Monaco and Their Accidental Heroes’ Unexpected Brilliance

MONACO, MONACO - MAY 17: Radamel Falcao of Monaco holds the trophy during the French League 1 Championship title celebration following the French Ligue 1 match between AS Monaco and AS Saint-Etienne (ASSE) at Stade Louis II on May 17, 2017 in Monaco, Monaco. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Sometimes the stars align and treat us to something special. The unexpected brilliance of Monaco in the 2016/17 season will never not be worthy of remembrance.

PSG had won the league four times in a row and with the likes of Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria and Julian Draxler to call upon. The Parisian club would certainly have fancied their chances of a fifth straight title.

However, Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco side stunned the heavy favourites as a group of relative unknowns established themselves as budding global superstars.

Monaco and Their Accidental Heroes’ Unexpected Brilliance

A Goalscorer Reborn

Before we get onto the new kids on the block, a word on Radamel Falcao. A devastating ACL injury in early 2014 ruled the Colombian predator out for months.

Then form eluded him upon his return to action, particularly during miserable loan spells at Man United and Chelsea. But by 2016 he had finally recovered fully, and boy, did he make Ligue 1’s defenders suffer!

El Tigre, unhindered and unleashed, scored 30 goals in all competitions, including seven goals in ten Champions League games. Cavani and Alexandre Lacazette outscored Falcao in the league but the slick-haired poacher had the last laugh as his classical number nine performances inspired Monaco to the title.

The Future Ballo d’Or Winner

Halfway through the season, word began filtering through to non-Ligue 1 fans about a young lad with unlimited potential turning heads in France.

The next Thierry Henry — that was the ominous moniker.

45 minutes was all anyone needed to be convinced that the hype around Kylian Mbappe was justified. Here was an 18-year-old with raw pace, frightening acceleration, and an innate directness to his game.

He made a mockery of the game!

All this talk of tactics and philosophies made to look stupid by a teenager, nudging it ten yards in front of him twice in quick succession before calmly finishing past a despairing keeper. Yes, there were ghosts of Henry, but more worryingly for defenders of the future, there were hints of Brazilian Ronaldo.

It’s a matter of when, not if, Mbappe will be considered the world’s best player.

The Stylist

Bernardo Silva is a tremendously gifted footballer; a master technician. It’s no wonder Pep Guardiola wanted him as part of his record-breaking Man City team. The Portuguese playmaker reached double figures for both goals and assists in all competitions in 2016/17.

Monaco did not simply just win; ith Bernardo, they won with style. There’s no way of measuring it, but it’s entirely possible that he is in possession of probably the best first touch in world football.

The Destroyer

Chelsea fans will laugh, but it could be argued that Tiemoue Bakayoko was Monaco’s most consistently brilliant performer. The Frenchman ate opponents alive in the middle of the park, sucking in diminutive number tens and spitting out their bones.

His intensity and foresight made him a formidable holding midfielder and allowed the creative types to enjoy themselves – free from the burden of much defensive work. Didier Deschamps described him as ‘the complete midfielder’, highlighting his athleticism and ability to recover the ball. Will we ever see prime Bakayoko again? Hopefully.

The Trendsetter

Thomas Lemar is the living proof that left-footers are just cooler than their right-footed, mainstream counterparts. The French southpaw occupies those spaces between the opposition’s midfield and defence.

He drags players out of position and then punishes them for it. Add in a penchant for set-pieces and a willingness to shoot from the next postcode and you have a useful asset on your hands.

14 goals and 17 assists in all comps in 2016/17 — a joy to watch.

The ‘Joker’ in the Pack

Benjamin Mendy’s Twitter fingers are well known but Premier League fans are yet to experience his distinctly postmodern approach to playing as a full-back. In 2016/17, the Frenchman effectively acted as an auxiliary winger, overlapping those ahead of him and crossing from the byline.

He provided eight assists in all competitions but was particularly effective in the Champions League. His inexhaustible showings against Man City convinced them he was worth £52 million. If you can’t beat ’em, sign ’em.

And the Rest

Danijel Subasic, Fabinho, Valere Germain, Djibril Sidibe, Kamil Glik, Jemerson, Joao Moutinho… all worthy of individual praise.

The best thing about Monaco’s title-winners of 2016/17 is that, while they were made up on magnificent individuals, their success was truly a team effort.

Somehow, they were even greater than the sum of their parts. Monaco won 30 of their 38 league games, scoring 107 goals en route to 95 points. They started the season with an underwhelming 2-2 draw at home to Guingamp after losing their last pre-season friendly 5-0 to Napoli.

But a 3-1 win over PSG in August set the tone for the remainder of the campaign. They won the last 12 league games in a row, dropping just four points after the winter break.

The Firesale

There’s always a bigger fish. Monaco’s emphatic title victory and impressive run to the Champions League semi-finals attracted the attention of Europe’s wealthiest clubs.

Man City, Chelsea and PSG waved their chequebooks as Bernardo, Mendy, Bakayoko and Mbappe departed for pastures new. Fabinho and Lemar delayed their exits by a year but have since joined Liverpool and Atletico Madrid respectively.

Captain Falcao is the most notable remainer but Monaco’s 2016/17 team is now a who’s who of Europe’s most exciting talent, spread far and wide. Still, they’ll always have the memories, as will we.

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