Ligue 1 has been synonymous with a certain team from the capital city. Paris Saint Germain have been winning almost everything in the French league, literally almost everything. PSG have absolutely slaughtered every club in their path on way to winning numerous trophies domestically. At the start of the 2016/17 season it did not look like the trend of PSG winning the domestic titles would change. However Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco would upset the odds and easily go on to win the Ligue 1. Here is a tactical breakdown of how the club managed to upset the odds and pull off the improbable.
Criticized for differing from free flowing and attacking football at the beginning of his stint at Monaco, Leonardo Jardim surprised everyone by sending his side out field with scintillating attacking tactics. Going by the theory, attack is the best form of defense Monaco relentlessly piled up forward in search of goals. The Monaco manager decided to keep things in the opponents half so that his team could actively press and retain their attacking flow by forcing turnovers. Monaco were employed with a modernized version of the 4-4-2 and proved that high pressing and attacking football can bring in laurels.
The game play was often revolved around how the team would attack and Jardim was able to get the best out of his attacking players. The key factors of the side were
1. The three forwards out of which two were often deployed as the front two,
2. High flying full backs
3. Effective contribution from midfield and behind
4. A dynamic midfield dup added with the creative ingenuity of Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva
The side’s tactics as mentioned earlier are very simple but Jardim made the most out of it by using the players who exactly suited the philosophy. 4-4-2 was often used for a major part of the season coupled with a 4-2-3-1 variant when Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar and Boschilia formed the attacking trio behind the lone striker. In most of the cases, Mbappe was seen drifting wide to cut in from the wings as he joined Lemar and Silva to play behind Falcao.
High pressing is the key:
Monaco were not per se a pressing machine as that of a Jurgen Klopp or a Pep Guardiola team. Nevertheless they were well versed in pressing high up the pitch and made sure that they won the ball back. Their ability to force turnovers high up the pitch combined with their direct nature meant that they were able to score goals aplenty. The clinical nature of their forwards was also a key factor in this as they took their chances that came their way. The pressing structure varied a bit in accordance to the opposition.
The basic principle remained the same though with the motive being to push the ball to the wings. They adopted a man oriented approach when the opposition goalkeeper had the ball and were intent on pressing the passing options. The two forwards are involved actively in pressing the back line whereas Bakayako and Fabinho are responsible for condensing the center. The full backs push high up while Lemar and Silva move in relation to the movement of the forwards in front.
In their clash against Manchester City in the Champions League, Monaco pressed City high up the pitch and looked to unsettle their progressions. This was done by pressing the ball carrier after the passing options were cut off. Mbappe guides the play to the other side after the press was triggered from a pass to the wings. With all the passing options covered, Bravo goes long and possession is regained by Monaco.
The man orientation shown by Monaco in these types of high pressure situations is telling as they stick close to the opposition players who can dictate the play. While their defensive play is not up to the highest level as they conceded their share of goals, it goes without saying that this pressing scheme adopted by them was crucial in their success, in both defensive and offensive phases as well.
The fluidity in formation – hybrid 4-3-3:
While Monaco did set out in a 4-4-2 as their base shape, it was always in transition between a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2. In many instances it would transition to a 2-4-4 or even a 2-2-6. This transition is facilitated by the outside movements made by Mbappe and the inside drifting by Lemar. Lemar thrives in the half space with his intelligence and decision making. Silva on the other side hugs the touchline initially and makes dynamic movements inside with the ball.
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The fluidic movement by Monaco and their transitional movement
The occupancy of half spaces by Lemar and Silva in these situations is highly crucial while the full backs bomb forward. With almost all the lateral zones being occupied in this situation, Monaco are able to storm the front. The direct nature of Monaco’s play is also very evident here as they look for passes that break the lines. They have in Mbappe a forward who can sprint on to such through balls while their wingers and full backs are equally adept at running onto such long passes.
This goal from Mbappe against City best exemplifies Monaco’s direct football. A simple but well weighed pass from Fabinho who is under no pressure over the top of the defense is reached onto by the youngster before slotting past the goalkeeper. Playing on the shoulder of the last defender, the two forwards look to make use of diagonal runs to pull markers along with them. This helps them in creating spaces while also breaking free of their attention in some cases with well timed runs.
The 4-4-2 was the most crucial structure employed by the team last season and when they attacked the shape became a 2-4-4 as the full backs bombed up forward. In Mendy and Sidibe, Jardim was able to find very fast, quick dribblers and most importantly very attack minded full backs. When the team was in the final third, the two forwards situated themselves close together as the wide creative players tucked into the half spaces. The full backs now joined the front four in wide areas.
This created a situational 2-2-6 and gave Monaco every opportunity to score goals from all the attacks. In certain cases, when Bakayoko was played as a lone box to box midfielder in the centre, Fabinho would shift into the right half space meaning that Bernardo Silva would play behind the attacking two. Both the wide players would then situate themselves in respective half spaces and this allowed them to form the 4-4-2 diamond. The image below shows the 4-4-2 employed by Monaco.
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In the defensive phase, Monaco followed the old fashioned way. They defended in two banks of four when against the ball. The two full backs who are quick sprinters would often shuttle down quickly to join the centre backs. In the centre, Bakayoko and Fabinho in the centre will be joined by the two wingers to form a more compact midfield. This allows Jardim to defend with two banks of four and staying compact had been the defensive key throughout the whole of last season.
