"The only thing I need is to play regularly," Monaco's Radamel Falcao said after maintaining his awesome European goalscoring form – but will he be fit to torment Villarreal again?
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A UEFA Europa League-winning hero with Porto and Atlético Madrid, Radamel Falcao has experienced plenty of frustration as he bids to establish himself as one of the world's great strikers, with Monaco once more receiving a demonstration of what the Colombian international can do.
Two goals in their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round success against Fenerbahçe returned El Tigre to the footballing map after two well-publicised wilderness years spent on loan at Manchester United and then Chelsea. The games against the Turkish side were his first in UEFA competition since he featured in the UEFA Europa League for Atlético in 2013.
"I took confidence from the goals I scored," he said after Monaco made it through to the play-offs to take on Villarreal – a side he scored against five times with Porto in the 2010/11 UEFA Europa League semi-finals. "I am feeling good – I feel fine. The only thing I need is to play regularly. My body will adapt to the competitive rhythm quickly."
However, those who have tracked Falcao's career in recent years will not be surprised to hear that the striker is already being ruled unlikely to play in the opening leg of the play-offs, having come off before half-time in the Fenerbahçe decider. He missed the 2014 FIFA World Cup with a serious knee injury, and a succession of knocks played their part in robbing Falcao of a chance to impress in England.
"I'm very happy to be back in Monaco," he said earlier this summer, committing to rebuilding his reputation back at Stade Louis II. Coach Leonardo Jardim called Falcao "one of the top strikers in the world". His two goals against Fenerbahçe underlined that point; he has now scored 40 goals in 44 UEFA club competition games – his strike-rate of 0.91 goals per UEFA game is the best of any player in European history*.
The bulk of those goals – and appearances – have come in the UEFA Europa League, though, and Falcao's return of five goals from 36 Premier League appearances over the past two seasons has called many to question whether he can be truly counted as one of the world's greats. To date he has made only ten UEFA Champions League appearances (including qualifying), scoring six times. Outstanding but not amazing.
However, that greatness remains in him. Not without reason did Josep Guardiola once brand him "the world's best striker inside the penalty box". On his day, few players fight so fiercely for scraps, and finish so effectively. "He is the best header of the ball in the world," said former Atlético team-mate Gabi, while Fabio Capello said only Lionel Messi had impressed him more on first sight that Falcao.
Monaco can only hope that this season he can prove his admirers right.
* UEFA club competitions = UEFA Champions League/European Champion Clubs' Cup, UEFA Europa League/UEFA Cup, UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, UEFA Super Cup, UEFA Intertoto Cup, European/South American Cup; only players who have featured in 20 or more matches in the competitions are included for this calculation