“Hey Boss,” Says Paris Saint-Germain captain and Brazilian international centre back Marquinhos, striding into my office with a cheeky grin, “How many AS Monaco footballers does it take to change a lightbulb?” I look up from my desk and eye him cautiously.
“Five. Do you know why?”
“No.” I admit.
“Because AS Monaco footballers are idiots.” With that, Paris Saint-Germain captain and Brazilian international centre back Marquinhos throws his head back and howls with laughter. I watch him do so stoney-faced, simultaneously parsing his words in a desperate attempt to find some missed deeper meaning and wondering if I’d ever been this far away from wanting to laugh. After a moment, I come to the conclusions that A) there isn’t one and B) Maybe when I lost Meatloaf and Burnie, although it’s close.
“Right.” I say, as he wipes a tear from his eye.
“It’s good, yes? I have decided that I want to be the joker of the pack!” He stammers, still laughing.
“The joker of the pack.” He repeats, straightening up. “I want to make the team laugh with my funny jokes. For example, have you ever heard the one about the successful AS Monaco footballer?” He’s giggling before he even finishes the question.
“Me neither!” He roars, literally doubling up with a fresh wave of laughter.
“It’s better.” I begrudgingly concede. “Still not great though, is it? I mean Monaco have won Ligue 1 three years in-”
“Or here’s one! Here’s one!” Marquinhos steamrolls ahead with gusto. “Tell me knock knock.”
“You want… Ok. Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?” He grins.
“Well I don’t bloody know, do I?”
“Say ‘An AS Monaco footballer’.” He whispers.
“Ok. An AS Monac-”
“Eww go away, AS Monaco Footballer! I don’t want to see you!” He shouts, dramatically recoiling and plugging his nose before yet another baffling laughing fit.
“Good stuff,” I humour him with a kind smile. “And you’re going to be doing… This… A lot going forwards, are you?”
“Yes, I will be dropping by regularly with more funny jokes, I imagine.” He beams.
“Excellent.” I nod. “Unless I sell you first, eh?”
“Ah Boss, you would never sell me!” He heads for the door. “I just convinced Silvio Cvitanovic not to move to Chelsea! He and I and my funny, funny jokes are here to stay.” And with that, Paris Saint-Germain captain and Brazilian international centre back Marquinhos steps out of my office, letting the door swing shut behind him. Fantastic.
Marquinhos does pop up a couple of times in the build up to our trip to Guingamp with more jokes, although I’ll spare you the details. All I’ll say is that his dislike of AS Monaco is intensifying as we get closer to what will be a crucial match in the title race. As I say though, before that match we’ve got one against Guingamp to think about.
Marquinhos doesn’t travel for the Sunday tie, partially because he could do with a rest before the big game on Wednesday and partially because by this point I just need a fucking break, but the good news is that his compatriot Orlando has overcome his pesky calf strain and is fit enough for the bench. Guingamp are a poor side and are currently sat precariously above the relegation zone, but we can’t afford to rest too many players. As excellent a start to the season as we’ve had, I’m still not entirely convinced by our ability to kick down a door that’s been shut in our face. Guingamp, with their deep, compact 4-2-3-1, are a closed door. Éder is suspended, so the more attack-minded Kovacic replaces him, while Bologna returns to the starting line up ahead of Renan. Otherwise we’re unchanged.
The closed door draws first blood just 4 minutes in when Serban crosses low from the left for Pavlovic, who isn’t marked tightly enough by Triponez and makes us pay for it by stroking the ball into the far corner of the net. Much of the half is played on the home side’s tight and scrappy terms, but we eventually draw level 5 minutes before the break when Bueno fires a pass down the left ahead of Coutinho, who keeps the ball from going out of play and floats a cross to the far post, where Coman volleys it in.
Our celebrations last under a minute however, because we switch off and are punished from kick off. Djuricic chips a quick pass into the right channel for Pavlovic, who bring the ball down well and half-volleys into the bottom corner to put Guingamp back in front. But still hellbent on not being behind at half time, PSG reply under 2 minutes later. This time Coman sprints down the right wing and curls cross from a deep position. It’s perfectly aimed towards Manuel Bueno on the edge of the 6 yard box and the big Spaniard tucks in another equaliser.
