Will the 'real Monaco' stand up against Lille?
By I. Holyman
Rony Lopes has warned AS Monaco's Ligue 1 Conforama rivals the 2016/17 champions still have room for improvement as they prepare to face a resurgent LOSC Lille on Saturday.
AS Monaco - LOSC Lille
The principality outfit lost their French top-flight crown to Paris Saint-Germain last season, but still showed enough quality to be the best of the rest as Leonardo Jardim steered his team safely into second place and secured a UEFA Champions League group stage berth.
After a rocky pre-season and a weighty 4-0 Trophée des Champions defeat to PSG, Monaco's testing opening fixtures to the league season looked all the trickier. However, there was no slip on the potential banana skin that was a trip to FC Nantes in Week 1, and following an impressive 3-1 win, Lopes insisted there is a lot more to come.
"You still haven't seen the real Monaco, there is a lot of improvement to be made, but it's good to start with a win. Last week was tough, but it's great to start the league with a victory, we're happy," said the Portuguese midfielder, who opened the scoring 21 minutes from time before Stevan Jovetic and Radamel Falcao also found the net in a late flourish before Emiliano Sala pulled one back.
"We didn't play well in the first half, but we were patient, we knew we had the ability to score. In the second half, Nantes gave us space and we were able to take advantage."
WATCH: Monaco make a winning start
This summer, Monaco again lost members of the squad that had claimed the title just over a year ago with Fabinho moving to Liverpool and Thomas Lemar joining Atletico Madrid.
Kylian Mbappé, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Valère Germain are also among the key figures to have departed the Stade Louis II over the last 12 months, but the principality club has moved smartly in the transfer market to compensate.
Lopes: 'Players get job done'
"Each year there are some very good players leaving, but the players who come in get the job done," explained Lopes, who saw summer arrivals Samuel Grandsir, Jean-Eudes Aholou and Sofiane Diop all make a positive impression at Nantes.
"Monaco always wants to be on the podium and that's what we're going to try and do again. I think we have the qualities for that."
Jardim's squad appear to have picked up where they left off last season, improving their recent record to just two losses in their last 24 outings, but their Week 2 opponents Lille have also maintained their momentum.
The northerners, who won the league and Coupe de France double in 2010/11, accelerated just in time to avoid the drop last season, but they have come into the campaign with new signings and renewed ambition.
WATCH: Rennes not at the races in Lille
Their exciting attacking trident of Lebo Mothiba, Nicolas Pepe and the freshly arrived Jonathan Bamba all found the net in their come-from-behind opening-game win over Stade Rennais FC, one the sides most hotly fancied to push for a top-four finish in 2018/19.
"The match finished well and the turning point was being able to get back on terms before half-time," explained Les Dogues' coach Christophe Galtier, who saw Mothiba score in the dying seconds of the first half, cancelling out Clément Grenier's 43rd-minute opener. "Not everything was perfect although we did play well collectively, discounting the first 15 minutes. There was a difference in the second half as we lifted our game and were able to express ourselves more from an attacking standpoint."
With experienced new signings Jose Fonte and Loïc Rémy still to come into the squad, Galtier and his men will make the long trip south hopeful of claiming Lille's first win at the Stade Louis II since 2009.
Monaco: Benaglio; Touré, Glik, Jemerson, Barreca; Aholou, Tielemans; Lopes, Jovetic, Diop; Falcao (c)
Lille: Maignan; Celik, Fonte, Soumaoro (c), Ballo-Touré; Mendes, Xeka; Pépé, Benzia, Bamba; Mothiba