AS Monaco are looking like serious contenders for the Ligue 1 title this season. The Principality club has already thumped reigning champions Paris Saint Germain this term, laying down their marker and signalling that they are serious about claiming their first top division crown since 2000.
Manager Leonardo Jardim has done a remarkable job of constructing a solid side despite the yearly upheaval of having his best players sold and a new cast of charges thrust upon him.
The recent 4-0 defeat to league leaders Nice was a setback, but Monaco remain level with PSG, and just one point behind off top spot.
Here are the key players behind Monaco’s title charge.
The 22-year-old Portuguese attacking midfielder was robbed of the chance to demonstrate his skills on the international stage this summer, when injury ruled him out of taking part in his nation’s triumphant Euro 2016 campaign.
But the former Benfica player has not let that disappointment hold him back at the start of the new season, and is currently enjoying the form of his life, acting as the premier creative source for Monaco, drifting in the space behind central striker Radamel Falcao.
The diminutive schemer has netted twice so far this season, including a stunning strike at Wembley Stadium in the Champions League against Tottenham Hotspur.
Able to play on either flank or centrally as a number 10, Bernardo Silva’s versatility is key to his unpredictability; the fact that, regardless of his starting position, he is comfortable drifting into any zone within the attacking third of the pitch, makes him a nightmare for opposing defenders.
It was a summer of intense transfer speculation for Brazilian full-back-cum-midfielder Fabinho. Manchester United were continually linked with making a €30 million move for the former Rio Ave player. And when Monaco signed full-back Djibril Sidibé from Lille, it seemed as though a replacement had already been found.
But no transfer materialised for Fabinho, and, instead of signalling a move away from the club, Sidibé’s arrival brought about a switch of position for the one-time Real Madrid loanee.
Moving from his customary right-back role into the centre of midfield – a position that he had previously played in on occasion – Fabinho has been a revelation. With his athleticism and physicality, the 22-year-old has brought a new level of stability to the centre of the side.
And with five goals and one assist to his name already this season, the deadly penalty taker has become a threat from open play too, completing 1.2 dribbles per game and averaging just 1.3 shots per goal.
And to put an end to any speculation over his future, Fabinho penned a new long-term contract with the Stade Louis II side recently.
Signed from Torino this summer for €11 million plus €4 million in add-ons, 28-year-old Polish defender Kamil Glik is shaping up to be one of the bargains of the last transfer window.
Last season, Glik formed a formidable partnership with Nikola Maksimovic – who has since joined Napoli – in Serie A, and Monaco swooped to sign the no-nonsense centre-back, who was on the books of Real Madrid a decade ago.
Glik has settled straight into life in Ligue 1, needing no adjustment period at all, and he has already shown himself to be a vital part of his new side. In his six league games to date for Monaco, Glik has averaged 2.5 interceptions per match, and a staggering 5.5 clearances.
He has also proven to be more comfortable on the ball than he gets credit for, with an average of nearly 40 passes per game, at a completion rate of 82 percent.
France under-21 international Thomas Lemar was on the wish-list of several elite clubs this summer, with Barcelona among those rumoured to be interested.
But Monaco managed to hold onto the man they signed from Caen in 2015, and the decision to do so has been rewarded with some exceptional performances and stunning goals.
Lemar shot to prominence last season, making 26 Ligue 1 appearances for Monaco and scoring five goals. But the left sided midfielder has taken his game to a new level this season, demonstrating greater consistency and showing the type of maturity which means Jardim can rely on the youngster to carry his share of the creative and goal-scoring burden.
Two goals from three Ligue 1 appearances already this season, as well as a rocket of a strike against Spurs in the Champions League, could mean that Lemar will soon be knocking on the door of the senior France team.
Blessed with a thunderous left foot, Lemar resists the temptation to shoot on sight. His conversion rate of scoring from every 2.6 shots he takes shows that he is mature enough to know when to shoot and when to pass. Plus, his 87.5 percent pass completion rate is further evidence of his responsibility in possession.
In addition to these key players, Monaco also have a rejuvenated Falcao leading the line and captaining the team, having rediscovered his goal-scoring touch after a disastrous two seasons in the Premier League. They have the ever-dependable Joao Moutinho conducting play in central midfield, and Jardim can also call on the wildcard of 17-year-old future superstar Kylian Mbappé if he needs further inspiration to unlock a defence.
With all of this in their favour, Monaco are serious contenders this season.
About the author – Ryan Baldi
Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.