PSG 1-1 AS Monaco: Monaco Stay Top Of Ligue 1 After Exhilarating Draw in Paris

PSG 1-1 AS MonacoParis Saint-Germain were the dominant side against fellow nouveaux-riches club AS Monaco at the Parc Des Princes on Sunday night, but only managed a 1-1 draw with their title rivals. Zlatan Ibrahimović poked the home side into an early lead, but £50 million Colombia forward Radamel Falcao cancelled out his opener soon after with a scrappy effort. Monaco went into the match having only lost one of their previous 26 games, and PSG were unbeaten in 22, so both teams managed to continue their impressive unbeaten records.

The PSG full-backs were exploiting space behind the Monaco back-line from the opening minutes, so it came as no surprise when Ibrahimović volleyed in the impressive Maxwell’s tantalising cross just five minutes in. Thiago Silva played a long ball down the left wing which the Brazilian reached in acres of space, before putting a powerful ball into the box which was met by the mercurial Swede.

Monaco were penned in in the opening stages, with influential midfielder João Moutinho barely seeing the ball in the opening stages. When Monaco did come forward it was on the counter attack, with Maxwell and Gregory Van Der Wiel’s forays into the attacking third of the pitch leaving space behind for Lucas Acampos and Yannick Carrasco to exploit. Carrasco had an effort from the edge of the penalty area blocked by Salvatore Sirigu, but most of Monaco’s chances came from corners and frequent free-kicks in an increasingly heated atmosphere.

Zlatan Ibrahimović and Edinson Cavani were showing signs of gelling with an Ibra back-heel putting Cavani through, but the Uruguayan dragged his shot across the face of goal. He was made to rue that miss after 20 minutes when Monaco’s marquee summer signings, Moutinho and Falcao, combined to haul Monaco level. Moutinho whipped a delicious ball from the left wing in between the goalkeeper and the defense, and among three players on the ground, Falcao somehow managed to touch the ball into Sirigu’s bottom corner.

Forceful, almost Yaya Toure-esque running from Blaise Matuidi and excellent passing and dribbling from Man of the Match Marco Verratti, backed up by the solid and dependable Thiago Motta, left PSG’s midfield in complete control of the ball, and it was Les Parisiens who created the next opportunity. Ezequiel Lavezzi was sent spinning to the floor - adding several rolls of his own for effect - and from the resulting free kick, Ibrahimović headed just over from the center of the box. Ex-Roma man Marquinhos was finally booked for his fifth foul of the match some minutes later, with Falcao bending his free kick around the wall, but also around the post.

PSG 1-1 AS MonacoThe Parc Des Princes must have been one of the wealthiest places on earth at that moment with both billionaire owners in attendance, but Nasser Al-Khelaifi was left frustrated when Ibrahimović found himself through on goal, only to take an eternity to make a decision. When he eventually cut back, two defenders were in his way and his curling effort (or was it a cross?) bent around the top corner with Lavezzi unable to turn it in.

Ibra was finding himself in good positions too often for Monaco’s liking, with the PSG defense and midfield using him as a target man, with Cavani, Matuidi and Lavezzi running behind him. Cavani and Ibra’s former clubs, Napoli and AC Milan, were also in action against each other during the match, but the two still don’t look like forming a cohesive partnership, with Cavani seeming out-of-place on the right wing. It came as something of a surprise, then, when the dangerous Lavezzi was taken off for Lucas Moura in a like-for-like swap, with Monaco showing attacking intent by bringing on James Rodríguez for Geoffrey Kondogbia.

Cavani and Ibrahimović both hit limp free kicks straight into the wall, and although Falcao’s hold-up play was less than stellar and Monaco had been flat in the break, one counter from Rodríguez nearly paid off for the visitors. He was lightning fast down the right wing, and although his early cross to Falcao looked delicious, it was an inch or two too high for the forward to make a telling contact. Sirigu was looking solid when shots were taken, but considerably less so when caught flapping at crosses.

