AS Monaco: Chelsea's stingier, more-stubborn bus-parkers
First, the bad news: AS Monaco haven't conceded more than two goals in a single match since Bordeaux blitzed them 4-1 back in August. Since then, they’ve conceded two goals just twice—two weeks ago against PSG in the Coupe de France and back in November against mid-table Rennes. Against that back-drop, our task on Tuesday looks all the more daunting, especially given the fact that all Monaco has to do advance is to not lose by three goals.
As with Chelsea, we can expect them to hunker down, defending their area with eight or nine defenders, and dare us to find a goal. An opponent already committed to defending tooth and nail has all the more reason to do on Tuesday. This brings us, eventually, to the good news. Bear with me...
AS Monaco’s 2013-14 campaign was its best in more than a decade, finishing second in Ligue 1, the club’s best finish since 2002-03. Continuing with the bad news, that side reached the Champions League final only to fall 0-3 to Porto (managed by Mourinho, for what that’s worth).
I’m not one for facing off against distant history, though, so I'll leave it at that. More to the point, it's worth noting that this year's Monaco model jettisoned all three of its most-prolific attackers, selling James Rodríguez to Real Madrid and Emmanuel Rivière to Newcastle and "loaning" Radamel Falcao to Manchester United. In so doing, they deprived themselves of 34 of 77 goals scored last season, leaving Dimitar Berbatov to lead the line, which he did do quite well against us in the first leg.
Along the way, they've exposed themselves as a stingier Chelsea: quite content to park the bus and dare opponents to score against them. If there's a difference, it comes from a juxtaposition: Chelsea stockpile attacking options; Monaco shed them. However, denying this opponent scoring chances isn't really the issue. We have to find ways to score and to score in spades.
Much has been made of Monaco's stinginess, and most of that is well-deserved. Any club that can win its Champions League group while scoring just four goals deserves respect, albeit grudging. We can't really look to that defeat at the hands of Bordeaux for much inspiration, but we can look to more-recent results.
For one, let's admit that the 1-3 loss was a bit of an aberration. Kongobdia's goal came from 40 yards out and on a deflection, and that changed the game. The second, of course, came through indefensibly "suicidal" defending as we desperately sought an equaliser, and the same can be said of the third. Finally, finally, the good news: Monaco should have zero-interest in getting forward to score. Zero.
If they do foray forward, so much the better for us, as getting forward is not what they do well. Like Chelsea, they specialise in defending in numbers, negating and nullifying. By contrast with Chelsea, they don't have creative, attacking types like Hazard, Costa, or Fabregas. As such, we can look forward to what might appear on the surface to be a dour, defensive match.
Then again, we experienced our best spell of football against this very side when it had nothing to but defend. Already ahead 0-2 in that first leg, after all, all that was left for Monaco to do was to preserve the lead. They had one job. They failed. Oxlade-Chamberlain found the goal that would make the second leg a bit more manageable. Chasing an equaliser, however, we exposed ourselves and Monaco capitalised, and that's where things now stand: 1-3. In other words, it does look bleak on its face—how do we score three (or more) against a squad that has only conceded more than twice just once?
I hesitate to dredge up ancient history, but it does feel worth a mention: when we went into Allianz Arena at around this time in 2013, Bayern Munich were on a similarly stout run, having conceded just six goals in its previous 16 matches. Monaco, for all its fortitude, couldn't deny us when it mattered most, when they had all but secured advancement thanks to two away-goals.
If we can play for longer stretches with the intensity we showed in the minutes that led to Oxlade-Chamberlain's goal—if we can avoid that "suicidal" defending that led to conceding twice against Monaco, well, we'll be on our way to the quarter-final.
Stranger things have happened, after all...