Updated: Mar 1
Robert Moreno was reportedly left in tears after announcing to his Spain players, who were gathered in the dressing room shortly after routing Romania, that he would not be in charge for their Euro 2020
The 42-year-old had been informed that Luis Enrique would be returning, and Moreno was ousted for supposed ‘disloyalty’ to his former friend and colleague. But now, the young coach has been handed a shot at redemption with Monaco – with the principality club slowly but surely improving and piecing together a late European charge.
Despite watching his side having to
settle for a point at Dijon last weekend, which placed the buffers on an impressive winning streak, Moreno opted to continue with his optimistic message and instead highlighted the club’s four-match unbeaten run.
The 2017 champions will hope to extend their mini resurgence against Stade Reims at the Stade Louis II. Both clubs are battling it out to round off the season on a high – and the hosts will also aim to ensure that inconsistency doesn’t dampen their reversal in fortunes.
But despite the healthier complexion at the club, Moreno was criticised by supporters for making just one substitution in their recent stalemate, with Cesc Fabregas introduced from the bench in place of Stevan Jovetic.
Despite his brief success at the helm of Spain’s national team, it is easy to forget that the tactician’s inexperience in club football ultimately rendered Monaco’s decision to hire him as a risk.
The directors claimed that the ambitious Spaniard was a perfect fit to pick up the mantle from Leonardo Jardim’s ill-fated second spell in charge, but it has taken a number of weeks to ease the pressure.
His first foray into management since Enrique’s withering comments experienced a turbulent start, and Moreno even labelled his strugglers’ performance in their limp defeat by Strasbourg last month as a ‘disaster’.
At that point, Monaco had collected just a single point from their first three games under their new manager, albeit against runaway leaders Paris Saint-Germain, and Moreno truly appeared a figure suffering under the weight of expectation.
But gradually, from the depths of disappointment, the principality giants have hauled themselves back from the brink. The same dogged issues that culminated in the axing of both Thierry Henry and Jardim appear to have been allayed for now – and Moreno’s side have managed to haul themselves back up the standings.
Wissam Ben Yedder continues to find the back of the net with ruthless efficiency, with the former Sevilla ace currently sharing the scoring charts’ top spot with Kylian Mbappe, and Kamil Glik’s welcome return to form has also contributed to Monaco’s revival.
European football now appears a tangible prospect, and with confidence slowly returning to his charges, Moreno will surely harbour hope that they will extend their unbeaten streak again this weekend.
The hosts have no fresh injury concerns to worry about, although Gelson Martins remains sidelined indefinitely after a sanction from the LFP for pushing a referee twice in the defeat against Nimes.
Arber Zeneli is nearing a return to full fitness for Stade Reims, but Saturday’s clash will likely arrive too soon for the left winger. Kaj Sierhuis also remains out of action following the forward's hamstring injury suffered earlier this month.
David Guion’s outfit will be able to jump ahead of their opponents with victory on the Riviera, with several other teams also jostling for results in a tightly-packed mid-table.
ELSEWHERE IN LIGUE 1…
Matchday 27’s first clash will be between Nimes and Marseille on Friday evening. The hosts are languishing in the relegation play-off spot, but their form has improved despite a run of four consecutive victories being ended with a loss at Rennes. Andre-Villas Boas’ high-flyers will hope to further solidify their grip on second place.
Paris Saint-Germain are certain to retain their crown at the end of the campaign, but have frustrated supporters with another setback in the Champions League and surprisingly porous backline. Thomas Tuchel’s men entertain lowly Dijon, and will aim for a comfortable win ahead of their French Cup semi-final showdown against Lyon on Wednesday.
Two teams tussling in midtable are Montpellier and Strasbourg, who will meet this weekend. The latter remain within touching distance of fifth-placed Monaco, and have suffered one defeat in their last five league games. Montpellier, sitting just one point behind their opponents, will continue their bid for another strong finish at the Stade de la Mosson.
Amiens appear in real danger of slipping into the second division and are in dire need of a string of positive results. But the minnows frustrated leaders PSG after a thrilling 4-4 draw a fortnight ago, and will need to replicate the same never say die spirit against Metz, who themselves are hovering dangerously close to the drop zone.
After finally bringing a halt to a poor run of form, which saw them fail to record a league victory since December, Angers travel to Brest. The hosts held Patrick Vieira’s Nice to a draw last weekend, and last suffered defeat on February 1. Both teams will aim to pull further clear of the relegation dogfight with a victory.
Despite a 10th-placed finish last season, Rennes have impressed under Julien Stephan and currently occupy a European spot. A run of three league games without a win threatened to derail the club’s lofty ambitions, but their late winner against Nimes prevented fellow contenders from capitalising. Rock bottom Toulouse provide their next test, although the visitors will be expected to ease them aside and quieten fears over a late season collapse.
Just one point behind Rennes are Lille, who will travel to midtable Nantes for Sunday’s early afternoon action. Christophe Galtier’s men achieved a second place finish last term, and are once again pushing into the upper reaches of the standings. A run of four victories from their last five league outings renders the visitors the favourites to continue their bid for Champions League football.
Bordeaux and Nice have both endured mixed fortunes this campaign, and lock horns this weekend. The hosts have proved frustratingly inconsistent, currently occupy 12th and appear destined for a midtable finish. Nice, who have also flattered to deceive at points during Vieira’s reign, have allowed their hopes for European football to slip away and will aim to get back on track at the Matmut Atlantique.
A third place finish last season now appears a world away for Lyon. Rudi Garcia has been portrayed as a clown on social media by irked supporters in recent days, forcing the club to issue a firm statement – which warned users they could be subject to legal action. A Champions League win over Juventus somewhat eased tensions, but the Ligue 1 giants will need to beat Saint Etienne in the last clash of the weekend to keep their slender hopes of a top four finish alive.