Making his first start since returning from injury on the sixth of January, Aleksandr Golovin showed precisely why he’s such an integral component of Niko Kovac’s plans by scoring a breathtaking hat trick and supplying an assist in Monaco’s 4-3 win over Nimes.
Running riot against the Crocodiles, the home side couldn’t contain the skillful Russian, whose contribution towards the victory was unmistakable. Having now scored four goals and laid on three assists in just 249 minutes of action following his comeback match vs. Lorient in January, his presence has given Monaco a huge boost.
It’s also important to note how smartly the club have managed his reintroduction, for they’ve adopted a measured approach that’s clearly paid off handsomely. “It is important to pay attention to his coming back gradually, after having experienced a serious injury,” explained Kovac.
“We want to be very careful, working with the medical staff, we want to get him there little by little. It’s not easy to make choices in my starting lineup, but it’s good for us that there is competition in the squad. Everyone must give the best of themselves.”
He then went on to praise Golovin’s immense individual effort, stating: “He’s a fantastic player, I’m very happy with the victory and for him. It was his first start in a while; he’s a top player. It is true that he has an incredible quality to his shooting, but also in his passing game. He’s the man of the match, there’s no doubt about it.”
Deployed in an interesting position on the right side of the attack to start the game, which saw him act as a mix between a winger and wingback, this hybrid position allowed him to thrive.
With Kevin Volland just to the inside of him, the pair dovetailed smoothly to create space for one another. Pinning and drawing opponents to make space for one another, Volland was able to attract markers centrally to free up Golovin wide while Golovin drew a marker out to open up central areas or the channel for his comrade.
Causing persistent headaches for the Nimes backline, this ensured Monaco could generate many promising situations, which was highlighted especially for Golovin’s first two goals. On both occasions, Volland’s runs (plus Wissam Ben Yedder’s for the opener) dragged markers away to manufacture space for Golovin to finish home spectacularly. The way Golovin timed his runs into the area deserved mention too, for he expertly attacked the blindside of opponents, allowing him to ghost in undetected.
In addition, how he ventured infield into the half spaces or into the middle to produce 3v2 overloads was promising, with this adding variety and helping his team progress through the thirds.
When hugging the touchline, this had some key upsides for it allowed him to stretch the Nimes backline horizontally and vertically, plus meant he could receive 1v1 and use his mastery on the ball to attack his man. Able to beat his man or provoke pressure from multiple markers, the 24-year-old relished such situations.
A special mention must go to Djibril Sidibe, who’d drop deep and inside to form a back three from his nominal right back slot, which gave Golovin the freedom he needed to attack with such gusto by providing vital cover in case of a turnover.
For the second half, Kovac opted to alter his role by deploying him in a left sided central attacking midfield station. From here, he could wreak havoc between the lines, attack the channels and upset the rhythm of Nimes’ defensive shape. An expert at finding space due to his awareness and head scanning, which saw him occupy ideal areas in relation to teammates, defenders and the ball, this compounded issues for his foes.
Also a menace with the ball at his feet, Golovin’s assist, progressive passes and mazy dribbles offered further reason for excitement.
There was no doubting, however, that his finishing was the most impressive technical quality associated with his game, with all three goals being executed sublimely. The first was an amazing sliding finish to latch onto Fode Ballo-Toure’s cross, where he showed incredible balance and coordination to steer his finishing home forcefully. His second was pure brilliance, as his venomous strike parlayed power and finesse to beat Baptiste Reynet in goal for Nimes. Then, for his third, he fired in a crafty, curling free kick from all of 30 yards to seal his treble.
On top of his goal scoring contributions and admirable adaptability to switch roles at the half, some additional numbers that emphasise his class came from his five touches inside the box, five completed passes into the final third and two dribbles.
In a match where Golovin fully vindicated his manager’s decision to hand him a start, this will have given him a massive confidence boost that he’s ready to again step up and be a starter moving forward.
Now fully fit and back to his best, Golovin, who adds another dimension to Monaco’s work in the final third and is so tactically flexible, is primed to enjoy a fantastic second half of the season.
Monaco will just be hoping he can remain healthy so he can replicate his outstanding performance levels from the Nimes match on a regular basis.