Tireless Monaco keeps Ligue 1 pace while fending off PSG’s challenge

It was a fantastic week for French football, as Sunday opponents Monaco and Lyon both made it to the semifinal of their respective European competitions. Ligue 1 has still only ever had one winner of the Champions League–Marseille in 1993–and there is a groundswell of support for this young and exciting Monaco side to go all the way. Not that the players are getting carried away.

Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy both offered that their priority is still to win Ligue 1, saying as much after getting past Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinal.

Added manager Leonardo Jardim: “It’s never easy to play at this level in Europe and then play the championship. To choose? It’s normal to prefer to win the Champions League, but it's more difficult than winning the league.”

Jardim is concerned that his players will be tired, as no team in Europe has played more than Monaco this season. Its 2-1 win over Lyon Sunday was game No. 55 for this side. Jardim has been rotating his squad but also been running lighter training sessions, and shortening his team talks. It has been working.

Monaco–perhaps save for the wondrous 18-year-old Kylian Mbappe–is not necessarily the prolific goal machine it was back in December, when it won games 5-0 (Bastia), 4-0 (Bordeaux) and 7-0 (Rennes). Its last three league games have been won 1-0 (Angers), 2-1 (Dijon) and 2-1 (Lyon). But that doesn't matter: it is still winning, and that is all it needs to do to see off the challenge of PSG, whose 2-0 win over Montpellier left it level on points but with Monaco having a game in hand.

The one concern is that Monaco has tended to concede goals in recent games at the same time: in the first 15 minutes after halftime. It did so against Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund in Europe, PSG in the League Cup final, and again Sunday at Lyon. But it saw off the challenge from its host, perhaps tired from a penalty shootout win in Turkey in the Europa League quarterfinals on Thursday.

It’s another big week for the club, as it goes to the Parc des Princes in the French Cup semifinal against PSG. But if one competition has to give away, it may be this one, but after falling in the French League Cup final to PSG, it will surely want to make a statement of intent for the rest of the season.

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