Monaco: Set for Ligue 1 title challenge?

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In 2004 Monaco could boast talents such as such as Fernando Morientes, Ludovic Giuly, Jérôme Rothen and Dado Pršo, the club finished third in Ligue 1 and, quite remarkably, were runners up in the Champions League beating European giants Real Madrid and Chelsea along way.

A season of such unbelievable success could have been the beginning of an era of hegemony for the club but, as is so often the case, financial difficulties crippled ‘Les Rouge et Blanc’. Their star performers left the club and inspirational manager Didier Deschamps left to join Juventus.  

Here started a slippery slope for Monaco; years of mediocrity and a succession of managers would follow until eventually, the club were relegated in 2010/11 after finishing in 18th position.

In December 2011, two-thirds of the club was sold to an investment group led by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev and things started to look up for the club from the principality. Relegation was an all time low for this proud club and early in the season Monaco were struggling, sitting in 17th position in Ligue 2, but from this moment of darkness came an opportunity.

The club eventually finished the 2011-12 season in eighth and the board promptly brought in the experienced Claudio Ranieri in an attempt to gain promotion, which the club achieved scoring 64 goals and losing only four games en route to being crowned champions last season.

While Monaco was making its way back to the top another French club was building from steadier foundations. Paris Saint-Germain, funded by the Qatar Investment Authority, was steadily building a team full of genuinely world class players.

Players of the quality of Javier Pastore, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura and Zlatan Ibrahimovic helped lead PSG the Ligue 1 title last season and the Parisians have further supplemented their squad with the signings of Edinson Cavani, Marquinhos and Lucas Digne for the combined total of €114 million.

Monaco has also invested heavily in their squad bringing in both quality and experience spending €146 million on Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez, Joao Moutinho, Ricardo Carvalho, Jeremy Toulalan and Eric Abidal.

With two of Europe’s biggest spending clubs the French league will take on a different dynamic this season.

PSG should, in theory, have the edge in the title race. The Parisians have more depth in their squad being further down the line in building their empire, but they are not without their problems.

Carlo Ancelotti has moved on to manage Real Madrid after just two seasons at Parc des Princes and their technical director Leonardo has resigned after being suspended for the season for pushing referee Alexandre Castro last season.

Ancelotti’s replacement Laurent Blanc has pedigree as a former title winner with Bordeaux. He will have some experience in managing big players owing to his stint and French national team manager, but he was rumoured to be some way down on PSG’s shortlist after the Italian’s departure.

They will also have the added pressure of a champions League campaign where they will be expected to match, and possibly better, their impressive performance from last season where they only lost to Barcelona on away goals owing to a barely believable display from an injured Lionel Messi.

Monaco has clearly added strength to their group but beyond the aforementioned superstar signings the squad lacks genuine strength in depth and if a few of the new signings were struck with an ill timed injury it’s hard to imagine their squad will cope at the sharp end of the league.

They have also been hit with a two point penalty for poor fan behaviour after a pitch invasion in a match against Le Mans last season. Such a penalty could make all the difference if the title race comes down to the wire.

Monaco will almost certainly be a contender for the Ligue 1 title this season, with players of the quality of Falcao, Moutinho and Rodriguez they will probably have too much for many of the Ligue 1’s weaker sides.

It is likely to come down to matches against the other big French teams - Lyon, Marseille and of course PSG, how well Monaco competes against these sides will have a greater bearing on their final league position. The minimum they will aim for will be a Champions League position.

One thing is for certain though; these two mega-rich clubs will likely be battling each other for the Ligue 1 title for the foreseeable future.

The battle for supremacy between Monaco and PSG, for this season and for many more, is likely to be titanic.


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