The game began to fizzle out in the last ten or fifteen minutes with Monaco, to their credit, leaving the home fans quiet and anxious, but in stoppage time they nearly had something to cheer about. Cavani was blocked off but PSG maintained their pressure, and the last in a string of tantalizing crosses from the marvelous Maxwell was desperately headed over and Cavani sent a glancing header inches wide from a short corner. PSG manager Laurent Blanc was probably correct in saying, “Given the amount of chances we had we deserved to win,” but his opposite number Claudio Ranieri was left “very satisfied” with his players after a result which leaves them two points clear of PSG at the top of the table with six games played.

Written by Sam France

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AS Monaco Sign Hulk from Zenit Saint Petersburg in £52m Deal

HulkAS Monaco have continued their assault on the Ligue 1 title with the £52m signing of Brazil forward Hulk from Zenit St Petersburg, says the ‘Metro.’ Hulk joins other signings such as Falcao, Joao Moutinho, and Eric Abidal at the newly-promoted club, who have now spent close to £200million over this summer. Competing with PSG’s signings of Edinson Cavani and Hulk’s teenage compatriot Marquinhos from Roma, Monaco manager Claudio Ranieri has stated that more signings must be made if the Monte Carlo club are to challenge for the title in the coming season.

Since Hulk left Porto for Russia last September, he has endured a difficult time on the pitch in more than one respect. After suffering racist abuse from Zenit fans, he has scored only 11 goals in 30 games, a significant decrease from his impressive scoring record in Portugal and Japan.

He was widely regarded as one of the most disappointing players at the recent Confederations Cup in Brazil, despite playing in all five games in the hosts’ run to the trophy. That said, he was frequently substituted, providing only one assist and no goals over the course of the tournament. There is still obvious class, as evidenced by a thumping long-range free kick against Italy that was well kept out, and several powerful, pacy runs down the right wing.

The move will see Hulk reunited with his former Porto teammates Falcao, Moutinho, and James Rodriguez, and their partnerships may go some way to helping Monaco gel early in the season. So far, the new-look team hasn’t flourished, losing in pre-season friendlies to Fortuna Dusseldorf and Augsburg. Moutinho and Rodriguez will be the most important in that respect as they were still playing together last season, but the striking duo of Hulk and Falcao, who scored 128 Porto goals between them, will need to be firing on all cylinders if they are to challenge the PSG front-line of Ibrahimovic, Cavani, Lucas, and Lavezzi.

Hulk only made one domestic appearance in his native Brazil for Vitoria before making the unusual move to Japan, signing for Kawasaki Frontale. He also played in Sapporo and Tokyo in his four years in the J-League, scoring 74 goals in 111 games and winning many admirers on the way. He earned his big move to Porto in 2008, and although he only scored nine goals in his first season, he also assisted nine, and was called up to the Brazil squad for the first time in 2009; he now has 27 appearances for La Selecao.

HulkHis next season was better, with goals and assists in double figures for his club, but his third season in Portugal was his finest. He was the club’s top scorer in the league, even ahead of Falcao, and he contributed 21 assists in addition to 36 goals in all competitions. Porto won the league, Europa League, Portuguese Supercup, and the domestic cup under the leadership of Jesualdo Ferriera before Andre Villas-Boas took charge at the end of the season.

His form continued in 2011-12, and he scored all of his six Brazil goals in 2012, although they were all in international friendless due to Brazil’s lack of competitive matches. An unhappy few months in St. Petersburg followed, so Hulk will be hoping he can set his career back on track in the lavish setting of Monaco.

One criticism of Hulk is that he has never played in one of the major leagues; England, Italy, Germany, or Spain. The Russian league is certainly growing, and he was by no means the only star there, with Samuel Eto’o and fellow Brazilian Vagner Love having made the move in recent years for financial reasons or other.

The French first division is also growing in global influence, but declining in terms of competitiveness. Six clubs have won the league title in the last six years, but the influx of stars moving towards only two clubs means it is unthinkable that anyone other than PSG or Monaco can win it in the coming seasons. With Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Dmitry Rybolovlev investing millions, will this be a golden age for French football or the beginning of the end for historic clubs such as Lyon and Marseille?

