AS Monaco 1-2 Atletico Madrid
This Champions League clash was billed by some as the ‘Thomas Lemar derby’.
The French winger left AS Monaco for Atletico Madrid in the summer and this was an immediate homecoming for the player who cost Los Rojiblancos in the region of £50 million.
us fans will have noticed Lemar had failed to score in his first five games for his new club, so what would the Champions League 2018 odds be on him breaking his duck against his former employer?
As it turned out, he only played a cameo part on his return as Atletico won with perhaps more ease than the scoreline suggests.
Highlights of the game
No wonder Atletico have been tipped by so many to do well and provide some of the Champions League 2018 highlights.
As well as recruiting Lemar in the summer, the Europa League holders have added the likes of Rodri and Gelson Martins to their ranks while keeping star man Antoine Griezmann.
In contrast, Monaco sold Lemar, Joao Moutinho and Fabinho, hot on the heels of losing a number of stars last summer including French whizz-kid Kylian Mbappe, Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva.
With one club so weakened and the other clearly strengthened, surely this contest would favour the away side?
Both sides were keen to make amends after suffering early exits in last season’s tournament, even if Atletico had the consolation of UEFA Europa League success.
Monaco, however, bowed out of Europe altogether at the conclusion of the group stage, having finished bottom of a section that included Besiktas, Porto and RB Leipzig.
They started brightly here and were rewarded when Samuel Grandsir poked in the opening goal after 18 minutes, capitalising on uncharacteristic defensive errors.
Home captain Radamel Falcao—the former Atletico hero who scored 52 goals in 68 matches for the club between 2011 and 2013—picked Saul Niguez’s pocket and sent the ball into the box where Angel Correa could only direct the ball to Grandsir.
Yet, the incentive of reaching next June’s final, which will be held at Atletico’s Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, is a massive appeal and they struck twice before the break to take charge and take a winning first step towards that goal.
Griezmann, one of the stars of Russia 2018, threaded a clever ball to Diego Costa and the striker finished calmly to mark his first Champions League appearance for Atletico since 2014.
Then, on the stroke of half-time, Jose Maria Gimenez headed home a Koke corner to put the visitors in front.
Atletico Madrid hero Jose Maria Gimenez in action against Monaco during their Champions League game at Stade Louis II
Diego Godin and Costa both had goals disallowed at the start of each half, but Atletico weren’t made to rue the ones that got away, even if Kamil Glik went close to a home equaliser.
For all their probing and effort, AS Monaco were otherwise largely restricted to long-range efforts in the Louis II Stadium
Lemar’s arrival with 20 minutes remaining merely highlighted the difference in squad strength between the two sides. And Diego Simeone, who had to watch from the stands as he completed a touchline ban going back to last season, was pleased with his side’s winning mentality.
This was the first-ever meeting between the two clubs.
Monaco have only lost twice at home to Spanish opponents, winning six of their eight clashes.
Monaco are now without a win in nine European games (D2 L7). Their last victory was a 3-1 home win against Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-final second leg in April 2017.
Atletico have lost only one of 14 fixtures against Ligue 1 sides.
Griezmann has now been involved in seven of Atletico’s last nine goals with five markers and two assists.
It’s back to La Liga and after a disappointing start to the campaign, Atletico need to return to winning ways domestically.
They have picked up five points from a possible 12, well below early expectations, and only scored three times in four games. Costa has also gone 13 games without scoring.
Capital city neighbours Getafe and newly promoted Huesca are the next opponents before an eagerly anticipated Madrid derby at the Bernabeu on September 29.
Monaco entertain Nimes and Angers in Ligue 1 as they bid for their first win since the opening day of the season. They then travel to Saint-Etienne before resuming their Champions League group campaign.
As for this competition, Atletico are level at the top of the group with Borussia Dortmund who beat Club Brugge 1-0. They face the Belgian champions next on October 3, the same day as Monaco meet the Germans.
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