First Knockout Round: Arsenal (away)
Leonardo Jardim was forced to make big chances to his starting lineup, as six players were unavailable due to injury or suspension. Andrea Raggi, Ricardo Carvalho, and Timoué Bakayoko were forced out of injured. Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Lavin Kurzawa were in doubt and started from the bench. Jeremy Toulalan was banned.
Jardim managed to find the right adjustments. He played Almamy Toure at right-back, and pushed Fabinho into a defensive midfielder role alongside Kondogbia.
Starting lineups in the first leg of the First Knockout Round.
In defensive phases, Monaco used what was roughly a 4-4-2 formation in a middle block and with a resting press in the first phase of defensive play. If Arsenal progressed their attack and moved into Monaco’s defensive third, then Jardim’s team switched to a makeshift 4-1-4-1, with Joao Moutinho dropping deep alongside Kondogbia, and Fabinho dropping slightly deeper.
This role was largely unfamiliar to Fabinho, so to play him there in such a big game was a risk from Jardim. As a right back, Fabinho is capable of stretching the opposition defense by moving forward in wide areas. When played as a pivote, curbing his natural instincts to push forward would prove to be a huge part of Monaco’s defensive success.
Once the game had been played, most doubts about Fabinho’s play as a holding midfielder had been eliminated. Fabinho’s presence allowed Geoffrey Kondogbia to move forward. In attacking transitions, Kondogbia was given more license to attack and play as a box-to-box midfielder. With Joao Moutinho in his 10-8 hybrid role, he also had attacking responsibilities. This meant Fabinho was left to cover, and act as the ‘spare man’ in midfield as the other two moved forwards. His job was to secure the space in front of the back-line.
Poor positioning in defensive transition from Monaco. Abdennour is forced to step up and meet Welbeck, and Ozil receives the ball in space. Fabinho secures the central space well and forces Ozil to play the ball wide to Alexis, but the ball is eventually intercepted by Toure. Fabinho’s reaction to a potentially dangerous situation was key in halting Arsenal’s progress.
When defending in their own third, Kondogbia was forced to move slightly forward to press Arsenal’s central midfielder or winger (depending on the development of the situation). Fabinho often fell back and kept his distance to ensure that Monaco’s central defenders did not have a large space to defend in front of them. By doing this, he was also able to cover the space behind Kondogbia.
Occasionally Fabinho and his teammates failed to adequately cover the central space. This generally occurred when Moutinho was slow to retreat in defensive transition and the 4-1-4-1 defensive shape was therefore non-existant. Kondogbia & Fabinho were then tasked with defending more space, as well as occasionally pressing certain Arsenal players — a very difficult task.
But when Monaco executed properly, Arsenal found it difficult to receive the ball in space in the #10 zone.
52:27: the start of a Monaco counter attack. Kondogbia recognises the 1v1 ability of Alexis Sanchez and drops into the backline to help defend him. Fabinho is the supporting presser, and covers the channel between CB & FB. Kondogbia’s pressure and Fabinho’s positioning allowed the Brazilian to take the ball and begin an attacking transition. This was the first phase of Monaco’s second goal.
Arsenal seemed overly aggressive in a number of situations throughout the match. When Monaco were attacking, Arsenal would often defend with only six men behind the ball and four players in front. The gap between these two groups of players was too large. This could have been deliberate from Wenger, or may have been because the four players were merely lazy. Whether it was deliberate or not, the effect was that the six defensive players were tasked with defending huge spaces. This meant a more difficult task, with much more energy & concentration required.
On the other hand, this also forced Monaco to put more players behind the ball, which meant they were not able to maximise their impact in attack.
This situation created a lack of compactness for Arsenal which Monaco were able to take advantage of. As always, Monaco focused on compactness in defense, and Arsenal found it difficult to break through.
Monaco created good compactness in defense. As a result, they have greater ball access to the ball in defense.
Throughout their Champions League campaign, the key to Monaco’s success was their defensive play. In the away match against Arsenal, Monaco once again showed they were capable of some world class defensive football. Despite being expected to suffer a heavy loss, their compactness allowed them to win, and highlighted Leonardo Jardim’s place as one of Europe’s top young managers.
