Monaco, with a strong Portuguese contribution, are flying high in France.
Under former Braga, Olympiakos and Sporting coach Leonardo Jardim, the club from the principality are standing top of Ligue 1 at the time of writing and have booked their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League as Group E winners with a match to spare.
Jardim's success is shared with two compatriots, the highly talented Bernardo Silva and fellow Portuguese international João Moutinho, while former FC Porto icon Radamel Falcao has found a new lease of life after years of injury problems.
PortuGOAL spoke to French sports journalist Nicolas Basse, the Onefootball France coordinator and also the founder of the blog Serie A Mon Amour, who tells us how Jardim has overcome instability and prejudice to earn the respect of the French media.
When PortuGOAL spoke to Bernardo Silva a year ago we asked him what his objectives were for the season and he replied one of them was to finish 2nd in Ligue 1. At the time nobody questioned that PSG would win. Has that changed? Are Monaco genuine title candidates? If so, why?
Clearly, things have changed. With Unai Emery's arrival as PSG coach, the PSG project and game needs time to be structured and fluid. In France, we see that as an opportunity for Monaco and, to a lesser extent, for Nice, to fight to win Ligue 1. They are also candidates to lift the title also because Lyon and Marseille have had a bad start to Ligue 1 and don't seem consistent and strong enough to join the fight for the title.
What do you think are the main factors behind Monaco's improved form, both domestically and in Europe, this season?
When he replaced Ranieri, the local media was quite sceptical about him, even with his good results. The French press was saying "ok he has quite good results, but the game produced is ugly". They were not absolutely wrong but during the first years Jardim had to deal with an unclear transfer policy, with the best players sold and no stability in the team. Now, the French press, who always has some problems recognising the merit of foreign coaches, is unanimous. Jardim's work is admired and congratulated by all.
How do you assess Jardim's work at Monaco and his ability as a coach. Do you think he has the capacity to coach one of Europe's biggest clubs?
At Monaco Jardim has a big advantage, in that it is a discreet place, with not a lot of pressure (compared to PSG, Marseille or Lyon), and he can work "in peace". I think he managed something that is very hard to do: build a very balanced team. Strong defensively and strong offensively. During games, he often makes good substitutions and seems always calm.
The team is absolutely adhering to his project which is the goal of every coach. Could he coach a big European club? As a coach, yes. As a man, the only question would be, could he stand the pressure of a top club like Real Madrid, Inter Milan or Manchester United? But he is already coach of a top European club haha...
Throughout his career Jardim's teams have been characterised by having a very strong defence but not scoring many goals. This season Monaco have gone goal-crazy. Do you think Jardim has changed his approach?
Jardim didn't change his approach because he still has a very strong defence. This season is maybe goal-crazy with Monaco because for once he he can work with a stable squad and he's managed to create osmosis between offensive players.
Moving on to the Portuguese players, Bernardo Silva seems to be on top form. In Portugal many believe he can become a world-class player. Do you share that opinion?
I DO share this opinion. Bernardo Silva has everything to have a crazy player career. Speed, skills, crosses, lucidity, vision, assists and a good mentality. Even when he gets kicked because he dribbles around 3 or 4 players, he never complains and keeps playing his game. He is very mature for his age and gives very regular performances at a top level.
Bernardo has played wide, as a No. 10 and even as a second striker in his career. Where does he play at Monaco and what do you think is his best position.