An exciting matchup between Monaco and Strasbourg took place this weekend in Ligue 1 where Strasbourg failed to win against nine men. Monaco had two players sent off in a showing of poor attitude and carelessness which almost cost them the three points. Former Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovač’s Monaco controlled the majority of the game, with a standout performance from Fàbregas as he dictated the tempo of the match, even with only ten, then eventually, nine, men. Strasbourg will be kicking themselves for not coming away from this game with something, as it was just poor finishing that costed them at least a potential point. In this tactical analysis, we will look at the tactics and approaches of both teams and how they interacted with each other.
Monaco played in a very strict 4-3-3 formation through the whole game, with the front three pressing most actively and chasing down Strasbourg defenders. Strasbourg’s 4-3-1-2 was structured in a way that Thomasson could act as a third forward and a defensive outlet at the top of a midfield diamond that could contain Fàbregas. The former Chelsea player was Monaco’s creative outlet and best player, while Ajorque impressed for Strasbourg in an otherwise disappointing team performance.
First half dominance
Former Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fàbregas started as a deep-lying playmaker. Monaco played with three forwards who stayed narrow and played in-between the Strasbourg defenders. Width came from the full-backs, who were given the freedom to push high and wide with the Strasbourg defenders tucking inside to defend the forwards. Strasbourg looked to defend deep and low, giving Monaco plenty of space to play their game. Strasbourg rarely pressed in the first half, instead opting to sit back and absorb pressure.
The front three Monaco players used their pace to beat their markers and forced Strasbourg midfield players to drop even deeper and help. Long, over the top passes in behind the defense were a recurring issue that Strasbourg struggled to defend against. Their midfield was often bypassed by players like Fàbregas and Fofana, who are technically or physically gifted players. Monaco has no shortage of these players, meaning Strasbourg would be struggling for more of the game.
In defence, Monaco opted for a man-marking system for the Strasbourg midfield players, forcing them to play the ball long or be pushed out wide. The front three pressed the defenders as well as dropped deep to chase the full-backs, so that the midfield three kept its structure.
Pictured below is another example of midfielders picking up their markers, but more importantly, the hard work done by the front three. Defence starts from the front. Monaco play with a very high and aggressive defensive line, so having 10 players in the opposition half is not a rare sight. It is a very risky and highly entertaining way of playing football, a style that is synonymous with former Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovač, and quickly being adopted by many in the footballing world.
Strasbourg did try to stop Monaco’s most creative player, Cesc Fàbregas, by keeping him inside their midfield diamond, and follow him where he went. The objective was to press him when he gained possession, or mark him with more than one player when he didn’t have the ball. Monaco were never punished for playing out from the back and were able to play around Strasbourg’s man marking of Fàbregas by going wide, or by passing back to goalkeeper Lecomte, who is excellent with his feet.
It wasn’t until much later in the first half that Strasbourg began to play with more intensity. While the team is physically capable and intelligent enough to press effectively, there is only so much any team can do to stop Fàbregas. Playing out from the back is no foreign concept to Monaco. They are more than able to play out of most teams’ press and hit them on the counter.
Below we see the consequences of a press that is not executed by the full team. The Strasbourg forwards left space in behind them many time that Fàbregas could run into. At times, the Strasbourg midfield that started as a mobile diamond, opened up and was often only occupied by Djiku or Sissoko. This lack of commitment exposed the Strasbourg midfield often enough that it caused manager Thierry Laurey to change things at half time.
Second half resurgence
Strasbourg scored seconds after the second half began. They changed the structure by bringing on Dimitri Liénard for striker Waris, and a midfield swap that saw Mehdi Chahiri come on for Jean-Ricner Bellegarde. An excellent change, as Chahiri was the scorer. Strasbourg switched to a one striker system, a less strict 4-2-3-1. This offered more control in midfield as that was an area they had little to no influence of in the first half. Additionally to midfield stability, Strasbourg began to press as a unit, leading to the creation of their first goal.
Strasbourg’s new 4-2-3-1 shape forced Monaco back into their own half more than they would have liked. The mobile diamond was scrapped as it was not followed strictly and proved to have its problems. Now, Les coureurs aimed to keep the midfield packed with players, forcing Monaco to play long passes over both side’s midfield players.
Individual quality from Monaco and the lack of from Strasbourg is what cost them chances to come back into the game. The attacking players were often caught disconnected from their defensive teammates, allowing Monaco to play right through them at times. Against a top team like Monaco, this type of play can’t go unpunished for long. Once Monaco make it past the midfield block, they can trust that Les coureurs will make rash decisions, or, be drawn out of position easily as seen below.
Despite going down to 10 men, Monaco show why they’re one of the best and continue to play to their strengths. Strasbourg begin to press much more intensely after Aurélien Tchouaméni was sent off, but it isn’t effective. Fàbregas is continuously allowed to play in his deeper role and able to ensure his side play out of the Strasbourg press each time it’ss attempted.
Once down to ten men, Monaco adopted a very simple and effective 4-4-1 structure. They refuse to press and ask Strasbourg to play through their block. Monaco are still managing to play a high line and an offside trap, as Les coureurs continue to play long over the top passes. Rarely did Strasbourg shift play from side to side. They lacked the creativity to pass through the block, or take advantage of options on either flank.
Even as Monaco went down to nine players, Strasbourg showed them too much respect. They did manage to score once more, but only by a penalty. In attack, Les coureurs adopted a sort of 4-2-4 formation, however, their defensive and midfield lines were often far too deep to cause the Monaco block any trouble. Pictured below, we can see that Strasbourg should take advantage of their wide players, as the Monaco full-backs are asked to defend more narrow. As well, adopt a higher defensive line. When your opponent has only nine players, it’s difficult for them to press or get passes forward when there are no forward players to pass to.
As the game went on, the tactical decisions made by Thierry Laurey were promising but ineffective as his side often lacked the individual quality to unlock a tedious Monaco defence. As the game came to its end, Strasbourg began throwing players forward anywhere they could. What was a structured start to the second half, finished as desperation. The pressing that earned them their first goal and won them their penalty for the second goal was no longer present, as Strasbourg resorted to crosses into an already crowded penalty area.
To conclude this tactical analysis, it’s fair to say that Monaco are one of the best teams in Europe after playing beautiful and effective football while holding on bravely with nine men. The team should be proud of themselves and the way they played, while also being cautious of their lack of behavioural discipline.
Strasbourg should have done better to take advantage of a Monaco side that saw two players dismissed, but that’s been the story of Les coureurs season thus far. With many games to play, Strasbourg have shown some promising signs and the future is bright, but they can’t afford to miss opportunities like this in the future.