First Knockout Round: Arsenal (home)
For the home leg, Jardim had reinforcements. Toulalan and Kurzawa were re-introduced into the starting XI, and Fabinho was moved back to his natural right back position.
Arsene Wenger’s strategy was built around disrupting the excellent compact defense of Monaco. He understood that Monaco are adept at securing the central areas with the two deep midfielders. But he also understood that the Monaco 6s occasionally leave space that can be utilized, and his aim was to exploit it. He aimed to do this by dragging away the 6 that occupied that area.
Space in zone 14. The scene from the first leg.
In the opening minutes, Monaco seemed to slightly adjusted their standard way of defending. In the previous matches, Monaco’s used a 4-4-2 shape in the initial defensive phases. In this first phase of the press, Monaco’s two ‘forwards’ allowed the opposition central defenders space, and attempted to push the opponent wide before pressing intensity was raised in those wide areas.
In the early phases of pressing, both Monaco’s wingers tended to stay deep and form a compact midfield four, before waiting for the resting press to push the opposition wide.
Against Arsenal, Monaco’s advanced wingers (and the overall playing block) seemed to be more aggressive, particularly in closing down Arsenal’s full-backs. Even when the full-backs were in their own third, they were still pressed by Monaco.
This seemed to be largely for psychological reasons rather than tactical. With Monaco leading 3-1 on aggregate, against the ‘better on paper’ Arsenal team, it was the English side expected to play more aggressively and attacking. After having success sitting deep in the first leg, it seemed as if Monaco would attempt to play the same way in the second leg. In such a situation, a change in the manner of the pressing creates a psychological barrier for Arsenal’s players. Their defenders would have expected much more time in deep build-up phases, but were now being hurried.
As the game went on, Monaco defended in this way less and less. This would suggest that either their players were not fit enough to carry on the instructions throughout the game, or that this was merely a psychological ploy to put pressure on Arsenal’s defenders.
Another potential problem was the pressing intensity (or lack thereof) of the Monaco forwards. They seemed to put very little pressure on the ball-carrier.
Berbatov, Coquelin and Moutinho.
Whilst the lack of pressure on the Arsenal central defenders is not a massive issue, the lack of pressure on the holding midfielder is. This means that the forwards were doing very little in the initial phases of the press.
A similar situation occurred in the 2015 Coppa Italia final, between Lazio and Juventus. Until the hour mark, Lazio’s front three (Klose, Anderson & Mauri) were alternatively man-marking Andrea Pirlo. After this point, they were largely negligent in their duties. This created more opportunities for Pirlo to play his game. He began to find large pockets of space, and dictated the tempo of the game. This created a small step that made a large impact on the game, allowing Juventus to get the win. Tactical issues that seem small in isolation, can actually have a big impact upon the final result.
So giving Arsenal the chance to get the ball to Cazorla & Ozil about 14/15 seconds after Coquelin received the ball, is not acceptable. Ozil then made a chipped pass to Nacho Monreal, who delivered a low cross into the box.
The tactical intelligence of Cazorla, Ozil & Alexis proved to be crucial in exploiting Monaco’s stubborn defensive play. Ozil and Cazorla were both operating in the 6/8 hybrid role; with their movement starting from a deep area to allow them to pick up the ball and bring it forward. By staying away from Monaco’s fairly deep, compact shape, Arsenal could create space elsewhere. Ozil was able to find more time on the ball in order to pick his pass.
This deeper positioning of Ozil had dragged Toulalan out of his defensive zone. Monreal made a good run, and Dirar & Fabinho became overly focused on the presence of Alexis. When Monreal’s low cross was cleared, Cazorla was in the ideal position to pick up the ball. This invited the press of Kongodbia, creating space for Danny Welbeck in a dangerous area.
Early phases of Arsenal’s first goal. A nice flank overloading that managed to create the space (Welbeck in the yellow area) in zone 14. Sound familiar?
