Monaco's message to Merseyside
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Champions League news every morning.
The Monaco side that lines up against Liverpool on Wednesday will bear little resemblance to the one that stormed past Deportivo, Real Madrid and Chelsea last season on its way to the Champions League final.
Last season's top scorers Fernando Morientes and Dado Prso have gone. So have wingers Jérôme Rothen and Ludovic Giuly But Liverpool fans hoping for a straightforward win with which to kick-start their European campaign are likely to be disappointed. After all, one particularly crucial component of that team has remained: Didier Deschamps is still the manager.
It was a scenario that seemed improbable in May when a managerless Juventus started making eyes at their former player, who had also been installed as favourite for the France job. But now, as Deschamps prepares Monaco for another assault on the competition he won three times as a player, he appears to have no regrets.
“It wasn't a decision I took lightly,” admits the 35-year-old. “You never know when those sort of jobs will come up again. But I decided it was too soon. I'm young, I'm still learning my profession and I have everything I need here to continue my development.”
Watching the World Cup-winning former France captain and midfield hub put his talented young team through their paces at Monaco's picturesque training ground it is hard to disagree. The heart may have been ripped out of last year's team, but Deschamps received funds to rebuild and has succeeded in enticing plenty of bright young talent to the shores of the Mediterranean.
Monaco's status as a tax haven inevitably enhances the club's pulling power in the transfer market, but the growing reputation of Deschamps, coupled with his stature in the European game, has also helped.
His highest profile capture is Barcelona marksman Javier Saviola, a full Argentine international at 22, who, like Morientes last season, has signed on a season's loan. But two further strikers Ernesto Chevanton, the Uruguay striker, and Mohamed Kallon from Internazionale have also arrived and may prove every bit as influential as the diminutive Saviola.
Fortunately for Liverpool he is suspended on Wednesday and Chevanton injured, but with six forwards now at his disposal Deschamps still has options. “Some people have said that six strikers is too many, but it's something I've done intentionally,” explains the Monaco boss. “Everyone will have studied videos of last year, so I felt we needed to find a new way of playing.”
This may explain why he has invested in versatile forwards rather than direct replacements for Giuly and Rothen. “Last year we played 4-4-2 every game and our wide play was our strength,” says the coach, whose crushing tactical victory over Claudio Ranieri in last season's Champions League semi-final made the Italian's departure from Chelsea inevitable. “This time our strength will be our versatility, our unpredictability. We have players who can adapt and I'll be switching formations depending on our opponents.”
So far Deschamps has favoured a 3-4-1-2, with the impressive Kallon dropping deep behind Chevanton and Emmanuel Adebayor. “[Kallon] reminds me of Morientes in that his technique is superb and he has that winning mentality,” enthuses Deschamps. The former Inter Milan player has scored six goals in seven games and will shoulder much of the attacking responsibility at Anfield, where he is likely to have only the inexperienced Adebayor for company in attack.
Monaco have made far fewer changes at the back. Gael Givet, Sebastien Squillaci and Patrice Evra have remained and are now all France internationals, while the signing of Maicon an athletic right-sided defender recently capped by Brazil represents more shrewd business.
But for all Deschamps' wheeling and dealing, he accepts that emulating last season's achievements is a tall order. “Losing so many good players is frustrating,” he says. “But we have an exciting new team and while it will take them time to gel, we can certainly harbour hopes of qualifying for the next round. The group is similar to last season when we had Deportivo, AEK Athens instead of Olympiakos and PSV Eindhoven instead of Liverpool.”
Monaco finished top last time around, with Deschamps pointing to their opening day victory in Eindhoven as the key result. “Winning your first game is vital because it gives the whole team belief,” he explains. Merseyside has been warned.