• Nathan Staples

Can Monaco challenge PSG?

Will Monaco challenge PSG?

For years, Ligue 1 was a one-horse race. Paris Saint-Germain had the deepest pockets to reach for the best talent and almost by default, they won their national league at what seemed like a canter.

That was until Monaco’s project finally bore fruit and saw them overcome the odds and steal their first league title since 2000. However, after a summer that saw them plundered for most of their top talent, can they still mount a viable title challenge against the might of the capital club?

Starting with the argument for, this team has at least kept the spine of their side. Kamil Glik was a rock at the back in their title win, Fabinho was a revelation in the middle of the park and Radamel Falcao rediscovered his incredible attacking instincts.

That trio were pretty much needed if they wanted to have any chance of retaining the league and it would have been almost impossible to replace their productivity, especially in Glik and Fabinho. Having them bring some consistency into the new season will help the team gel.

The club have also succeeded in bringing in bright, exciting talent to replace those that have left. Whether that’s through the most recent transfer window or players on the fringes of the first-team, Monaco prepared to have another man stand up in the place of any departures.

Jorge has comfortably slotted into Benjamin Mendy’s role at left-back, Joao Moutinho has started the season superbly and Youri Tielemans is another brought in to fill the Tiemoue Bakayoko void. Even losing Kylian Mbappe has been softened, with the move for the exciting Keita Balde and ushering in Stefan Jovetic as the Valere Germain-esque cover.

Bernardo Silva is a different dilemma altogether, but a combination of Rony Lopes and the returning Gabriel Boschilia should just about have enough between them to match the Portuguese standout. It’s a surprising amount of depth they have and while some don’t think they are ready to compete at that level, no one expected those that have moved on to do the same so quickly.

And in Leonardo Jardim, they probably have the most creative manager in European football. Unlike other big-name managers, the Portuguese doesn’t have a particular style having shown his ability to make a stable side in his first few years before manufacturing an attacking juggernaut last year.

His flexibility, the switches he makes in key games and the imagination he has to cut down smaller teams with surgical precision is a sight to see. Keeping him around for another year was key and they will have a fight on their hands to keep him for the long-term.

However, there’s no denying that their main rival has strengthened. Hurt by a 2016/17 that saw them embarrassed both in Europe and in their domestic league, Paris Saint-Germain have fired back like the kings of France they believe themselves to be.

The signing of Neymar cannot be understated. The Brazilian is one of the best players in the world, capable of transforming a game on a whim and those kinds of footballers can push a good team into a great team single-handedly.

Adding to that is Kylian Mbappe, who hits them on both fronts. Not only does he strengthen a rival in their attacking options, it takes away one of their own that has the ability to make the difference in big games even as a teenager.

It was a real power move, motivated by PSG’s desire to prove their pulling power while Monaco were stuck with a decision. Upset a player and allow him to move for half the price elsewhere or abide by his wishes, cash in now and accept the consequences.

At the end of the day, the Monegasque are a selling club and they are best to do that when they can get the right price. The risks of either Mbappe struggling in a second season, getting injured or lowering in value with a year left on his deal were too great for them to decline PSG’s offer, no matter how much they were trying to resist.

And finally, while the replacements have been good, you cannot underestimate the quality they lost. Mendy is a fabulous left-back that gave them so much in the final third, Bakayoko had probably the best midfield partnership in Europe with Fabinho and Silva is an irresistible creative force that’s almost impossible to replicate.

Saying that, if there is any club ready to bounce back from setbacks like this, it’s Monaco. Many thought they would sink after losing a glut of talent in 2015 and they didn’t, so why should this season be any different?

They still have the manager, they still have the quality and if PSG slip up, expect the principality side to be right there waiting to pounce.

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