It was not long ago that AS Monaco looked to match the investment and recruitment strategy of Paris St Germain in an effort to keep up with the club from the capital. With significant investment from new owner Dmitry Rybolovlev, the club signed talented players including Radamel Falcao, Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez amongst others.
Whilst the overall goal to keep up with PSG remains the recruitment strategy at the club has shifted significantly in the last two to three seasons with a greater emphasis placed on signing young and talented players who will retain significant resale value after a couple of seasons in France. Many cynics pointed to the owner’s costly divorce that cost him a significant part of his fortune, others prefer to view the club as getting smarter in the transfer market.
Along with the shift in recruitment Monaco have also been astute in their choice of coach with the Portuguese coach Leonardo Jardim having joined the club in 2014. Jardim has shown an ability to meld together the expensive stars that remain from the beginning of the Rybolovlev era with the youngsters that have been identified and signed and players coming through the club’s own system.
Indeed Jardim has accomplished this whilst turning Monaco into one of the most accomplished and exciting sides in Europe. In the latter stages of the season, the club are still competing with PSG for the domestic title and they find themselves in the Champions League quarter-finals facing another young and exciting team in Borussia Dortmund.
How though has Jardim approached the task tactically? In truth it is difficult to identify a single structure in the attacking phase for Monaco with players like Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva and Kylian Mbappe capable of playing a variety of roles across the final third of the pitch and players like Fabinho, Joao Moutinho, Radamel Falcao and Tiemoue Bakayoko providing structure and solidity.
For the purpose of this article, we will look at Monaco in the attacking and defensive phases of play as well as in the transition to attack when they look to play in a direct counter attacking style. I feel that these best encapsulate the way that Monaco play.
The Attacking Phase
In the attacking phase, the key player is arguably still Radamel Falcao with the Colombian international forward providing a focal point around which the younger and more mobile attacking players can pivot.
With both Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva capable of playing outside or inside and the pace of Kylian Mbappe either off the left side or coming from a slightly deeper central position Monaco are extremely difficult to defend against.
One of the most important aspects of the attacking phase of play for Monaco is that they do not have a single style that we can identify. Instead, they attack through the centre as often as they do the flanks and they can play quickly and vertically as well as moving the ball through the thirds in a more patient manner.
Here we see Monaco beginning to look to build patiently with the ball in their defensive third.
As the play develops through Caen press the ball aggressively and the right-sided centre back is closed down quickly. He plays a vertical pass (note this is not a long aimless ball) through the thirds and into the Valere Germain in the Falcao role.
Germain is able to combine quickly with Mbappe with the French striker then finishing easily in the penalty area.
Here we see a more patient side to Monaco as they attack by using a couple of key tactical concepts.
The first ball that is important is the pass from Joao Moutinho that cuts through the lines of the opposition defensive line. From there though the key is the interplay and the speed in which the ball moves make it impossible to defend effectively.
The concept itself is known in coaching vernacular as up, back and through. When the initial ball is played into the feet of an advance player who immediately sets the ball back to a supporting player who plays the third ball through the defensive line.
On this occasion, the through ball goes wide and around the defensive structure but the concept remains the same. Unfortunately, the chance on this occasion cannot be finished.
Another key aspect of the Monaco attacking strategy is the way that they counterpress from the front in order to pressure the opposition into making a mistake before they build their own attacking phase.
Here in the Champions League against Manchester City the controlling midfielder for City looks to access the middle third in possession of the ball.
As he advanced Monaco trigger the counterpress and converge on the ball carrier before forcing the turnover. The key now is the speed in which Monaco move the ball into an advanced area with an immediate through ball allowing the attacker to go through and have a chance on goal.#
The Defensive Phase
In the defensive phase, we see the speed and athleticism of this Monaco side in the way that they shift across the field to engage with the ball and press the man in possession, especially when the opposition access the Monaco side of the field.
They also sit in a relatively deep block with the defensive line preferring to defend closer to their goal to prevent the opposition from playing into the space between them and the goal.
Here we see Monaco initially in their attacking phase before losing the ball to Bordeaux in a high area of the pitch.
Watch how the Monaco players work to engage the ball as the opponents try to play into an area in which they can slow the pace down and build themselves. The opposition are not given time or space to play a pass in behind the pressing movement from Monaco and quickly the forced forward pass goes out of play for a Monaco throw in.
Normally we will see Monaco counterpress in this manner before dropping back and looking to press from the half way line.
Again here against Manchester City, we see Monaco press in the high areas of the field to prevent the opponent from managing to play through them.
It has to be said that City are something of a unique case with Pep Guardiola preferring a slow build up from the back which allows Monaco to commit more players to the pressing movement.
As with the first example the Monaco attackers move and press in a manner which prevents City from finding a safe passing lane and the direct pass into the Monaco half is comfortably dealt with.
As Monaco lose possession of the ball against Marseille they initially find themselves turned around as the Marseille player plays a direct pass into the forward which initially exposes Monaco as they have pushed high in their attacking phase.
The interesting thing is how the midfield in particular resets into a relatively passive line with the ball always being pressed but the rest of the midfielders dropping slightly to block potential passing lanes and prevent Marseille from playing through into the middle third of the field.
Eventually, the pressing and shifting from the Monaco block forces the opposition to play back to their own goalkeeper preventing a difficult situation.
The Quick Transition
With their attacking players, Monaco are noted for the speed of their transitions between defence and attack and indeed these transitions make up a key part of their attacking game plan.
This example is taken from a cup tie that had entered extra time. Normally this would be when we would see both teams begin to tire and the pace of the game would slow.
Instead, Monaco are able to spring a rapid counter attack that ends in an easy finish.
As the ball is played into midfield the key is in the first pass to release the runner into the opposition half. From there the ball can quickly be played through the line into the attacker in space allowing him to move in on goal.
They key however is in the last run from the goalscorer. The pace that he displays in catching up with the play is superb as he bursts into the box and prevents himself for an easy pass.
This time the counter attack and quick transition come as a result of a loose pass into midfield which is easily won back by Monaco.
We then see the man in possession drive quickly to the final third through the centre of the field. The key is that Monaco are able to commit a number of players into the final third and eventually the ball is played to the edge of the area and we see a goal.
This time the counter attack comes as from an opposition corner kick.
As Marseille take the corner the ball is won quickly and played into the player on the edge of the box. From there the ball travels quickly through the lines for the attacking player to run on to and threaten the goal.
There is a reason that Monaco are one of the most exciting teams in European football at the moment. Their combination of clever recruitment and attacking football make them a favourite of most neutrals.
Leonardo Jardim has impressed as the coach of the side to find his name linked to a number of highly rated club jobs around the continent. For the time being though the Portuguese coach and his exciting young team remain together.
Who would bet against them reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League at the very least? I wouldn’t.