Monaco defend second place in Strasbourg
By I. Holyman
Radamel Falcao could play his first Ligue 1 Conforama game in over a month as reigning champions AS Monaco head to Strasbourg to defend second place on Friday.
RC Strasbourg-Alsace - AS Monaco
With results going their way after their 2-1 defeat of Girondins de Bordeaux last Friday, Monaco find themselves four points clear of Olympique de Marseille and nine ahead of fourth-placed Olympique Lyonnais in the three-way duel for second spot behind runaway leaders Paris Saint-Germain, 14 points clear at the top.
Unbeaten in their last 13 league outings, Leonardo Jardim's could hardly be heading to Alsace in better spirits or form, but they also have the boost of having captain Falcao fit again after a thigh injury that forced him off during his club's dramatic 3-2 win over Lyon on 4 February.
"He could start, or he could be on the sidelines," said Jardim enigmatically in his pre-match press conference having watched the Colombia international train normally all week.
WATCH: Monaco down Bordeaux
"The players are very happy when we have Falcao with us. But the players have confidence in everyone. We have a group of players who can play in a number of positions. That's our strategy, a collective one, everyone is responsible for attacking, it's not about individuals."
The Monaco boss added: "He has not played for four or five weeks, he's not at his best yet. He needs to improve a bit, he's trained this week. He needs to get back to his best and he'll play if he does. There's no doubt about that. He's the team captain, everyone loves him. It's very positive. He was at the stadium even when he was injured to support the team, that's positive."
Laurey: 'Play ordinary and you're dead'
Though Falcao is by far Monaco's leading scorer this season with 17, the former Porto and Atletico Madrid striker has seen his team-mates step up in his absence with Stevan Jovetic, Keita Baldé and Rony Lopes, who has scored six times in his last seven matches, all shouldering the burden of keeping the goals flowing.
It is that sort of collective effort Strasbourg boss Thierry Laurey is looking for from his side, though the hosts' focus is on keeping their prolific visitors out. Beaten 3-0 in the principality earlier in the season, Strasbourg have the size of the task ahead in sharp relief.
"We'd like to get something, but they're unbeaten in 13, and are the fourth-best attack in all the major European leagues. When you only have Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona ahead of you, you're a good team," Laurey pointed out.
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"We expect a big challenge. We'll make do with our means. We'll put something in place to hopefully cause them problems and give us confidence. We need a big performance. If we take a point, it'd be a great performance.
"It's important to stay in the match as long as possible, make them doubt. We really need to play with 14, those who come off the bench need to give more than those they replace. We have to provoke something out of the ordinary, because if you just produce ordinary, you're dead."
A positive result for last season's Domino's Ligue 2 champions, who defeated PSG at the Stade de la Meinau in Week 16, would be very welcome as they come into the match winless in four in all competitions, and just three points above the bottom three.
"We have shown in some games that we can put those kinds of teams in danger," explained midfielder Benjamin Corgnet. "We're creating chances. At times, we put away the chances we create.
"Right now, the chances we give opponents, we're conceding from them. We know we'll get it right again. We need to put away the chances we get. Teams like that don't give away many."
RC Strasbourg Alsace: Oukidja; Lala, B. Koné (c), P. Martinez, Seka; J. Martin, Aholou, Liénard; Corgnet; Terrier, Blayac
AS Monaco: Subasic; D. Sidibé, Glik, Jemerson, Raggi (c); Moutinho, Fabinho; R.Lopes, Lemar, K. Baldé; Jovetic