Back in the starting lineup in the absence of Aurelien Tchouameni through suspension, Youssouf Fofana put in a solid shift in the heart of midfield in AS Monaco’s devastating loss 2-1 vs. Reims.
Performing his role on both sides of the ball effectively throughout his 80 minutes on the pitch, there was much to admire about his display in all phases of the game.
Having struggled to recapture his excellent form of last season and no longer first-choice, which is evidenced by the fact he’s only started 11 of the 21 Ligue 1 clashes he’s played in, it was positive to see him hitting his straps.
Defending diligently and with intensity when called into action, which wasn’t as often as usual due to Reims only enjoying 31% possession, Fofana’s ball recovering prowess, athleticism to race across the turf and physical presence were key towards his success. Doing a good job of protecting his backline, supporting teammates and picking his moments when to shift across, step out or drop back, Fofana was on hand to stop Reims attempts to attack.
Being alert to runners and counterpresseing aggressively immediately after Monaco lost possession were further highlights, in a match where he not only won 12 of his 17 duels but also proved valuable in Les Monegasques not conceding during his time afield.
Involved far more heavily in an offensive sense courtesy of Monaco monopolising possession, the Frenchman’s impact was felt keenly due to his crafty movement and output with the ball at his feet.
To start with his movement, and his variations were important towards him finding space to receive while forming strategic overloads and keeping Reims guessing who to mark him.
Frequently opting to drop deep into the half spaces (or sometimes between central defenders) to form a back three in build up, this created a 3v2 for Monaco against Reims’ first line of pressure. In doing so, Monaco could use this superiority to have more time and space on the ball or find the free man, who could surge upfield on the dribble to further unbalance the away team’s defensive shape to find free men by drawing out foes.
Some additional upsides from his withdrawn positioning was that it allowed the fullbacks to push higher so Monaco could attack their deep sitting opponents with extra numbers.
Indeed, the images below serve as fine examples as to how Fofana was able to bypass the press clinically from this base, which was a key component towards Clement’s men controlling proceedings from the offset.
As the home team progressed up the pitch, Fofana and Jean Lucas would take it in turns of charging into the final third while the other would provide cover in case of a turnover. In the case of Fofana, he showed great timing and awareness to exploit spaces between defenders or find room between the lines to either turn to shoot, exchange intricate passes with his colleagues or slide in a through ball.
It was interesting to note that Monaco’s opener arose following some clever space finding in front of the box and a lovely one touch pass by Fofana into Sofiane Diop, who laid on the assist for Wissam Ben Yedder to score.
As mentioned above, the 23-year-old’s incisive passing was a real highlight, for he switched the angle of attacks shrewdly, recycled possession while waiting for an opening, struck some wicked line breaking passes and obliged runners into the box with some measured through balls.
Providing an additional goal threat and helping Monaco breathe life into attacks, his three shots, three successful dribbles, three progressive runs, two shot assists, 10 accurate passes into the final third and four accurate long passes punctuated his offensive worth.
Delivering a performance to be proud of, hopefully this can be the catalyst for him to get back to his free flowing, domineering best from last campaign, where he frequently outshone the highly rated Tchouameni. Even if doesn’t instantly recover his starting position, this outing will have given him some vital confidence that he can get back to his elite level once more.
With the matches coming thick and fast domestically and in Europe, having a happy, fit and healthy Fofana at his disposal is a huge weapon for Philippe Clement whether he’s starting or coming off the bench.