Pitchside Europe

Encouraging start for new-look Monaco

Pitchside Europe

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All the talk has, understandably, been about their big-money summer signings, but Monaco's 2-0 win against Bordeaux on Saturday, which got their Ligue 1 campaign off to the perfect start, owed as much to the club's exciting young talent as it did to their established stars.

Claudio Ranieri is well aware of the pressure on him this season after the money spent by Monaco's Russian owner Dimtri Rybolovlev over the summer. He is unlikely to have too much time to deliver the results expected of him, despite having to assimilate 10 new signings into a squad of 34 and try to establish a first-choice starting line-up that can turn the principality club into top-three contenders.

With João Moutinho left on the bench because of a thigh scare in Bordeaux, there were six new signings in the Monaco starting line-up, and seven players making their debuts in the French top flight. And while names like Eric Abidal, Ricardo Carvalho, Jérémy Toulalan and Radamel Falcao are instantly recognisable, the strong presence of youth in Ranieri's team was striking.

Five players that took to the field at kick-off were aged 22 or under, with the 19-year-old pair of Fabinho - the Brazilian whose arrival on loan from Rio Ave of Portugal was one of Monaco's least heralded summer signings - and Argentine Lucas Ocampos connecting down the right. On the other side, meanwhile, Layvin Kurzawa, 20, and the 19-year-old Belgian starlet Yannick Ferreira Carrasco linked up to great effect.

That duo both featured in the Monaco team that won France's Gambardella Youth Cup in 2011, the same year in which the club's first team were relegated to Ligue 2. They were given their chance in the second tier, and remain firmly in Ranieri's thoughts. The fascinating contrast between young and old on Saturday saw Monaco come out all guns blazing in the first half, led by the youthful trio of Ferreira Carrasco, Ocampos and James Rodríguez, who was playing through the middle in Moutinho's absence.

Ferreira Carrasco and Rodríguez forced fine saves out of home 'keeper Cédric Carrasso, while Ocampos struck the post and Rodríguez squandered one glorious opportunity when he tried to pass to compatriot Falcao rather than go for goal. That inability to get the breakthrough during a first half in which they had 60 per cent of the possession forced the visitors to sit back and soak up pressure in the second period, and their opening goal, scored by substitute Emmanuel Rivière in the 82nd minute, came just when it looked like they might have to settle for a draw.

Falcao then wrapped up the points to make it a highly satisfactory start for the new-look Monaco. But while much of the talk was about the Colombian's debut goal, credit was also due to Ranieri and his youngsters for the attacking spectacle they offered in the first half.

"Without calculating, without worrying about losing the ball and of any collateral damage caused because of the confidence they had in the men behind them to win it back, those three, of a similar age and profile, did not cease during 45 minutes to provoke, to dribble, to look for the perfect pass in the most difficult space to find," wrote L'Equipe's Régis Testelin of the trio of Ferreira Carrasco, Rodríguez and Ocampos.

"We were very good in the first half, while the second was 50-50. But in the end Rivière and the aggression of the players were very important for us to win the match," said Ranieri after the game in a level of French that has improved considerably since his arrival a year ago, when the only words he could muster in the local lingo were; "Bonjour, je m'appelle Catherine Deneuve."

Monaco will now hope for more of the same when they entertain Montpellier at the Stade Louis II next Sunday. Ranieri's team will have their support behind them for that game, with an order to play a game behind closed doors, and a two-point deduction handed down for incidents after a match last season, being appealed by the club. Cue the inevitable joke about Monaco having no fans, but there is a fervour - relatively anyway - surrounding the principality club this season and the crowd next weekend will be well above last season's average of 5,295.

Ranieri's team discovered in Bordeaux that their opponents will seek to raise their game against them this season, just as PSG have been discovering for the last couple of years now, but they appear to have the perfect blend to approach the challenges that lie ahead.

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