The Unsung Stars at AS Monaco
29th March 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
If there was any football fan left who had not yet been convinced about the merits of Leonardo Jardim’s thrilling Monaco side this season, the 6-6, away goals Champions League triumph over Manchester City earlier this month will surely have won them over.
Averaging just shy of three goals a game in Ligue 1 this term, the Principality club have left jaws agape in their quest for a first league title since 2000, espousing a stunningly entertaining brand of attacking football, built on some of the finest young talent in Europe.
By this point, 18-year-old Kylian Mbappé’s prodigious gifts are the talk of the continent, with rumours of potentially world record-breaking summer bids from Manchester United and Real Madrid for the youngster already circulating in the press.
The likes of Portuguese playmaker Bernardo Silva, Brazilian full-back-cum-midfielder Fabinho and 23-year-old anchor man Tiemoué Bakayoko are reportedly the subject of interest from Europe’s elite clubs too.
But there are several players in this Monaco side whose work is going somewhat unheralded. The bright young stars are grabbing all the limelight and understandably so, but a handful of dependable performers form the bedrock of this blossoming team, and without them Mbappé, Radamel Falcao, Thomas Lemar and co. would be far less effective.
Here are the three Monaco players who deserve a little more attention for their work this season.
An £8 million summer signing from Serie A, Polish centre-back Kamil Glik is still sorely missed by Torino, whose porous defence is a shadow of the unit it was last season.
Partnering Nikola Maksimović for Il Toro last term, Glik was the brute force and no-nonsense brick wall, while his central-defensive colleague was the more eye-catching of the duo thanks to his slightly more cultured passing ability.
Both were sold in the summer along with right-back Bruno Peres, decimating a backline which was so resolute and impressive.
Torino’s loss has been Monaco’s gain, though, as Glik has settled right in to life in Ligue 1, wasting no time in stamping his authority on his new surroundings and assuming the mantle of the defensive enforcer of the Stade Louis II.
The 29-year-old Polish international’s average of 6.9 clearances per game ranks third in the French top flight, while he has also contributed an impressive 1.7 interceptions per outing.
More than just a destroyer at the back, though, Glik is a safe pair of hands in possession, picking out a team-mate with 82.2 per cent of his passes, and he has also chipped in with seven goals in all competitions.
They have become known as an unstoppable attacking force, and it’s easy to see why given the sheer number of gifted forwards in the team, but Monaco are also competent defensively; Glik’s presence has been key.
After spending last season out on loan with Nice, French striker Valère Germain knows what it feels like to be part of an exciting, high-flying team defying expectations in Ligue 1.
Claude Puel’s men rose to finish fourth last term, and although Hatem Ben Arfa – who joined Paris Saint-Germain in the summer – was the star of the show, Germain chipped in with a more than respectable return of 14 league goals from 38 games, while his hard-working style allowed the former Newcastle United and Hull City man to shine.
It’s been much of the same for Germain this season too. Whether partnered in attack by Falcao or Mbappé, his tireless and diligent pressing of opposing defenders and unselfish work on the ball has brought the best out of whoever plays alongside him.
The 26-year-old has found the net nine times in Ligue 1 so far this season, as well as once in the Champions League. Strong in the air and a composed finisher when through on goal, Germain is the kind of humble, understated forward that is often needed to help showcase the talents of a major star such as Falcao or the emerging Mbappé.
His impeccable work rate when out of possession is evidenced by the fact that he makes 1.3 clearances, 0.7 tackles and 0.4 interceptions on average per game – an unusually high defensive output for a striker.
As a teenager making his name in the Sporting Clube de Portugal first-team, João Moutinho was regarded as one of the hottest prospects in European football.
The maturity with which the young playmaker carried himself and the astuteness of his short-passing game was quite remarkable, and many thought he would develop into one of the very best players in his position in time.
However, although he has carved out a fine career for himself in high-level European football, Moutinho has perhaps never quite reached the heights expected of him, failing to truly deliver on the promise of those early years in Lisbon.
Subject of big-money moves to Porto and then Monaco in 2013, Moutinho is a reliable, if unspectacular, central midfielder. The diminutive Portuguese international – a European champion with his country last summer – possesses excellent technique and responsible positional senses; he may not be the most eye-catching player on the pitch, but he rarely lets his side down.
He is even capable of popping up with the odd 25-yard screamer on occasion, as was the case in Monaco’s last Ligue 1 outing against Caen. Moutinho picked the ball up in the inside-right position and sent a perfectly-struck curling effort into the far corner.
Not always a starter, the 30-year-old appears content with his position as the go-to back-up midfielder in Jardim’s squad, although he is often brought into the line-up if the manager decides that a little more finesse in needed in the middle of the park, with one of Fabinho or Bakayoko instead missing out.
With two goals and three assists from 24 appearances this term, Moutinho is far from a prolific creator. But, much like Germain further forward, he is the unassuming, dependable presence who makes sure Monaco move the ball into areas where the likes of Bernardo Silva and Lemar are most effective.