Like a Grand Prix racer down the stretch, AS Monaco is firing on all cylinders. After a surprising 3-1 statement win against PSG in week 3, Monaco upped the ante with a 4-1 demolition of Lille OSC, clearing the way to first place on goal differential. Besides possibly being a season-shaping romp, this game also featured exciting offense with two wonder goals from each side, making this game my Ligue 1 Week 4 Game of the Week. Oh, and zero goals were scored by forwards.
Strangely enough, the last time these two teams met in Lille, toward the end of the previous season, Lille was on the happier side of a 4-1 clobbering. Coincidentally, Monaco finished short of 2nd place in Ligue 1 on goal differential. On this weekend Monaco delivered some sweet, poetic payback.
In the 2nd minute, defender Djibril Sidibé, formerly of Lille, set the stage by sneaking a short-range free-kick over the wall and past a frozen keeper caught out expecting something else. Midfielder Adama Traore took full advantage of a blocked shot that landed at his foot in the 17th minute and Monaco led 2-0 at the half.
Just as in the first half, Monaco got off to a quick start in the second. A wonderful one-touch strike from Fabinho bookended a tasty first touch served on a platter by Valère Germain off of a cross. From near the top of the box, the Brazilian defender postmarked his ball to the crossbar on the far side of the keeper with what must have been an immensely satisfying THWACK!
In the 71st minute, defender Kamil Glik rose up to nod a cross from João Moutinho to the ground and past the keeper to square Monaco’s plunder to 4. But, like a batter breaking up a looming no-hitter in the 9th inning, Lille defender Julian Palmieri scored a 90th minute consolation goal. And oh what a consolation goal it was! Sadly, this screaming volley from outside of the box, which had Monaco’s keeper fall to the ground in a desperate attempt to remove his essential organs from its path, had a serious case of sequencing issues. Palmieri could only raise his arm in limp celebration, resigned to the sheer consolation offered by any garbage time goal from a losing side, no matter how great.
The clash between these two perennially top-half teams proved to be a lopsided affair, tipping heavily in favor toward the hot hand of AS Monaco. While Monaco have only been back in the top flight since the beginning of the 2013/14 season, in which they ridiculously finished second, they are well-funded by their Russian billionaire owner and former potash magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev. With such vast coffers, could Monaco be the team that dethrones Goliath this year? As PSG sacrifices domestic league points while they chase their Champions League dream and miss the presence of a certain transcendental Swede, why not? Though Monaco are also in the Champions League, having finished third last year, their formidable opening to the league casts a shadow over PSG’s own lackluster start. By the way, Monaco just beat Spurs 2-1 in their first group stage Champions League match this past Wednesday, but that’s a story for another article. Suffice to say, Monaco is hot, hot, hot.
Meanwhile, after four very uninspiring results to begin the season, LOSC Lille has some work to do to shape up. A disappointing summer transfer window transpired for Lille with the selling of midfielder Sofiane Boufal to Southampton and the aforementioned Sidibé to Monaco for about €34 million (approx. $38 million) in total. The club’s highest profile gain was the signing of the recently renowned Euros hero (and loanee from the season prior) Éder for a paltry €4.5 million from Swansea. According to Transfermarkt, the team retains only two players worth more than Éder, who is valued at €5 million–defender Sébastien Corchia (€5.5 million) and midfielder Rony Lopes (€9 million). Without making any significant reinvestments come January 2017, Lille won’t stand a chance at landing a European spot next season. But, fun fact: since winning the league in the 2010/11 season (same season Monaco got relegated), Lille have descended down the final table after every year in which they qualified for Europe and they have ascended after every year in which they finished outside of a European place. It seems Lille’s tradition will be safe this year, as they ironically set themselves up for success in 2017/18.