Monaco finished third in Ligue 1 Uber Eats last season, and were tipped as potential title outsiders ahead of the 2021/22 campaign, but the principality outfit's opening results have been mixed — ligue1.com looks at the reasons why.
Shakhtar Donetsk goalkeeper Anatolii Trubin played a blinder in keeping Monaco at bay in Tuesday's UEFA Champions League play-off first leg, but the Ukrainian youngster with the gifted gloves is not the only reason why Niko Kovac's men drew a potentially hugely damaging blank.
"We lacked a clinical streak in front of goal," noted the Monaco boss after the 1-0 defeat, and that has also been in the case in Ligue 1 with the 'sit-back-and-see' tactics of their opponents so far, Nantes and Lorient, frustrating Kovac's men.
Monaco's only league goal this season came from Gelson Martins in the league-opening 1-1 draw with Nantes meaning the squad's vaunted forwards are yet to get off the mark. So fluid and laser-guided in their finishing last term, Kevin Volland and Wissam ben Yedder — a combined 36 league goals last season — have been sluggish out of the blocks.
WATCH: Monaco pick apart PSG last season
Ben Yedder certainly did not look his usual cool and collected self in front of goal against Shakhtar as he passed up a number of chances, stretching his personal goalless run to five competitive outings, a career-first for the Monaco captain.
"Things will turn round for him," noted Kovac, most likely quite rightly given Ben Yedder netted 38 in 63 Ligue 1 Uber Eats games before this season. Add to that the fact the former Toulouse and Sevilla striker, who turned 31 earlier this month, only recently returned to full training following his UEFA EURO 2020 journey with France, and surely Ben Yedder will resume normal scoring service soon.
But with Volland's source of goals also running dry, and new signing Myron Boadu still settling in — and with no Stevan Jovetic to call on as Kovac did so often last season — Monaco need Ben Yedder to find his touch quickly.
Not yet rock solid
Kovac did employ a 3-4-2-1 formation at times last season, notably for the 2-0 win over PSG in February, but it was not his 'go to' tactical set-up, and his players look like they are still getting used to the idea.
Monaco have used different defensive personnel in their two league matches to date with Kovac even employing a back four rather than a three against Nantes; that has left them looking far from the side that registered a stingy eight clean sheets in their closing ten top-flight encounters of 2020/21.
Even that solidity was a long time in coming though: Monaco finished third having conceded 42 times last season, while the two teams who finished ahead of them, PSG and Lille, let in just nine more goals between them.
Another reason is the change in goalkeeper. If Bayern Munich have secured the services of Alexander Nübel, it's because they see him as a potential long-term successor to Manuel Neuer, which suggests the 24-year-old has talent. Lots of it.
But coming to a new league, a new language isn't easy, regardless of your natural ability, and Nübel has had teething problems. Confirmed as Kovac's first choice, the German will undoubtedly prove to be worthy of the faith Bayern and Monaco, who have taken Nübel on a two-year loan, have shown in him, but it looks like he needs time to settle in.
It's usually at the end of the season that the games seem to come too thick and too fast, but for Kovac's men, they have had to start like one of France's high-speed TGV trains.
Their promising pre-season results, which included a win over UEFA Champions League representatives Wolfsburg, appeared to be a platform from which they could bounce into their own European quest to join the Bundesliga side in the group stage while pushing hard domestically. That has proven easier written than done…
WATCH: Nantes hold Monaco on the opening day
Though Sparta Prague were handily disposed of, Monaco have taken just a single point from their first two league matches which, on paper, looked likely to bring a better return, and lost their play-off first leg to Shakhtar on Tuesday.
But there are mitigating circumstances: that 1-0 loss at the Stade Louis II was their fifth competitive outing in 14 days. The crush of games led to Kovac shaking up his side for the match at Lorient last Friday in the hope of keeping key players as fresh as possible for the club's crunch European date.
"The run of matches is physically demanding," admitted Djibril Sidibé, even if the FIFA World Cup winner also acknowledged that "we have a quality squad" and that "we're not looking for excuses." It's not an excuse, Djibril, but it is an explanation.