By Robin Bairner
All eyes were on Monaco's Coupe de France match with Chasselay on Wednesday due to the romanticism of Ludovic Giuly's reunion with his former employers, yet it was an evening that would turn into a horror show for Radamel Falcao.
Shortly before half-time, an innocuous challenge from Soner Ertek, a teacher by trade, saw the Colombia star crumple in the box. After several minutes of treatment, the €60 million striker was carried from the field on a stretcher, with the consolation of having opened the scoring in a 3-0 win no solace for the news that was to follow: the 28-year-old had torn his cruciate ligament.
Falcao may have not dismissed the possibility of travelling to the World Cup as part of his national team, but Monaco will certainly be planning to cope with the loss of their crown jewel until the end of the campaign.
Yet while Falcao may provide a superstar presence for the principality outfit, there is evidence to suggest he has not necessarily brought that level of performance with him since signing from Atletico Madrid in the summer.
His return of nine league goals (two from the penalty spot) this term pales in comparison to Paris Saint-Germain duo Zlatan Ibrahimovic (17) and Edinson Cavani (13). Even at ailing power Olympique Lyonnais, Alexandre Lacazette can boast double figures this term, while Olympique de Marseille's Andre-Pierre Gignac has a better strike-rate than Falcao. Indeed, when goals-to-minutes are studied, Falcao is not even the best player at his club, with Emmanuel Riviere more prolific.
LIGUE 1 TOP SCORERS (prior to week 22)
Football, of course, is more pertinently a game about the collective as opposed to just the individual, but without their main man, Monaco have seemed to play more fluently. From the 17 matches Falcao has played this season, Claudio Ranieri's men have picked up 33 points – or 1.94 points per game. When he has been unavailable, they have secured an average of 2.4 points per game.
Admittedly, the sample size of matches which highlights the latter statistic should be considered too small to draw any definitive conclusions, but it does back up the objective view that Monaco look better balanced without the man who drew so much attention in the summer.
Strangely, it has been compatriot James Rodriguez who has benefitted the most from the absence of Falcao. The 22-year-old, who was signed at an estimated cost of €45m from Porto in the summer (although it must be remembered this figure is clouded somewhat as he was part of a double deal involving Joao Moutinho), has scored all of his three Monaco goals in the No.9's absence, during which time he has looked a more forceful leader of the team.
|JAMES RODRIGUEZ: MONACO'S FULCRUM
|With Falcao||LIGUE 1 STATISTICS
|1.93||POINTS PER GAME||2.25|
James certainly started the season in unconvincing, almost nervous fashion, but has increasingly shown himself to be the fulcrum of Monaco's offensive sector. This rise coincided with the thigh problem that kept Falcao out of the final matches of 2013. In his 12 league appearances prior to that, he had failed to score and had accumulated only five assists; in seven matches since he has three goals and four decisive passes.
These statistics show that it would be wrong to write off the title challenge of Ranieri's side merely on the basis of Falcao's injury, as they have shown themselves to be just as good – arguably even stronger – without their record signing.
Nevertheless, this is merely a silver lining to a cloud of great personal misfortune.