Radamel Falcao celebrated his return from injury with a sharply taken goal as French league leader Monaco scraped a 1-0 win at Angers on Saturday.
Falcao missed the last four games with a hip injury and lacked fitness. But when his chance came in the 61st minute, courtesy of a clever pass from midfielder Nabil Dirar, he buried it into the right corner for his 25th goal of the season, including 17 in 23 league games.
“Falcao’s a great player,” Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim said. “He helped out the team in attack and in defense.”
Falcao spent the past two seasons on loan to Manchester United and Chelsea, where he had a miserable time as he struggled to recover from a serious knee injury, and nearly went on loan again this season.
The club decided to give him another chance, and he has blossomed into a natural leader as captain. His commitment to the club was underlined by the way he jumped into Jardim’s arms at the final whistle.
Monaco lost the French League Cup final to Paris Saint-Germain 4-1 last weekend and needed this win to maintain its momentum in a hard fought French title race. Monaco is four points clear of Nice and six ahead of defending champion PSG.
This was Monaco’s 51st game of the season and tiredness is beginning to creep in, with coach Leonardo Jardim juggling players ahead of the Champions League quarterfinal against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.
“We have two days to recover. It’s not easy but we’re playing in every competition,” said Jardim, whose side is also through to the French Cup semifinals.
Mid-table Angers rarely concedes goals at home and gave Monaco a hard time, going close to scoring in the first half and shutting down Monaco’s silky midfield with its relentless harrying.
Monaco improved after the break and midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko blazed over from close range in the 50th.
Then, Dirar broke down the right and showed great awareness to cut the ball back to Falcao, who stabbed the ball home for Monaco’s 133rd goal in all competitions this season – and one of the most valuable.
Angers goalkeeper Alexandre Letellier then made a stunning close-range save to tip over Falcao’s firm downward header with 20 minutes left, moments after making a brilliant double save from striker Valere Germain and winger Thomas Lemar.
Monaco goalie Danijel Subasic threw himself at striker Famara Diedhiou’s feet to make a crucial block in the closing stages as Monaco held on after five minutes of injury time.
“To win this type of game you need mental strength, collective strength, and individual strength,” Jardim said.
Monaco certainly has those qualities, and the pressure is on PSG not to drop points on Sunday against Guingamp, which was the last team to beat PSG, 2-1 at home just before Christmas.
Later Saturday, fourth-place Lyon was at home to 19th-place Lorient.
In other matches, it was: Bordeaux vs. Metz; Caen vs. Montpellier; Dijon vs. Bastia, and Nancy vs. Rennes.
Toulouse hosts Marseille and Saint-Etienne faces Nantes in Sunday’s other games.
Nice kept its title going with a 2-1 win away to Lille on Friday, thanks to two goals from striker Mario Balotelli.