Talking Soccer: Underdog Monaco challenges to become French champions

Monaco's Kylian Mbappe celebrates after scoring his first goal during their French League One soccer match against Caen, in Caen, north western France, Sunday, March 19, 2017. Mbappe scored two goals as Monaco won 3-0. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

European soccer has ended its last international break of the season, and teams have begun to gear up to compete for their league titles. While some leagues have already been mostly decided, others have shown potential for down-to-the-wire competition, and new champions. Bayern Munich has run away with the Bundesliga, acquiring 62 points, while second place RB Leipzig and third place Borussia Dortmund have only managed 49 and 46, respectively.  The Premier League has surprised some by faring in much the same way: at the top of the table, Chelsea leads the Tottenham Hotspurs by 10 points and is heavily favored to win the league at the end of the season. While Roma and Napoli only trail 8 and 10 points behind long-time powerhouse Juventus, it would take a complete crash from the leaders in order for them not to win Serie A. These leagues show a lack of competition that has become somewhat common in the past decade. Yet Spain’s La Liga and France’s Ligue 1 will probably come down to the wire as rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona sit within two points of each other at the top of the table, and AS Monaco threatens to win its first Ligue 1 championship since the 1999-00 season.

Paris Saint-Germain have been gradually showing signs that they may be losing their foothold in the league, as former striker and figurehead Zlatan Ibrahimovic began to age and eventually left the club. The club has not shied away from opening its wallet over the years, and as a result have still continued on as a threat to all in Ligue 1. Despite their wealth, they currently sit in second in the French table, three points behind leaders AS Monaco.

Monaco's headcoach Leonardo Jardim looks on during his French League One soccer match against Caen, in Caen, north western France, Sunday, March 19, 2017. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

Both team’s road to victory is filled with matchups against almost all lower-level teams. Yet there are some bumps along the way for each side that could determine the championship at the end of the season. AS Monaco and PSG will both face two teams in the bottom five of the table as well as one team in the top five, Lyon (4) for Monaco and OGC Nice (3) for Paris St-Germain. The rest of the matches are just as close, however Monaco does have the benefit of playing two games against 14th place Lille.

The main challenge that could disrupt Monaco’s quest to be the Ligue 1 champions is their Champions’ League fixtures coming up. Monaco has battled their way through the competition to reach the quarterfinals against the Bundesliga team, Borussia Dortmund. After placing first in their group stage, Monaco went on to lose their first knock-out game 5-3 away against Manchester City. Knowing they needed to excel in order to advance, the team beat City 3-1 at home. Monaco has shown they are competing against the very best in Europe, and will surely want to keep pushing for their chance at a Champions’ League title. While this is impressive for a club that has been largely overlooked in the past two decades, these two games against Dortmund will surely take a lot of energy from their first team players. Dortmund has almost no chance of competing for their domestic league, so they will likely be throwing everything they have at Monaco in order to move forward toward Europe’s biggest club achievement. Monaco faces fourth-place Lyon just four days after their second game against Dortmund, and if they don’t score enough in the first game to give a cushion then they may end up with players too tired to face Lyon in a game that could have title implications.

The year-long competition between the two this season will be put on full display this Saturday as the two teams clash in the final of the French League Cup, a domestic cup only open to teams in the top three football divisions of France. Monaco defeated Paris St-Germain 3-1 at home in their first meeting of the season and managed to draw 0-0 in their rematch in Paris, so PSG will be hungry for revenge in this game, which decides the winner of the competition. Radamel Falcao has returned from loan to lead the offense, with 16 goals and 4 assists in the 22 games he has played for Monaco. He has been aided by Kylian Mbappe with 12 goals and 5 assists and Valere Germain with nine goals and three assists. Edinson Cavani has embraced becoming the main source of offense due to the departure of Ibrahimovic, scoring 27 goals in the 28 games he has played for Paris Saint-Germain. Although no other PSG player has broken 10 goals on the season, he got some help from fellow forward Lucas Moura, who has netted nine goals and assisted in scoring three times. Although this game does not have any implications as far as league table points goes, it is a valuable chance for both teams to show their dominance over their peers and improve morale in finishing the season strong.


Joe Burns is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at joseph.burns@uconn.edu.