Ambitious Monaco fighting on 3 fronts after 141 goals
ABS-CBN Sports on Apr 21, 2017 09:31 AM
Monaco's Radamel Falcao, below, heads the ball to score the team's second goal during the Champions League quarterfinal second leg soccer match between Monaco and Dortmund at the Louis II stadium in Monaco, Wednesday April 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Sports Writer
MONACO (AP) — Perhaps the only thing stopping Monaco this season will be exhaustion.
After scoring 141 goals, Leonardo Jardim's team tops the French league and remains on course for the treble after reaching the Champions League semifinals on Wednesday, dispatching German side Borussia Dortmund 6-3 on aggregate. It is also in the last four of the French Cup.
The first of Monaco's 141 goals was scored by striker Radamel Falcao way back on July 27, against Turkish side Fenerbahce in the third qualifying round of the Champions League.
Fast forward to the present and Falcao, who scored in Wednesday's 3-1 win against Dortmund with a superb diving header, has 27.
"At the start of the season not many people would have thought the team would do this well, or that I would," said Falcao, who has fought back from disappointing loan spells with Manchester United and Chelsea following a serious knee injury. "I feel appreciated and supported by the club and by the players. My family is settled and this helps me play better."
Monaco leads defending champion Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference in the league, having played one game less, and faces a hectic run-in. That starts with a difficult trip to Lyon on Sunday, followed by a French Cup semifinal against PSG three days later in Paris.
Those games could go a long way to shaping Monaco's season.
"It's not easy to play the Champions League and to try and win the league at the same time," Jardim said. "We're the team that's playing the most in Europe."
Jardim isn't complaining, however.
"At this level you can't impose limits on the players. Perhaps the French Cup is the third choice, but for the other two we'll push to our limits," he said. "Because it's not just our Champions League but the Champions League of France. The French clubs aren't used to reaching this level, so we are also representing France."
The last French side to reach the Champions League semifinals was Lyon in 2010, while Marseille is the only French side to win the competition, in 1993.
Intentionally or not, Jardim sent a stinging reminder to PSG of its shortcomings in Europe. After being eliminated in the quarterfinals for the previous four seasons, PSG went out in the last 16 this time after being crushed 6-1 by Barcelona in the second leg.
Monaco has a minimum of nine games left, and a maximum of 11 should it reach the Champions League and French Cup finals.
"It makes for a lot of games, which is very hard," Jardim said. "If we had gone out in the quarterfinals (against Dortmund) we'd be fresh to prepare all the (other) games, but we're very ambitious and I don't want the mentality of the players to change."
The players are ready to take up the challenge.
"We're competitors and we want to be involved in every competition. We were one of the first sides in the competition and now we're in the (Champions League) semifinals, it's something to savor," left back Benjamin Mendy said.
Monaco will have one day more to prepare than Lyon, which was facing a tough Europa League quarterfinal return leg against Besiktas in Istanbul on Thursday night.
PSG VS. MONTPELLIER
Montpellier coach Jean-Louis Gasset can do Monaco a favor.
He was PSG's assistant coach to Laurent Blanc for three successful seasons until last summer, when Blanc and his backroom staff were fired despite winning back-to-back domestic trebles — primarily because PSG failed to make it past the Champions League quarterfinals.
Reaching the 40-point mark is generally considered to be enough to avoid relegation and 12th-placed Montpellier needs one more point.
After the bitter way his PSG stint ended, it might feel like justice well served if Gasset gets a result at Parc des Princes on Saturday afternoon.
Nice has guaranteed at least third place and a spot in the Champions League qualifying rounds next season.
But coach Lucien Favre's side is only four points behind Monaco and PSG, and still has an outside shot at winning the league.
A victory away to mid-table Toulouse on Sunday will keep Nice in contention ahead of a big home game against PSG the following weekend.
Elsewhere, Bordeaux and Marseille look to maintain recent good form as they chase a Europa League spot.
Only one point separates them.
Sixth-placed Marseille travels to play 17th-placed Nancy on Friday, while fifth-placed Bordeaux is at home to last-placed Bastia on Saturday.