Monday’s Champions League last-16 draw saw Manchester City paired with Monaco. We spoke to French football expert Jonathan Johnson to get the inside track on the side who currently lie second in Ligue 1.
What’s your immediate reaction to the draw? Most people are viewing this a fairly even tie.
It’s a tough draw for Monaco – but they will be more confident than PSG, who have come up against Barcelona a couple of times recently and have not been able to get past them.
Monaco will look back on what they have done in the Champions League – they went to Arsenal and won and knocked them out over two legs [in 2015] – and feel positive. Considering the squad Leonardo Jardim has now is much stronger than the one which knocked Arsenal out, I think they will be confident they can cause another upset, especially with the way they disposed of Tottenham earlier in the group stage.
Monaco have scored 53 league goals, which is more than any other side in Europe. Why has it suddenly clicked for them going forward?
They’ve now got players who can put the ball in the back of the net.
They’ve had very good midfielders since they came back up to Ligue 1. Jardim is a good organiser, so they always keep things very tight defensively, and they have a good goalkeeper as well. But they haven’t had a season since winning promotion to Ligue 1 where they’ve had Falcao and Valere Germain leading the line.
Having them in attack – both very, very good goalscorers – has made the difference. Falcao is proven at continental level and Germain is a very consistent goalscorer in the league.
That really has been the key for Jardim and Monaco this season because ever since Jardim came in as manager, he has had to deal with lots of key players being sold every summer and having to rebuild his squad. He hasn’t had to do that this time and he’s added to the quality components already in the side - most notably Falcao but you’ve also got Thomas Lemar coming of age as well.
With the likes of Bernardo Silva providing the ammunition for Falcao, it’s not surprising they’re scoring so many goals and doing so well.
Falcao appears to be the dangerman with 12 goals in 14 games.
He’s rediscovered himself; he’s reborn. He suffered a very serious knee injury at Monaco a few years ago and when he was on the verge of recovery, Monaco were under pressure to save a bit of money so they needed to farm him out on loan.
He was keen to try and reinvigorate himself elsewhere - that’s what led to loan spells in the Premier League. He didn’t do himself justice when he was there because he wasn’t fully fit initially and he never really got a run of games where he was able to rebuild himself. That’s what’s been so great about this season for him. He was able to have a full pre-season with Monaco and got to play in some Champions League qualifiers as well, so by the time the season started, he was able to hit the ground running.
Now that he’s back and playing regularly again and he’s really starting to show he’s El Tigre of old – the famed striker that was feared by almost everyone in Europe.
He’s looking in very good physical shape – I’d say the best shape he’s been in his whole time at Monaco.
He’s looking very confident as well, scoring a mixture of goals. He’s scored some excellent first-time finishes and is showing some real predatory ability. He will be a handful for City’s defence, along with Germain, Lemar and Bernardo Silva.
What can we expect from Monaco? Are they a side who like possession of the ball or will they look to absorb pressure and play on the counter?
Over the last couple of years Jardim has managed to perfect both playing possession-based and counter-attacking football. Domestically they tend to control things a bit more; when they’re playing in Europe it’s more counter-attack, particularly away from home.
You’ll see them try to hit City on the counter in the away leg and then try to dominate the ball a little more at home.
It wouldn’t surprise me given the size of the task ahead if they slip back to being a bit more defensive, as they were when they managed to knock Arsenal out because that was a very successful method. With that experience, they will be confident they can keep City out, penetrate their defence and cause an upset.
Monaco are second in Ligue 1 at the moment, a point behind Nice, but most people see them as the best team in France. Is that a fair assessment?
Monaco are the title favourites. Nice are playing the most attractive football – but Monaco aren’t far behind and they are far and away the most prolific. They are managing to score a lot of goals in a league known for tight defending.
They travel to PSG at the end of January in a game that will be crucial in the title race – and that’s one City fans should tune in to see just how they are shaping up ahead of the Champions League clash.
It’s the first time City have been drawn against Monaco. For our fans travelling out there to Stade Louis II, what can they expect?
Monaco aren’t famed for creating an intimidating atmosphere. Most of their fans don’t live in Monaco – it’s an expensive place, so people can’t really afford to live there. But for a big game like this, I think they will sell their full allocation of home tickets.
It is a very nice stadium, very picturesque. When Monaco are playing well and producing attractive football, the fans really get on their side. It will be great to see Stade Louis II full and creating noise because it’s something we see all too rarely in French football.
There won’t be too many tickets for travelling fans, purely because it’s a very small stadium. But it’s definitely one for people to cross of their list because it’s one of a kind.
Jonathan Johnson is ESPN FC &beIN Sports USA's French football specialist. You can follow him on Twitter @Jon_LeGossip