Ligue 1 club AS Monaco are having a spectacular start to the season. With five wins, no losses and two draws, they sit alone atop the table, two points ahead of powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain.
Ligue 2, the division below the top flight of French football, is where AS Monaco spent the last two seasons after being relegated in 2011. It was a stroke of bad luck when they were relegated: the five teams ahead of them on the table all avoided relegation but did so in ugly fashion. Each had a worse goal differential than Monaco. Of the 20 teams in the league that season, only four conceded fewer goals than Monaco. But it wasn’t enough for Monaco to avoid demotion. Though it wasn’t only bad luck that saw them down the rankings. In their first season in Ligue 2 they finished in 8th place. But in their second season in 2012-2013 they figured things out and brought on some new talent: Emmanuel Rivière.
Rivière’s inclusion has changed things at Stade Louis II. Monaco tore through Ligue 2 last season, finishing atop the table and earning automatic promotion back into Ligue 1. But Rivière doesn’t have to do it alone. Monaco also brought in Radamel Falcao, who previously played for La Liga club Atlético Madrid, and the two have formed a top-flight-worthy duo early on in the season.
But if Monaco are to pull off the improbable feat of jumping from worst to first, there is a big wrinkle that will need to be ironed out. The budding dynamic duo of Rivière and Falcao is promising and exciting, but could potentially backfire. The two have combined for all 13 goals Monaco have scored this season, which is also the most goals of any club in Ligue 1. The two forwards are numbers one and two in most goals scored this season. So what’s the problem? This: During Monaco’s September 22 match against PSG, a match that finished in a 1-1 draw, Rivière didn’t play a single minute — likely because of manager Claudio Ranieri’s hesitancy to put the two elite scorers side by side in a match relying heavily on defense. While that tactic is respectable and likely a good reason Monaco was able to come away with a draw, it will not work in the long run and will likely begin to irk the 23-year-old star-in-the-making.
In the club’s seven matches this season, Rivière has started three times, been used as a sub three times and was an unused substitute once. In total, Rivière has done his incredible work in about one-third of his club’s total minutes this season (he has played just 212 of 630 total match minutes). Falcao, on the other hand, has played in all but 46 minutes this season and has only one more goal than Rivière. There is big potential here for a conflict between the two players if Ranieri is continually forced to choose one over the other. But the potential here for these two to become Ligue 1’s version of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale with Real Madrid is intriguing and scary for the rest of the league.
Ranieri has treaded water very carefully this year with this developing issue, but it might not be long before a permanent decision needs to be made on how to progress with having too much talent up front. But this is a good problem to have. Monaco might make that leap once again from worst to first, but they’re going to need to figure out how to approach the Rivière/Falcao duo ASAP.