With the Uefa Champions League semi-final first legs starting May 2, with Real Madrid taking on city rivals Atletico and Italian giants Juventus up against Monaco, our writers each pick a team who they think will go on to lift the trophy in Cardiff on June 3. Here, Steve Luckings tells you why Monaco will win.
1). Monaco have Kylian Mbappe
One of the most encouraging aspects of this season has been the emergence of so many promising youngsters across its top leagues.
The green shoots of optimism can be seen in Germany’s Bundesliga with the blossoming careers of RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner, Julian Brandt at Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund pair Ousmane Dembele and Christian Pulisic, while arguably all have been eclipsed by a 21-year-old midfielder plying his trade in England – Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli.
But none of those mentioned are still in with a shout of still winning Europe’s premier club competition. Kylian Mbappe, the 18-year-old Monaco forward, has been critical in eliminating Alli’s teammates from the group phase and Dembele and Pulisic’s Dortmund in the quarter-finals.
With pace to burn and an eye for goal, Mbappe has put Europe’s top clubs on red alert. Lead Monaco first past Italain champions Juventus, and then either Atletico or Real Madrid in the final, and they can expect to name their price for Europe’s hottest teenager.
2). Radamel Falcao looks back to his best
While strike partner Mbappe has been gaining most of the headlines, the return to form of predatory poacher Radamel Falcao has warmed the heart too.
In a four-year spell between 2009 to 2013 the Colombian was among the deadliest marksmen in world football. In two seasons at Porto he scored 72 goals in 87 games and a further 70 in 91 matches at Atletico Madrid, before a career-threatening knee injury threatened to rob the world of one of its most lethal finishers.
Barren stints in England – with Manchester United (2014/15) and then Chelsea (2015/16) – seemed to confirm the worst: that Falcao had lost the explosive pace and ability to escape the clutches of defenders that once had him mentioned in the same breath as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But this season has proved something of a renaissance in the 31-year-old forward’s career. His 19 goals in 25 Ligue 1 matches have the Principality club perched atop the standings and looking to dethrone perennial champions of France Paris Saint-Germain with five games to go.
Monaco are the top-scoring team in all of Europe’s top five domestic leagues and, as Falcao demonstrated with a superb header in the second leg against Dortmund in the previous round – his seventh Champions League goal of the campaign – are just as menacing in Europe as well.
3). Kamil Glik, Monaco’s other rock
With Monaco in free-scoring from at one end the perception is that they leave themselves open at the other – one clean sheet in this season’s Uefa Champions League is testament to that. To accomplish that though, opposition teams have found themselves with the not-so-enviable task of tunnelling a way through a man dubbed Monaco’s other big rock. While the small Principality is built around the Rock of Monaco, the team’s defence is unquestionably built around the giant frame of the Poland international who stands out for his performances on the pitch as much as he does for his imposing physique and distinctive blond locks.
Whether repelling attacks or boosting his own team’s Kamil Glik’s aerial prowess is a priceless commodity in high-rolling Monte Carlo.
The €11 million (Dh44m) shelled out to prise him from Italy’s Torino looks a steal. Seven goals in 42 games tells its own story, but Glik’s presence at the heart of the Monaco defence is the foundation of which this season’s success has largely been built.
4). They have Bernardo Silva
While highlighting Monaco’s strength in defence and attack, it would be folly to forget the man that makes the Monaco machine tick.
Bernardo Silva’s qualities have been felt by the great and good over the past 12 months. From helping Portugal secure the European Championship last summer to leaving Tottenham’s usually reliable defence asking each other what day of the week it is, the midfield schemer’s ability to ghost in behind makes him extremely difficult to pick up.
Silva is the most elusive of Monaco’s forward-thinking players. He has an eye for goal, too.
5). Monaco are fast. Very, very fast
When Monaco counter-attack it can break the souls of men trying to keep pace with them. Many teams find themselves outmanned on the flanks by the rampaging overlaps of Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy.
Couple that with pace of Thomas Lemar and the jet-heeled boots of Mbappe it is a quartet that would give Usain Bolt and his Jamaica teammates a run for their money in any relay race.
With speedsters littered all over the pitch, it is easy to understand why Monaco are happy to soak up pressure before launching lightning raids up field.
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