Cazorla, Ozil and Alexis were the key for Wenger in breaking Monaco’s compact shape. They dropped deep and created offensive overloads, which forced Monaco’s 6s out of position and created space for one of Arsenal’s forwards.
The second half saw Arsenal’s need to attack increase. With this desire in mind, they brought Aaron Ramsey on for Coquelin and utilised Cazorla as the deepest midfielder. Jardim responded by adding another defender, and leaving Carrasco to be the one to put pressure on Arsenal’s back-line.
Arsenal were unable to progress, but their method of attacking worked well against a Monaco defense that very rarely gives up space in the centre.
Quarter Final: Juventus (away)
Monaco lined up with their usual shape and their standard tactic: an emphasis on defensive solidity. Jeremy Toulalan was out injured, and so Fabinho again moved into a central midfield role, with Andrea Raggi playing right-back. Dimitar Berbatov was benched in favour of talented youngster Anthony Martial.
As always, Juventus preferred to play out from the back as their first build-up phase. In this phase, Monaco formed a pressing shape consisting of three advanced players. Each of the three Monaco players were tasked with attempting to occupy two Juventus players.
Monaco pressing: three most advanced players occupy the three deepest of Juventus players. As the ball was on Juventus’ right side, their RB took a deeper position than the LB. In response to this, Monaco formed an assymetric shape orienting to the way Juventus formed this build-up shape.
Buffon played the ball to the RB, which ended up with a wasted long pass as Monaco managed to press well and block all the passing lanes. Had the RB insisted on playing the ball to the RCM, he would have received immediate pressure from two or three Monaco players near the touchline; the most difficult area to be under pressure in.
With the diamond narrow 4-1-2-1-2, Juventus should have had better central orientation of attack as they had more entities in the central area. This potential advantage came from the basic shape both team opted, 4-1-2-1-2 vs 4-4-2. Things might have gotten worse for Monaco if Juventus’ full backs could move up at proper timing and occupy more advanced position, from which they stretched the chain of Monaco’s midfielders four. By this strategy, Juventus could have more opportunities to maximize the presence of the free-man as their were more numerically superior.
With the narrow 4-1-2-1-2 diamond, Juventus should have had better central orientation in attack, simply due to numerical superiority in that area. This potential advantage came from the basic shape both teams opted with, 4-1-2-1-2 vs. 4-4-2. Things might have gotten worse for Monaco if Juventus’ full-backs moved forwards with proper timing and occupied a more advanced position, stretching the horizontally compact midfield four. Using this strategy, Juventus could have had more opportunities to maximise the usefulness of the free man in the centre of the pitch.
Juventus’ full-backs often did this. They moved into the wide areas in order to stretch Monaco’s defensive shape. But it didn’t turn out as aforementioned, as Monaco were excellent at ball-oriented shifting. When Juventus were on the left wing, Monaco shifted to that side but were still in a good position to defend the opposite wing should the ball be shifted that way.
Monaco’s ball oriented shifting. As Juventus move the ball to the left, Monaco’s players shift to that side.
It might be that Monaco had learned from the Arsenal match, where the opposition full backs were able to create some promising situations by gradually pushing forwards. They defended against this potential situation better against Juventus.
On the other hand, Juventus struggled to create chances in central areas. Andrea Pirlo was not in his ideal condition, and it meant he was not mobile enough to contribute. Juventus needed lots of movements in midfield, with and without the ball, in order to find space in the compact Monaco defense. But Pirlo was unable to supply this and their loss of his creativity made it difficult to break through for Juventus.
Against Arsenal, the combination of off-ball movement & spatial awareness from Sanchez, Ozil & Cazorla was the key for creating space for Arsenal. They overloaded the flanks and dragged Monaco’s CMs side. Arsenal did well to create chances, but poor at converting them.
The main difference between Juventus and Arsenal was the effect they created on Monaco’s defensive system. In the first or second phase of Arsenal’s build-up, Ozil & Cazorla dropped deeper into the middle third. Alexis Sanchez also occasionally did similar, roaming from his left-wing position into the halfspace. Arsenal would then attempt to overload this area, and destabilize Monaco’s midfielder. It was particularly easy to drag Toulalan away from his position, who seemed almost completely focused on the danger of Mesut Ozil.
