Portugal midfielder Rony Lopes will be hoping that 2019 proves to be a lot more productive than 2018, after finally returning to action for Monaco this weekend after four months on the sidelines through injury.

The former Benfica youngster, who missed out on Portugal’s World Cup squad last summer, was laid low with a thigh tear in September. Initially expected to only miss a small chunk of the season, it has been a long and disrupted recovery process for Lopes

However, the nightmare was finally over this week, with Lopes included in Monaco coach Thierry Henry’s squad for Monaco's trip to Canet Roussillon in the Coupe de France on Sunday. Lopes was introduced for the last quarter of the match, emerging on 67 minutes as his team progressed into the next round thanks to an early goal from Moussa Sylla.

The return of the Seleção midfielder is sure to be a huge boost for the struggling Monegasques, who have suffered a horrific season in Ligue 1. Portuguese coach Leonardo Jardim, who won the league and cup double with Monaco in 2017, was dismissed in October but results have scarcely improved since then and the team are four points adrift of safety in the relegation zone.

Relapse frustration

Lopes has been out since early September when a thigh injury forced him off during Portugal’s match with Croatia. Lopes was initially expected to return in November but suffered various relapses that have forced his comeback into the New Year. The midfielder's introduction on Sunday came as Monaco issued a debut to experienced Brazilian defender Naldo, who has been drafted in to help Henry’s men beat the drop.

Last season was Lopes’ true breakthrough year in football, having learned his trade for three seasons with Lille after leaving Manchester City in 2014. The Brazilian-born midfielder hit 15 goals in Ligue 1 for Monaco last term, announcing himself as one of the brightest emerging talents in French football.

Having recently signed a new contract at Monaco tying himself to the club until 2022, Lopes will be hoping to find similar form between now and the end of the season to save his team from the unthinkable threat of relegation from the French top flight.

By Sean Gillen

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“These players have worked in an exemplary manner. We don't have time to create combinations, sometimes the football isn't perfect like we want it to be, but the players believe in the coach. I thought this was the best way to win the game.”

Fernando Santos
(Portugal coach after beating Netherlands in the Nations League final to conquer Europe for the second time in three years)