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Ligue 1 Review – Week 19

Edinson Cavani’s goal was met with a groan. Having embarrassed Paris in capturing the Ligue 1 title 17 months earlier, 11 minutes into October’s PSG visit, Monaco were already two down. Nacer Chadil’s injury compounded the depressed mood at the Stade Louis II, and as his replacement Jordi Mboula was also forced off, manager Thierry Henry was pictured mouthing “Wow…” to himself on the touchline.

A disastrous 2-0 home defeat to bottom side Guingamp leaves Monaco 19th in Ligue 1 for the winter break, all positivity decimated and owner Dmitry Rybolovlev facing charges of extortion while the club suffers through a catastrophic injury crisis and repeated allegations from Football Leaks as relegation looms. “Wow”, indeed.

To underline their slump, Monaco have lost nine of their last 12 games in Ligue 1 which equals their total lost across the previous 73. Excitement and romanticism aside, Thierry Henry has changed little during his 14 games as coach and after just three wins, even that initial promise has disintegrated. Hope generated in beating fellow strugglers Caen and Amiens, thanks to a Radamel Falcao free kick and brace of penalties has proven misplaced, as performances again melted away this week.

Henry has come to personify the atmosphere at Monaco. His obvious frustration paired with a sense of desperation came to the fore this week, criticising his team after the dire 3-0 loss at Lyon. “Without desire, it is difficult to win. Without showing depth, it is difficult to win,” Henry explained, expanding on a previous claim that his “players are unintentionally refusing to play” due to a crippling lack of confidence.

Monaco Vice President, the increasingly morose Vadim Vasilyev, who, is alleged to personally pocket 10% of all transfer profits that the club makes according to Mediapart, insisted to Canal + that the club “didn’t bring [Henry] in as a fireman, he is here for the long-term, not the short-term.” However, Henry’s gloomy persona does not hint at long-term thinking, with the Frenchman often, unusually for Henry, losing his cool. “Like in the 2nd half in Madrid, 3 man midfield, Golo(vin) on the left,” he told Youri Tielemans during the Montpellier defeat. “How many times do I have to say… in English, in French, what else do you want?”

Criticism of Henry in the French media is mounting, as he cuts an increasingly forlorn figure on the Stade Louis II touchline, one pundit on RMC, a prominent radio station, deeming him “pathetic”.That sulky, withdrawn attitude has slowly been transmitted to his players, as Henry admitted in defeat to promoted Reims they “practically won all the duels and played as it should be done at home. On our side, the desire was not there.” Although Henry carries legendary status in England, his aura is not quite as lofty in France and his hold over a young squad remains questionable. An exasperated glare at Benoît Badiashile after the promising defender left his chair in Henry’s way as manager and player exited a press conference underlined his frustration over widespread inexperience.

Performances have been verging on the inept as well as naive and disjointed; Youri Tielemans, for example, surrendered possession 34 times during the loss to Guingamp while centre back Jemerson’s form, especially in the conceding two late goals to Montpellier, has been disastrous. This, however, is only partly down to Henry. Despite doing so expertly beforehand, former coach Leonardo Jardim could not regroup after this summer’s latest exodus of talent, while former Chelsea sporting director Michael Emenalo’s recruitment has lacked direction, the signing of emerging talents in the past such as Thomas Lemar, Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva have been replaced by seven figure sums for raw teenagers barely ready for this first team.

An injury list numbering in the teens for some weeks, including a host of prominent first teamers such as Croatian keeper Danijel Subasic, France international full back Djibril Sidibé, former Manchester City forward Steven Jovetic, summer signing from Strasbourg Jean Ahoulou and last season’s standout forward Rony Lopes, all dealing with extended absences, has proven insurmountable. Falcao even went as far to criticise the current squad’s quality as injuries, departures and questionable acquisitions have left Henry with what is effectively the youth team and a smattering of established names. Han-Noah Massengo and Badiashile, for example, became the first players born in the 21st century to start a Champions’ League match.

The future of the club itself also remains in question. Rybolovlev, reportedly open to selling Monaco for some time, infuriated by various barriers imposed by Financial Fair Play and the French authorities, was held in police custody in November at the request of a local judge in connection with “active and passive bribery” and “corruption” and his potential complicity in these matters, according to Le Monde. Although a statement maintained Rybolovlev was “presumed innocent”.

Henry meanwhile insisted he was “not thinking of the winter transfer window” but those above him certainty are with Cesc Fabregas, Michy Batshuayi and Gary Cahill all linked this week and the former Arsenal forward admitting “we play to survive, we do not play for anything else” recruits are desperately needed. This week perennial Ligue 1 caretaker coach Franck Passi, previously standing in at Lille regularly at Marseille, was added to Henry’s coaching staff. Perhaps a sign that Vasilyev foresees a change.

In 2011, Monaco were relegated and sat bottom of the second division by Christmas before Rybolovlev’s billions rescued Les Monegasques. Now the Russian’s future alongside his manager’s and their Ligue 1 status is again in doubt. This time however, saviours may not be so forthcoming.

 

1 | Don’t look now, but Julien Stéphan has Rennes flying with five wins from five in all competitions. Previously in-form Nîmes were the Breton side’s latest victim; Saturday’s 4-0 win moves them to within a point of the European places. Stéphan has not been a revolutionary tactically, but he has imbued several key players with a large dose of confidence. Benjamin Bourigeaud, so influential last season, has been the chief beneficiary of this, but Jordan Siebatcheu, the summer’s big money signing from Reims, has hit form as well, with three goals in the league this month. It iss too early yet to anoint Stephan as Ligue 1’s hot item, but the early signs are more than promising.

2 | Crisis or no crisis? It depends on who is doing the asking, but Marseille’s struggles are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Rudi Garcia’s side had lost on penalties to Strasbourg in mid-week, and then saw a first choice side get a late equaliser against Angers on Saturday. Their once-vibrant attack has struck just five times in the last six matches, while their last win was against relegation-threatened Amiens, nearly a month ago. The January window and the end of the Europa League could be a tonic for l’OM, but things look dire indeed for a squad that is both thin and aging.

3 | Finally, Lyon’s trip to Montpellier was a great advertisement for the quality in depth on show in Ligue 1 this season; both sides may have looked a little rough around the edges, with Lyon dealing with fixture congestion and the hosts not having played in more than two weeks, but each was well up for a top-four clash that ran fast in both directions before ending up a deserved draw thanks to a sparkling pair of goals from Nabil Fékir and Rubén Aguilar. Both look well-positioned to continue their tilts at European football, and will surely be worthy additions to European competition next season should they keep their places in the table.

A.W. with E.D.

 

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