Monaco’s qualifying campaign for the Champions League has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride but if they can hold on this evening, the pain will all be worth it. The holy grail of the group stages will be reached, helping both the club and France’s coefficient with UEFA and you never know, once you’re in the dance you always have a chance.
Their Spanish opponents huffed and puffed in the first leg but failed to blow the house down but Leonardo Jardim’s men cannot get complacent as they set their sights on more European football, at least until the new year.
Monaco made a number of changes to their side at the weekend, resting many of the outfield squad ahead of the second leg at the Stade Louis II. Djibril Sidibé is fit again and travels but with Benjamin Mendy suspended after his red card at the Estadio El Madrigal, the former Lille man may deputise on the opposite flank than his usual position.
This will likely mean Andrea Raggi will play on the right side of the defence with Jemerson continuing to partner Kamil Glik at centre back. Guido Carrillo also makes the trip after missing out at the weekend but Radamel Falcao remains on the injury table.
Influential Villarreal defender Victor Ruiz is available again for the return leg having served his suspension but the injury list remains as long as it is painful. Cedric Bakambu, Jonathan Dos Santos, Jaume Costa, Daniele Bonera and Denis Cheryshev all miss out, as will new signing Nicola Sansone, who is ineligible.
The Yellow Submarine also rested a number of key players during their opening La Liga fixture against Granada at the weekend, with Bruno Soriano expected to return to their midfield. Still, their hopes rest on the shoulders of Santos Borre and Alexandre Pato to score the goals to get them through.
Bernardo Silva (AS Monaco) – Despite being mentioned here last week, it’s hard to underestimate the influence the Portuguese international has on his team in these big games. He performed heroics in the last leg, scoring a superb second goal that puts his side in the driving seat and he will be key to their success again if Villarreal do not shut him down.
Bruno Soriano (Villarreal) – Anything good from Villarreal tends to come through the 32-year-old Spanish international, who showed his class in the first leg. He was allowed the space to really dominate the play in the second half, dictating the pace and causing all sorts of problems, the Yellow Submarine need their long serviceman to come to the fore if they want to progress.
This should be a bridge too far for Villarreal. They need goals and in their two competitive games so far, they’ve shown that they may struggle for them this season so to get two away from home is a huge task. They may push as hard as they want but should they do that, they should be worried by the counter attack and that is where Monaco will profit to seal passage to the group stages of the Champions League.
Result: AS Monaco 1-1 Villarreal