Written by Sam France

Éric Abidal Returns to Ligue 1 Side AS Monaco Following Barcelona Exit

Éric AbidalEric Abidal recently signed for AS Monaco after months of speculation about his future. The former Barcelona defender wasn’t offered a renewal in the Catalan club, which met strongly split opinions among Barcelona’s fans and left Abidal to search for a new destination. Even now when the dust has settled a bit, Abidal’s situation remains very interesting as he is set for a new season in the club where he once started his career.

Abidal’s previous health issues are well known and the Frenchman was only able to return to action in the very end of last season. His talks with Barcelona went on for several weeks but in the end the Catalans only offered him a job off the field, which didn’t satisfy the player, who still had the desire to continue his playing career.

Many people in Barcelona were left frustrated, even infuriated by the decision. The Frenchman’s value couldn’t be measured in performances (or the amount of them) alone and many felt that he was treated unfairly and that he’d still have had more to offer, even if the decision might have valid sporting reasons that some could agree with.

In Abidal, Barcelona most certainly lost a solid, experienced, and incredibly smart defender whose endless passion and desire strongly suggest that he still has a lot to offer in the world of football. Perhaps,however, the risk of his health issues renewing was something Barca didn’t want to take. Whether there ever was a concrete risk or not remains to be seen, but the risk wasn’t great enough to stop AS Monaco from signing the player.

Monaco investing in what Barcelona saw as a risk might cast Barcelona in a negative light, but either way, what remains most important is that the player gets to continue his career as he wished. Barcelona will surely continue to offer him a job in the club off the field whenever the player decides to hang up his boots, and until then, Abidal will have the opportunity to finish his career in the club where it originally started.

Éric AbidalAS Monaco was indeed the first club of Abidal’s professional career. Having come a long way since then and played all around Europe, he now gets to symbolically finish the circle of his playing career. In Monaco, Abidal could be mainly used as a center back as he might no longer have the pace required to play on the wing. For a club like Monaco, who are making huge investments and building for the future, a player like Abidal might be incredibly valuable, not only because of his quality as a player.

Abidal has won several domestic titles as well as two Champions Leagues; in other words, he knows what it takes to win. He was a part of Barcelona when their climb towards the top of Europe began and such experience could prove to be crucial to Monaco, who ultimately aims to do the same thing, although with a bit of a different strategy.

As a moral decision, Barcelona will find it hard to defend their policy with Abidal, but it’s only the player’s performances with Monaco that will fully determine whether it was a smart sporting decision or not. Surely, all football fans all over the globe will wish the best for Abidal, who is respected and admired by rival fans as well, and hope for his health issues to finally be in the past.

The signing of Abidal remains at least a tiny bit of a risk, but at this point, it might well be a risk worth taking for AS Monaco, who surely don’t seem to lack the funds to invest in a player and make sure he gets the best kind of treatment if needed. His value as a natural leader on and off the field could be something incredibly valuable for Monaco, as it may have been for Barcelona too had they held on to the player.

Written by Jen Evelyn

Éric Abidal Will Not be Renewing His Contract With Barcelona Next Season

Eric AbidalIt was announced on 30 May, 2013 that Eric Abidal would leave Barcelona and will not renew his contract. Abidal started his professional career with Monaco before moving to Lille and then Lyon in 2004; it was when he was at Lyon that his career really began. He made 107 appearances in all competitions for Lyon and was part of a team who won the league 3 times in a row. After winning 3 league titles in 3 years, he signed for Barcelona in 2007, where he had a release clause of €90million.

Over these past two years, Abidal has been blighted with illness. In 2011, Eric was diagnosed with a tumor in his liver and had to undergo surgery. It was last year, in 2012, where he had to undergo a liver transplant. Only over these past few months has Eric gained full fitness to play football again after winning his battle against this illness, but during this time, he has been replaced at left back by young Spanish star Jordi Alba. Eric is now 33 and will turn 34 in September, so everyone would understand his wishes if he would now go on and sign for another club before he retires.

