In the past few years, AS Monaco have turned from the best in France to a mid-table team. Many stars, such as the Manchester City duo – Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy, Liverpool midfielder – Fabinho and World Cup winner – Kylian Mbappé all came from this team. However, the team struggled under Thierry Henry and Leonardo Jardim after selling the first team members.
This summer, former Bayern Munich head coach, Niko Kovač, became the manager of Monaco. In the first four league games, the team acquired two victories, a draw and lost a game. This tactical analysis reveals the offensive organization of Monaco from a collective perspective.
Formation and first team squad
Kovač played his team with a 4-3-3 formation in every game. It was a very conventional system without a large scale of positional interchanges between players. The below graph shows the average positions and top passing links of Monaco players in the first four games.
In terms of passing links, the back four connected each other well by exchanging passes. The full-backs were operating slightly asymmetrically, with the right-back joining the attack more often. The structure of the team was a bit loose, as the midfielders and strikers were apart from each other. I will delve into the tactics in the coming sections.
Below is the team selected by Kovač in the first four Ligue1 games. Some players are absolutely pivotal to the team, playing every minute on the pitch. This includes most defenders – Benoît Badiashile, Axel Disasi and Ruben Aguilar. The left-back position was played by either Fodé Ballo-Touré or Djibril Sidibé.
At the midfield, Cesc Fàbregas was the preferred choice as the sole pivot of the team, though Youssouf Fofana could also fit at this position. Aurélien Tchouaméni was the only option as the right midfielder, while his partner could be Fofana, Sofiane Diop or Aleksandr Golovin if the Russian international is available.
The striker must be Wissam Ben Yedder, who is the skipper and the team’s top goalscorer in 2019/20. Kovač must hope the 30-year-old striker can carry on his prolific record (18 goals in 26 games) in the new campaign. Since Kevin Volland joined the team from Bundesliga, he took Henry Onyekuru’s position as the left-winger. Gelson Martins’ position was also under threat as Diop could also play as a right-winger.
So far, the opponents in France tended not to press the Monaco backline a lot. Therefore, the tempo was mostly decided by Kovač’s men in the build-up phase. The shape could be a 2-2 boxed shape formed by centre-backs and midfielders, or a 3-1 shape if the left-back stayed low on the pitch.
We all know Fàbregas is the best passer in the team. The question is: how to find the experienced pivot while avoiding closed body and verticality in the build-up. This was done by either using the box shape to create diagonal passing lanes or trying the third man plays with a dropping player.
When Diop plays as the left-winger, he has shown the willingness to drop and receive the ball. In cases when the opponent has tracked hard, he cannot turn and this is the moment that Fàbregas should step up. Fàbregas has a strong sense of positioning awareness to support his teammates, including being the third man to escape from Nantes pressure in this example. With the larger angle and spaces to pass, Monaco could initiate an attack.
Although 33-years-old already, Fàbregas instantly showed his class in his first start under the new manager. The former Barcelona man has an exceptional passing range. In possession, Fàbregas can send the ball to every player and every area on the pitch. Without an opposition pressing instantly, Fàbregas was the main man to progress the attack.
The below graph summarized the progressive passing links of Monaco in the Nantes game. One player is the key to send the ball into the final third – Fàbregas. He was able to connect all front players – Onyekuru, Volland, Ben Yedder and Martins with his passes.
The above Diop example was demonstrating a dropping player moving into spaces in front of centre-backs. Intriguingly, the boxed shape build-up could operate in a more static manner, which was the approach in the Rennes game. To overload the first line of pressure, Tchouaméni stayed and occupied spaces around Fàbregas initially, this was a strategy to avoid closed body during dropping, which was in the below image. In the first few games, Tchouaméni gave a mixed performance despite showing good physicality. His closed body orientation has resulted in possession turnover and conceding counter-attacks as well.
However, the ball-playing ability of Badiashile should be pointed out. The 19-year-old defender was very good breaking the lines with his passing, which was a strong tool in the build-up. Apart from finding Fàbregas diagonally, his passes could find players behind the pressing block, like the below example. Fofana stayed behind the pressing players, where Monaco enjoyed a numerical overload horizontally. Even confronting pressure, Badiashile still picked the players as the pass bypassed six defending players.
Comparatively, Disasi’s passes were too quick, hence, difficult to control. Also, Disasi was less calm when in possession. Therefore, pressing him from sideways or backwards could force heavy vertical passes, which were formidable to continue the attack.
Another player to be mentioned is Ben Yedder. The team captain was never a conventional striker. Instead, he likes to drop from height as an extra man in the midfield. In this example, Golovin’s outside movement has dragged the marker away and opened spaces for Ben Yedder. The left-back, Ballo-Touré, recognized the gap and found the striker.
However, another issue also arose if the ball was played to Ben Yedder. In this example, the centre-backs did not follow tightly, so rooms are available to carry the ball forward. In other cases in which Ben Yedder encountered more aggressive defenders, the team lacked a tight structure to escape by using third man plays.
