PSG, Monaco and the sorry state of Ligue 1
Rewind back to 20th May 2017 at Roazhon Park, the home of Stade Rennais, a 3-2 victory away from home for Monaco saw them cap off an incredible title-winning campaign in which they racked up an astonishing 107 goals in the league and finished 8 points clear of second-placed Paris Saint-Germain.
Among the scorers that day was Fabinho, who now plies his trade in the Premier League for Liverpool after a £43.7 million deal in the summer. The Monaco squad was littered with stars throughout that campaign.
Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar and Falcao in attack. Joao Moutinho and Bernardo Silva formed part of a formidable midfield. Kamil Glik and Benjamin Mendy were rocks at the back protecting Daniel Subasic who was in the form of his life throughout this campaign. It is easy to reflect in football, however when you see the state of affairs at the club currently you can't help but fear for Monaco and quite how drastically they have declined in recent years.
It is well known that Monaco have a 'buy low, sell high' policy in terms of transfer dealings which has served them well over the years and allowed the club to be sustainable in the current climate. However, the sales of such high calibre players coinciding with a lack of genuine quality coming into the club have seen a spectacular fall from grace for the club.
The Monaco side that took to the field against PSG on Sunday was almost unrecognizable. A starting line up bereft of experience and genuine quality took on one of the most star-studded sides in Europe and the outcome was predictable. What would have been a title decider a few seasons back, now felt like an absolute mismatch. By the end of the game, Monaco were having to field teenagers who had barely made their first team debuts due to the lack of first team players available.
PSG strolled to a 4-0 victory without really fully breaking stride, such was the ease of the victory at times it felt like a training session. Once Edinson Cavani had tapped in twice with a helping hand from VAR after only 11 minutes it felt as though Monaco would be in for an absolute thrashing.
Fortunately for Monaco, the visitors eased off slightly and even at times let the home side in with a couple of glaring opportunities, particularly young Spanish winger Jordi Mboula who blazed over from close range - a chance one of PSG's lethal front line would have surely dispatched with ease.
A Cavani hat-trick and a Neymar penalty sealed an extremely comfortable win for the Parisians who stretched their lead at the top of Ligue 1 to 13 points. They have now won all 13 of their opening fixtures in the league whilst Monaco are languishing second from bottom on 7 points after 13 games.
So just what is going wrong at Monaco? Last season they were runners-up to PSG finishing 13 points behind them but securing Champions League football after a solid season. Leonardo Jardim had achieved great things with this young and exciting Monaco side and made them a brilliant side to watch.
Not only did he guide them to their first league title in 17 years during the 16-17 season, he also reached the semi-finals of the Champions League and Coupe de France along with a loss in the final of the Coupe de Ligue to PSG. Jardim was named Ligue 1 Manager of the Year for the 2016-17 season and following that up with a 2nd place finish in the 17-18 season was an admirable achievement in itself.
Suddenly, a poor start to the season and a couple of losses in the Champions League resulted in Jardim being sacked.
There was a lot of fanfare surrounding his replacement and rightly so, none other than Thierry Henry was the club's choice to take them forward and restore former glories. A legendary player in his own right, returning to the club where his professional career started seemed the fairytale managerial appointment at the time.
Yet with no managerial experience bar a couple of years as assistant manager for the Belgian national team Henry could not have imagined the scale of the task he faces at his new club. A huge injury crisis has hit the club this season, with several senior first team players out injured, leaving the squad depleted.
This is a squad in a transitional phase at best, yet before the PSG drubbing, they had 12 players on the treatment table. Few clubs in Europe would be able to withstand such a huge injury list and Monaco have been no exception. They have suffered in the Champions League group stages, suffering an early elimination including a 4-0 loss at home to Club Brugge and the collapse against PSG on the weekend has to give Thierry Henry a brutal indication of just how relentless top-flight management can be.
Time will tell if Henry will be given the time and trust to turn things around at Monaco. Once the injury problems ease off and he has more senior players to call upon he may stand a fighting chance but for now, it really is looking desperate for Monaco.
This leads us to the curious case of PSG. Utterly dominant it seems domestically, yet when it comes to the biggest stage they appear to fall just short. Winning the title seems almost academic for them (5 of the last 6 Ligue 1 titles heading to the Parc des Princes) yet the Champions League remains elusive.
This will be what the hierarchy will be craving more than anything, winning the elite club competition in Europe will go some way to justifying the astronomic fees they have paid over recent years for the likes of Neymar (£200M) and Kylian Mbappe (£166.4M).
Until they can prove themselves in this competition they will not be taken seriously amongst the big dogs in Europe. A 6-1 thrashing of Red Star Belgrade in the group stage was impressive, yet faltering displays such as a 3-2 loss to Liverpool and back-to-back draws with Napoli have seen even qualification from the group not guaranteed for the Parisian giants.
This poses the question as to why PSG struggle to make an impact in the latter stages of the Champions League - their front three can strike fear into any defence and the sheer volume of goals they score is unprecedented in Europe currently.
Last season, a 5-2 aggregate loss to Real Madrid saw them eliminated. The season before they were victim to one of the most phenomenal comebacks in knockout history when they squandered a 4-0 first leg lead to lose 6-5 on aggregate to Barcelona. A mental fragility? A lack of tournament nous? These are elite players at the peak of their powers yet we see them fall short time and time again in Europe.
Much points to the strength - or lack of - in their domestic league. PSG quite often steamroller their opposition in the league and rarely are they ever pushed fully for the 3 points. In this kind of environment, are these superstar individuals ever really tested or made to reach those higher levels that the Champions League demands?
They have beaten Monaco 4-0 in the French Super Cup and also in the league. They crushed Lyon 5-0 at home. Thomas Tuchel rested players for an away trip to Marseille - a derby nicknamed 'Le Classique' due to its magnitude and they still cruised to a 2-0 victory.
Until Ligue 1 becomes more competitive, and the gulf is closed between PSG and the rest it seems extremely unlikely that the French giants will be making their mark on the grandest stage of all.
As for the others, well, it appears to be a scrap for the Champions League places as extraordinarily we find ourselves with an almost foregone conclusion in terms of where the title is heading and it's only mid-November.
Lille have had an extremely bright start to the season, as have Montpellier (2nd and 3rd place respectively) whilst Lyon sit in 4th with Marseille languishing in 6th place. For these sides to compete with PSG is a big ask, but from the neutral point of view we can simply marvel at the wonderful football PSG are producing week in, week out.
Will this be their year in the Champions League? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!