Monaco take minimalism to the max

Monaco make inroads in France by the most slender of margins, writes Ian Hawkey.

Monaco have been moving up the table in Ligue 1. AP Images
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The principality of Monaco is an architectural study in maximising limited resources.

It is a tiny, unique city-state that covers two square kilometres, with about 20,000 residents in each.

A spectacular view comes with arrival from the sea, with high-rise buildings in the foreground nestled under a row of mountains.

The vast yachts in the harbour are a reminder that this is an address desirable for those with the wealth to buy into Monte Carlo’s miniature chic.

Monaco, the football club, are an oddity in France’s Ligue 1 for several reasons.

Their limited fan base, for one, and their preferential tax position, as they are domiciled in a sovereign land while competing in a league that, technically, is across a frontier.

At present, the Monaco who are marching steadily up the league table and preparing for the last 16 stage of the Uefa Champions League are not flashy or extravagant in the way they have been.

In fact, their football has come to resemble their locale in many ways: they maximise to make a little go a long way.

The past five years have been a rollercoaster at the Stade Louis II – the arena constructed over a car park, with space being at a premium – as Monaco have dipped and risen, spent and sold.

From a slump into Ligue 2, the 2004 European Cup runners-up clambered back to the top flight thanks to new ownership, that of the Russian billionaire Dimitri Rybolovlev, and finished second to Paris Saint-German last May, their first campaign after promotion.

They had recruited lavishly, notably acquiring Radamel Falcao, the striker, and his Colombian compatriot, James Rodriguez.

Rybolovlev then downsized, suddenly. Falcao and Rodriguez left in the summer, bound for Manchester United and Real Madrid. The promising young goalscorer Emannuel Riviere departed for Newcastle United.

A new head coach, Leonardo Jardim, was appointed on the back of his success at Sporting Portugal. But the club’s title credentials had been weakened. As for the manifesto Rybolovlev’s executives had advertised 18 months ago to build the Monaco “brand” as dazzling and exciting, these are the stats: Monaco finished top of their Champions League group to earn a February meeting with Arsenal on the back of having scored just four goals in six pool matches.

Not so much dazzling as austerely effective.

Jardim has set them up to defend meanly and attack cautiously.

Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic has not conceded a goal for 701 minutes of Ligue 1 football, a sound record to take into tomorrow’s confrontation with Ligue 1 leaders Lyon.

Since losing to Rennes at the end of November, Monaco have taken 19 points from a possible 21, to rise to fifth spot. The last four of those victories have been via their favourite score, 1-0.

Rather fitting, then, that their top marksman is a player of great gifts but a with reputation for a certain minimalism in his work-rate.

Dimitar Berbatov, the enigmatic Bulgarian, joined Monaco a year ago and, though it is suggested he may be turning restless for a new challenge as he enters his 35th year, he has been on form with four goals in the past five.

That is almost explosive by Monaco’s sparse, functional standards.

Jardim, who has had to accommodate regular injury absences, said last week that he follows a certain formula.

“We go for the win the second half. Victory is the most important thing if you are involved a in a match that’s not great,” he said.

Against Lyon, who have scored almost twice as many league goals as Monaco, Jardim will probably be content to reach half time goalless, which is what Monaco habitually do.

He will also be relieved Lyon’s Alex Lacazette, France’s top scorer this term, is out injured.

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