AS Monaco manager Philippe Clement has revealed that guaranteed qualification to the Europa League has eased the pressure going into Saturday’s game, saying that the team has “nothing to lose”.
For the first time all season, Philippe Clement’s side go into a match as an occupant of a podium spot; it is the first time that they are the hunted and not the hunter. Only one match remains to defend their position. It is reasonable to assume that under such circumstances, the pressure is mounting on the players to deliver, but Clement revealed that the opposite is in fact true.
“It’s the first time we have nothing to lose,” he began. “We have already secured Europa League football. That was a club objective at the start of the season. It hasn’t been easy catching up to get to this point. Now there are extra things that we can win on Saturday. That is different from earlier months,” he concluded.
Questioned by Monaco Life as to whether that means that a Champions League qualification will have meant that they have surpassed expectations, the former Club Brugge coach replied, “I don’t know because nobody told me that if we didn’t get onto the podium then it’s a bad season. That’s never been said here.”
He continued, “You have to look at the entire season. The club lost too many points in the first 60-70% of games of the season. We lost too many points in that period. It’s good that everyone has reacted at the end and done good things.”
Before heading up to Lens for what Clement rightly described as a “decisive” fixture, the side were joined by Dimitry Rybolovlev at the club’s training ground on Thursday. He observed training alongside the technical director James Bunce, whilst sporting director Paul Mitchell was also present during the session at La Turbie.
“Rybolovlev said he was happy with everyone’s work, and encouraged us ahead of Saturday’s match,” said Clement. “We are happy to be able to count on his support and that has always been the case since I’ve been here,” he added.
The presence and support of their owner isn’t the only thing that has buoyed them ahead of the trip up north. Youssouf Fofana in particular revealed that Wednesday’s open training session at the Stade Louis II had given them “energy,” whilst Clement is also looking at the longer-term impacts of the event.
He told Monaco Life, “Seeing our supporters can give us a lot of energy for the future. Lots of children came to see us. As the tickets for the Lens match sold out so quickly, they won’t necessarily be able to attend the match, but I’m sure they’ll watch on the big screen at the Stade Louis II. To have more supporters inside the ground, supporting the players is certainly one of my objectives for the future.”
But it is AS Monaco’s short-term success that may determine whether such objectives can be met. The allure of Champions League football at the Stade Louis II cannot be understated, and a draw against Lens would suffice to achieve it, although a victory would ensure safe passage to the group stages without needing to pass through the perilous play-offs: a hurdle at which Monaco stumbled this season. Although there are many scenarios and different moving parts going into this final weekend, the reality is that Monaco’s destiny is in their own hands: a position that Clement and Monaco clearly relish.
Photo by Luke Entwistle, Monaco Life