In Europe for the first time since 2004/05, a near-watertight defence that was breached just once was a crucial factor as the Ligue 1 side finished first in Group C.
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In their first European campaign since 2004/05 – having reached the UEFA Champions League final a year earlier – AS Monaco FC built on a opening-night victory to ultimately win Group C, their success based on a watertight defence that kept five clean sheets in six matches.
Story so far
Monaco might have had the feeling fortune would give them a helping hand in Group C when they were pushed on to the back foot by Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the first 45 minutes of their opening game only to eventually come through to win 1-0. Though Leonardo Jardim's men created few opportunities in their six matches, they gave their opponents fewer still, defending resiliently and making the most of their opportunities to claim top spot in the group.
That Leverkusen win was the first of three successive clean sheets, Monaco sharing 0-0 draws at FC Zenit and at home to SL Benfica. A 1-0 defeat in Lisbon on matchday four proved a brief setback, the French side triumphing by the same scoreline in Leverkusen in their penultimate fixture before beating Zenit 2-0 to clinch first place in the standings.
They had already beaten Leverkusen at home, but the matchday five fixture was expected to be the moment the Bundesliga side made amends and cemented their place at the top of the section. Instead, it was a case of deja vu. Leverkusen dominated; Monaco's Lucas Ocampos scored the only goal of the game.
Key player: Danijel Subašić
The story would surely have been very different but for the Monaco goalkeeper. The Croatian international was particularly important in keeping Benfica at bay on matchday three to secure a precious point, making four crucial blocks, and conceded just a single goal in six Group C matches — the best record of any team in this season's UEFA Champions League.
Rising star: Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco
It is not only due to its length that the forward could be the next big name on everyone's lips. The 21-year-old Belgian featured in all six group games, and though he contributed only one assist, his performances more than his stats caught the eye.
While no team has ever gone through a UEFA Champions League group stage without conceding, Monaco became the ninth side to be breached just once. They followed AC Milan (1992/93), AFC Ajax (1995/96), Juventus (1996/97 & 2004/05), Chelsea FC (2005/06), Liverpool FC (2005/06), Villarreal CF (2005/06) and Manchester United FC (2010/11) in letting in just one goal.
"In August, Monaco were regarded as the worst team in the group; tonight we won it"
Jardim after the matchday six triumph at home to Zenit that sent the Ligue 1 club into the knockout stages as Group C winners.
Next challenge: Arsenal FC
(Away: 25 February, home: 17 March)
The teams have never met before but it is a reunion for Monaco with their former coach Arsène Wenger, who was in charge of the club between 1987 and 1994. Wenger won both Ligue 1 and the Coupe de France in the Principality, also taking Monaco to the 1992 European Cup Winners' Cup final.