With AS Monaco only winning one of their last five matches heading into their clash with Girondins de Bordeaux, Niko Kovac was desperate to turn the tide and register a victory.
While he knew his team weren’t playing badly and much promise could still be drawn from their performances, the Croatian tactician opted to switch things up. Diverting away from his usual 4-3-3 to deploy a 4-4-2/4-2-3-1, the desired response was achieved, as Les Monegasques produced a superb display to win 4-0.
Getting his tactics spot on, there was plenty of upside to be extracted, with Kovac’s formation getting the best out of his players. Needing to get his team scoring again, Monaco were a massive threat in this animation, with their movement and positioning crucial in giving them a boost.
Deploying Wissam Ben Yedder and Kevin Volland as his front two with Gelson Martins and Sofiane Diop as the nominal wingers, these players dovetailed cohesively to wreak havoc. Then, in central midfield, Aurelien Tchouameni and Youssouf Fofana undertook their duties with authority. Benjamin Lecomte took his place in goal, who was ably supported by a back four of Caio Henrique, Benoit Badiashile, Axel Disasi and Ruben Aguilar.
Looking assured when building out from the back, they broke the first line of pressure comfortably with some neat mechanics. Illustrating nifty variety, they’d mix things up by either building with the two centre backs or by getting one of the central midfielders to drop between (or alongside) the centre halves to form a three chain. When doing the latter, this meant they could generate a 3v2 overload and stretch Bordeaux’s pressing structure, thus making it easier for Monaco to progress.
If the dropping midfielder was followed deeper, Monaco importantly had a solution to combat this, as one of the forwards or wingers would come into midfield and exploit the spaces left behind when Bordeaux were drawn out to press high.
Seeing as Monaco’s wingers and front two were instructed to occupy central areas and the half spaces, this gave them an excellent presence between the lines while ensuring they could combine quickly with support nearby to quickly move the ball to unbalance Bordeaux’s backline. In addition, courtesy of some neat rotations, opposite movements and by Volland and Ben Yedder alternating dropping deep and running in behind, this compounded issues for their foes.
A key byproduct of the wide men’s indented positioning arose from how it created huge spaces out wide for the fullbacks to exploit. Henrique and Aguilar didn’t need a second invitation to bomb on, as the wingers did a brilliant job of pinning and dragging the opposition fullback centrally to increase their operating space.
Timing and directing their runs well, they were regularly found with diagonal switches of play so they could be isolated in advanced areas. The overload to isolate principle implemented by Kovac also freed up the ball far fullback. In such instances, Monaco would populate one side of the pitch, which consequently drew the opposition over. They’d then quickly switch the ball to the underloaded opposition flank, where space was aplenty for the fullback to maraud into.
The fact the move that won Monaco their penalty that gave them the lead came about when Henrique received in acres of room out wide before whipping in a cross served as a testament to the effectiveness of the tactic.
The high and wide positioning of the fullbacks vitally stretched Bordeaux’s rearguard laterally too, as this generated a disconnect in their defensive shape so the wingers or forwards could angle runs into the vacant channels. Time and time again, the home side gained quality entries into the final third via this strategy, with the way Ben Yedder and Volland occupied the centre backs also key in manufacturing the space.
To further maximise their threat, they usually got three or four numbers into the area, ready to latch onto crosses or cutbacks. Typically directing their runs at different heights and depths while enjoying numerical parity, this caused issues for Bordeaux in regard to who should mark who.
Able to hurt the opposition in a variety of ways, Kovac was understandably delighted with how his team executed his game plan. “It’s true that tonight we played in a slightly different way with two defensive midfielders. Kevin and Wissam put in a great performance. When Kevin played deep, Wissam dropped into midfield. In the end, Wissam scored and Kevin scored twice. If we see that it’s working, we will indeed be able to deploy this system again,” he stated.
“We got the right reaction after doing a good job this week. My players are learning as they go, today it went well for them, but we are working hard to allow them to progress. Something interesting happened today, especially considering that Bordeaux had only conceded five goals in eight games since the start of the season and let in four of them tonight.”
As a fine reward for their quality display, three players, Volland, Ben Yedder and Henrique, earned a place in L’Equipe’s coveted team of the week.
Serving as an ideal precursor for the colossal derby clash with Patrick Vieira’s OGC Nice, Monaco will be full of confidence heading into this match. The challenge will be maintaining their level from this Bordeaux win and avoiding committing any errors that have plagued them this campaign.
Their biggest test yet awaits this weekend at the Allianz Riviera, which should give us another key indicator of where the Kovac project is at.