Little over four months since Monaco lost the second leg of the Champions League semi-final 2-1 in Turin, the French champions faced Porto at home in a game they really could not afford to lose after drawing their opening game of the group; they were destroyed 3-0 by a perfect display of phenomenal counter-attacking football from the Portuguese side. You could say that last season’s semi-finalists had been humbled, but that would be to ignore the fact that last season’s semi-finalists had already been torn asunder.
“We had a good run in the Champions League, but the players know that we have to live in the present and create a new adventure,” said coach Leonardo Jardim last week. The choice of words is key; it is a ‘new adventure’. While other clubs build momentum and build dynasties, Monaco are forever packing their bags and setting off again.
Only five of the starting XI from that semi-final night in Italy began Tuesday night’s clash against Porto. There is re-building – to which Monaco are well accustomed – and then there is the kind of speedy construction work for which you call Nick Knowles and his DIY SOS army. Losing Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Tiemoue Bakayoko in one summer has left Monaco vulnerable to the very same tactics that saw them win hearts and minds last season with their extraordinary pace and dynamism.
Jardim’s pragmatic words after heavy defeat could have come out of a dozen coaches’ mouths after defeat to that devastating Monaco side last season:
“The explanation is easy. Porto has been better than us, especially in terms of offensive and defensive aggressiveness. Porto had a great ability to win both offensive and defensive duels, and took the lead on offensive transitions and counter-attacks. As for us, we lacked aggressiveness, speed, attention, reaction.”
Monaco need to find all those things again disturbingly soon, as the post-draw Group G favourites now face an October double-header against the current unlikely Group G leaders Besiktas.
Group G Table after MD2:
1. Besiktas (6)
2. Porto (3)
3. Monaco (1)
4. RB LEIPZIG (1)#UCL
— Bundesliga Spotlight (@BundesligaSpot) September 26, 2017
This is certainly not where RB Leipzig were supposed to be. This is not why they chased off suitors for Naby Keita, Emil Forsberg and Timo Werner this summer. This is not why they spent considerable money on Kevin Kampl and Jean-Kevin Augustin. This has been a disaster.
Young players who had thrived with little or no expectation in the Bundesliga were given a rude awakening in Turkey, where the fans created such a noise that Werner asked to be substituted after little more than half an hour and just 13 touches; the 21-year-old simply could not cope. Keita followed on the hour. A team with eight players aged 25 or under were beaten 2-0 by a wily team of 30-somethings and a hostile crowd.
“It is impossible to prepare your team for an atmosphere like this. There was a deafening noise [and] at the start of the game we were a bit affected,” said manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. “We were not good in the first 20 minutes at all. But it was a lesson for all of us. I saw who I can count on in times like these. This is a lesson for us to learn and we keep learning.”
One team is setting off on a new adventure and the other is still learning lessons; both have about three weeks to drag themselves off the floor and the bottom of the table.