Every summer you get the same cliché somewhere. A player has been out with an injury for a long period of time, but makes his return in pre-season. He’s like a new signing. For Monaco, the return of Radamel Falcao this summer wasn’t just similar to a new signing, the Colombian arrived reborn and has been crucial in the club’s attack on the Ligue 1 title.
Now, the forward has a chance to show he is back to his elite best and helped Monaco fire themselves past Dortmund and into the Champions League semi-finals.
After Paris Saint-Germain sealed the 2015/16 title, even with Laurent Blanc leaving and Unai Emery coming in, there was a feeling that no matter what they did, no club was quite strong enough to keep pace.
Monaco, Lyon, Marseille, Saint-Etienne and Nice all possessed talented squads, but they all lacked the consistency week-in, week-out to collect the amount of points that would see any of them challenge PSG.
Challenge PSG’s Dominance
What was needed was a slow start from the new Spanish boss and a couple of challengers. Luckily those two things happened and now, with six games remaining, Monaco are three points clear and surviving every slight blip in the road.
Losing 4-1 to the champions in the Coupe de la Ligue final was a huge blow to coach Leonardo Jardim, and then this weekend, 1-0 down at home to Dijon, it looked like they were about to drop points.
Step forward Falcao.
Known for his powerful headers and clinical finishes, he showed another part of his game, something that no one quite knew he had in his locker.
Falcao Saves Monaco
On as a sub for the last 30 minutes, with 21 to go, the 31-year-old Colombian stood over the ball at the edge of the box and sized up the free-kick at hand. Right-footed, he curled it over the wall, only to hit the underside of the crossbar. Baptiste Reynet was nowhere near with his dive, but stopped the ball with his back.
The goalkeeper had no idea where the strike had gone, but couldn’t stop Nabil Dirar racing in to turn the rebound over the line. A much-needed equaliser.
2012 – Falcao has scored his 1st direct free kick in a league game since October 2012, it was with Atlético Madrid v Real Sociedad. Saviour. pic.twitter.com/885pDprihQ
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) April 15, 2017
10 minutes before the end, Monaco won another free-kick in a very similar position, about 22-23 yards from goal. Falcao stood over it again. He hadn’t scored a direct free-kick since 2012 for Atletico Madrid, this time the woodwork wouldn’t deny him.
Going to the goalkeeper’s left, Reynet was left rooted to the spot as the effort flew into the top corner, sparking jubilant responses from the home players and fans.
His 18th league goal of the campaign, 24 in all competitions including four in the Champions League.
Whether it be alongside Valère Germain or teenage sensation Kylian Mbappé, Falcao adapts and adjusts and remains one of the deadliest strikers left in the Champions League.
Ahead of Wednesday’s game, Monaco welcome back Tiemoué Bakayoko into the midfield, but Fabinho is suspended. That will be a like-for-like change. Left-back Benjamin Mendy is also back, which take the Monegasque club close to full-strength.
Falcao will partner Mbappé up front and with the Colombian playing at his best and Mbappé in sensational scoring form, there probably isn’t a more dangerous forward duo in Europe right now.
Falcao’s French Dip
It wasn’t always like that. After arriving in Monte Carlo following his €64million move from Atleti to Monaco, he hit the ground running with seven goals in seven games. Falcao had announced himself to Ligue 1. Yet, the tough, strong, physical defenders weren’t ready to let the former FC Porto man run riot on their league.
Falcao only scored twice in 10 games after the initial run. Matching him physically, his movement against the bigger defenders was lacking and even before the tragic knee injury, his form was dropping rapidly.
Injured in the Coupe de France, we would get a brief glimpse of Falcao the next season, the Colombian connecting with Layvin Kurzawa’s cross to score against Nantes.
Loans spells to Manchester United and Chelsea flopped. This was supposed to be his chance to prove himself in the world’s most popular league, but in 41 games for both clubs, he managed just five goals. Far from the world-class finisher that left Atletico Madrid in 2013.
Falcao doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Had two poor seasons in England, but finally bounced back with 25 goals and 5 assists in 34 games
— Liam Canning (@LiamPaulCanning) April 15, 2017
“I had the opportunity to play in the Premier League, and I did it. I have kept the positive things of that experience,” he told reporters ahead of Monaco’s Champions League game against CSKA Moscow. “I developed as a player but also as a man.”
“Now I’m back at Monaco. I try to enjoy it as much as possible, to string games together to get back to my best,” he said. “I have always been able to overcome difficulties during my career. It’ll be the same now.”
Jardim also commented on the situation at the time, admitting that Falcao’s decisions to move rather than concentrate on recovery, didn’t help his form.
Monaco saves Falcao
“Falcao’s problem wasn’t only his knee injury but also that he left to go and play elsewhere for two seasons, in Manchester and then at Chelsea,” the Portuguese coach said.
“He tried to continue playing at a high level when normally when you have an injury like that, you stay at your club to try and get back quickly.”
Everything at Monaco had suited Falcao better. The team is playing to his strength. He has matured too.
He knows where to be, what not to do and he has the support cast that allows him to play at his highest level.
Manchester United transfer targets Tiemoué Bakayoko and Bernardo Silva, alonside Fabinho, Benjamin Mendy and Mbappé have picked up more of the praise this season, but they are valuable, sellable assets, so it’s understandable. Yet, without Falcao, like he showed against Dijon, there would be no title challenge.
Falcao’s Killer Movement
Away against Angers, in what was a difficult, hard-fought 1-0 win, it was the movement, intelligence and maturity of the Colombian that won the game.
Nabil Dirar burst down the right and the Monaco attack flooded towards the box. At the start of the move, Falcao is well behind, but he uses that to his advantage.
Rather than steam towards the penalty spot, he spots the space left by the defence and times his run perfectly and Dirar is able to slip the ball back for the striker to win the points.
That instinct, the know-how, you can’t teach it. That’s what separates a good forward from a great forward.
Going into Wednesday’s battle with Dortmund. All eyes will be on the talents of Mbappé, Silva and Thomas Lemar, but take your attention away from Falcao for just a second, and that’s when the 31-year-old strikes.
With Falcao back to his best, the sky is the limit for this young Monaco team. Rule them out at your peril.