On a sunny afternoon in Monaco promotion and title aspirations were very much on the agenda as league leaders AS Monaco hosted 5th placed FC Nantes. Both sides came into the game in similar form with 2 draws and a win from 3 (Both sides in fact beat RC Lens 4-0) with only 3 points separating them in the table. With both 2nd place Angers SCO and 3rd place FC Istres playing and winning yesterday a win for either side would alter the table in their favour. A win for title favourites Monaco would have put Claudio Ranieri’s men 3 points clear of the pack with a win for Michel Der Zakarian’s Nantes would see them leapfrog the league leaders with a point in hand. The similarities continued between the two sides as both teams boasted front men in impressive form. Monaco’s Senegalese striker Ibrahima Toure went into the fixture with a thoroughly impressive record of 10 goals in 12 appearances including a hat-trick against RC Lens. The physically dominating forward has found his goalscoring form at a good time for Ranieri’s boys scoring important goals already including the deciding goal in a 2-1 win over 2nd place Angers SCO in their last league game. Nantes on the other hand have their own clinical goalscorer in the shape of Serbian Filip Djordjevic. The 25 year-old shared the same record as his Monaco counterpart before kick off also grabbing 10 goals this season (in 11 appearances). One man would make his presence felt come game time and help his side walk away with all the spoils.
In the opening exchanges it was the home side that seemed to settle quickest. Encouraged to play a possession based game by the ‘Tinker Man’ Ranieri they enjoyed the majority of the ball from the off set. In comparison Nantes game plan was far simpler. Regain possession and go direct. It was this approach from the visitors that caused Monaco problems as the game went on. Nantes caused trouble down the left flank winning several free-kicks and looking to play the ball behind a slightly static Monaco back line. Serbian hit-man Djordjevic worked hard to try and find space but ultimately miss timed his early runs. Despite these brief moments of danger it was Monaco that came closest to opening the scoring. In-form wide man Yannick Carrasco picked the ball up on the left before cutting in on his right foot whipping a ball into the near post. Team mate Valere Germain cut across his marker glancing the ball goal wards but only straight at Nantes goalkeeper Remy Riou. Minutes later Monaco had the ball in the back of the net thanks to Toure. Unfortunately for the hosts the goal was disallowed following a foul by Germain in the build up. Monaco’s frustration was increased shortly after when a seemingly blatant handball by Issa Cissokho following a corner was missed by the man in charge. The ball clearly struck the defenders out stretched arms to chorus of appeals that fell of deaf ears from Amaury Delerue.
It went from bad to worse for Monaco as handball culprit Cissokho helped set up the games opening game. Receiving the ball relatively deep on the right flank the full back hit a searching ball into the Monaco area. Filip Djordjevic left his man for dead rising and challenging for the ball with an on rushing Danijel Subasic. The Nantes man climbed highest beating the stranded keeper in the air nodding the ball into empty Monaco net. Djordjevic may well have received a painful knee to the lower back for his troubles but his bravery paid off as against the run of play he grabbed his 11th of the season and put his side 1-0 up. Although initially stunned Monaco reacted well to going behind with Carrasco coming close following the restart. It was Djordjevic’s constant movement into the channels and work rate that hindered Monaco though with the striker being rewarded once again after winning a free-kick out on the left wing. Vincet Bessat whipped in the resulting set piece causing havoc in the Monaco penalty area. Djordjevic missed the initial ball trying to poke a toe on the delivery before Ahmed Madouni headed back across goal. Subasic got a slight touch which resulted in only presenting Djordjevic with a tap in from 2 yards out. As Nantes celebrated Ranieri’s boys were left wondering how they were trailing by 2 goals. Despite Nantes’ effectiveness Monaco had dominated the opening 45 minutes even reacting positively following the first goal. The scoreline though remained 2-0 as the half time whistle was blown leaving the Italian manager with some thinking to do.
The second half started much the same as the first with Monaco finding their rhythm first. The introduction of Lucas Ocampos for Germain seemed a positive move as the young winger looked lively. With that said the pattern of the game remained the same. Monaco simply couldn’t deal with the counter attacking of Nantes with several close off side calls going in their favour. The general presence of Djordjevic and the likes of Bessat and Yohann Eudeline were giving Monaco headache’s as they looked for a way back into the game. As Monaco pressed on for that all important goal it was evident the side were facing a couple of problems. The usual impressive figure of Toure provides a good focal point for the sides attacks but for what ever reason such a threat was missing today. The big man dropped off into the channels more and looked to provide more fluidity up front, changing positions with his wide men regularly. Usually this wouldn’t be a huge issue but with the second problem coming in the shape of lack of creativity Monaco’s attacks broke down, especially in the wide areas without ever really amounting to much. Their movement was far to stale and a part from the very rare occasions where Toure would lay the ball off to on running midfielder’s their whole approach became rather predictable. In comparison what Nantes did was simple but effective. The side stayed compact and broke quickly and directly. With their 2 goal lead they didn’t need to be more imaginative and were smart enough to recognise this.
With the game coming to a close Monaco rarely threatened the Nantes goal. A good save by Riou following a Kurzawa header led to the resulting corner and Kurzawa being denied a headed goal once again this time by the crossbar. With both chances coming late in the game time had run out for the home side and the game was very much up by the 85 minute mark. Nantes saw out the win to go top by a point and will be more than happy with their performance. It was by no means a ultra defensive approach rather just a very unfussy approach playing to their strengths, something that Monaco failed to do.
With 2nd place Angers FC next for Nantes there is a chance the side could open a gap towards the top of the table. Angers are not an easy team to get points from though and another tidy and composed performance will be needed. As for Monaco they travel to 17th placed Chamois Niortais FC and must look to improve on their performance today. There should be no warning signs or alarms rung just yet but Ranieri must breath new life and enthusiasm into his squad if they are to gain promotion this year. In all honestly promotion is very attainable for both sides. With this result aside both teams are very similar in terms of quality and history with both sets of supporters desperate for a return to Ligue 1 and those distant glory days. If Filip Djordjevic keeps scoring the way he is though Nantes may well be one step a head once again come the final day of the season.