The 2016/17 season has seen the likes of the Bundesliga and Serie A look far more competitive, with teams like RB Leipzig and Roma laying down the challenge to the regular league winners, but it is Monaco who look set to take it a step further by beating Paris Saint-Germain to the Ligue 1 title.
There is a great deal to be excited about with Leonardo Jardim’s team, a host of young talent playing an exciting brand of attacking football that opposition teams cannot stop. They are averaging exactly three goals per game in Ligue 1, and have scored 14 more than any other team in Europe’s top five leagues.
With Monaco topping their domestic league and into the knockout stages of the Champions League, this team could we achieve unlikely success on the biggest stage. Should they not, however, the players look talented enough to have extremely successful careers going forward.
Here we will look at five of the young Monaco squad who look set to part of the next generation of genuine world-class talent.
Lemar was in the same Caen team as Chelsea star N’golo Kante which achieved promotion to the top-flight of French football. As a teenager he was only used fleetingly in his two years in the first team, yet did enough to persuade Monaco of his talent as they signed him in the summer of 2015.
He has quickly become one of Ligue 1’s star talents. He is a powerful runner on the ball, and has immense quality with fine end product, a haul of nine goals and six assists in Ligue 1 and the Champions League so far is a tidy return for such a young player.
He has completed 33 of 48 take-ons, showing a combination of skill and maturity, whilst the fact that 16 of the 40 chances he has created have come from a central area is evidence that he is far more than just a flying winger. He has also scored seven of his 12 shots on target which, whilst unsustainable in the long-term, suggests a player who is both confident and able in front of goal.
The Frenchman’s progress in 18 months at Monaco has been rapid, and many are predicting that this will be his last season in Ligue 1. He will likely have his pick of top European clubs, yet there have been claims that Lemar has his set on a move to Atletico. Monaco’s loss would be La Liga’s huge gain, as Lemar is only going to improve and looks set to terrorise European defences for years to come.
Monaco are blessed with quality on each flank, and their is little to choose between Lemar and his wing partner Silva. He has scored five Ligue 1 goals so far, the last of which was a crucial last gasp equaliser against title rivals PSG.
Like Lemar, he is happy to drift inside from the wings, possessing both the ability to use his skill to beat defenders and the vision to create chances from both wide and central areas.
His signing was another smart piece of recruitment from Monaco, who initially took him on loan from Benfica having made just one appearance for the senior team. This loan was made permanent for a reported €15 million, which may seem steep for a winger who had been unable to force his way into a Primeira Liga side, but his form for Monaco now makes it look a smart piece of business.
He could well be playing in the Premier League next season, with Manchester United said to be admirers. Yet with Barcelona apparently circling too, Silva could be another who ends up playing for a La Liga giant, boosting Monaco’s coffers in a big money move.
There is little surprise that Mbappe has been likened to Thierry Henry considering the similarities in their style of play and their back stories. Both were born in the surrounding areas of Paris, just an hour apart, yet moved south to Monaco for their footballing education. At 1.78m, the teenager does not have Henry’s lanky physique, but they share a randy stride and their style on the ball and potency in front of goal is akin.
Whilst Henry was deployed as a winger for Monaco, they seem to have learnt their lesson with this young prodigy. Whilst he can come in on the flanks to support Lemar or Silva, it is in a front two where he is most effective, joining the posse of strikers with Radamel Falcao and Valere Germain.
Unlike some of the other young players in the Monaco squad, he is being eased into first team action, with 10 of his 18 Ligue 1 appearances coming off the bench. He scored a hat-trick in his last start against Metz in a game they won 5-0. Mbappe is a raw talent, who may not be as polished as some of the other youngsters who are being trusted every week.
It seems likely that, of all their players, Mbappe will likely be the player who Monaco will want to keep for at least another season to further his development, and ensure the eventual greatest fee. Arsene Wenger has spoken of his admiration for the player though, and it would not be a surprise to see Mbappe continue to follow in the footsteps of Henry.
Position: Right/Left full-back
The ability of both Lemar and Silva to drift inside off the wings means that flying full-backs are a key part of Monaco’s identity this season. He was signed from Lille in the summer, and has settled into his new club immediately, fast becoming one of their start performers. His ability to play either on the left or right side is of huge benefit, although the right flank is his natural side.
He is both dangerous going forward and accustomed in defence; very much the modern day full-back who most top European teams now look to employ. His form has lead to him being linked with Manchester United, who could certainly benefit by having someone of Sidibe’s ability in their defence. Antonio Valencia has done a fine job for United, but there is little doubt that the Frenchman would be an upgrade on him.
Sidibe did sign a five-year deal in the summer, so any potential suitors will have to be prepared to pay a price for his services. At 24 years old he is a relatively experienced player in this young squad, but there is still scope for potential, which would see Sidibe develop into one pf the world’s best right-backs.
Such as Monaco have a superb double act in advanced wide positions, their full-backs come as a duo too. Mendy was also signed from another Ligue 1 club in the summer, this time Marseille, and is also tied to a five-year contact.
He is a more physical player than Sidibe, standing at an imposing 1.85m. His delivery from the left flank is exceptional, with five of the 17 chances he has created having been converted. He is less attacking than Sidibe though, able to shuffle into a back three when the flying winger goes up the other flank.
Despite being just 22-years old, Mendy has accumulated 188 career appearances already, racking up 14 assists in 101 games for Marseille, showing that the current run of form is no fluke. Left footed full-backs who are able to create are a rare, and expensive, commodity in world football in the current climate, and Monaco look to have unearthed a gem here. With Sidibe often stealing the glory, Monaco will hope that this top performer goes somewhat under the radar when summer transfer window comes around.