Monaco look for more magic from strike duo
By A. Scott
AS Monaco will be hoping for more magic from strike pairing Wissam Ben Yedder and Islam Slimani as they look to get back to winning ways at home to an off-form Stade Rennais FC on Sunday.
AS Monaco - Stade Rennais FC
Ben Yedder and Slimani have quickly forged an outstanding partnership since arriving in the principality in the summer - France striker Ben Yedder has already contributed six Ligue 1 Conforama goals in seven appearances since a big-money move from Sevilla, while Algerian forward Slimani has four goals and a remarkable six assists in six games since signing on loan from Leicester City.
They were at it again in Monaco's last game, with Slimani setting up Ben Yedder to score in a 3-1 defeat away to Montpellier Hérault SC. Since then both have been away on international duty, Ben Yedder starting for France in their 1-1 draw with Turkey in Euro 2020 qualifying on Monday, having come off the bench in the 1-0 win in Iceland three days earlier. Meanwhile, Slimani scored for Algeria in a 1-1 friendly draw with DR Congo and then came off the bench in a 3-0 defeat of Colombia in Lille.
"Slimani is walking on water. He is doing exceptional things in a moribund team," said Algeria coach, and former Olympique de Marseille player, Djamel Belmadi. "It was a gamble by a coach who knows him. He is the number one in a team of stars."
Highlights: Monaco beaten in Montpellier
Slimani's good working relationship with Leonardo Jardim has been well documented - it was under the current Monaco coach that he first made his name in Europe with Portuguese giants Sporting in the 2013-14 season. After three impressive seasons in Lisbon, he has struggled at Leicester and on loan at Newcastle United and Fenerbahçe, but now he is flying again.
"The coach knows my qualities. He knows how to use me and he gives me confidence," Slimani, 31, said recently. "Wissam and I work well together. We are different types of player. He is explosive and likes finding spaces, but we are both experienced players."
Largely thanks to the little and large strike duo, Monaco have scored 15 goals in just nine Ligue 1 Conforama matches - only leaders Paris Saint-Germain and Angers SCO had scored more going into the international break. However, their big problem has been at the other end as they have conceded 19 times - more than any other team in the division.
Suspensions strike again
After the defeat in Montpellier, a return to the Stade Louis II offers a chance to get back on track - Monaco won their last two home games and scored a combined seven goals in beating OGC Nice and Stade Brestois 29.
However, not for the first time this season, suspensions will be a problem for Jardim this weekend. Fodé Ballo-Touré and Gelson Martins both serve one-game bans here, while Aleksandr Golovin is banned after his red card in Montpellier - that was Monaco's fourth sending-off of the campaign.
Highlights: Rennes slump continues against Reims
The principality side spent the international break in a lowly 16th place, above the bottom three only on goal difference but also just three points behind Rennes, who were in mid-table despite a miserable run of form.
The Brittany side lost 1-0 at home to Stade de Reims in their last game, a result which left them without a win in eight games in all competitions and with only three points from the last 18 available in the league. That form is a far cry from their start to the campaign, when they won their opening three matches.
There is now a bit of pressure on coach Julien Stéphan, the mastermind of last season's Coupe de France triumph who a year ago almost joined Monaco as an assistant to Thierry Henry.
Pressure on Raphinha?
"In Ligue 1 we have seen that every team is capable of beating one another. We know that if we don't put in all the necessary ingedients, we could lose every game we play," veteran defender Jérémy Morel told the club's website. "We showed at the start of the season what we are capable of doing and how difficult we can be to beat, so we need to get that back."
Rennes have seen Flavien Tait (ankle) and Jonas Martin (leg) pick up injuries this week, and their big problem at the moment - in stark contrast to Monaco - is scoring goals: they have conceded only seven goals all season, but have scored only eight, including just two in their last five league outings.
Given those statistics, one man in the spotlight is Brazilian winger Raphinha. Like Slimani, he previously starred at Sporting, but has yet to score for Rennes since joining just before the transfer window closed for a fee of over €20 million.
Monaco: Lecomte; Aguilar, Jemerson, Glik (c), Badiashile, Dias; Bakayoko, Fàbregas, Silva; Ben Yedder, Slimani
Rennes: Salin; Traoré, Da Silva (c), Morel, Maouassa; Bourigeaud, Camavinga, Grenier, Tait; Hunou, Niang