Four games into the new season, Monaco have been the most impressive side in le Championnat; 10 out of a possible 12 points have been taken, heroes have both lived up to their billing and risen from nowhere. And – most pleasing of all for Ranieri – they look like a team who have been playing together for years. The principality side line up with a perfectly assorted squad. Young, hungry prospects such as the intricate Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and powerhouse centre forward Emmanuele Rivière complement world renowned international stars Joao Moutinho and Radamel Falcao. Whilst at the back, two great defenders of the 21st century in the form of Ricardo Carvalho and Eric Abidal have arrived from either side of El Clasico to form a sturdy combination at the heart of Monaco’s defence. And, the scariest part is, not all of Ranieri’s stars are to be blooded for the first time. Geoffrey Kondogbia, 20, is an outstanding athlete, a born leader and a brilliant midfielder. His recent arrival from Sevilla, in spite of the French club stating their transfer business was complete a month ago, will come to make Ligue 1 rivals’ fixtures against Monaco even tougher.
In the ultimate early test, ASM travelled to the formidable, volatile and partisan Stade Velodrome to take on Marseille. After a second placed finish in May, L’OM are the club likely to have the most to say about Monaco’s prospective heist on PSG’s trophy. However, despite going a goal up through Lucas Mendes on the cusp of the half time whistle, Elie Baup’s team could to nothing to halt an impressive second half showing from their adversaries as this season’s star pupils Falcao and Rivière added to their respective goal tallies. The bullish young Frenchman has now hit five goals despite only starting two of the team’s four games. One of those starts led to a hat-trick, whilst the remaining two goals both turned out to be winners in pivotal away games. If this form is to be replicated, then Ranieri will continue to have an unlikely ace within his intriguing pack.
The attacking options are in abundance; whilst Ferreira Carrasco and Argentine Lucas Ocampos currently hold the wing berths, £34 million James Rodriguez is yet another exciting option. James, along with ex-Porto teammate Falcao, has had a big hand in taking unlikely Colombia to third in the FIFA world rankings and was highly coveted throughout his days in Portugal. Behind this three-pronged attack, completed by Falcao, Ranieri has long sought a perfect balance in midfield and he may just have found that. Veteran Frenchman Jérémy Toulalan, although lacking in pace, covers the defence expertly whilst not glamorously. Meanwhile, Kondogbia’s passing, direct running and ruggedness similar to that of his elder countryman and midfield partner will both assist the team’s defence and afford the likes of Carrasco plenty of ball and space. The third and final instalment in this engine room will then be able to add to the assist he handed to Rivière on Sunday in his expert role of the advanced playmaker. This is of course Moutinho, one of the key cogs for many years in the wheels of both Porto and Portugal. Then, in defence, the balances between both experience and youth and defence and attack are epitomised. The aforementioned centre back combination are hardly likely to maraud around the pitch, but the fullbacks that seldom sit alongside them have already shown the potency they offer. Brazilian Fabinho and the native Layvin Kurzawa have formed brilliant relationships with Ocampos and Carrasco respectively. This plethora of threatening wide men offers Falcao, one of the deadliest strikers in football, more than enough ammunition to match his goal scoring feats at Atletico Madrid.
Monaco face what looks to be their biggest challenge this season on 22nd September as they travel to Parc de Princes to take on Laurent Blanc’s far from impressive PSG side. The pressure is definitely on Les Parisiens. And, In a game which a lot hinges on, skipper Abidal and co. will fancy their chances of once again upsetting the applecart as they look to head straight from promotion to a league title.