Ligue 1 was a pleasant surprise last year, with AS Monaco finally beating Qatar-backed giants Paris Saint-Germain to the title. This was achieved in a style that endeared the club to the wider public, for while Monaco emerged onto the world scene using PSG-style mass spending, owner Dimitri Rybolovlev’s own financial difficulties prompted a shift in strategy. Instead of trying to beat PSG at their own game, they sought to challenge them by becoming a feeder club of sorts to the bigger clubs across Europe. Big spending was pushed to the side, resulting in increased focus on player development. And it’s paid dividends; the sales of Anthony Martial and Yannick Carrasco are examples.
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Monaco’s success was a jolt to the status quo, sending tremors all the way to Qatar. It was obvious PSG would come out in this window with aggression, but what transpired so far was not expected. The signing of Neymar and Kylian Mbappé was PSG’s own jolt to the status quo in Europe, proving that money could buy any player in the world and any lawyer to help bypass the shaky Financial Fair Play regulations. Yet at the end of the window there emerges a strange paradox. For all of PSG’s expenditure, they have an imbalanced squad, skewered in strength towards a stockpiled attack. Monaco brought in more players, and may have a more well-rounded squad, even if that puts them firmly behind PSG’s shadow once again. It’s an intriguing contrast.
As per the norm, Monaco underwent a major turnover this summer, but even so it was not as major as most people expected. Out of the main squad members, there were the departures of Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva to Manchester City and Tiemoue Bakayoko to Chelsea, while Valere Germain left for Marseille. But the rest of the departures were limited to loaned out players and squad players, none too significant. The elephant in the room is naturally Mbappe’s departure, a topic for later discussion.
Monaco went about their business with the typical precision and nous that they’ve become known for. Targeting young players with a major upside has been their transfer strategy, proof that the club works in cycles. In Youri Tielemans, they have one of the bargains of the summer—even at €25million—given that he has been one of the most-talked about youngsters in Europe for many years. In Soualiho Meite, they have more of an unknown quantity, but stylistically he is more of a replacement for Bakayoko. At €8million, he arrives at a snip of a price. These are just a few examples of the many astute signings made under the management of Leonardo Jardim. The club have had their fair share of transfer flops, but it can be argued that they have plugged all the gaps left by departures this summer.
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Benjamin Mendy has been replaced by Jorge, who joined last winter; Terence Kongolo adds youth and depth to the defence, while Adama Diakhaby could develop into another gem. Steven Jovetic is a like-for-like replacement for Germain, while Keita Balde, arguably the most exciting of the summer arrivals—who was hardly cheap at €30million—looks to be Mbappe’s replacement at the club, given their similarities in style. And there is the signing of Barcelona B starlet Jordi Mboula, a rough gem for the future. It’s been a solid summer by all accounts.
Essentially, Monaco have re-invested the money received from their big money sales into replacements all across the squad, and still ending up with considerable change. By selling off the deadwood in the squad, they’ve come out of the window with a revitalized team, one that has lost four key players of the title charge last summer yet found astute replacements in players that could over time do the same. The greatest victory of Monaco’s summer though was retaining Fabinho and Thomas Lemar, two players linked with deadline day moves but who will stay for at least one more season. That they’ve kept the majority of the title-winning team and added quality to it is admirable business. With the transfer bounty to be received from Mbappe’s sale next summer, Monaco have firmly established themselves as the nearest challengers to the PSG juggernaut.
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PSG on the other hand have spent, and spent big. In Neymar they have a bonafide superstar yet to hit his prime, and in Kylian Mbappe they have the best teenager in world football. Their two other signings were limited to the full-back positions: Dani Alves on a free transfer replacing the outgoing Serge Aurier, and Yuri Berchiche replacing the retired Maxwell as the back-up left-back. The Alves deal is excellent given his connection with Neymar, having already helped lure him to Paris, while his personality is a better fit for the squad than the controversial Aurier. Berchiche is simply a back-up, a role he won’t complain about.
The imbalance in the squad is certainly obvious though. By letting go of their two defensive midfielders Blaise Matuidi and Grzegorz Krychowiak, they have left a precarious gap at defensive midfield. The ageing Thiago Motta remains the only true DM in the squad, leaving a startling lack of depth. It is clear that the focus in recruitment always goes from attack to defence. PSG have kept Marco Verratti, which is a big plus, but after a first-choice midfield of Motta, Verratti and Rabiot, the club only have academy graduate Christopher Nkunku and two attacking midfielders in Javier Pastore and Giovani Lo Celso to cover in central midfield. The club allocated all their transfer budget to the signings of Neymar and Mbappe, but it has left a serious lack of depth in midfield. A similar story is found at centre-back, where only Presnel Kimpembe is a back-up for Marquinhos and Thiago Silva, while it is certainly a surprise to see Kevin Trapp and Alphonse Areola still challenging for the goalkeeper’s spot.
In the league, the defense will not be tested, and any combination of players in the midfield should be enough. Continentally though, an injury or two could be detrimental. With the lack of squad depth, PSG will have to rely on their attack to secure wins, which isn’t the ideal solution. But in an attack-oriented club, that will always be the case. The club has a sound engine, but with not many spare parts; one stall and they could struggle.
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Even with Goncalo Guedes’s loan departure, the club still have Neymar, Draxler, di Maria, Lucas, Cavani, Mbappe and ben Arfa to compete for three spots up front. A first-choice attack should comprise of Neymar, Cavani and Mbappe. That is a scary prospect for defences. Questions remain as to how PSG have gotten away with FFP in the short-term, but the implications of this summer will only be known long-term. On a sporting level though, PSG have a top-heavy side that will rack up the goals this season, entertaining crowds across Europe.
Financially, Monaco and PSG are miles apart. But even with that put into account, it is their differing recruitment styles that will set the tone for the title race this year. Monaco look to replace a diamond with a rough gem; PSG replace diamonds with diamonds. Monaco look to have a balanced squad; PSG prefer superstars. Kylian Mbappe is the thread that ties both clubs together this season, but they couldn’t be more apart in terms of styles and approaches. Mbappe will certainly add a lot to PSG, but his departure—on paper at least—will not be hugely missed. That is part of the intrigue that surrounds both clubs in the 2017/18 campaign. Ligue 1 looks set to be a belter this season—time to strap in and enjoy.