Recency bias dictates perception, nowhere more so than in football. Applying that all-too-regularly used lens would lead you to perceive AS Monaco’s season as an emphatic success, but a more holistic interpretation lays bare the realisation that this was merely a season where objectives were met, and not surpassed.
The final 10 games of the season, which led them to third position in Ligue 1, understandably leave a lingering positive aftertaste, but what gave rise to such a siege mentality during that run-in was the chronic inconsistency that had riddled their season, and which necessitated their best run since 2017.
It is that inconsistency that saw them fall short of expectations in cup competitions. A tame departure from the Europa League at the hands of underdogs Braga in the round of 16 was preceded by a loss to Nantes in the semi-final of the Coupe de France just a matter of days earlier.
Those memories have quickly faded thanks to what has happened since. But who were the major catalysts of their end-of-season resurrection? Here are Monaco’s top four players of the 2021/22 season:
4th: Youssouf Fofana (Midfielder, 23) – Many players have shone at different parts of the season. Caio Henrique (24) was excellent in October and November and was easily Monaco’s most creative outlet, but his influence waned in the new year, whilst all three center-backs – Guillermo Maripan (28), Benoît Badiashile (21), and Axel Disasi (24) – had moments where they looked unbeatable at the back. Fofana also had a purple patch and nicks fourth place ahead of them simply because his return to the first team directly coincided with that incredible nine-game winning streak.
He struggled for large parts of the season, especially under Niko Kovac, but once he returned in the double-pivot in March, he quickly became indisplaceable. His performances even led to Philippe Clement championing him for a call-up to the French national team. With Aurélien Tchouaméni (22), he formed arguably the most defensively solid midfield partnership in the league.
3rd: Vanderson (Right-back/ Right-wing, 20) – It is telling that a player, who was only signed in January, and only broke into the first team in mid-February is being regarded as one of the stand-out performers of Monaco’s season. But the influence that the young Brazilian has had is immense. Be it at right-wing or at right-back, his arrival into the squad provided the momentum for the end-of-season charge. His link-up with Ruben Aguilar (29) down the right channel was a profitable avenue during those final 10 games of the season, and his performances often left Clement searching for new superlatives in post-match press conferences. His rapid adaptation to French football has been remarkable, and one daren’t think what he could achieve next season with a full pre-season behind him.
2nd: Aurélien Tchouaméni (Midfielder, 22) – If this season is to be his swansong, then it was a beautiful one. Another stellar season for Monaco has enhanced his reputation and his price tag. He has also moved from the periphery of the French national team conversation to being a shoo-in for the squad that will travel to Qatar at the end of the year. The pieces around him may have changed, as has the role he has been asked to play, but his high levels of performance have remained constant throughout a topsy-turvy campaign for the Principality side. His adaptation to a number 6 role following the arrival of Clement in January was seamless, as was his transition back into the double pivot with Fofana towards the end of the season.
His two strikes against Lille were decisive in not only winning that fixture but also in securing a place on the podium at the end of the year. Tchouaméni likely won’t join his teammates on their European adventure next season, but he has been pivotal in facilitating that journey.
1st: Wissam Ben Yedder (Striker, 31) – Where would Monaco be without him? It is quite reasonable to argue that the prolific French striker is the difference between mid-table mediocrity and a place on the podium for AS Monaco. No team are as reliant on their top scorer as Monaco are on theirs. This season, despite not being a regular starter under Kovac, Ben Yedder still registered 25 goals: his highest total in any domestic league campaign. Those 25 goals equate to 38% of Monaco’s overall tally for the season. Clermont Foot are the next most reliant on their top scorer, Mohamed Bayo (23), who scored 36% of their goals, followed by Nice, where Andy Delort (30) scored 34% of their goals in Ligue 1 this season.
Under Clement, he has also become a more “versatile” player, who is more willing to work out of possession, whilst he has also honed his ability to drop deep, creating space for players around him. Retaining their main source of goals next season will be a must for Monaco as they look to better this season’s exploits.
Flop: Jean Lucas (Midfielder, 23) – Although Cesc Fabreagas’ (35) name immediately springs to mind, a lack of agency in his tale of woe ultimately means that he is undeserving of the “flop of the season” tag. The Spanish midfielder hasn’t featured since September as he has grappled with muscular and ankle injuries, during what he has described to Goal as not only the most difficult year of his career but also of his life. Instead, the unfortunate accolade goes to Jean Lucas. His €11m summer move from Lyon, following an underwhelming loan spell at Brest raised eyebrows, and he has done little since to prove himself worthy of that gamble.
Whilst there have been sparks of potential, he has failed to consistently impress, and his tendency to lose the ball in dangerous areas of the pitch is what caught the eye most. Having forced his way into the role of a free 8, a strong of absent performances saw him lose the place to Fofana; the rest is history. He finished the Ligue 1 campaign having made 28 appearances, making just one assist and scoring once.
Overall Grade: B+ – According to tempered expectations in the Principality following an inconsistent first three-quarter of the campaign, this season is a resounding success. The reality is that this is simply mission accomplished but little more. Having finished third in the 2020/21 season and then retained the key components of the squad that got them there, a place on the podium was a minimum. Their European adventure, which began with them being knocked out of the Champions League in a play-off against Shakhtar Donetsk, and ended with a shock defeat to Braga in the Europa League round of 16, certainly didn’t live up to the hype.
Although Monaco will have another crack at the Champions League next season, they will likely embark on that journey without the spine of their team. Tchouaméni is rumoured to already be halfway out of the door, whilst there is also interest in Badiashile and Ben Yedder from teams across the continent. The quality of the summer recruitment will therefore likely determine to what extent Monaco build upon this year’s achievements.