Rúben Neves comes off at the break because of his tired legs and the booking he’s picked up in the first half. Kovacic will drop back into the deep lying playmaker role while Cvitanovic comes on to play as a central midfield roamer. The Germany captain vindicates his inclusion within 5 minutes of the second half too, curling a 20 yard free kick into the top corner to put us into the league for the first time.
The rest of the match is a bit quiet, with Guingamp reluctant to leave their defensive shape and chase the lead. I bring Orlando on for Veiga for the last half hour to attempt to stretch their defence, but to no avail. They actually nearly level the scores in the 91st minute, but when Himeno chips a cross in from the right wing, Lefeuvre can only head the ball against the foot of the near post. It’s an uncomfortable 3 points, but it’s 3 points that really piles the pressure onto our next opponents and that’ll do for me.
Before our midweek showdown though, we do get a bit of distracting news. After beating Spain and qualifying from our EIL group, England have drawn European Champions Portugal in the Semi-Finals in June. It’ll be a tough ask to take on Gelson and co, but I have to fancy our chances of an upset.
But there’ll be time for that. For now it’s Paris Saint-Germain v AS Monaco. 1st v 2nd. Franjo v Enrique: Round 2. Monaco can move level on points with us if they win and they can move top if they win by 5 goals or more. Obviously I’d really rather that doesn’t happen. If we win, we can go 6 entire points clear at the top. I know it’s still early days as far as the title’s concerned, but that’d be a hell of a boost to our chances.
I’m going full strength for obvious reasons. Out comes Kovacic for the more defensive Éder, out comes Veiga for the more influential Cvitanovic and out come Triponez and Lucas for Ibarra and Marquinhos, who got shouted down by his teammates mid-doctor-doctor-joke during training this morning. Ibarra’s given strict instructions to stay tight to Vinícius Júnior as the lone striker is one of Monaco’s main threats. Bernardo Silva will also need to be watched but the good news is that again, Kylian Mbappé misses out through injury. Surely we won’t get a better chance to beat them all season.
10 minutes in, we break down the right hand side, creating the first good chance of the match. Coman races down the line from our third to Monaco’s byline leaving Chiesa and Theo Hernández choking on dust in his wake. He chips a cross in, Fabinho heads it clear to the edge of the box where Cvitanovic lurks. He catches it perfectly with his laces on the half volley and bloody leathers it into the top corner of Audero’s net. It’s definitely too early to celebrate, but fuck it. I allow myself a fistpump. Before my hand even returns to my side though, we win possession from kick off, Bologna plays the ball out to Coman, the superb Frenchman swings a cross to the far post and Bueno heads the ball back across goal and in. I half-laugh as my players sprint to congratulate the target man in the corner of the pitch. Ever since I joined PSG, my every other thought has been of Monaco. That we’d need to play them, beat them in matches and over the course of the campaign. I’ve had one eye on this match for nearly 4 months and within 11 minutes we’re 2-0 up and cruising.
5 minutes later it should be 3. Cvitanovic this time chips the ball over the top of the defence, commencing a race between Bueno and Fabinho which the former wins at a canter. Bueno takes a touch inside the box and shoots from a narrow angle, but Audero stretches out a hand to claw the ball behind. Just before the break we’re pegged back when Tolisso chips the ball forwards for Silva, who chests it down and shoots low. Gigi beats it back into danger and Marquinhos gets to the loose ball first, but his clearance is mishit and only goes as far as Chiesa, who slots it into the bottom corner.
The second half is low quality, but I’m fine with that. Orlando comes on for Coutinho to give us more pace on the break and Bernardo has a 35 yard potshot caught by Gigi on the hour, but as the half goes on we grow more and more comfortable. With 20 minutes to play I decide to shut up shop. We drop to a defensive 4-1-4-1 with the energetic Moise Kean replacing the tiring Manuel Bueno.
Kean has a potshot of his own in the dying moments of the match, but as I say, the half is really poor quality. Neither side has a clear cut chance or even a decent one. We see the match out at 2-1 and open up a 6 point lead at the top of Ligue 1. I said after our last encounter with Enrique’s men that the league is my priority and I stand right by that. We’ve not lost a league match yet and if we can beat the reigning champions, why on Earth should we lose one all season? Hand me my trusty grey coat and get a message to the boys in Hero Creek: Fuck Monaco and Fuck the title. Old Franjo’s going for a second invincible season.