More than Mbappe: The story of Monaco's other stars
Much has changed at Monaco over the course of the summer. The Stade Louis II side, the unexpected champions of France, were coerced into selling several of their greatest players, including the headline-making Kylian Mbappe.
The 18-year-old striker has technically joined Paris Saint-Germain on loan, although the deal will inevitably be made permanent next summer when the capital side will pay €160 million to make the academy graduate the second most expensive player of all time.
Also gone are Tiemoue Bakayoko, Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy – the world’s most expensive defender as Manchester City elected to spend €60m on him. It has been a summer of sales the type of which simply has never been seen before in football.
Is it any wonder, then, that Monaco are perceived to be struggling during this transition process?
Certainly, they are toiling in the Champions League, having gained just two points from four matches – a record that means they already stand on the brink of elimination from the competition they reached the final four of last season.
But it is not all bad news.
Leonardo Jardim’s men have actually picked up more points in the league after 11 matches than they had at the same juncture last term. The perception of their position is different, however, as there is more expected of them, while the form of Paris Saint-Germain has been simply scintillating.
A more pragmatic style of play
Much of the explosive football they were capable of last term has been replaced by a more pragmatic, sober style as they adjust to new players and a new system.
It is a team that remains packed full of potential, having retained the bulk of last season’s squad.
Leading the way is, of course, Radamel Falcao. After difficult loan spells at Manchester United and Chelsea, the Colombia international forward has bounced back in spectacular fashion since returning to the principality.
Last term he struck up fine partnerships with both Mbappe and Valere Germain, who was moved on to Marseille but is now playing a primarily lone role in attack. That has not stopped him from thriving, however, as he has scored 13 times in nine league outings, making him one of Europe’s deadliest forwards.
It is elsewhere that Monaco are not quite firing on all cylinders.
Thomas Lemar might have gone to Arsenal at the end of the transfer window had the Gunners met Monaco’s asking price. Part of him probably wishes that he did, too. It’s been a difficult start to the season for the left-sided attacker, who has been troubled by injuries and is expected to be out until December after picking up a shoulder problem in the Champions League draw with Besiktas.
Nevertheless, at his best, he remains a potent offensive threat. This was underlined as he scored a terrific goal and turned in a formidable performance as France defeated the Netherlands 4-1 on transfer deadline day, only serving to run salt into the wounds of Arsenal for missing out on their man.
Also in the midfield is Fabinho, who was courted notably by Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain in the summer. His route to the top has been circuitous, having spent one year on loan at Real Madrid from Rio Ave. Indeed, he only made his move to Monaco permanent in 2015 following a couple of seasons on loan at the club.
Tigerish in the midfield, the 24-year-old was the heartbeat of their success last season and has a new partner in the promising young Belgian Youri Tielemans to join him this time around.
Signed as a replacement to Bakayoko, he has, in fact, been often used in a more advanced role in the midfield but has looked most effective sitting next to the Brazilian.
The defence is the area of the team that has been least touched since last term, although the loss of Mendy has hit them hard as Jorge has toiled a little to replicate the dynamic form of the man he has stepped up to replacement.
Certainly, there appears to be a sense the Monaco are overcompensating in the full-back areas. Djibril Sidibe, who turned Arsenal down to sign for Monaco little over a year ago, was solid last season but has lost some of his mojo since the summer. Not only has his attacking threat lessened, he has also allowed his standards at the back to dip, too.
Poland international Kamil Glik was perhaps the most underrated member of Monaco’s title-winning side last term and remains a lynchpin of the side, providing the muscle beside the more athletic Jemerson in the heart of the team.
While Glik, at nearly 30, is probably too old to secure a switch to a superclub, the same cannot be said of his partner, who has been one of Monaco’s young guns from last season to live up to the big reputation he built himself.
Monaco, therefore, have plenty of star quality available to them, despite their incredible summer. Harnessing it, however, is proving to be a good deal more complicated now for Jardim.