Despite creating many chances and dominating large portions of their Europa League Round of 16 clash with Braga, AS Monaco ultimately suffered a 2-0 defeat.
Getting off to a terrible start following a crazy sequence from a Braga corner that eventually led to Abel Ruiz reacting first to a loose ball to give the home side the lead, Monaco faced instant adversity.
Braga continued to apply the pressure in the opening 20 minutes, with Iuri Medeiros coming especially close in the seventh minute only for Alexander Nubel to produce a fine stop.
Philippe Clement’s men then worked their way into the contest by gaining control of the ball and then conjuring some opportunities of their own. To start with, a dangerous set piece somehow didn’t go in before the dangerous Gelson Martins unleashed some promising efforts.
Braga then hit the post through Ricardo Horta after Nubel made an unconvincing stop. With the chances raining down at both ends, Wissam Ben Yedder appeared to have levelled the score when he tucked home Vanderson’s sublime cross, but VAR intervened to disallow the goal for offside.
Down 1-0 at the interval, Monaco continued to push for an equaliser in the second stanza, with Martins still providing a massive threat. The Braga keeper, Matheus, stood up to the challenge of Martins and Monaco to keep out the visitors, though, producing a masterclass between the posts.
Even though Les Monegasques never gave up on the match and persisted in their quest to draw level, Braga made them pay on the break at the death when Vitor Oliveira headed home smartly to secure a 2-0 victory for Braga.
“It’s always difficult to start a match by conceding a goal on your opponent’s first action. It gives a lot of energy to the opponent, and my players have become nervous. We were unable to develop what we had worked on in training, with and without the ball, especially at the start. That’s why we had more difficulties against this team from Braga. After 20 minutes, we regained control of the game, but unfortunately there were two goals disallowed for offside.”
“We had four or five head-to-head encounters with the opposing goalkeeper, so for me we mostly lacked efficiency tonight. There are games where we score a lot and others where we have more difficulties. At 1-0, we must not take the second goal, because we dominate the whole second period, without being put in danger. In the end, it’s a tough result given all our opportunities.”
“After a defeat, it’s always better to play again quickly, to avoid doubts. It won’t be easy, because they (Strasbourg) are also a very good team at home. The players are obviously very disappointed tonight, but we have to bounce back quickly in Strasbourg and take points there before preparing our return match at home.”
By the numbers, the fact Monaco held the upper hand in terms of possession (62% to 38%), Expected Goals (1.73 to 1.41), passes completed in the opposition half (206 to 82) and tackles won (11 to 5) illustrated their solid effort.
Lively and eager to take up the battle to his adversaries from the outset, Martins was a constant thorn in Braga’s side. So dangerous on the dribble, intelligent with his runs in behind and into the box and providing a frequent goal threat, the Portuguese international did all he could for his team.
Serving as a menacing presence for the opposition backline, the only thing missing was a goal to reward himself for all his good work. But the towering Matheus just couldn’t be beaten, in a match where he made an outstanding five saves.
Indeed, Martins’ three shots, two chances created, two completed dribbles and 33 passes completed at 82% accentuated his worth.
Uphill battle ahead
Monaco now face an uphill battle to overturn this deficit to progress into the quarter finals, but you can guarantee they’ll give it a good crack. Playing at home, possessing so many quality players and with many game changers in attack like polished goal scorers Ben Yedder and Kevin Volland, all is not lost yet.
Before that challenge, however, Monaco face a tough away trip to fifth placed Strasbourg, where a win would propel them back into the hunt for the coveted Champions League qualification places.