It might not have been at the top of the news agenda two weeks ago but Monaco are now sitting at the top of Group J in the Europa League. After stealing draws in their first two games, the win at home against Qarabag has pushed the principality into first in a very tough group.
Tonight’s game in Azerbaijan represents a real opportunity for Monaco, with perceived tougher opponents Tottenham Hotspur and Anderlecht facing off against each other, the Ligue 1 side can take control of the group. However, a long trip to Baku against a team that doesn’t give up with a fight means that they cannot take this game lightly, either.
Leonardo Jardim will be delighted to add Bernardo Silva and Ivan Cavaleiro into the squad, with both missing out against Angers at the weekend. Youngsters Yohan Andzouana, Kevin Ndoram and Jonathan Mexique have also joined the 20-man squad in Azerbaijan.
Thomas Lemar, Nabil Dirar and Fabio Coentrao will miss out through injury, along with several longer-term absentees like Tiemoue Bakayoko and Adama Traore.
Qarabag will hope to put out the same squad they did at the Stade Louis II and will lean on their defence in this one, the Baku club are yet to concede at home so far in the Europa League.
The Azerbaijan champions also know that a win for them keeps them well alive in a competitive group but a loss here could cut them adrift, with Tottenham heading to the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium on Matchday 5, a team they lost 3-1 to in the reverse fixture.
Lacina Traore (Monaco) – He might not have found his stride in Ligue 1 but the Ivorian has found his feet in the Europa League, scoring two goals in three games. It’s an area where Monaco have needed to improve and since the departure of Anthony Martial, the club desperately need a reliable front man.
Can Traore be that man? possibly and having scored last time out with a tidy finish, Qarabag will be keeping a close eye on the forward that did all the damage at the Stade Louis II.
Richard Almeida (Qarabag) – Usually we like to focus on a different player here but it’s hard to argue that Richard Almeida is the real danger man for Qarabag. Three great performances from the Brazilian, including another solid display against Monaco last time out, means that Jardim’s men will be watching his number very closely.
Having scored twice from midfield and with an average 90% pass completion rate, expect Almeida to be the one that makes Qarabag tick again and if he is not marshalled properly, he could quite easily lead the Baku side to a surprise victory.
As previously stated in the introduction, this is a real opportunity for Monaco. Despite an average start, they’ve managed to find themselves top of the group and with a real chance of having a strong position before facing Anderlecht at home.
A win here gives them a real shot at qualification and the squad should realise the gravitas of this game. It will not be an easy game, as shown last time out, and while there will be a temptation to rotate a little with such a long trip but Jardim has the experience to know they can almost clinch a spot in the next round with a good result here.
They’ll be happy that they have Bordeaux at the weekend, who are in a real hole, so if they grab the bull by the horns in this one, they can come out with a win. If they don’t, Qarabag are no walkover, especially in Baku, and they will be in for a rude awakening.
Monaco are starting to find their feet, they need to use that momentum to win here and get themselves on a roll before the winter break.
Result: Qarabag 1-2 Monaco