He forms a very complementary pair with Aurélien Tchouameni in the midfield, especially in their play in the recovery phases. Having arrived just over a year ago along with his midfield “pal” Youssouf Fofana is thriving this season. Like AS Monaco, who have totaled six straight victories, the last of which was in the 100th derby, the defensive midfielder is in fine form right now. Two days before the trip to Nîmes, the Rouge et Blanc number 22 gave the team’s pre-match press conference.
Does it make you happy to play alongside Aurélien Tchouameni in this midfield partnership?
It’s the same as at the start of the season, although there was obviously an adjustment period for us both. But now that we’re in good form, it’s bound to be better. We also feel in our legs that we are better physically too, despite the number of matches we’ve played. We have the same volume of play, Aurélien and I, and we’re roughly the same size as well, so we alternate work in the midfield.
You are now well established in the starting eleven…
The team is on a superb winning streak…
We had already had a smaller run in November, but this shows that we are increasingly confident lately. Six wins, that allows us to have less stress during the week, to focus on our work and on ourselves, so long as it continues.
What is your goal now, looking at the standings?
Personally, as a player, the most important thing is to continue on this winning run, I repeat. The coach does not want us to talk about the podium, and he doesn’t want us to talk about it among ourselves (smiles).
Do you think you have reached a new level physically?
Athletically I feel like I’ve improved a lot, yes. When I arrived in Monaco a year ago, I must admit that I was focused on the technical aspect with the players who were going to be around me. But today it is true that I have also developed well athletically and the coach made it clear to us, Aurélien and I, that we had to focus on our workrate in midfield, to be as effective as we could. It was something that was done step by step. I’ve tried to get to a level from which I won’t slip.
In training we also feel that we are stronger physically. We had a hard time getting into it at the start, but at the end of matches, apart from Rennes, I don’t remember that we have been worse in the last minutes and that we’ve dropped points. If sometimes we are not 100% yet, it is not a physical issue, it is a matter of concentration in my opinion.
You were briefly on the bench earlier in the season…
After being sent off against Metz and the suspension, I thought I would be losing my place. It’s hard in those cases, but things clicked, and I understand what the coach wants from me. If you get angry with your boss, then it’s hard to work with him (smile). So it was up to me to make the necessary efforts. And then given what he gives us, we try to give it back to him.
How’s the tactical side of things going lately?
When we have the ball, we have five players in front of us. I want to say it’s almost relaxing, because we just need to give them the ball in space. In terms of building play and defending we are five and they are five in front to attack, so the spacing is fairly well distributed in the team, which is much more balanced.
Do you better understand what the coach is asking of you?
We had to go step by step. At the start of the season, the coach took the time to assess all the players and create a tactical plan around this team. We have now understood what he wants to lead us towards. We do not let up in our efforts.
You’re still waiting for your first goal…
This is what I’m trying to do, but I can’t (smile). There are two experts up front to attack and score goals. I’m more for the buildup play and the recovery of the ball. There is no competition with Aurélien on this point, we both wanted to score that first goal but it is not an obsession. Even though it’s starting to have been more than a year for me.
Is that something you are working on in training now?
Yeah, I’ve started to work on my shooting a bit in training, because they saw that there was a bit of attacking work, and that I was in a good position to shoot sometimes. The goal is to have the right technique. The day I score, I will come back to see you (smiles).
In any case defensively, you have reduced the number of errors quite a bit since Lorient …
I think the matches are not the same. At Lorient it was a challenging match because the pitch was difficult and we were coming back from the break. Maybe we made a mistake that resulted in a goal, but I think we were solid regardless. At 21 and 22, you have to make mistakes, that’s normal, it’s part of learning.
How do you see the match against Nîmes ?
Nîmes is a team that never gives up. They are in a bad situation, but they should not be taken lightly. With their change of manager, they will certainly want to show a reaction. We will have to be very focused.
Finally, you’re kind of the official team mood-setter, right?
Maybe not, but I think I’ll soon end up as captain (laughs). The entrance music? It was Aurélien who chose it; he’s pretty good, no?
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) January 31, 2021