement his strike partner Wissam Ben Yedder, means that he is likely to feature prominently in the second half of the season.
Ben Yedder, having started the season slowly, has recently refound his prolific touch. The French international striker has now notched 10 league goals, the second most in Ligue 1. His two goals against Red Star in the Coupe de France were also enough to see Monaco progress to the next round.
The French striker, however, is yet to score in the Europa League, where his side have arguably registered their best performances. Kovac often described their Europa group as being of Champions League quality, but his side wrapped up top spot with a game to spare. Coming out group winners, Monaco automatically progress to the round of 16 and, on current form, you would back them to go even deeper in the competition.
Monaco recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of Dmitry Rybolovlev’s presidency of the club, a decade in which the Principality side has reached new heights. As Monaco go into the new year fighting on all fronts, fans can continue to dream that they could add to that success in 2022 and, just maybe, bring home some silverware.
Photo source: AS Monaco