Wednesday’s derby against OGC Nice has a lot riding on it, not just bragging rights but potentially European qualification, as Philippe Clement pointed out during his pre-match conference on Tuesday.
Clement avoided the temptation to wax lyrical about his side’s recent run of form when he spoke to the media. Although it is the first time that AS Monaco have won four-in-a-row in Ligue 1 all season, that run has been facilitated by extra minutes on the training field.
“Naturally, when you can work on more tactical things because of the numerous days of training, it makes a difference,” began Clement. Although the reason for that extra training time issues from a net-negative – elimination from the Europa League – it has nonetheless provided a propulsion towards the European places, which, for large swathes of the season, looked near-on impossible.
“In March, we had a period where we played an important match every three days. Then we could only do tactical work and even then, not a lot because players had to recover from the previous match.”
The international break in particular was important for Clement to familiarise his players with his system, a difficult task when arriving mid-season as he did and being limited to a reduced training schedule as a result of commitments in multiple competitions.
Alexander Nubel, who also spoke to the press, agreed with his manager, telling Monaco Life, “We have more time to train. In the first part of the season, we had no training time, so just having time is the biggest thing that has changed.”
Having played on Friday, Monaco have had an extra two days to prepare, with their opponents OGC Nice only playing on Sunday, in a victory assured by a late Andy Delort goal against Lorient. For Clement, the importance of the game is two-fold.
“The difference (of a derby) is with the supporters, because it’s a prestigious match. In every workplace there are Monaco and Nice supporters, and the day after the match there will always be a side who comes in with a smile, and another that isn’t happy.” The Belgian manager added, “Naturally, it’s also an important match for the table.”
With only one point separating the rivals going into Wednesday evening’s game and only six games of the Ligue 1 season remaining, it is truly a “six-pointer” that could prove pivotal in deciding who qualifies and who misses out on European football next season.
Monaco Life attended group training on Friday at the La Turbie training ground and can report an almost clean bill of health, with both Guillermo Maripan and Gelson Martins set to return to the matchday squad. Krepin Diatta remains a long-term absentee, whilst Cesc Fabregas will get minutes with the N2 side on Saturday as he works up his match fitness.
Possessing a fit, healthy and happy squad, Clement has faith in whoever he decides to start for this crucial derby. “It is a difficult match, but I feel a lot of desire and a lot of ambition in this group to do the maximum to take the three points and to give something extra for our supporters.”
Photo by Luke Entwistle, Monaco Life