After an adequate start from both AS Monaco and Montpellier this season in Ligue 1, the two sides met this week in what can be best described as a lackluster match. Monaco failed to employ tactics that would create quality chances and paid the price by only gaining one point from the match. They hugely underperformed especially after Montpellier saw midfielder Téji Savanier sent off after just 18 minutes.
Montpellier will put in a defensive performance to be proud of. They managed to keep their composure after being reduced to 10 men, and even managed to score first. After analysis, we have learned that by remaining disciplined, Montpellier proved that defensively they can keep up with the rest of the teams in the league. Going forwards, they failed to produce many chances because of how early they received a red card.
This tactical analysis will be focused around how Monaco attacked, how Montpellier defended, and what went wrong for Monaco. With an expected goals (xG) tally of 2.18, goals were expected from Les Monégasques compared to Montpellier, with an xG of just 0.18.
Monaco started in a 4-3-3 formation, with notable players such as Cesc Fàbregas and former Manchester City player Stevan Jovetic starting on the bench. Florentino Luis was selected to play in the deep-lying playmaker role that Fabregas has become famous for.
Montpellier started in a 3-4-1-2, however, it was quickly changed to a more conservative 5-3-1 after being reduced to 10 men. A diamond could be seen in the Montpellier midfield as they believed this was the best way to stifle Monaco’s midfield creativity, or, lack of as we will come to see.
Below is the average positioning of the Monaco players. Full-backs Ruben Aguilar and Djibril Sidibé were encouraged to play high and wide, like they have become known to do this season. Forwards Gelson Martins. Wissam Ben Yedder and Kevin Volland played much more centrally, and looked to overload the Montpellier central defenders.
Below are the average positions of the Montpellier players. It can be easily seen that they sat very deep for most of the game, with forwards Andy Delort and Gaëtan Laborde barely leaving their own half. The three central defenders and midfield three kept the space between them as small as possible, as this would limit the space the Monaco forwards could play in.
Monaco in possession
Pictured below, we see Monaco building out from the back, inviting pressure from Montpellier. Very early on we can see that Monaco will look to shift play to right centre back Chrislain Matsima, as right full-back Ruben Aguilar adds width to their attack. A common theme from Monaco is to have one midfielder drop deeper, in this case it is Luis, and act as a third central defender, while the full-backs take up much more advanced roles.
When out of possession, Montpellier struggled to hold a convincing defensive structure, and were often the victim of what was, by Monaco’s standards, a lackluster midfield.
Below we see the Monaco front three at work. Martins, Ben Yedder and Volland all play narrowly to draw their markers tight, while the full-backs push high and wide. This is done so that the Montpellier defenders leave their positions and create channels for the Monaco front men to attack. Luis can choose to play a long, over the top ball to his right full-back, or, look to play in one of his forward teammates who is attacking an open channel, created by Sidibé.
Below is another example of Monaco looking to play their forwards in behind, while the full-backs create width. However, as the game went on, Montpellier learned that Monaco were struggling to create chances. Of the five long passes attempted, Luis completed four (80%) of them. If he is acting as the sides main creator, he should be attempting more long passes as that was how the team was set out to play.
As time went on, and Montpellier were reduced to 10 men, Monaco made a few changes to try to create more chances. Midfielders Aurélien Tchouaméni and Sofiane Diop were given the freedom to roam further forward. In doing this, they created more overloads for the Montpellier defence, forcing the midfield line to drop deeper to support.
Credit is due to the Montpellier players. They made 77 interceptions and 37 clearances. Below we see Monaco attempting to play between the lines, especially between midfield and defence. However, the Montpellier players gave themselves an appropriate amount of time and space to ensure that their opponents didn’t stray too far away from them.
Pictured below is Monaco on the ball. The Montpellier players keep the midfield tight and compact, forcing play wide or encouraging lateral passes. Monaco outnumber their opponents, but struggled for most of the game to break the lines. Of the 588 passes completed, 303 (37.5%)were sideways, meaning that Montpellier were more than happy to absorb the little pressure Monaco gave.
Setting the defensive standard
When out of possession, Monaco took up their tried and tested three frontman press, while the midfielders man-marked passing options. There is no reason to believe this system needs tweaking, Monaco earned 41 recoveries in their opponents half. The press does not need work, and should be admired. Defensively, Monaco did everything they needed to do when playing a team that sat back and defended for the majority of the game. However, individual error and lack of creativity in midfield is what stopped them from walking away with three points.
Montpellier rarely looked able to create chances, especially when we consider how often they left the midfield vacant. The Monaco midfield, as pictured below, can be seen dropping back and picking up markers. Montpellier however, don’t have a single player available to occupy the space in midfield, further encouraging less creative play.
After going down to 10 men, Montpellier showed that they would not give up easily. The back five defended much more narrowly, The midfield four were tasked with shifting from side to side, closing down play when it moved to the wide areas. Monaco struggled to play through the lines even when they outnumbered Montpellier.
The three Montpellier central defenders often man marked the three forward Monaco players, while the Montpellier wing-backs were prepared to pressure the Monaco full-backs if play was switched to that side of the field. It was crucial that Montpellier kept their midfield shape. If Monaco were able to pass through midfield, they would be able to create better chances for their forwards. This game was screaming for former Arsenal man Cesc Fàbregas
Below we can see Monaco midfielders attempting to stay between the midfield diamond and defensive line. Doing this, while taking advantage of the width provided by the full-backs, should lead to better quality chances. However, it was more of the same from Monaco, and they were quickly nullified by a disciplined defence and a midfield with a high workrate.
There are two spaces Monaco could have targeted frequently. The first one being the space between the Montpellier left wing-back Ambroise Oyongo Bitolo and central defender Nicolas Cozza. It is enough space for one of the three Monaco forwards to target. The second space being the once occupied by left-back Sidibé, who is in a prime position to receive the ball out wide and further stretch the defence. That being said, this is just an example of the few times Monaco were able to expose Montpellier.
Monaco are now placed eight in Ligue 1, with just two wins from their last five. With teams such as Lille, Paris Saint-Germain and Rennes all having much stronger starts to their season, serious questions might be asked of former Bayern Munich manager Niko Kovac, and if he has what it takes to change things up at Monaco and get them into UEFA Champions League qualification spots. With the first seven games now finished, Monaco will hope to pick up points elsewhere, but will be left wondering why they were unable to beat a 10-man Montpellier side that finished eighth last season.
Montpellier, while disappointed to have a player sent off, can hold their heads high and be happy with how well they defended. Holding off an exciting Monaco team, managed by one of Europe’s strongest managers is no easy task. Having beaten Nice and Lyon comfortably this season, Montpellier can be excited for the season ahead.