How AS Monaco became a defensive juggernaut
It’s now eight clean sheets over their last nine games, across all competitions. This article could very well end there, on this striking figure. It is a figure, among others, which does well to illustrate the defensive consistency the team have acquired in recent weeks, as AS Monaco have become impregnable. Since February 21 and the reverse fixture, won against Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes (2-0), the Rouge et Blanc have conceded only one goal across their matches in both Ligue 1 and the Coupe de France.
The fruit of plenty of hard work
It was the work of Strasbourg and Frédéric Guilbert, in added time, that saw the Principality side suffer their only defeat in their last 20 matches. Apart from this misstep in Alsace, Niko Kovac’s collective has been unbeatable, a welcome change from it having too often gifted its opponents results in the first part of the season. There is longer any question of being open at the back these days, as the AS Monaco crest might well be a padlock at this point. And for good reason, as this return to form on the part of the Riviera rearguard has several explanations.
The first of all, there was a return from Benjamin Lecomte, but also the team’s dedication to work. Nine months after his arrival on the Monegasque bench, Niko Kovac, accompanied by a staff which has grown considerably over time to gradually have experts in all sectors (performance, tactics, nutrition, mental preparation, etc.), has seen his methods bear fruit. After having suffered some minor setbacks, the Croatian manager has now found a good balance, with a team that has perfectly assimilated its philosophy in playing the hybrid system in which AS Monaco operates today.
⚽ @Benj_Lecomte est notre invité ce soir !
👉 Au programme : la fin de saison de Monaco, l'arrivée de Kovac, la défense de l'ASM, le PSG…
🎙 "Le titre ? Ce n'est pas l'objectif" pic.twitter.com/2idB1GQ0LY
— beIN SPORTS (@beinsports_FR) April 12, 2021
A hybrid system and a return to form
A four-man defense on paper, three at the back in the build-up, fullbacks that play very high up the pitch, a double pivot in midfield that covers the kilometers and keeps the ball, vertical progression, a scary level of technical prowess in attack… in a flat 4-4-2, in a 4-2-3-1, in a 3-4-3, or in a 3-4-2-1, it doesn’t really matter how the team set up. Everyone knows what to bring to the collective and when to act, while the team’s high pressing allows the Rouge et Blanc to recover the ball as much as possible in the opposing half and to score plenty of goals, while the systems used by Niko Kovac also help to keep the Monegasque goal unbreached.
The Lyon game (4-1 loss) now seems a long way off, where the team struggled at the back, often being quick to lose possession. Today, the Principality club is among the teams that concede the fewest scoring chances in Ligue 1. And when an opponent does find a crack in their armor, there’s another player there to stop them going further. After the return of Guillermo Maripán in 2021, a reassuring at the back for his younger teammates, and play a surprising role in front of goal (5 goals in Ligue 1), it also a comeback from Axel Disasi that has helped to solidify the defense. Since his masterclass at the Parc des Princes against Kylian Mbappé, the young French central defender has regained his self-confidence and it shows.
🔥 Il était partout face au PSG ! Solide en défense et chirurgical en attaque pour inscrire son 5⃣ème but de la saison !
🎦🔙 sur l'𝐞́𝐧𝐨𝐫𝐦𝐞 𝐦𝐚𝐭𝐜𝐡 de Guillermo Maripán 💥 #RISE #PSGASM pic.twitter.com/T8vaOacgaM
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) February 22, 2021
An impregnable Benjamin Lecomte
Confidence has sprung up throughout the defense. Criticized by some observers at the start of the season, then affected by Covid-19, then the victim of a broken hand — the worst injury a goalkeeper can face — Benjamin Lecomte has proven that he is back to his international best. Decisive at 0-0 against Metz and Dijon very recently, the goalkeeper has kept a clean sheet six times in his last seven matches, with four of them in a row from the loss against Strasbourg. He thus done much in contributing to making Monaco the third best defense in the top flight in 2021, with only 13 goals conceded in 15 matches (11 in 14 for Benjamin).
🎦 𝐋𝐚 𝐦𝐚𝐠𝐧𝐢𝐟𝐢𝐪𝐮𝐞 𝐩𝐚𝐫𝐚𝐝𝐞 𝐝𝐞 @Benj_Lecomte 🧤
À 0-0, elle fait du bien celle-là. 💪#ASMFCM pic.twitter.com/HAUSPj7tlA
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) April 5, 2021
In fact, the Club have lost just one of their last 17 Ligue 1 games to date. And while they owe some of this of course to their forwards, it also comes in large part thanks to the team’s defensive balance. Because, as Niko Kovac says, defending is a collective effort, starting with the attacking players, who are a veritable first line of defence. Work, plenty of energy, and sacrifice… it’s no wonder then that Aurélien Tchouameni has impressed so much in 2021, becoming the leader in ball recoveries in Ligue 1 this year, with 125 made in 14 matches.
Serial tacklers in the 5⃣ major European leagues during last trimester: 2⃣1⃣-year-old @atchouameni (@AS_Monaco) clearly at the 🔝 😯 1⃣8⃣-year-old @Camavinga also in the top 5 👏 More exclusive ⚽️ data ➡️ https://t.co/P0Ohpx4eDz pic.twitter.com/zVebqveeRe
— CIES Football Obs (@CIES_Football) April 4, 2021
A pair that get stuck in and youngsters who continue to grow
The midfield partner of Youssouf Fofana in the pair nicknamed “Fanamenial” for their performances, has also been, over the first quarter of the year, the best tackler among the European Big 5 leagues, with 64 successful tackles (figures through April 2), with 18 more than any other player. Qualified for the quarterfinals of the U-21 European Championships alongside Benoît Badiashile, Tchouameni is the second-most used player by Niko Kovac with 2451 minutes of play combining power and skill alongside all of his young teammates, who continue to gain confidence with significant playing time.
🎦 𝐈𝐥 𝐧𝐞 𝐯𝐚 𝐩𝐚𝐬 𝐯𝐨𝐮𝐬 𝐥𝐚̂𝐜𝐡𝐞𝐫 👀
La sangsue @fofana22_ 🔥#ASMFCM pic.twitter.com/XRusBlYvpu
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) April 5, 2021
No wonder then that AS Monaco now rank third among teams in Europe’s Top 5 leagues in terms of giving the most minutes to players under 21. Work, solidarity in their effort and trust in each other — these are the ingredients that today see Niko Kovac leading Ligue 1’s best team in 2021… and now one of the best defenses!