Saint-Étienne – AS Monaco: Jardim’s formation switch against Saint-Etienne unable to halt Monaco’s winless run (2-0)

Saint-Étienne looked comfortable against Monaco for the most part, especially in the first half. Nevertheless, Monaco had the better chances and were unlucky to leave with zero points. Two well-taken goals from Wahbi Khazri made the difference.

Monaco went to Saint-Étienne looking to put a stop to the terrible run of form they have suffered since the start of this season. Going without a win since their opening day victory over Nantes left them in eighteenth place in Ligue 1, with a meagre six points. The latest disappointment, a 1-0 defeat at home to Angers, led coach Leonardo Jardim to question the attitude and commitment of his players.

By this point, Monaco’s team is unrecognisable in terms of personnel from the Ligue 1 winners and Champions League standouts of 2017. Six of the starting eleven from that side have now left the club, the latest of which were the departures of Fabinho and Thomas Lemar this summer. Jardim now wrestles with the challenge of rebuilding Monaco with another generation of young players.

Saint-Étienne on the other hand have enjoyed a solid start to the season, finding themselves in sixth place coming into this game, with their only defeat so far this season coming against PSG. They started this game in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with captain Loic Perrin returning to the side to pair up with former Borussia Dortmund centre-back Neven Subotic. Ole Selneas, Yannis Salibur and Wahbi Khazri also returned after not starting against Toulouse in midweek.

In trying to find a way to turn his team’s fortunes around, Jardim resorted to switching to a 3-5-2 for this game, moving away from his usual 4-4-2. The likes of Aleksandr Golovin, Benjamin Henrichs, Nacer Chadli and Youri Tielemans were left out, perhaps also because of next week’s Champions League group match against Dortmund. Andrea Raggi came into the side as part of the back three, as did Kevin N’Doram. Also included were two summer signings in the form of Antonio Barreca at left wing-back and Pelé in defensive midfield.

Positioning of both teams when Saint-Étienne had the ball. General movements of Saint-Étienne also displayed.

Saint-Étienne in control
Saint-Étienne were able to take possession away from Monaco and largely dictated the game the first half. Their base attacking formation was a 4-2-3-1, but rotation in midfield also made it look like a 4-3-3. Yann M’Vila was consistently the deepest midfielder, staying in front of the centre-backs or dropping alongside them, particularly to the left. Selneas played a supporting role slightly ahead of him.

The left-back, Timothée, usually started slightly deeper than Silva, Saint-Étienne’s right-back, but still had license to make forward runs. Timothée’s deeper position, almost appearing as part of a back three at times, was quite important to Saint-Étienne’s buildup. When Monaco’s two strikers went to press the Saint-Étienne centre-backs, Timothée would be the free player.

When he got on the ball, it was often Monaco’s right centre-midfielder Sofiane Diop who pressed him, rather than Djibril Sidibé the wing-back. Sidibé often seemed caught in between pressing a player in the zones in front of him, and helping cover the space alongside Raggi, his nearest centre-back. Most of the times, he ended up doing neither.

As a result, Saint-Étienne were able to exploit the space behind him, and put Raggi – who is not very mobile – into uncomfortable situations defending wide areas against Saint-Étienne’s quick forwards. Similar situations did develop on Monaco’s left, but not to the same extent. These situations were partly also caused by the roaming of Rémy Cabella, who ventured across the pitch looking to link-up and create, but especially on the left side, where he helped to create small overloads and collect the ball from deep.

In general, the front four of Cabella, Salibur, Lois Diony and Khazri were very active and moved across Monaco’s last line. Saint-Étienne were not afraid to look for them early with direct passes. This was rewarded in Saint-Étienne’s first goal, where Khazri was one of a few players making runs in behind, and Selneas found him with a chipped pass over the defense, which Khazri controlled and finished confidently.

Monaco punished by Saint-Étienne press
Saint-Étienne also pressed in a 4-2-3-1, and like when they had the ball, Selneas often had a bit more freedom to push up alongside Cabella, with M’Vila staying behind, at which point their shape would resemble a 4-3-3.

Usually though, Selneas stayed deeper to keep tabs on Monaco’s left centre-midfielder. The four players ahead of M’Vila and Selneas were again quite flexible when out of possession. For example, sometimes Cabella – usually the attacking midfielder – would slot in on the left if required. More often though, Cabella would be the one marking or closing down Monaco’s defensive midfielder Pelé. If they forced a pass back to the centre-backs of Monaco, Saint-Étienne’s wingers could push up onto the wide centre-backs. This caused problems for Monaco and they were often forced into long-balls and lost possession as a result.

More importantly though, Saint-Étienne’s pressing was what helped earn them their second goal. Pelé, who was otherwise quite impressive, was robbed of the ball deep in his own half by Cabella. After this turnover, the ball fell to M’Vila, who played in into the feet of Khazri, who then fired the ball home with a low-driven shot from around 20 yards, before the Monaco defense even had the chance to retreat. A great individual goal to put Saint-Étienne 2-0 up in the 54th minute.

Home side see out well earned win
Saint-Étienne dropped slightly deeper after their second goal and Monaco were able to get more of the ball and try to build attacks. They were mostly unsuccessful. Their main attacking idea from the first half seemed to be getting the ball out to the wing-backs, either directly or via a pass into the feet of the strikers. Their attack was generally not that well-coordinated in terms of movement though, and Jardim doesn’t have the raw firepower at his disposal to change games on their own like he has had in the past at Monaco.

They did have some success down the right side in the second half, where they were able to make breakthroughs via runs in behind from Diop or Moussa Sylla while the ball was near the right touchline. This led to one or two shooting chances for Monaco which they were unable to convert. In general, Monaco created more chances in the second half than Saint-Étienne, but conversion is one of the many problems Jardim is facing at the moment.

Another problem for Monaco’s possession game was that they were vulnerable to counter-attacks, as when both wing-backs and central midfielders ahead of Pelé pushed forward, there were large spaces either side of him to be exploited if Saint-Étienne won the ball back. This became especially apparent as the game got stretched late on.

This win for Saint-Étienne continues a strong start to the season for them, and although Monaco are not in a good place at the moment, they will be delighted to have shown themselves as quite a tactically flexible side capable of beating a team who are one of the best in the league on paper.

Monaco’s defeat leaves means that they stay in the relegation zone. It seems unlikely they’ll be there for long – there’s simply too much quality in the team compared to the rest of Ligue 1, but it shows just what a horrible run of form this has been for them. It’s still early in the season, but Jardim will know that his team can’t afford to keep losing ground on the likes of Lyon and Marseille for much longer, otherwise it’s possible that Monaco find themselves without Champions League football next season. The question lingers whether the amount of talent that has left the club in the past two seasons is simply too much.

The slider below contains Expected Goal plots, halfspace maps, passmaps and Zone 14 maps. 

Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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