Abidal has had a highly successful career at Barcelona, reaching an impressive 192 games in all competitions for the Catalans. He was also no stranger to picking up silverware as he achieved 15 honors while at the club, including 2 Champions League titles.

Here is Eric Abidal’s list of honors received at Barcelona:

  • La Liga (4)
  • Copa del Rey (2)
  • Supercopa de España (3)
  • Champions League (2)
  • UEFA Super Cup (2)
  • FIFA Club World Cup (2)

Eric AbidalBarcelona players and staff do deserve the utmost of respect in their support for Abidal over these previous tough 2 years. As a Manchester United fan, it was a fantastic sight to see Eric Abidal lift the Champions League trophy in 2011 after their 3-1 win over Manchester United in the final.

Also, this year, Eric Abidal, along with coach Tito (who has had his own health problems), got to lift the La Liga trophy for the team who finished clear of Real Madrid by 15 points. On a number of occasions through his tough period with illness, Eric was chucked in the air by his team-mates and staff, which shows the care and closeness of this Barcelona team.

So where will be the next stop in Eric Abidal’s career? If Eric does continue on playing, there will be a number of clubs eager to have his experience, knowledge, and talent in the dressing room. Monaco could be interested, who themselves are trying to build a team to break into the Champions League. Eric Abidal was at Monaco from 2000-2002, so he does have history with the club. On a free transfer I don’t understand why they may not offer a 1 or 2 year contract, though it does depend if it appeals to Eric.

Eric does have the option to retire now and I’m sure Barcelona will offer him some role within the club if it involves coaching or in a ambassadorial sense. Keeping former players on at the club is an integral part of the future of the clubs success. We’ve seen many clubs opt for this policy, mainly Bayern Munich and Manchester United, who keep former players attached to the club in some sense. Bayern Munich who have former players such as Beckenbauer, Muller, Hoeneß, Nerlinger, Rummenigge, and Schwarzenbeck, while Manchester United have former players such as Charlton, Phelan, Law, McClair, Scholes, Robson, Neville, Schmeichel, Cole, and Butt.

Written by United Mancunian

AS Monaco: Rising Superpower or Flash in the Pan?

AS MonacoDespite all of the events occurring in London, Manchester, Madrid and elsewhere, since this transfer season began, the eyes of the footballing world have been firmly fixed on one of the world’s most glamorous locations: Monaco. Based at the Stade Louis II on the iconic Monte Carlo seafront, AS Monaco are one of France’s most successful clubs with numerous domestic successes and Champions League Finals to their name.

But the club have underachieved in recent years; they were relegated to Ligue Deux in 2011 and spent two seasons in the second tier, but were promoted as champions under former Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri in the season just finished. Their owner, Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, has signaled his ambition with a show of spending power rivaling that of Real Madrid and their French opponents Paris Saint-Germain, with the signings of Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez from Porto and the world’s best out-and-out striker Radamel Falcao from Atlético Madrid.

The question must be asked - as it was when PSG splashed the cash on the likes of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimović - whether we are seeing a new world superpower in its infancy or whether Monaco will be just another flash in the pan. While the quality of the players they have bought can’t be questioned, everyone knows it takes more than good players to make a good team - think how long it took Manchester City to start properly challenging for titles after they started their spending spree with Robinho.

Some have questioned whether the likes of Falcao, who could have gone to literally any club in the world, is doing the best thing for his career by joining a club who won’t even be in Europe next season, but this could be a good thing for the squad as a whole. Without the pressures of European games to worry about, the players may stand a better chance of gelling as a team rather than a group of players, and they won’t be as closely scrutinized by the world’s media.

Claudio RanieriIt also gives them a better chance of winning silverware; although the Coupe de France is not as loved in France as the FA Cup is in England, nothing brings a team closer together than winning silverware. Again, think how brilliantly Manchester City began the next season after they won the FA Cup in 2011. That said, Monaco did win the cup in 2010, their last season before relegation to the second division.

