AS Monaco have been an average team this season in Ligue 1 falling short on the club and the fan’s expectations. Their league table position tells the story well as they sit in 9th place in a total of 20 teams competing. Out of European football and having been eliminated from both cups makes the complete season scenario quite below average for a team like AS Monaco. But amongst what we can call a rather stale season there still is room for some extremes.
“The number four”
The number four showcases the best and the worst of AS Monaco this season. Why is that? Well, as it was already mentioned, Monaco sit in 9th place in the league table. Looking further into it, specifically at the goal record that the team have managed, 44 goals scored and 44 goals conceded in 28 games played, we can see why the number four is so relevant. This goal record represents the 2nd highest scoring attack of the league, only behind PSG (75), but also the 4th worst defensive record, only behind Saint-Étienne (45), Amiens (50) and Toulouse (58).
These numbers present themselves as quite mysterious, it’s not common for a team to display such a big offensive output and, at the same time, quite disappointing defensive numbers.
In this tactical analysis, we will be trying to explain these numbers, relating them to certain tactical aspects as well as some key players.
Slimani the playmaking target man and Ben Yedder the goal-scoring machine
When it comes to AS Monaco’s attacking output this season there is a name that stands out above all others and that is Wissam Ben Yedder. The French striker has had an incredible season scoring a total of 18 goals and assisting 4 in 26 games played, making him joint top scorer in the league alongside Kylian Mbappé. But he hasn’t single-handedly produced the attacking numbers of his team as he’s had significant help from fellow striker Islam Slimani. While not as prolific as his teammate, Islam Slimani as managed nine goals and six assists according to Wyscout (Ligue 1 counts eight assists for the Algerian due to some judgment involved in certain plays) in 18 appearances in the league. These two players played a major role in Monaco’s offensive strategy contributing to 37(39) of the 44 league goals and, as such, we will take a look at how Monaco managed to get this dynamic duo on such great form.
Creating wide overloads with the strikers
Monaco’s attacking strategy relies on wide overloads to be able to penetrate the opponent’s defensive shape and getting the ball to the penalty area. In fact, AS Monaco have averaged 10.58 deep completions (p.90 min) and 18.72 touches in the opposition’s penalty area (p.90 min) losing only to PSG on both indicators. On the same note, Islam Slimani and Wissam Ben Yedder come 5th (2.30) and 6th (2.05) on deep completions and 2nd (5.39) and 4th (4.88) on touches on the opposition’s penalty area in the whole league, having mostly PSG players above them on both indicators. Deep completions are passes received (excluding crosses) in a 20 meter radius from the opponent’s goal line. These data points show that Monaco were successful in getting their two strikers on the ball in dangerous areas but also that they do it through passing combinations.
Whatever the tactical shape used, and with both their coaches Leonardo Jardim and Robert Moreno, AS Monaco’s attempt to create an overload with the striker, the midfielder and the fullback (or wing-back) on the ball side has been recurring. By going wide to receive the ball, Monaco’s striker drags the opposition’s defender with him creating space for the other striker or a midfielder to exploit with a run. Not only that but creating a 3vs3 or a 3vs2 on wide areas alongside with pass-and-move actions enabled Monaco to work the ball into the danger areas. That shows on their 25.31 penalty area entries (per 90min) and on the already mentioned average deep completions (10.48 per 90min).
In this image, we can see Slimani, Gil Dias and Cesc Fàbregas creating the wide overload in Monaco’s away game at Montpellier. Slimani receives the ball from Gil Dias, plays it to Cesc Fàbregas and immediately makes a run into space receiving a one-touch pass from the Spaniard.
Monaco are able to get inside Montpellier’s penalty box, Slimani plays a cross to Ben Yedder on the far post and the Frenchman puts it away.
It might seem surprising due to the player’s apparent characteristics and playing style but Slimani dropped off and joined the build-up quite often while Ben Yedder, despite also being involved in that process, was seen staying more central in an attempt to exploit any space Monaco were able to create as he has more speed and can make great runs in behind the defence. Here is an example of Slimani providing an assist for Ben Yedder with a similar movement on Monaco’s home game against OGC Nice. Going wide to receive the ball Slimani drags Nice’s defenders and opens up the space for Ben Yedder’s run. He then plays a wonderful through ball leaving Ben Yedder on a 1vs1 situation against the goalkeeper.
This has proven to be quite a good strategy, as Slimani is a big striker who draws a lot of attention and can act as a target man holding the ball but also possesses good vision and is able to play the right pass when needed. He has averaged 27.72 passes (per 90min) with an 83.3% completion rate and 2.3 smart passes (per 90min). Not all these passes were through balls, of course. Slimani played one touch back passes to a midfielder facing the game so that he could pick out a run made by a teammate or made runs to attack depth and try and get the ball in the area pulling it back to Ben Yedder or an arriving midfielder to score.
This great playmaking and target man abilities combined with Ben Yedder’s amazing goalscoring instinct and off the ball movement has led to many of AS Monaco´s goals this season, almost all of them being scored inside the penalty area as we can see in the image below taken from Wyscout. Obviously not all goals involved only these two players, but they have been key to Monaco’s attacking output in the league and the team, looked to get them on the ball and in dangerous areas as much as possible.
All in all, Monaco have done a good job capitalising on their two in-form strikers, creating numerical superiority on the wings enabled them to play crosses or passes into the box where they can be deadly. Both Jardim and Moreno used these kinds of movements although, the formation and some other attacking dynamics and tactics used by the two coaches, were different.
