Monaco is chasing a place in the Champions League, Clément still in charge
Hiring a relatively unknown coach with no experience in the French championship did not immediately pay off for Monaco.
It pays off now.
The Principality club’s winning form under Philippe Clement has seen them climb to fourth in the table as the race for a Champions League place next season heats up.
With four games left to play, six points separate Monaco from Marseille in automatic second place in the Champions League behind PSG, who have already sealed the title. Third-placed Rennes are sandwiched between southern clubs, level on points with Monaco but with a better goal difference.
“My players have to stay very focused for the four finals we have left to play,” Clément said.
Monaco’s next game is against Angers on Sunday, when Marseille host Lyon. Rennes face Saint-Etienne, 18th, on Saturday.
Many observers in France had their doubts when Monaco signed Clement, an attacking-minded coach, on a three-year contract with Club Brugge in January as a replacement for Niko Kovac.
A no-nonsense former defender with 38 appearances for Belgium, Clement, 48, honed his coaching skills at Club Brugge as an assistant before getting his first managerial job at Waasland-Beveren. He only stayed there for a few months and was recruited by Genk, where he won his first Belgian championship title in 2019.
Clement returned to Club Brugge and won two more Belgian league titles to make it three in a row, while coaching and developing new players such as Charles De Ketelaere and Noa Lang.
Although Brugge lacked the squad depth usually required for Europe’s top competition, Clement was praised for his side’s performances against Real Madrid, PSG and Leipzig in their Champions League campaigns.
But Clement’s new challenge in Monaco was not immediately successful and the Riviera experience could have been cut short after just a few months in charge as he picked up just three wins in his first nine games.
Monaco were ninth at the end of February, lost in the Coupe de France semi-finals and were knocked out of the Europa League in the round of 16.
“It’s the first time the team has let me down,” Clement said after a 1-0 defeat at Strasbourg on March 13 proved to be a turning point.
This defeat, coupled with the elimination of the Europa League, would have provoked the ire of Monegasque President Dimitri Rybolovlev. On March 19, just before a match against PSG, the newspaper L’Equipe reported that the Russian owner had decided to fire Clement. According to the sports daily, the news sparked intense discussions between players, Clément, still at his post, using it to stimulate his players.
At the Stade Louis II, Monaco beat PSG 3-0 as Wissam Ben Yedder scored twice to eclipse Kylian Mbappé and Neymar.
The result marked the start of a six-game winning streak that still continues.
France international Ben Yedder has been at the heart of Monaco’s resurgence. His first goal against Saint-Etienne last week was his 20th of the season, and his partnership with Kevin Volland in attack is on again, with the pair involved in 55 goals in all competitions this season.
After struggling to adapt to Clement’s vision, Volland has scored three goals in his last five league appearances, with 21-year-old Dutch striker Myron Boadu also on form in the closing stages of the season.
Brazilian right-back Vanderson and France international Aurelien Tchouameni, one of Europe’s most sought-after midfielders, also helped get the club back on track.
“We are following the coach’s instructions better and better, and he is doing an excellent job,” said Tchouameni. “He continues to give us confidence, as he has from the start, even when things weren’t going so well for us. . So today we are reaping the fruits of our labor, even if it is not finished.
PSG, who sealed their record 10th title last weekend, travel to Strasbourg on Friday.
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