AS Monaco FC midfielder João Moutinho says he is now giving a "real impression" of himself under Leonardo Jardim ahead of the round of 16 tie with Arsenal FC.
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João Moutinho says football is all about control. Indeed the Portugal midfielder's manipulation of matches in UEFA Champions League Group C this season had much to do with AS Monaco FC keeping five clean sheets and winning the section – and could prove invaluable against Arsène Wenger's possession-hungry Arsenal FC in the round of 16.
Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim says his No8's game "is all about craft and recycling the ball". Moutinho's 194 completed passes in this campaign cannot be bettered in the Rouge et Blanc dressing room. Ball retention, at the heart of the 28-year-old's play, helps alleviate pressure on the defence and energise the attack.
Signed from FC Porto in summer 2013, Moutinho soon adjusted to the physical demands of Ligue 1, relishing the combative aspects of his central midfield role. In a team averaging 47% possession in the UEFA Champions League, Moutinho realises that tackling is often the means to enjoy the time on the ball he craves. "Being decisive in a football match is not only [about] when you have the ball, but when you don't," he said. "To control an opponent, you have to control both of these moments – that's the key. You have to stay focused and adapt."
That focus is integral to Moutinho's game. He uses music to help him concentrate before each match and, though he admits he is not sure how this affects his performances, he loves playing strategy games in his spare time. As he said: "You have to be able to analyse things well. Before I receive a pass, I always look to see what options I have. To play better, you have to think faster than the others."
The departure of James Rodríguez, Radamel Falcao and Emmanuel Rivière – who received so many of Moutinho's passes last term – and the arrival of a new coach posed challenges for Monaco and their central playmaker. Yet the side seem to be gelling and Moutinho's influence is increasing by the match.
The way he has grown into his role at Monaco is, he says, a reflection of his personality. "At first, I am a bit timid," he said, "but when I know people I feel better. Then I give a real impression of João Moutinho." Having already won the UEFA Europa League in 2011 with Porto, he is giving the impression of a player keen to drive his team as far as possible in the UEFA Champions League.