After my critical piece on the first round of the Monaco-Fenerbahçe match-up, I received a lot of angry and hateful messages from Fenerbahçe fans. It is quite understandable that fans get angry seeing their team being criticized, especially when the team wins an important match. Nevertheless, true growth happens when criticism continues even after results are satisfactory. Unfortunately, there is no habit of questioning when it comes to football in Turkey, but it seems like the people in Monaco learned their lesson from the first game.
First of all, the most obvious threat to Fenerbahçe's chances of qualification was the defensive fragility exhibited in the first game. Even though the team managed to beat Monaco in the first round, the game was very close and it would not have been a surprise if Monaco had won. The reason why Fenerbahçe got away with their fragile defensive structure was that their opponent couldn't counter with challenging strategy. Monaco acted as a regular away team in the first match and left the initiative to Fenerbahçe, leaving Fenerbahçe's defense operative.
However, Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim saw the deficiencies in the Fenerbahçe defense that I mentioned in my previous piece and started the second game with an intense high-end press. This move not only crippled Fenerbahçe's long-ball game but also put the game in their opponent's penalty box. Added to that, the most crucial element of Fenerbahçe's strategy, Simon Kjaer, who was the unofficial playmaker of the team with his long balls, was injured in the first half and left the team totally rudderless. Even though Fenerbahçe coach Vitor Pereira's long-ball strategy was extremely superficial and simple, it was at least a strategy but Kjaer's absence signaled the end for Fenerbahçe.
On the other hand, it stunned me that Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim analyzed the first game so well and he changed his strategy, while his colleague Pereira tried to imitate the same game. The interesting point is, Simon Kjaer was injured throughout the week and still Pereira did not think it a good idea to create an alternative strategy.
Furthermore, the fact that the pitch, referees and suspensions went against Fenerbahçe does not justify this result, seeing as the game was pretty much in the middle. The determining factor, as I said, was that Monaco left no space and time for Fenerbahçe's defense to make long balls or to play the ball out from the back. Vitor Pereira's decision to split his team in two blocks created a huge gap between attack and defense, which is an amazing bonus for those who press intensely and put their defense close to their midfield.
Now, Fenerbahçe and Vitor Pereira must think about the viability of this strategy in both the Europa League and the Turkish Super League. It is now clear that the teams who do press can cripple Fenerbahçe easily, given the team has no sophisticated strategy to get out of such a press. Also, some sneaky counter-attacking teams can also use Fenerbahçe's offensive dullness to force them to leave even more space between the defense and hit them with quick attacks. Pereira must make up his mind and opt for a clear, sufficient and dominant strategy to compete with the top teams in both the Europa League and the Turkish Super League. He has the squad to do so, it is now up to him to make the best of it.