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Ligue 1 not just about PSG

Ligue 1
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Magical Monaco provide fearsome opposition for PSG, Manchester City

Back in December when the draw was made for the Champions League round of 16, there was a sense of relief among Manchester City fans their team would "only" face Monaco.

But if they have been watching what has been going on in France, they will surely feel more apprehensive, a fortnight before the first leg at the Etihad.

Monaco will offer a hell of an opposition to Pep Guardiola and his players. City might still go through, but they will have to play at their best over the two matches. This Monaco team, leading Ligue 1 three points clear of Paris Saint-Germain with 15 games to go, is very dangerous.

You don't score 100 goals in all competitions -- 68 in 23 league matches -- if you are ordinary. No other team has scored more than them in Europe's five big leagues. They are a scoring machine, netting for fun, with a perfectly balanced and modern 4-4-2 formation. They have two superb attacking full-backs in Djibril Sidibe on the right and Benjamin Mendy on the left, a technical player in Fabinho in central midfield and a more physical one, Tiemoue Bakayoko, next to him.

In addition, they have Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva regularly drifting inside and two strikers who complement each other perfectly with Valere Germain the unselfish runner and Radamel Falcao the top finisher, back to his best with 19 goals in all competitions.

Add a proper leader at the back, Kamil Glik, a solid goalkeeper in Danijel Subasic and talented options on the bench (Kylian Mbappe, Joao Moutinho, Almamy Toure and Boschillia) and it gives you a team with very few flaws, who have only lost four games all season.

They dominated Tottenham twice in the group stages at a time when Spurs were unbeaten in the Premier League and and Owen Hargreaves, the former England, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Manchester City midfielder, has been really impressed.

"It is a team of superstars. They play some great football and have some young players with incredible talent," he said in Le Parisien on Tuesday.

Coach Leonardo Jardim deserves a lot of credit for putting the team together. The Portuguese manager is a fascinating character. He never played professional football and instead he got a PE degree at the University of Madeira. For him, the ball is everything. Every fitness exercise is done with the ball. His philosophy is perfectly summed up a mantra he repeats regularly: "A pianist doesn't practise by running around his piano does he? It's the same for football."

Monaco have stormed to the top of Ligue 1 and have scored 100 goals already this season.

So far, it's working. Monaco will play Montpellier in the league next Tuesday evening in their 39th game of the season in all competitions but they are not showing any signs of tiredness. There is still the same energy, movement off the ball and the same overlaps.

The thing that has changed, though, is Monaco's position. From being the hunters behind Nice for most of the season, they are now the hunted with PSG after them.

"In football, it is always harder to hold a first place in the table than to go and get it," adds Jardim. The Monegasques, who are still in four competitions, are not used to it either. They have never been in this position since returning to the top flight in 2013.

Can nerves play a part in this exciting title race and derail Monaco? It is possible, although the older players have enough experience to cope with it and the younger ones have the insouciance of youth. They have an easier fixture list than PSG, who host Lille on Tuesday evening, with only Lyon away and St Etienne at home to play from the top six while PSG face Marseille away, Lyon at home, Nice away and St Etienne away. The Parisians, however, have one more home league game (eight against seven for Monaco) until the end of the season.

But PSG, like Manchester City, should fear this Monaco side.

"Both Unai Emery and Pep Guardiola know how dangerous this team is. No one would want to play them when they have all their key players available and when they are full of confidence and momentum like they are at the moment," adds former Arsenal ace Robert Pires.

No one can predict what the future holds but it will take something special to prevent Monaco from winning something this season.

Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.

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