Ligue 1 Match of the Week Preview: Nantes vs. Monaco
Sunday 24th November 20:00
There are easier places to go when you’re struggling for form than Nantes’ Stade de la Beaujoire as Monaco will discover on Sunday evening. Monaco have failed to win any of their last three games in all competitions, being knocked out of the Coupe de la Ligue by Reims and then collecting just a single point from league games against Lille and Evian. The big-spending club found themselves five points behind leaders Paris Saint-Germain entering Week 14 and with a margin of just three points over their fellow promoted club Nantes. It is Monaco’s longest winless streak since they drew four in a row in Ligue 2 in March-April this year, although Italian coach Claudio Ranieri is refusing to get morose about the situation and took the opportunity of a Twitter chat with the club’s supporters to re-iterate that a third-placed finish and Champions League qualification would be “fantastic”.
Ranieri said: “It’s not easy in a first season. We have lost of champions in the squad but also lots of young players. We need to progress in terms of our concentration levels and our collective defensive play because the most important thing is not to concede goals.”
After letting in only five in their first nine Ligue 1 matches Monaco have shipped six in their last four games. Veteran centre-halves Ricardo Carvalho and Eric Abidal – both ever-present in Ligue 1 this season – have come in for criticism in the French media and a weakness in defending high balls has been highlighted. Abidal’s confidence won’t have been helped by him being dropped by France for the second leg of the World Cup qualifying play-off against Ukraine as Les Bleus overturned a two-goal first leg deficit.
At home to Evian in the 1-1 draw before the international break Ranieri sent his team out in a 4-2-3-1 formation with João Moutinho sitting deep in midfield alongside Jérémy Toulalan. James Rodriguez’s Ligue 1-leading fifth assist of the season helped fellow Colombian international Falcao join PSG’s Edinson Cavani at the top of the division’s scoring chart with nine goals but the dropped points led to further questions of Ranieri’s tactics and the team’s balance.
Ranieri responded on Twitter:
“I don’t prefer 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2 or the other way around. The system is not important, it’s the players that matter.”
Nantes have taken 16 points from their last seven Ligue 1 matches and are riding high in the table. Michel Der Zakarian has a fulls quad to select from apart from suspended centre-half Papy Djilobodji – with Johan Audel having recovered from a thigh complaint -while Ranieri must contend without Geoffrey Kondogbia, Lucas Ocampos and Fabinho who all serve one-match bans. Nantes’ Togolese international attacker Serge Gakpé is looking forward to taking on the club whose youth system he came through.
“It’s a special match and it will give me a lot of pleasure. Last season we played them in Ligue 2 and both sides deserved to go up to Ligue 1. Now on Sunday it will be the big match in the top division. Our objective is to take the three points as we have the chance to move into the top three and we want to do that and get invited to the dance of the big clubs.
“We know they’ve got an impressive stable of attackers and high-quality players so we’ll have to be vigilant. It’s an exciting match to be involved in and we need to enjoy it rather than put ourselves under pressure. We’re not going to watch them play and we’ll try to impose our style and show what we can do.”
Monaco v Evian
Bordeaux v Nantes
Nantes: Papy Djilobodji is suspended
Monaco: Geoffrey Kondogbia, Lucas Ocampos and Fabinho all serve one-match bans. Nabil Dirar is still injured but he has returned to training and Claudio Ranieri has said that he could feature in Monaco’s last game of 2013 against Valenciennes on December 21.
Possible Line ups
Nantes’ defence has been pretty solid and they are also more than capable of scoring as they showed at Bordeaux last time out. They have been playing with confidence but could be troubled by the absence of Djilobodji who will miss the game through suspension. This is a major loss given his great form recently and how a reshuffled defence against Falcao, Moutinho, Rodriguez et al remains to be seen. Monaco have their own defensive problems with the centre halves looking a little shaky and not quite the imposing force either of them once were. Questions have been raised by the press but Ranieri is likely to stick with his pairing and show faith that things will improve. The media however are just waiting on any further slip ups to run stories that this league will be PSG’s by Christmas.
90MinuteCynic Prediction: Nantes 1: 3 Monaco