A key point in the nature how Monaco defended in this 4-4-2 was the way Bakayako and Fabinho functioned. Both the midfielders are excellent winners of the ball and interceptors of the ball. With their positioning being compact and also tactically astute, Monaco could actively press the opposition and win the ball.
The use of 4-2-3-1 however was limited due to the brilliant option in 4-4-2. This 4-2-3-1 shape, unlike the shapes used by other teams, doesn’t differ from its major structure. In most cases the second striker would be asked to slot in to the wings, Mbappe swapping with Lemar in most occasions, and the wide creative player would situate behind the lone striker. This gives more freedom for the most creative player in the pitch also allowing the option for the second striker to cut in from the wings and have a shot on goal.
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From the above graphic we can identify the 4-2-3-1 structure. Here Fabinho and Bakayoko are used in a double pivot and when the full backs join the attacking phase, the central four circulate the ball between themselves. This further creates opportunities to pass it on to the next line of attack. This can be seen from the image below.
Fabinho’s defensive movements
One of the most important ideologies followed by Jardim was related to his team adapting to different positions which suited them the best to attack. In this case, Jardim found a solution in Fabinho’s defensive movements when he deployed his defensive midfielder as the right back in between the games. This was done when Sidibe joined the offensive players to attack and Fabinho was asked to cover his position and this created a positional back three in defence when their players were in the attacking half. It also helped Monaco in the fact that Fabinho is naturally a right back and his defensive instincts are crucial here.
The video below covers everything that has to be said about Fabinho’s movements. His movements not only gives his team a good defensive structure during their offensive phase but also allows other players to occupy good attacking positions. The structure stays connected throughout allowing efficient progressions throughout the pitch. The direct nature of Monaco’s play is also benefited from this sort of positioning.
The most important reason for Monaco’s high flying season was the number of goals they scored. A lot of players were involved in accumulating this but the most important of the lot were the forwards. Valere Germain, Mbappe and Falcao were the names but many initially dismissed this trio as a decent target man, a teenager and a striker who was a mere shadow of himself from three odd seasons back. Their emphatic form and tremendous goal scoring exploits made everyone turn their attention towards the French Club as they beat the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern et al for the most goals scored in a single campaign.
After a decent loan spell at OGC Nice, Germain returned to Monaco where was often played as second fiddle to both Mbappe and Falcao. However Germain had been one of the key players and produced important performances when his side needed him. He returned his manager a tally of 10 goals and 3 assists in the league. This is more than good when one considers the fact that he is a third option striker. Through Carillo, Jardim received seven goals and one assist and makes one wonder as Carillo is the last forward on the bench.
Monaco have had a way with grooming young and fine talent with the likes of Anthony Martial amongst others. This pattern continued when Mbappe came to the fore. The eighteen year old forward had repaid his manager’s trust with a brilliant 15 goals and 8 assists return in the league alone. The graphic below shows Mbappe’s stats relating to the shots he had taken. Quite astonishing for an eighteen year old.
And finally the player who has had a remarkable turnover in his career once again, Radamel Falcao, had been sensational in finding the net consistently. After two poor loan spells at Manchester United and Chelsea, not many managers would’ve preferred to play him as the first option striker. But Jardim should be appreciated again and this time for what he has done with Falcao. The Colombian had a stellar season as he notched up 21 goals and 5 assists in the league and most importantly scoring goals at crucial stages of the game.
Contribution from the midfield and behind
One of the key assets for any attacking team is midfielders and defenders who can score for their team. Arguably the club’s best player in the 2016/17 campaign, Bernardo Silva played in the wide areas and regularly cut inside to create chances. He racked up 8 goals while setting up others 9 times. On the other hand, the player who plays in the opposite flank scored 9 goals and 10 assists. In Thomas Lemar, Jardim had a complete attacking package as he was often asked to play in behind the striker drifting in from the wings.
Fabinho proved to be the overall package of the side. Being a defensive midfielder for the side and ofcourse playing as a makeshift right back, Fabinho had found the back of the net 9 times in league alone. While all the praise would end with the midfielders and forwards regarding the offensive statistics, the Monaco defenders begged it to differ. Both the full backs known for their high flying ability, provided with 5 assists each. From the centre of defence, 8 goals were contributed as Glik ended the campaign with six goals.
With simple tactics and brilliant players at his helm, Leonardo Jardim has pulled of a stunner out of nothing. The team which suffered the fate of relegation eight years ago and the same team to have undergone one of the worst financial crises in its history had become the Champions of France. With great individual qualities and scintillating players, the Portuguese manager found the right philosophy which suited his side the best and has received plaudits from all over.
At the start of the season, not many would’ve put their money on Monaco. However, Monaco had come against all the odds after the FFP regulations and ownership turmoil. By beating the likes of PSG on its way to win the Ligue 1 title, Monaco made people look at them closely by their brilliant and most importantly quick and commanding displays. With a historic title win after suffering one of the worst phases in the club’s history, AS Monaco’s Ligue 1 title winning team of 2016/17 season are Football Bloody Hell’s Unlikely Champions.