Champions League semifinals: Spotlight on Monaco

ABS-CBN Sports on May 01, 2017 01:53 PM
Champions League semifinals: Spotlight on Monaco
Monaco's Radamel Falcao, right, celebrates his team's second goal with Monaco's Kylian Mbappe 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)

MONACO (AP) — A closer look at Monaco ahead of its Champions League semifinal against Juventus on Wednesday

SEASON SO FAR:

It has been an astonishing season for Monaco, which has scored 146 goals in all competitions and is on course for a French league-Champions League double.

Monaco has been averaging nearly three goals per game and tops the French league standings with a three-point lead over Paris Saint-Germain, having played a game less.

On the continental stage, Monaco has come a long way since July 27 last year, when it started out in the qualifying rounds with a trip to Istanbul. Monaco got past Fenerbahce and then beat Spanish side Villarreal to reach the group stages.

Led by resurgent forward Radamel Falcao and teenage star Kylian Mbappe — who have combined for 52 goals in all competitions — Monaco qualified for its fourth European Cup semifinal after scoring in all but one of their 14 games in this season's competition.

Monaco's attacking might was on display in the knockout rounds when Leonardo Jardim's team reached the quarterfinals with a thrilling away-goals victory against Manchester City which ended 6-6 on aggregate. Monaco, the 2004 Champions League runner-up, then beat Borussia Dortmund 6-3 on aggregate.

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3 PLAYERS TO WATCH

KYLIAN MBAPPE

The teenage striker has scored 24 goals in 38 matches in all competitions. Despite his young age, he has showed the composure of a seasoned striker in recent months, especially in big games. The 18-year-old Mbappe has been compared with France great Thierry Henry and his skills have also earned him a spot in France squad. He is the talk of European soccer thanks to lightning speed, trickery, and calm finishing. His transfer market value is already estimated at around 100 million euros ($109 million).

RADAMEL FALCAO

Falcao's 28 goals this season have confirmed his return to the highest level. Falcao spent the past two seasons on loan to Manchester United and Chelsea, where he had a miserable time as he struggled to recover from a serious knee injury. He nearly went on loan again this season. But the club gave him another chance, and he has blossomed into a natural leader as captain, despite some fitness issues.

FABINHO

With the Brazilian midfielder on the pitch, Monaco has lost just once in 2017. His partnership with Tiemoue Bakayoko in midfield has been key in Monaco's league and Champions League campaigns. A technically gifted holding midfielder who started at right back, Fabinho has also been contributing in attack, scoring 10 goals in 47 appearances.

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COACH

LEONARDO JARDIM

A tactical U-turn by Jardim has transformed Monaco into Europe's best attacking force.

When he took over from Claudio Ranieri during the summer of 2014, Jardim had to deal with the departures of star strikers Falcao and James Rodriguez. Then it was Anthony Martial's turn to leave for Manchester United.

A very pragmatic coach, Jardim focused on defensive stability and managed to rebuild a balanced squad mixing seasoned veterans and youngsters. The return of Falcao, combined with the emergence of technically gifted players, gave him the opportunity to implement a more attacking brand of football in a 4-4-2 formation.

Now praised across Europe for the quality of its play, Monaco is also a very tough physically, with creative midfielders Bernardo Silva and Thomas Lemar also capable of tracking down the wings.

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