Very little separates first-place AS Monaco from last-place CSKA Moscow in Group E of the Champions League, and the French side is looking to stay atop the group Wednesday night when the two sides meet at Stade Louis II.
With five points through three matches, Monaco lead English side Tottenham Hotspur by one point. The Army Men have two points through their three contests, and a road win by the Russian side would turn the entire group into chaos with everything to play for over the final two matches.
But CSKA Moscow are struggling entering this match, having won just once in their last seven games across all competitions (1-2-4), and need a turnaround to avoid their fourth straight group play exit in Champions League. They dropped to third in the Russian Premier League after a 3-1 defeat at Spartak in a Moscow derby on Saturday. The Army Men had a chance to tie after Carlos Strandberg pulled them within 2-1 on 82 minutes, but Ze Luis completed his brace shortly before full time to end any hopes of a comeback.
The loss continued to shine the spotlight on goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, who is seeking his first Champions League shutout in more than 10 years. That drought, which spans 39 European matches, was guaranteed to surpass a decade after the teams played to a 1-1 draw a fortnight ago in which Bernard Silva rescued a point for Monaco with a goal three minutes from time.
“It was painful at first, but now I don’t care about the swipes I get from people,” Akinfeev told UEFA.com. “People embarrass themselves by commenting on it, not me. In Europe, they don’t gloat about things like this, but fans in Russia like to write bad things. All the best to them. Even if I concede in 100 consecutive UEFA Champions League games, that’s my business.”
“It was an even match, but we tried to go for the win. In the end we can be content with a point and we will now start to look ahead to the second match with CSKA,” Monaco forward Valere Germain said.
There wasn’t much Akinfeev could do about Silva’s goal, he made a spectacular save to deny Guido Carrillo before Silva got to the rebound and hammered a shot past the onrushing keeper, and Akinfeev’s teammates know they need to pick up their goaltender if this unwanted streak is going to come to an end in France.
“Not every goalkeeper gets to play so many matches in the Champions League, “said midfielder Pontus Wernbloom in defense of Akinfeev. “Igor is one of the greatest keepers in the history of Russian football. The whole team is to blame for the goals we have conceded in the tournament.”
The goals have dried up for Moscow – they’ve netted only four during their recent struggles after scoring 11 in starting 5-3-0 domestically. Their goal against Monaco came from Lacina Traore, who is playing on loan from the French side.
Moscow have enjoyed little success on the road in group play with just one victory in their last 12 matches (1-1-10) at this stage, though they did scramble to draw 2-2 at Bayer Leverkusen on Sept. 14.
Monaco, meanwhile, are unbeaten in three matches and second in Ligue 1 ahead of PSG on goal difference following their 1-1 draw at St. Etienne on Saturday. Kamil Glik provided a quick goal five minutes into the match for the Red and Whites, but they conceded the equaliser before the match reached 20 minutes and were unable to find a second despite controlling play for much of the match.
The contest ended a grueling month in which Monaco played four of their five matches on the road. They took five points from those matches, highlighted by a 7-0 thumping of Metz on Oct. 1.
The lone home contest was also an impressive display offensively as Monaco ran riot in a 6-2 victory over Montpellier on Oct. 21. There are plenty of goal-scorers available for manager Leonardo Jardim as five players have at least three goals in all competitions, paced by Fabinho’s six – though five have come from the penalty spot.
Additionally, Monaco have scored in all seven of their Champions League matches this year when including their qualifying ties against Fenerbahce and Villarreal.
The only injury worry for Monaco is defensive midfielder Joao Moutinho, who was held out of the draw versus St. Etienne with a thigh injury but practiced with the team Monday ahead of the match. Moscow will be without midfielder Roman Eremenko as he serves the last portion of his two-match ban.
Monaco have won their last three home matches against Russian sides, with the most recent a 2-0 victory over FC Zenit in 2014, while the Army Men have two wins and a draw in five all-time matches in France.
Matej Jug will oversee an all-Slovenian officiating crew for this match.
Probable Lineups: Monaco (4-3-3) – Subasic, Mendy, Glik, Jemerson, Sidibe, Fabinho, Bakayoko, Moutinho, Silva, Lemar, Germain. CSKA Moscow (4-2-3-1) – Akinfeev, Shchennikov, Ignashevich, Berezutski, Fernandes, Natcho, Wernbloom, Golovin, Ionov, Tosic, Traore.
Prediction: Monaco 2-0.