Monaco’s defensive problems started early in the season. In the first 6 games, Monaco managed 3 losses and 3 draws, conceding a total of 14 goals which represents 31,81% of their total conceded goals. Eventually, the results started to improve as well as their defensive record, but in the 28 games they played, Monaco average 1,57 goals conceded (per game) and only managed seven clean sheets, two of them being 0-0 draws. The 44 goals conceded when put against 39.8 xG against reinforces the poor defensive display.
Starting with those first games of the season, Monaco presented either a 4-2-3-1 formation or a 4-4-2. They had 1 red card in each of the first 3 games which only made more evident the defensive problems the team showed.
When in possession, Monaco’s full-backs would be very high up the pitch, the winger would play in the half-space and the midfielder from the double pivot on that side would come wide to receive the ball. The trio would form a triangle with the midfielder being the vertex. The problem with this is that Monaco would have no one covering for the midfielder on the ball if possession was lost, the two centre-backs would find themselves on 1vs1 situations and, with the pace of a lot of Ligue 1 strikers, that became a very precarious scenario.
In this next image, we can see one of the already mentioned passes played in behind Monaco’s defensive line through the wide channel that almost results in goal if it wasn’t for a massive goal-line clearance from Benoît Badiashile. This happened not only in this game against Metz, but in other games too, as teams started to notice Monaco’s defensive struggles on the wide channels and made attempts to exploit them.
The same problem occurred but when Monaco was out of possession. The full-backs were encouraged to press high when the ball was played onto their corridor, and the midfielder on that side would not always provide the needed defensive cover, leaving a big gap behind the full-back for the opponents to exploit. These particular problems where more notable on Monaco’s left corridor. Fodé Ballo-Touré tended to go up a lot and would press very aggressively and high on the opposition’s winger. The midfielder on his side was Alexsandr Golovin most of the times and, him being a player with a more offensive mentality, would venture further forward in the pitch, trying to receive the ball behind the opposition’s midfield for example, which sometimes caused him to be too far from the ideal position to fulfil his defensive duties. Whether this lack of defensive awareness happened because of the player’s characteristics, or due to the coach’s instructions, having a player like him in such an important role defensive wise and pairing him with a quite offensive willing full-back may not have been the best strategy.
In the image below the can see the ball being played into the left corridor of Monaco’s defence and Ballo-Touré stepping out to press the Marseille winger, leaving space behind him with no cover from midfielder Golovin or from Bakayoko. The relations and the space between Monaco’s players are also very poor as there are huge gaps between them and that makes it harder to intercept passes or to react and press.
Monaco’s ball losses graphic (Wyscout) shows exactly how their left-side struggled the most and how opponents, realising that, tried to capitalise on it by applying a lot of pressure to the players on that side. This unhappy pairing of players combined with poor performances defensive-wise gave Monaco some headaches in their early days but, fortunately for them, Jardim was able to find a way around it and the players themselves started to improve.
Change of Formation and Midfield Players
Realising he was struggling defensively, and possibly identifying the exact same problem highlighted above, Jardim started to use a 3-5-2 formation. That extra midfield man was tasked with covering for the midfielder on the ball side that would go up to try and produce the already mentioned wide overload. He also introduced Bakayoko into the midfield as well as Gil Dias on the place of Ballo-Touré for some games, as this two players proved to give the team more defensive stability.
This changes certainly improved Monaco’s defensive record but also their overall performance as they started to win games and picked up a bit of form having only lost 3 of their following 10 league games and all of those three losses were in games where they had a red card shown to one of their players.
Lack of compactness
Despite these changes, and Moreno’s arrival didn’t cope with this either, the team still displayed a lack of compactness in their defensive shape. The players were not at optimal distances between themselves, vertically and horizontally, to be able to react if necessary. The space left between the midfield and the defensive lines was very big and allowed opponents to bypass Monaco’s press really easily. In this next image, we can clearly see Monaco’s bad defensive shape. The Strasbourg midfielder is able to take out Monaco’s 5 player line with one pass only and easily create an overload on the wing. The play subsequently led to a goal.
This was a recurring problem for Monaco under both their managers. Their midfield line always appeared to be positioned very high but not in an effective way for pressing. That combined with a rather passive approach to the pressing itself and we might have the explanation for Monaco’s 10.94 (11th best in the league) PPDA. All things combined, many passes were allowed to the opponent before a defensive action was made and also lots of space to exploit with those passes. In the image below we can see an example of Monaco’s lack of compactness both vertically and horizontally. Huge space between the lines for the opposition to exploit and no chance that the midfield line will be able to react to a pass played there as they are too far away.
Fouls and Cards
One final aspect that has to be mentioned in this analysis in regards to Monaco’s defensive record is the number of fouls the team made, as well as the number of cards shown as a consequence.
Monaco averaged 11.18 fouls (per 90min) and was shown 57 yellow cards (3rd most in the league), and 10 red cards being the team with the highest number in this chapter. Many of these fouls were made in attempts to compensate for the bad defensive positions of the players and could be avoided if the team was more compact. The impact that the 10 red cards had on Monaco’s results was massive, they lost 7 of the 9 games in which they were shown a red card and managed only one win and a draw. Without these red cards, the picture could be very different for Monaco in terms of their standing on the league, as they could have managed more points and a better position.
This scout report showed how both of AS Monaco’s managers excelled at taking the most out of their attacking players, but fell really short on the defensive organisation, and that cost them many points. Not having a good defensive organisation and compactness really hurt Monaco this season, and, a badly worked passive defending made way for a lot of fouls and thus a lot of yellow and red cards. Who knows what place Monaco would occupy in the league table if they were able to solve these defensive issues and keep their great attacking output. Could they fight PSG for the title or at least get a Champions League spot? Sadly we will never know.