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15.02.2023Europa League

Our next opponents: Options up front

Bayer 04 face Association Sportive Monaco Football Club, AS Monaco for short, for a fourth time in a European competition on Thursday 16 February (kick-off: 21.00 CET). But this is the first time the two sides have met in a knockout round. The team placed third in Ligue 1 go into the game against Leverkusen in confident mood after an impressive win at the weekend. A former Werkself player is particularly looking forward to a reunion with former teammates. The lowdown on our next opponents...
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Position

Like Bayer 04, with the 3-1 win at TSG Hoffenheim, AS Monaco go into the first leg at the BayArena on the back of a victory at the weekend. Monaco beat league leaders Paris St Germain 3-1 at home in the big match in Ligue 1. Even though the French champions had to manage without Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé due to injury plus several other key players rested ahead of the Champions League match against Bayern Munich, the Red and Whites impressed with the way they won the game. Aleksandr Golovin and captain Wissam Ben Yedder put the hosts two up early at the Stade Louis II. And the goal for Paris side scored by superstar Neymar failed to put Monaco off course. Ben Yedder restored the two-goal advantage for the home side just before the break. The team from Monaco could have secured an even bigger win if the PSG keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma had not made a number of outstanding saves.

The team led by head coach Philippe Clement, who Bayer 04 player Odilon Kossounou played under for two years at Club Brugge, once again confirmed their impressive form with that performance. AS Monaco are unbeaten in the league in eight games. The club from the principality have climbed up to third place after six wins and two draws since the end of December and they are now just two points behind second-placed Olympique Marseille. And the 14-point gap to league leaders Paris St Germain has now been reduced to seven.

In the group stage of the UEFA Europa League, Monaco qualified for the play-offs by finishing second behind Ferencváros. And they have to thank Kevin Volland. The former Werkself player scored three goals in the 4-1 win against Red Star Belgrade on the final matchday in the group. AS would have been knocked out with a draw.

Personnel

Kevin Volland, der zwischen 2016 und 2020 insgesamt 148 Pflichtspiele für Bayer 04 bestritt (50 Tore), ist nach längerer Zwangspause wegen einer Rippenprellung erst seit wenigen Wochen wieder fit, kam zuletzt nach zwei Kurzeinsätzen beim 3:1 gegen PSG aber nicht zum Zug. Der 30-jährige Stürmer hatte in dieser Saison wiederholt Verletzungssorgen. Nur 14 Pflichtspiele (5 Tore) stehen bislang für ihn zu Buche.

Kevin Volland, who made 148 appearances for Bayer 04 (scoring 50 goals) between 2016 and 2020, only returned to full fitness a few weeks ago following a long period on the sidelines due to a bruised rib. Following two brief appearances he did not play in the 3-1 win against PSG. The 30-year-old striker has had a number of injuries this season. He has only played 14 games (five goals) to date this term.

In the Monaco attack, head coach Clement normally relies on the duo of Wissam Ben Yedder and Breel Embolo, who moved to the principality from Borussia Mönchengladbach last summer. The two forwards complement each other brilliantly and together have scored 26 goals in Ligue 1 with Ben Yedder finding the back of the net 14 times and Embolo 12. The star forward Eliesse Ben Seghir has also started several times recently. The technically gifted and prolific France youth international is only 18 on Thursday. The 17-year-old scored two goals in the 3-2 win against Auxerre in his league debut six weeks ago and thereby became the youngest player to score a brace in the history of Ligue 1. Ben Seghir was recently voted the best newcomer in the French league for the month of January.

Midfielder Aleksandr Golovin is always good for a goal. The Russian has netted five times so far and also provided six assists. He mostly plays on the left wing but is equally capable of playing in central midfield. The 26-year-old, signed from CSKA Moscow in 2018, has long been a key player in the Clement team. Another one is definitely Alexander Nübel, signed on loan from FC Bayern for two years in the summer of 2021, is a mainstay in the team and alongside Kevin Volland and the former FC Köln player Ismail Jakobs is the third German player at AS Monaco. There was speculation that Nübel would return to FC Bayern in the winter break due to the injury to Manuel Neuer. But that was quickly off the agenda.

The two central defenders Axel Disasi and Guillermo Maripan are also regular starters in the defence of the eight time champions of France. The Chile teammate of Charles Aránguiz is one of the most prolific defenders in Europe's top five leagues this term with four goals across all competitions. And the two Brazilian full backs Caio Henrique and Vanderson are also first choices. However, the latter is currently injured and will probably not play in Leverkusen. He could again be replaced by Ruben Aguilar at right-back. The central midfield usually includes the holding midfielders Youssouf Fofana and Mohamed Camara. In addition to Alexander Golovin, the Senegal player Krepin Diatta also plays up front.

Performers

In terms of the attack, only Paris St Germain have a stronger squad than AS Monaco in Ligue 1. The Red and Whites have scored at least one goal in each of the last 33 games. They have netted 22 goals in the last eight matches. The third-placed team have scored 51 goals in 23 fixtures. PSG have scored four more goals. The Werkself will have to be particularly aware of Ben Yedder, Embolo, Golovin and Ben Seghir. And then there is the highly motivated Kevin Volland, who scored 33 goals (plus 21 assists) in his first two seasons on the Côte d'Azur, and is now looking for more time on the pitch after recovering from injury.

Problems

Monaco have proved to be susceptible in defence this season. The team have conceded 30 goals in the league and that puts him in tenth place in this ranking. The problems were last evident in the 3-2 win against Auxerre at the start of February when the opponents were able to beat the Monaco defence with their fast counter attacks. Coach Philippe Clement was able to say a week later after the 2-0 win against Clermont Foot: "We did not concede a goal and that's the most important thing this afternoon. I'm happy the team has learned the lessons from the game against Auxerre and were able to battle to the end and give the opposition no chance." The coach is also looking for his players to show discipline and structure in the next matches.

Prediction

AS Monaco, along with Marseille and Lyon, have been one of the strongest teams in French football behind Paris St Germain. The team from Monaco finished second in the table last season and qualified for the Champions League on the final matchday of the season with an equaliser in the sixth minute of added time in the 2-2 draw against RC Lens. That draw saw them move into second place above Marseille. And the second chance to qualify for the Champions League was narrowly missed when Monaco lost at PSV Eindhoven in extra time in the third qualifying round. After a moderate start both in Ligue 1 and the Europa League, the team led by captain Wissam Ben Yedder are back on track and are definitely looking to achieve a Champions League finish. AS Monaco have played Bayer 04 three times in the group stage of Europe's premier club competition and have proved to be tricky opponents. The last meeting in December 2016 saw the Werkself win for the first time (3-0). Before that, the Black and Reds lost three and drew twice. This time it also promises to be a tight dual between two evenly matched teams.

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