Leonardo Jardim might not have the looks of Jose Mourinho, the charisma of Pep Guardiola, or the charm of Arsene Wenger, but he proved to be very clever and astute in masterminding Monaco’s 3-1 first leg win at Arsenal three weeks ago. His plan for the game was spot on to expose Arsenal’s right side, while his substitutions worked well as Bernardo Silva and Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco worked together for the third goal.
Previously, the Portuguese coach kept on giving warnings to their players that the threat of Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla is real, and worked so hard to prepare his players for an expected attacking onslaught from Arsenal. “At this stage we are now at half-time and we are two goals ahead, but it’s true that our opponents have so many quality players in their squad,” he admitted. “Everyone knows if it will be the most difficult game we have had in years.”
Even if the boss was helped by a very poor Arsenal performance, Jardim still deserves a lot of credit, as do his players.
And Tueday’s return leg (17/3) will be an even bigger game both for Jardim as well as for the club. Put simply, if Monaco qualifying for the Champions League quarterfinal, it would be an incredible achievement in the history of the club and French football overall. While other European powers got stronger squad last summer, Monaco lost Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez, Eric Abidal, Lucas Ocampos, and Emmanual Rivieri. This condition may make nobody expected them to make a major Champions League impact, even after they were drawn in a group with Zenit, Benfica and Bayer Leverkusen.
Jardim’s men finished top by having ridden their luck at times and relied on being efficient defensively, having one goal conceded and scoring four times from only 14 shots on target. Interestingly, in the Champions League, Monaco have adopted a “let’s prove everybody wrong” attitude, and it reinforces their efforts to keep going on track.
On the other hand, what Monaco has achieved have also proved that, for all the talent in the world, if players don’t play and fight each other as a unit, progress is more difficult. The “let’s prove the doubters are wrong” mindset has been bought into and is keeping everyone at the club on their toes.
Currently, Monaco’s player and manager have been exceptional in the face of adversity and have fed their league ambitions; a top three finish. With nine toes in the quarterfinals, they are currently fourth in Ligue 1, four points behind third-place Marseille with a game in hand.