With two wins from two matches, it seems life in Ligue 1 is going swimmingly for AS Monaco and Radamel Falcao so far. The Colombian has scored two goals in Les Monegasques’ opening two fixtures, and the team sit second in Le Championnat’s early-season table.
The predicted preseason title race between ASM and defending champions Paris Saint-Germain is yet to materialise with the capital club experiencing their traditional slow start to the season. Of course, two matches can mean little in the grand scheme of things, but if Falcao and his new teammates maintain their current pace, they will be difficult to prevent from winning the French crown.
Despite his two goals in two matches though, Monaco’s impressive early season form is not solely down to "El Tigre." In fact a lesser-known player, not renowned for his prolific exploits, is pushing the 27-year-old into the shadows of the Stade Louis II at present.
That man is Emmanuel Riviere. The Frenchman has four goals from his first two matches and has gone from starting the season opener against Bordeaux on the substitutes’ bench to starting the second against Montpellier at home alongside Falcao.
At 23 years old, Riviere is a player who was once heralded as one of the brightest young stars in the French game. Starting his career at Saint-Etienne, his vibrant early performances and a number of goals for the first team attracted interest from Arsenal and Liverpool at the age of 21, according to Sky Sports' Giscard Gourizro.
However, the youngster touted as the next Thierry Henry when he first burst onto the scene then moved to Toulouse. After a less than prolific two-year spell there, he dropped into Ligue 2 with Monaco in January and did not exactly set the world alight with four goals in 14 appearances. Now, though, he has already equalled that tally and is Claudio Ranieri’s leading goalscorer so far this season.
Falcao won’t be sweating on his role in the first team too much right now; this is a player who has never hit double figures in a season after all (h/t to Ligue1.com for stats). But there can be no doubting that the Frenchman has shown up his new teammate in his opening few matches.
In the first game of the campaign at Bordeaux, Monaco looked in danger of being unable to break down their hosts’ resolute defence for 82 minutes until Riviere came on for the final 19. After that, the side from the Principality started to create more chances, and Falcao finally got his goal rather fortuitously five minutes after Riviere’s.
Both strikes had a large slice of luck involved, although there was nothing lucky about Falcao’s finish, but Ranieri’s side looked distinctly average. The team lost its way after a bright early spell, and the Colombian was reduced to the role of spectator for a large portion of the match, although he did come alive after scoring his goal.
It was a different story for the team against Montpellier a week later, but still the same story for the former Atletico Madrid man. Once again the main threat for Les Monegasques came from either side, with Lucas Ocampos and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco in fine form, and Falcao saw few chances come his way.
The man from Santa Marta did get a goal on his home debut, smashing in an 18th-minute penalty, but he contributed little else of note. Instead, his strike partner, Riviere, was finding himself in all the right positions that Falcao should have been in. The Frenchman also displayed the same cold-blooded instincts in front of goal that have made the South American predator such a feared opponent in world football.
That said, there have only been two games played, and scoring in each of your opening two performances in a new league is still an impressive achievement. While it has not been a totally flawless start to life in France, it has been as close to perfect as Falcao, Ranieri and Monaco could have hoped it would be.
ASM have had to cope with a number of absences, particularly that of Joao Moutinho through injury, who will no doubt be a key player for the side this season. Once the Portuguese schemer is fit and can be integrated into the starting XI, Falcao will likely come to the fore more than he has done so far.
While it might be frustrating being put in the shade by someone he did not expect to challenge him from within the Monaco side, Riviere’s emergence is a blessing in disguise for Falcao. The Colombian continues to adapt to Ligue 1 without feeling the heavy weight of responsibility of being the side’s main goalscorer. It also takes the pressure off of him as attention is focused on Edinson Cavani, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and PSG’s stuttering start to the season instead.
There were few, if any, who predicted that Monaco would fly out of the blocks and make such an impressive start to the season, though.