AS Monaco post-Mbappe resurgence has them in Ligue 1 title race – ESPN

As is often the case in France, PSG and Marseille are dominating all the attention and the focus. It is normal in a way and not too different to other leagues where a handful of teams hog the spotlight; PSG and Marseille are the two biggest clubs in the country, and they’re also first and second in the Ligue 1 table. Not that it will bother Monaco too much: they’re used to it. However, there is a case to be made that the team from the Principality is underappreciated and undervalued considering they are quietly joining the race for the title.
Philippe Clement, who is one of the most low-key managers in the Big Five European leagues, won’t mind that his side is flying a little bit under the radar and not much talked about at the moment. But even he can’t escape the facts: Monaco are the best team in Ligue 1 right now. They’ve picked up more points than anyone (23 of a possible 27) since the restart after the World Cup. They’ve won their past five matches in all competitions, and have lost only once in the league since October — and that was against Marseille in a wild game where they conceded a late winner. They’ve also scored 23 goals in the past eight games in all competitions.
Monaco’s surge still has them seven points behind PSG and two behind Marseille, but with the top two facing each other Sunday in one of the most important and biggest Classiques of the past 20 years, Monaco have a big chance to close the gap. They host Nice in a big derby of their own — the Derby de la Cote d’Azur — too.
Clement has his team playing with confidence during this big run and with maturity: in a tactical sense, every player knows exactly where to position, what to do and when to do it. They’ve also constructed a solid squad with the right blend of experience, young talent and balance. Wissam Ben Yedder, the team’s top scorer with 14 goals so far this season in Ligue 1, leads the line by example at 31. Right-back Ruben Aguilar is 29. Guillermo Maripan, their dominant centre-back, and Takumi Minamino, the former Liverpool forward, are 28. Then you have the “kids” who have deservedly made it to the first time, like defenders Chrislain Matsima (20) and Vanderson (21), plus midfielders Eliesse Ben Seghir (18), Maghnes Akliouche (20) and Eliot Matazo (21).
Then, in the “middle,” between 24 and 28 — goalkeeper Alexander Nubel (on loan from Bayern Munich), defenders Axel Disasi and Caio Henrique, midfielders Youssouf Fofana, Aleksandr Golovin and Mohamed Camara, forwards Krepin Diatta and Breel Embolo — are regulars who have all played like leaders and have been excellent so far this season.
Clement repeats often that his Monaco are the youngest dressing room in Ligue 1. They certainly play with a lot of energy and swagger, but there is so much more to them and to their team in terms of physicality, technical ability and tactical awareness, and it’s worth noting that it took a while for this latest Monaco iteration to reach this level.

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Monaco’s model is to build a generation as talented as possible, guide it to success and offload much of it to bigger clubs for a transfer profit, using those funds to start the cycle all over again. The 2016-17 “generation” that won the league — powered by the likes of Fabinho, Bernardo Silva, Kylian Mbappe and Radamel Falcao — was very much a golden one. The 2020 group that finished ninth, not so much, though this group is getting there. In fact, there are several parallels with the side that won Ligue 1 six years ago.
For a start, they have the right manager: Clement is a bit like Leonardo Jardim was in 2017. Tactically, he is a top coach and while he doesn’t look super-cool or boast a box office brand, he is calm and composed and perfect for the job. Ben Yedder is a bit like Falcao, firing. He has 18 goals in all competitions and has been excellent in recent weeks. Ben Seghir is, to a lesser extent, a bit like Mbappe was when he burst into the scenes in 2017, though the comparisons wouldn’t stop there.
It took Monaco a while to get back to the top and to be ambitious again. Since the 2016-17 Ligue 1 title, they finished second, 17th, ninth, third and third; this year, they’re on the verge of something even more special. Paul Mitchell, the sporting director who has put this squad together as Luis Campos (now at PSG) did in 2016-17, has done an amazing job. He is likely to leave at the end of the season; sending him out on a high note would be a cherry on top.
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It’s worth noting AS Monaco aren’t just impressing in France; in the Europa League, they won their first leg of their Round of 32 tie with Bayer Leverkusen (3-2) in Germany and are in a strong position to qualify for the last 16 on Thursday night. In Ligue 1, though, Clement doesn’t want to get carried away.
“I don’t have long-term dreams. I’m just focused on the present and the near future,” he said after Monaco’s win against Brest on Sunday. Yet his players have abundant faith in what they can accomplish. “We finished third the last two seasons. Now, we have to aim higher and be ambitious,” claimed Diatta.
How high can they go is the question.

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