They might not be the biggest name left in the Champions League – but they are a side who should fancy themselves to match anyone
Spot the odd one out: Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Juventus and Monaco.
Over the course of the last five years, three of the aforementioned quartet have become familiar with the closing stages of the Champions League. The Monegasques, meanwhile, have flirted with relegation to France’s third tier since they appeared in the final of the 2004 edition. Now, though, Leonardo Jardim’s side look as strong as anyone in Europe.
Borussia Dortmund were the latest victims to the Ligue 1 leaders, going down 3-1 on the night and 6-3 on aggregate after a thrilling second leg at Stade Louis II – a match laced with the kind of scintillating attacking football associated with both sides.
Prior to the match, Jardim said: “Our team is used to playing with a DNA which will not change. We want to maintain that momentum.”
Stay faithful to their attacking principles they did and they effectively moved to kill the tie off within minutes. Eighteen-year-old prodigy Kylian Mbappe became the first player ever to score in his first four Champions League knockout matches – he now has five goals in four – while a firm header from Radamel Falcao put the tie beyond the visiting side, who had lost the first leg 3-2 in Germany.
Dortmund did rally to an extent after the break, exploiting the naivety of the young home side, but ultimately they did not have quite enough to complete a memorable comeback. They looked susceptible on the break and substitute Valere Germain gave the home side insurance with 10 minutes left.
And so it is the French side who find themselves among the exalted company of the Champions League semi-finalists.
Their place among such established giants is fully merited and, having reached this stage of the competition, they will feel that they have a chance of going all the way.
Packing more scoring potential than perhaps any side in Europe right now – as much due to their adventurous approach as the talent they possess – they have a puncher’s chance against anyone.
Mbappe has caught the headlines owing to his outrageous start to life at this headiest of heights, but he has received ample support. Falcao is a player reborn after two seasons in the doldrums, while a crop of talented young players is headed by Thomas Lemar, who, on Wednesday, became the first man since Andres Iniesta in 2011 to provide assists in four successive knockout matches.
It would also be unfair not to single out Bernardo Silva for praise, as his contribution to Monaco offensively this season has been formidable.
When Monaco last reached the quarter-finals of the competition, knocking Arsenal out en route, they were correctly considered to be a dour, defensive side.
While they still possess a rugged heart to their side, led by Tiemoue Bakayoko in the midfield and complemented by Kamil Glik and Jemerson in the centre of the defence, it is the full-backs who are the real motifs of the side.
Benjamin Mendy’s attacking instincts were central to both of his side’s goals on Wednesday and there is probably no finer crosser of the ball from open play in world football currently. His partner in crime on the right, Djibril Sidibe, was absent from both matches against BVB due to a rib injury, but it mattered little.
While these players can be such a source of strength, their gung-ho approach can also be exploited by opponents, yet Monaco’s mindset is so affixed on attacking, they are rarely asked to relent.
Dortmund did force the French side onto the back foot for long periods. The visitors enjoyed over 60 per cent of the ball, yet even against such an accomplished attacking side they rarely looked likely to concede and created plenty of scoring chances of their own.
None of the sides left in the competition should hold any great fears for this enthralling Monaco side. They may not have the support, history or star names of their compatriots in the final four, but they have already proven themselves an attacking force to be reckoned with.