How Monaco goal machine Radamel Falcao has evolved since Man Utd and Chelsea spells

How Monaco goal machine Radamel Falcao has evolved since Man Utd and Chelsea spells

A return of just five goals from 36 Premier League appearances across loan spells with Manchester United and Chelsea suggested that Radamel Falcao‘s career at the top level had come to an end.

By the age of 30, the Colombian appeared to be stripped completely of the pace, power and goalscoring prowess that had seen him lauded as the best out-and-out striker in world football during a prolific two-year spell with Atletico Madrid.

The obituaries that were written about Falcao’s career on the basis of a couple of difficult years in English football that followed his recovery from a third ACL injury, though, were premature. Massively so, in fact.

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Since returning to Monaco in the summer of 2016, Falcao has been a man revitalised, firing his club to a first Ligue 1 title in 17 years as well using his immense experience to captain a youthful side to the Champions League semi-finals.

Falcao managed 30 goals from 43 appearances across all competitions for Monaco last season but there were question marks over whether he could be as prolific again this term without his partner in crime, Kylian Mbappe, who joined PSG.

Instead, Falcao is thriving in Mbappe’s absence, reasserting himself as Monaco’s attacking lynchpin by enjoying a truly remarkable start to the season in Leonardo Jardim’s new-look side. In only eight Ligue 1 matches, Falcao has scored 12 goals, incredibly from 13 shots on target, which is more than any player in Europe’s top five leagues.

Falcao has converted 63.2% of his chances in total to help a side decimated in the summer by player sales to second in the table.

While before it was feared Falcao’s star would fade in his later years, he has improbably managed to rediscover the spark that set him apart from virtually every other striker of his generation from his Porto and Atletico Madrid pomp.

So how has Falcao rediscovered the goalscoring form in Monaco that so deserted him in Manchester and west London?

Key role

Even though Manchester United struggled for goals during the dour Louis van Gaal era, Falcao found himself behind the likes of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney in the pecking order.

Fitness troubles contributed towards Falcao’s failure to establish himself but like his fellow South American, the Argentine playmaker Angel Di Maria, the Colombian also found himself marginalised as the season wore on, when it became clear his loan spell would not be made permanent.

At Chelsea, Falcao’s status as a back-up striker was confirmed from the very start. Whereas at Atletico, he was Batman and Diego Costa his Robin, the roles were reversed at Stamford Bridge to the extent that virtually all of his appearances came via the bench.

That simply isn’t the case at Monaco as Falcao is the main man four years after his arrival marked their ambitious return to Ligue 1.

While Mbappe’s emergence was more spectacular, Falcao’s return to form was equally important to Monaco’s success in 2016-17 and the pair complemented each other perfectly. Falcao took the role of mentor, passing on his wisdom to the youngster, who in turn provided the pace and energy in the final third to help the veteran thrive.

With Mbappe now gone, Falcao’s role has become even more important and his new partner in attack, Stevan Jovetic, has helped to get the best out of him by creating space for him through intelligent movement across the frontline.

Falcao is the top dog at Monaco and that status is getting the very best of him.

Regular minutes

Falcao’s overall goalscoring record during his two-year sojourn in the Premier League obviously doesn’t look great but it is important to consider that he was never a first-choice at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge.

At Manchester United, only 14 of Falcao’s 26 Premier League appearances came from the start and he was on the pitch for a total of 1,302 minutes, fewer than 14 of his teammates. Those numbers were even lower at Chelsea where he made just the one solitary start in the Premier League in ten matches, playing a grand total of 246 minutes.

While Falcao struggled to get to grips with the pace and physicality of the Premier League, particularly as he was attempting to return from yet another debilitating injury, he was never given a sufficient run of games to prove his worth.

Perhaps more so than any other position on the pitch, strikers need consistent minutes to hit their top form and Falcao has benefited from being a regular starter at Monaco compared to a bit-part player at United and Chelsea.

Of his 29 Ligue 1 matches last term, 22 came via the start while his total minutes in the league were 1,930 – over 600 more than he managed during that ill-fated season at Manchester United.

This season, meanwhile, Falcao has started in all seven of Monaco’s matches but he continues to be used carefully by his manager, being substituted in all seven matches. Keeping him fresh is prevalent to Monaco’s chances of success.

Adapted his game

When at his menacing best at Porto and Atletico Madrid, Falcao was a fearsome centre-forward, able to bully defenders with his strength, torment them with his pace and punish any laxness with ruthless finishing.

It was these attributes that made him perfectly suited to playing as a lone frontman for both Andre Villas-Boas during Porto’s treble-winning campaign and for Diego Simeone in the early days of Atletico Madrid’s renaissance.

He was the complete No.9 and his managers were well aware of it, building their teams around his talents to leave him up there on his own with support generally provided from the wings. In his final campaign at Atletico, Diego Costa became more influential as a second striker, lurking just off Falcao.

Following three serious knee injuries – the last of which he over-exerted himself trying to come back from – Falcao has adapted his game, becoming more of a poacher and static link-man then a rampaging forward capable of stretching defences.

It has been a necessary change. Falcao doesn’t have the legs to charge around like he used to as shown by the fact that Jardim has subbed him off in every league game, but that in itself has helped him become a more rounded player.

That Falcao is in the best goalscoring form he has been in for years despite stripping down his game is a testament to how he has evolved since returning to France last summer.