Juventus used Pirlo as their creator in the second phase of build-up. They tended to use more player in the attacking third, rather than overloading the area around the ball. Juventus’ approach was naturally better in terms of pushing Monaco’s players to stay deeper. But in terms of dragging the CMs away from their zones, Arsenal’s approach was more effective.
See the comparison diagram below:
Monaco’s midfield, and how they reacted to the different types of attack.
Monaco responded well to Juventus’ method of attack. They blocked the central areas better than they did against Arsenal, but this was partly because of the lack of presence in the #10 zone from Juventus. This zone was key for Arsenal in creating so many chances, but Juventus did not make use of this.
Quarter Final: Juventus (home)
As they needed to score to go through, Monaco adjusted their strategy for the home leg. Juventus focused more on defense, and this helped change Monaco’s style of play. Jardim’s team attempted to reach the final third quicker than they usually do, and this was made easier by Juventus sitting deep.
Monaco’s aggressiveness table
A red number indicated the best score in each statistic. As you can see, Monaco were at their most aggressive against Juventus at home. This was the match where Monaco needed to score to keep their chances alive. The tempo quickened in both attack and defense.
This is illustrated by the increase in pressing-related actions. Monaco made 42 tackles, and 14 of them were in Juventus’ half (33.3%). This was up from an average of 18.8% in their previous matches. They made 27 interceptions, of which 12 were in Juventus’ half (44%). This was up fron an average of around 27%.
They did more pressing-related actions too. Monaco made 42 tackles. 14 of them were made in the Juventus’ half or equal to 33.3% . They also made 27 interceptions which 12 of them were in the opponent’s half. The procentage of the tackles made in the opponent’s half was up, from average 18.8% (post-match) to 33.3%. So was the interceptions made in the opponent’s half. Prior to the match, it was around 27%, but up to 44.4%.
The post-match heat maps also indicate the shift in focus. Compared to their previous matches, there is an obvious difference.
Monaco’s defensive heat map
The white lines indicate the split between defensive, midfield and attacking thirds. The bottom left is the heat map from the Juventus match. It’s a rough signal that Monaco’s defensive players were taking higher positions than ever. Even compared to the Zenit match, where they comfortably won 2-0.
The final result was 0-0, and Juventus progressed through to the semi-final against Real Madrid. Monaco’s fairly take was over. But they still deserved massive credit for their resilient defense and patient play.
As has been discussed in all three parts of this article, Monaco often rely on their deep defensive lock. By playing in such a way, they preferred to invite the opposition to move forward and relied on them to make a mistake. Leonardo Jarim managed to build a compact defensive shape that would trouble even the best sides in Europe.
Monaco maintained a structured formation in both defensive and attacking phases. The movement and interchanging was clearly intended to keep a compact shape. If one player vacated his space, a nearby player would immediately attempt to fill the post.
In defensive transition, the focus was always on immediately re-structuring the team to re-gain structure instead of attempting to win the ball back. Monaco were happy to be patient and wait for the opposition to lose the ball, rather than attempt to win it. With a narrow formation that defended the half-spaces and central zones, the opposition were often forced wide, where it is more difficult to play effectively.
There are some promising talents in Jardim’s squad. The likes of Carrasco, Silva, Martial & Kondogbia are amazing attacking weapons. Fabinho, Bakayoko & Kurzawa played well in their defensive roles and occasionally even contributed well in attacking phases too. But the key is that they were able to become optimally involved in Jardim’s system, focused on the collective and not the individual.
In this system, it is clear that some of Monaco’s advanced players are growing tactically. Bernardo Silva & Joao Moutinho are two perfect examples; both highly skilled attackers, and now with increased positioning and awareness in defensive phases.
To build an even stronger team will need a lot of time, planning, evaluation and execution. Leonardo Jardim needs it, and he deserves it. If he is given all of these things, Monaco will continue to worry Europe’s very best teams.