Rotations on the right
Apart from relying on the centre-backs to break the lines, or using long balls to search attacking depth, Monaco rotate to create free players on the right in the build-up. During the rotation, the right-back, right-winger and right midfielder should be counter-clockwise, disrupting the opposition shape or fixing attention.
Here, the image shows the intended setup of rotation. Ideally, at least these three players should occupy two vertical zones that create an overload behind the opposition midfield. When the right-winger entered the half-spaces, he was freed to either attack spaces behind the lines or as an extra man at the midfield. Aguilar also played a vital part to push higher. If he was too deep, the pressure was attracted to the backline and spaces were compressed during the build-up.
Here is some in-game analysis on the rotations of Monaco. With Disasi having the ball, Monaco players moved their positions in a counter-clockwise direction to create options in advanced areas.
Tchouaméni dropped, but, on most occasions, he was just a decoy to move the opposition out of position. The right-winger (Martins) entered the right half-spaces to exploit spaces behind the midfield. Also, with Aguilar pushing high early, a 2 v 1 overload was created on the opposition left-back. This would put the left-back under a decisional crisis, as it was difficult to mark both players.
In some other cases, Martins also tried to use his pace to attack depth, searching spaces behind the defence. Disasi would then play long balls to release the Portuguese winger.
Below was a variation of the rotations, with Ben Yedder joining the attack. In this game, Tchouaméni operated like a double-pivot with Fàbregas. Again, he was not considered as an option because of his closed body. Diop moved narrowly to occupy half-spaces.
With lighter pressure confronting and more spaces to play, Disasi could pass the ball to Aguilar in these situations. An important detail would be the route of the pass. As, ideally, the ball should arrive at Aguilar’s front foot to release the right-back at full speed. If not, the attack was slowed down and the opponent could regroup.
With this approach, part of Monaco’s attack was generated on the right flank and ended with crosses. Aguilar, as explained, was the runner of the team, frequently entering the final third to create chances for the team.
The below crossing graphs belong to Aguilar, representing the crosses of the right-back in the game against Reims and Nantes. The 27-year-old player has a tendency to play early crosses, as most crosses were made in zone 15 instead of driving towards the byline.
The last part of this analysis considers the personnel that the manager got at flanks. The names are familiar – Martins, Onyekuru, Volland and Diop. Different players offer different tactical opportunities to the team, and I believe Kovač has many weapons in his arsenal to exploit weaknesses of oppositions.
Diop played for Monaco B team during the two seasons ago and is still only 20-years-old. Diop has good senses to attack spaces, dropping between or in front of lines to support teammates. Without markers pressuring at his back, he likes to turn and release the runners behind the lines.
Therefore, Diop was more like a “false-winger” than the conventional ones. In this below example, he appeared at spaces between the lines to receive the ball, then turn and develop the attack.
Martins is another type of player. Being a right-footed winger, he plays as the right-winger, flexibly switching zones to attack (wide zone and half-spaces). The Portuguese winger possesses qualitative and physical superiority in Monaco’s positional play.
Therefore, the team needs to create the weak side spaces for Martins, where he can use the superiorities to attack the defender in 1 v 1 situations. In those cases, Tchouaméni was the decoy to disrupt the opposition left-back. For example, Tchouaméni occupied half-spaces to keep the left-back narrow, allowing Martins to run into spaces behind the Metz defence.
In addition, Martins could be a great asset if the team is trying to develop plays through wide zones. The below graphs summarized dribbles of the player against Reims and Metz, which he has 12 and 7 dribbles.
These dribbles all happened on the right flank, and mostly was against the left-back. This is why Martins needs larger spaces to use his pace.
Compared to other wingers, Volland is a threat to the goal, he had 12 goals in all competitions for Bayer Leverkusen last season. Playing as the left-winger, he seldom stayed wide on the touchline but likes to invert himself into half-spaces.
Therefore, when Ben Yedder has dropped out of position, Volland can provide the offensive height for the team. When attacking in the final third, the former German international makes the forward runs to attack depth, manipulating the positions of defensive lines.
In this example, Sidibé released Volland, who has dynamic superiority on the right-back. This constant search for attacking depth can be another strong tool in Monaco’s attack.
Combining with Ben Yedder as the striker, the Monaco frontline creates a decisional crisis on defenders. Since the Monaco #9 likes to drop out of position, potentially pulling the centre-back out as well, this is the moment for the reversed movements to attack spaces behind the defence.
Volland, in this example, capitalized on Ben Yedder’s dropping that caused confusion for the defence. He quickly moved to the opposite direction – attacking depth. This would create two options for the passer, as he could pick Ben Yedder or loft the ball inside the penalty box.
Monaco are trying to find the best days since Jardim left the team. They have a high-potential group of players, but not many of them are experienced. It was not easy to develop things with such a young squad (an average age of 24.2 according to Transfermarkt), but Kovač is trying to implement his tactical philosophy into the team.
As shown in this scout report, there may be some inefficacy in the offensive organizations, such as facing difficulties to control the rhythm, too many lateral passes between the defenders, the advanced midfielders lacking interactions and the left flank has not fully developed into a reliable source of the attack. I think Kovač will still have his time to improve the team, given Monaco are not in the continental competition this year.