AS Monaco finished last season 3rd in Ligue 1, 12 points behind eventual winners PSG. Having lost James Rodriguez to Real Madrid after his impressive World Cup exploits and Falcao on loan to Manchester United, the 2014-2015 season was always going to be one of rebuilding for Monaco.
New manger Leornardo Jardim started slowly but eventually Monaco adapted to his playing style and had an impressive second half of the season, which included a Champions League last 16 win over Arsenal.
AS Monaco also boasted the leagues best defensive record conceding only 26 goals, 10 fewer than the champions PSG, and can also lay claim to the longest run of consecutive home clean sheets in Europe's top 5 leagues with 7. The next challenge for Monaco is to build on their impressive defence and look to challenge PSG for the Ligue 1 title.
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Two of Monaco's key players last season were unsurprisingly members of their defence, what is surprising however is that they players in question are just 22 and 21 respectively.
Layvin Kurzawa was one of the stand out talents in Ligue 1 last season, and at 22 has already earned 2 senior caps for France at left back, a position with much competition with the likes of Clichy, Evra, Digne and Amavi all vying for the same spot.
Kurzawa was the 4th highest rated under 23 player in Ligue 1 last season with a rating of 7.54 from Whoscored.com. Kurzawa also picked up the man of the match award 6 times, and contributed 4 assists from left back. Kurzawa was also impressive defensively, averaging 2.1 tackles per game and an impressive 2.9 interceptions per game, the second highest at Monaco.
Another stand out defensive player for Monaco was 21 year old Brazilian Fabinho. The right back who was also utilised as a defensive midfielder was on loan at Monaco from Rio Ave but has completed a permanent move this summer for a fee around £4.2 million. Fabinho has attracted interest from both Manchester City and Manchester United in recent times and its easy to see why when watching him, Fabinho has the makings of a complete defender.
The young Brazilian recorded 2.7 tackles on average per game last season and 2.6 interceptions, this put him in the top 5 for Monaco last season in terms of both statistics. He was the 7th highest rated under 23 player in Ligue 1 last season obtaining a rating of 7.38 and also picked up 2 Man of the match awards.
A crucial factor in any potential Monaco title challenge is the presence of experienced, well rounded players in the spine of the side in the shape of Joao Moutinho, Jeremy Toulalan and Aymen Abdennour.
Now 31 years old, Toulalan brings a wealth of experience to what is now becoming a very young side and also clearly has immense leadership ability. The Frenchman is a holding midfielder by trade but has successfully dropped back into the role of ball playing centre back over the course of last season.
His presence in the defence is undeniably important especially with less experienced players around him, Toulalan averaged 3.5 tackles per game, the highest at Monaco last season and the 7th highest in Ligue 1.
Other statistics only continue to highlight his defensive importance, Toulalan averaged 2.3 interceptions per game, 2.3 successful aerial duels and 3.6 clearances per game, all the more impressive considering he is not a natural centre back.
Joao Moutinho has long been thought of as one of the finest passes of the ball in Europe and he has a very strong creative influence on Jardim's Monaco team. Moutinho picked up 4 goals and 6 assists last season as well as receiving the man of the match award on 3 occasions.
The Portuguese playmaker also recorded an average of 1.9 key passes per game, the 4th highest in the league, arguably made all the more impressive given he was playing in quite a conservative Monaco midfield. It is clear that if Monaco are to push PSG for the title Moutinho will have to continue to unlock defences and control the tip of the midfield.
Aymen Abdennour is currently one of Ligue 1's most sought after players, the 26 year old tunisian centre back has impressed for a number of seasons with his powerful displays at the heart of defence.
The imposing defender is a vital part at the core of the Monaco side and his defensive statistics only serve to prove this; Abdennour completed 5.8 clearances per game (the 2nd highest at Monaco), 2.2 interceptions on average per game and made more blocks than any other Monaco player last season. Holding onto Abdennour will be crucial to maintaining the consistency and solidity of the Monaco defence that performed so well last season.
Another key element in any title push from Monaco will be the explosive talent of Bernardo Silva. The 20 year old Portuguese attacking midfielder is viewed as one of the most exciting talents in a generation that also includes the likes of William Carvalho, Tiago Ilori, Ruben Neves and Iluri Medeiros.
Silva registered nine goals and three assists last season for AS Monaco as well as picking up the man of the match award on 3 occasions. However it was his performance at this summers Euro U21 Championships that propelled Silva into the eyes of Europe's elite.
Silva was arguably the most impressive player on show at the tournament in the Czech Republic, he averaged an incredible 5.4 successful dribbles per game, the best in the competition and recorded a 90.1% successful pass statistic. This should be the year that Silva announces himself on the big stage and takes Ligue 1 by storm, watch out for technical, exciting displays from him at the base of Monaco's attack.
On a slight dampener it is worth mentioning the players Monaco have lost over the summer so far, notably Yannick Ferriera Carrasco and Geoffrey Kodogbia, two of the leagues most impressive players leaving for other teams.
Kondogbia, 22, completed his move to Inter Milan for a fee believed to be around £22 million. The young frenchman was a rock at the base of Monaco's midfield last season and surely contributed greatly to their impressive defensive performance. Kondogbia averaged 3.1 tackles per game, the second highest at Monaco and 2.5 interceptions per game. It is likely he will be heavily missed by Monaco but Bakayogo should be able to fill the void for now.
Ferriera Carrasco, 21, moved to Atletico Madrid for £14 million this summer after a very impressive Ligue 1 campaign. The young Belgian winger scored 6 goals, provided 10 assists and picked up 4 man of the match awards along the way.
Carrasco also boasts an average of 2.4 dribbles per game, the 6th best in Ligue 1 last season. The tricky wingers' ball control and creativity will be missed but Monaco seem to have addressed his departure with the arrivals of Cavaliero and El Shaarawy.
Stephan El Shaarawy has arrived on loan from AC Milan with an obligatory transfer clause of £11.5 million if he plays over 15 games. The young Italian was a couple of years ago Europe's hottest property but now at 22 the former Milan winger needs to recapture his form after a string of injuries.
There can be no doubt though that the Italian has immense ability, in his last full season for Milan (2012-2013) he picked up 16 goals and four assists. Some of has talent has been apparent in small bursts over the last campaign and El Shaarawy still contributed three goals and three assists despite only playing 14 games. If the Italian prodigy can find his feet at Monaco they may have captured one of the most impressive talents in world football.
Another impressive summer signing is that of Ivan Cavaleiro from SL Benfica for €15 million. Cavaleiro had been on loan at Deportivo la Coruna last season and was set to return to challenge for a starting place in the portuguese champions midfield before Monaco snapped him up.
Cavaleiro is normally deployed as a winger but can also play through the centre as a striker. The young portuguese player recorded three goals and three assists last season in La Liga and boasted the highest average number of key passes per game at Deportivo and also the second highest number of dribbles on average per game.
Cavaleiro was also a team-mate of Bernardo Silva at the U21 European Championships, Monaco will hope the pair can replicate some of their impressive link up play and flair this season in Ligue 1.
Adama Troare, the 20 year old Mali international has also been signed after being named Player of the tournament at the recent U20 World Cup. The midfielder cost Monaco around £9.8 million, quite an outlay for a player who has only seen limited Ligue 1 action with Lille.
To summarise, it's unlikely that Monaco have the strength in depth to provide a sustained challenge to PSG this season. However, if the young players in the squad find their feet and continue to develop as well as they have been, it could be a whole new proposition in a few years time.
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