January 17, 2022

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Ligue 1: Monaco coming on strong ahead of crunch clash against Paris Saint-Germain

7 min read

PARIS — AS Monaco take on Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 on Sunday with 16 points between the two sides but while the hosts have made a fast start in terms of points, the visitors have been slower as they readjusted to the rigors of European football.

Stylistically, Niko Kovac’s men have stuck to their image while Mauricio Pochettino’s side are unsure of their own and Les Monegasques’ qualification as unbeaten UEFA Europa League Group B winners represents progress while Les Parisiens’ second spot in UEFA Champions League Group A does not.

“That is very important for us and a big result indeed,” Monaco vice-president and CEO Oleg Petrov told CBS Sports exclusively. “France is doing very well in Europe this season and our group was particularly tough. It was effectively UCL quality with the likes of Real Sociedad and even Sturm Graz.

“It was a very solid and serious group with some good battles. We have a young team, and we are very happy with this result of finishing first and not losing once. It is a result of what we have done over the past year. It is a great achievement. The fruit of our labor is finally yielding results.”

Unbeaten in eight matches across all competitions and rising up the Ligue 1 table, Monaco are finally getting to where many expected them to be this season after a strong end to the 2020-21 campaign but European and domestic commitments have taken time to balance out.

“We are a little behind schedule,” admitted sporting director Paul Mitchell to CBS Sports. “We are very focused and diligent in our internal analysis. We have struggled a bit balancing the UEL, Ligue 1, and our three-game weeks. Our expectation would be a bit higher.

“However, it is the first time for some of the players and the head coach in the Europa League to manage those three-game weeks. It is an interesting challenge as it is only one more day, but it pushes you closer to that recovery and performance window. It must be managed carefully and there was some learning for the technical team, players, and staff as to how to find a better balance.

“Now, with the great performance of the team, coming out of the Christmas period, we can really focus on Ligue 1 and the Coupe de France until March.”

PSG will be the first of back-to-back visits to the French capital with Red Star coming up at the mythical Stade Bauer in the Coupe de France next week, which is a competition Monaco reached the final of last term and want to better this time.

“We try to excel everywhere and across every competition,” said Petrov. “We know that Red Star can be a very tough team to beat. They have won five Coupe de France titles which makes them a tough team to face. Reaching last year’s final was a big achievement and historical for ASM. Of course, it would be good to do the same and we will give maximum effort to deliver that result.”

Monaco can consider themselves unlucky to have dropped into the Europa League with fate dealing them a cruel blow in the Champions League qualifying rounds against Shakhtar Donetsk, but Kovac and his players are adjusting well and have rediscovered their stride of late.

“I think everyone in professional world football saw how cruel our Champions League exit was,” said Mitchell of the agonizing extra-time loss in Kharkiv. “In 15 years, I have never seen something so harsh during such a fantastic performance. That is football, though — it does happen. That is also why we love the game.

“For me, it was not cause and effect. I think that the main thing was the balance and management of the three-game week cycles. Looking back and analyzing, as we do in 10-game samples, that was the main factor. Adjusting focus from one competition to the next created some inconsistency and adversely affected our league form.

“That was a learning curve for our technical team and for our young squad, which is the youngest in the top five leagues. Our project is also built over a long-term plan. We have to accept that there will be game and learning cycles as well as checkpoints to look, reflect, adjust and take experience from our work.”

Monaco beat PSG home and away in Ligue 1 last season before losing in the Coupe de France final and the principality outfit would love to be victorious again as they aim to vie regularly with the capital giants at the French summit.

“Football is a game and PSG are very tough opponents,” Petrov told CBS Sports. “They are a team with incredible talent in all positions. The way we ended last season was spectacular. The team did extremely well in both games with PSG. We cannot predict how things will go in football, but PSG are our long-term major rivals, and we want to challenge what is expected. We want to do our best and put up a strong fight which is our goal, and we will see how it goes.”

ASM have been busy on the transfer market since Mitchell’s arrival and overhauled a massively bloated squad before adding a few quality elements to what a more manageable group and January business should not necessarily be ruled out.

“Before arriving in Monaco, I cast a youthful and vibrant figure!” joked Mitchell. “Now, after inheriting 77 players, I probably look more tired around the eyes with grey in my beard … My hairline is suffering too.

“It is part of why I love doing what I do. We constantly and consistently assess the market for strategic investments in agreement with our president (Dmitry Rybolovlev) which was always our strategy. We have added perhaps a few levels of process and procedure which were not in place when I arrived to make sure that we are operating in a sustainable way.

“Also, it is a difficult economic climate in France after the Mediapro collapse so we need to be diligent. We have done a lot of work over the last 16-17 months, and we have a lot of depth and quality which I think we have showed recently in the changes our head coach has made to the starting XI.

“Our performances have improved, so everybody knows that we have a very competitive squad. It is young, so we need to be patient to allow it to grow and develop. Any investments this winter will be viewed for performance now but also looking to the future.”

Ligue 1 will soon be changing from 20 teams to 18, which should make Le Championnat more attractive overall as France attempts to stay in touch with the rest of Europe’s top leagues in terms of value.

“The LFP is doing lots to increase the attractiveness of French football which I am very glad to see with my own eyes as part of the board,” said Petrov. “There is a perception that France deserves more in Europe with so much talent domestically but also in England and elsewhere.

“Reducing the number of teams is part of that change, but not the only one, and there are many changes coming which I am pleased to see. It is an interesting proposal to make the league more competitive, brighter, sharper in terms of competing, so I think that it will add value to Ligue 1.”

With the season reaching the midway point, Ligue 1 appears to be out of almost everybody but PSG’s reach with the Coupe de France and the Europa League perhaps more realistic aims for Monaco as the seek to realize their ambitions.

“We always want to be ambitious and set ourselves high goals,” Mitchell told CBS Sports. “French clubs have really grown over the past two seasons. It is an extremely competitive league, as European results now show, which also demonstrates the growth capacity in this league.

“It is truly competitive now and not just one or two historic clubs — there are not six or seven well-funded and well-organized teams. We are fortunate to be one of them with great backing from our major shareholder which enables us to be competitive as we want to be. We always want Monaco in some form of European competition and to go as far as we can on the continent.

“We set ourselves this objective with a highly talented squad and we also want to finish as high as we can in Ligue 1. We also want to push in all competitions, like the Coupe de France, so lofty ambitions and expectations which I feel we are set up to deliver on with this squad.”

On top of this, Monaco want to be one of the leading clubs in terms of innovation which resulted in the opening of a new state-of-the-art Performance Center earlier this year which is an area that the Stade Louis II-based outfit are well-placed to dominate in.

“Monaco’s ambitions are very, very high,” Petrov added. “They come from not only the president but also from the club’s history. We want to establish ASM as a strong performer in Europe at a very high, very good level. We look for innovation and the latest technical knowledge. This is a new area, and we want to have our say and be considered a strong leader in that respect too.”

You can keep up with Monaco’s Europa League progress when they return in the knockout phase in 2022 on Paramount+.

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