Monaco and Marseille seek early season boost
By I. Holyman
AS Monaco and Olympique de Marseille meet on Sunday hoping some fresh faces in their squads will help smooth over the bumpy start to the Ligue 1 Conforama season they have both endured.
AS Monaco - Olympique de Marseille
The pair finished second and fourth respectively last season, but after opening the 2018/19 campaign with wins, they have picked up just a point in 180 minutes of top-flight football since leaving the duo locked together in mid-table.
If they remain there, it will be a major surprise as both have attempted to ensure over the summer that their squads have been significantly strengthened.
Monaco in particular have been busy in the transfer market. While stalwarts of last season such as Fabinho and Thomas Lemar left, the principality club has brought in no fewer than 15 players, many of whom are young and packed with potential in line with the club's strategy of becoming a breeding ground for fledgling talent.
WATCH: Monaco beaten in Bordeaux
"I like the way Monaco plays and its philosophy. The club has brought on a number of young players," Monaco's latest recruit, Germany international full-back Benjamin Henrichs, told media at his official presentation this week.
"It's up to me to adapt and do all I can to earn my place in the team. I like to go forward and I'm good in challenges. I have to improve my stats by providing more assists."
Jardim: 'We were passive'
Coach Leonardo Jardim will be hoping the 21-year-old, who was signed on a five-year deal from Leverkusen, can do that at the Stade Louis II on Sunday to give Monaco a three-point boost before the international break.
After being held by LOSC Lille in their opening home fixture, the 2016/17 champions were then beaten at Girondins de Bordeaux last weekend with teenager Pietro Pellegri's first Ligue 1 Conforama goal looking like it would be enough to claim a point from the trip until François Kamano's 92nd-minute winner.
"Monaco played without intensity and desire in the first hour. We were very passive," Jardim grumbled after seeing his side's six-game unbeaten run come to an end. "The substitutions gave us a bit more aggression and we were more committed but we made a lot of mistakes as we lost our cool in a way that's not normal for a professional team like ours.
"Everyone knows that Monaco is a beautiful project but we need to win games. Our objectives are elevated and we need to do more in order to achieve them."
WATCH: Marseille salvage point against Rennes
Marseille share those lofty aims. They too have invested this summer with Rémy Cabella and FIFA World Cup runner-up Duje Caleta-Car joining before they brought in Netherlands international Kevin Strootman from Roma this week, beefing up a squad with a quality midfielder nicknamed 'The Washing Machine' at the Italian club.
"It's coach [Rudi] Garcia who gave me that name and everyone continued calling me that, it's a good thing, it's positive. It was funny, but it was because of the bad passes I gave back 'clean' or controlled well. Let's hope I do the same here," explained Strootman, who played under the current Marseille boss for three years in the Italian capital.
"It's special to work with a coach I know, and I hope to make him as happy as I did in Rome."
Garcia: 'Struggling for points'
Garcia did not have a smile on his face, though, after seeing his team held at home by Stade Rennais FC last weekend. It could have been worse, however, with the Breton visitors easing into a 2-0 lead before Marseille came back in the second half to claim a point following their Week 2 defeat at Nîmes.
"We struggled to find our rhythm, but things got better in the second half. It could have been worse though; it's really time that we kick our season off in earnest but the players' levels of preparation are still all over the place," said Garcia, whose plans have been upset by France's FIFA World Cup win in Russia.
"Florian Thauvin still isn't at 100 per cent, and neither is Adil Rami, while Lucas Ocampos hasn't fully recovered from injury. We'll need to make up for these dropped points away from home. We're struggling for points right now."
Monaco: to follow
Marseille: to follow