A team is nothing without a manager, and Monaco certainly have a good one in the experienced Ranieri. Last season was his fourth promotion as a manager, and the wily Italian has won trophies at Cagliari, Fiorentina, and Valencia in a career spanning 25 years. These clubs show that he has form in winning honors with smaller clubs in countries with perennial trophy-winners at the top, but will he be able to cope with the heightened expectation in Ligue Un, where six different clubs have won in the last six years, and where Monaco were once one of the established winners in the sixties, seventies and eighties? Rybolovlev certainly seems to have faith in him, given the financial backing he has offered.

When all is said and done, though, it is the players on the pitch who win and lose games. One could be forgiven for not recognizing the names of any of the current squad, but the numerous superstars heading towards Monte Carlo would improve many of the world’s top sides.

Tottenham Hotspur target João Moutinho has been a fan favorite at every club he has been at due to his dynamism and determination, coupled with his overall skill on the ball. One of the standout performers at Euro 2012, Moutinho has amassed 57 caps for his native Portugal despite still being only 26 years old, and has the talent to become one of Portugal’s greats. He switched from boyhood club Sporting Lisbon to Porto in 2010 and won eight trophies in his time at the Estádio de Dragão, including the 2012-13 league title in stunning fashion, overtaking rivals Benfica with a stoppage time winner in the penultimate game of the season (see video below).

James Rodriguez & Joao MoutinhoMoutinho is known as an excellent passer of the ball as well as a tenacious ball-winner, although his scoring rate has fallen since his move to Porto. His relationship with James Rodríguez, who also makes the move from Portugal to France, should help the team to gel more quickly, as they already have a good understanding with each other.

Rodriguez is said to be one of the most exciting young prospects football has to offer right now, and already has 12 caps for Colombia at the tender age of 21. Many in South America have declared him the successor of icon Carlos Valderrama, and his speed, creativity, and shooting have led some to liken him to a South American Cristiano Ronaldo. He has a fantastic scoring record for a winger, and his exhilarating talent has already seen him rank in The Guardian’s top 60 players in the world. As such, his transfer was reportedly worth €45million of the double-deal with Moutinho. Although he still has to fulfill his promise, his £60million compatriot needs no introduction.

Radamel Falcao García Zárate is widely accepted to be the best striker in the world outside of Messi and Ronaldo, and his goal tally confirms this. Since he moved to Europe (another ex-Porto star) in 2009, Falcao has plundered 142 goals in 177 games, won six domestic titles, and three European honors. He helped Atlético to third place in La Liga behind the big two, and a surprise Copa Del Rey Final win against neighbors and hated rivals Real.

Atlético MadridDespite not being especially tall, he is incredibly strong and a superb header of the ball, and is one of very few people to have scored five goals in a La Liga match: against Deportivo earlier this season. With Moutinho supplying him and Rodriguez providing support, he should find scoring goals no problem against weaker French teams, and he should seek to emulate Ibrahimović’s 35-goal season last term. That in itself creates an interesting match-up, not only between the two big spending clubs of French football but also between its two biggest superstar strikers.

More signings have been promised by the club, with Victor Valdés and Ricardo Carvalho the most likely next arrivals, adding defensive steel to the already-imported attacking flair. Ranieri has been clever in his signings; three of them have played together before, and all speak the same language having played in Spain and/or Portugal at some point in their careers.

It seems unlikely that players of this caliber can do anything other than challenge for titles, domestic and European, but it remains to be seen how long such players will stay around if no silverware is forthcoming. There are already rumors that Falcao could be using Monaco as a stepping-stone to a bigger club such as Real Madrid, but the project of helping to rebuild a formerly great club may excite the players to enough of an extent to keep them in France for a few seasons at least.

With a less challenging league to compete in, Monaco should be guaranteed a Champions League place next season, but after that, nothing is certain. Will they crash out in the group stages like Manchester City, or challenge one of the greats like PSG? Literally millions of pounds are at stake, but whatever happens, with players such as Rodríguez, Moutinho, and Falcao around, there will certainly be excitement, and lots of goals.

Written by Sam France