Cesc Fabregas almost had a dream debut for Monaco in the French league only for teammate Youri Tielemans to waste a late golden chance in a 1-1 draw at Marseille on Sunday.
Despite only signing from Premier League Chelsea on Friday, Fabregas went straight into the team and added poise and assurance to Monaco’s midfield.
In the first minute of injury time, Fabregas cleverly chipped the ball over the Marseille defense, only for Tielemans to drag his shot wide.
Watching from the sideline, Monaco coach Thierry Henry could barely contain his frustration. Still, it was an important point for 19th-placed Monaco in its relegation fight.
Next up for Henry’s Monaco is eighth-placed Nice at home on Wednesday, a match which pits Henry against his former Arsenal and France teammate Patrick Vieira, who is now coach of Nice. Both Henry and Vieira were also teammates of Fabregas when he started his Arsenal career late in 2003.
The 31-year-old Fabregas went on to become one of the finest midfielders in the Premier League with Arsenal and Chelsea. He won league titles with Chelsea and with Barcelona, as well as winning the World Cup and two European Championships with Spain.
He could prove a vital signing for Henry.
It was another midfielder, Maxime Lopez, who put Marseille ahead with a low strike in the 13th minute.
Marseille sat back waiting for halftime and was punished in the 38th when Belgium midfielder Tielemans swept home his fifth goal of the league season, following good work down the left by midfielder Aleksandr Golovin.
Golovin was one of Russia’s World Cup stars last year and should have put Monaco ahead in the 51st, but he sliced his shot wide after latching onto new signing Fode Ballo-Toure’s excellent pass from the left.
Monaco appeared to pay for that miss when Marseille winger Florian Thauvin pounced from close range in the 70th after goalkeeper Diego Benaglio saved a shot from Lucas Ocampos.
But referee Mikael Lesage ruled out the goal following a video review for an apparent foul by Ocampos on Benaglio as they challenged for the ball, even though it looked accidental.
Henry is still finding his feet in his first managerial role, and this was evident when he took off Ballo-Toure midway through the second half when he was one of Monaco’s best players.
Thauvin headed over seconds from the end as ninth-placed Marseille almost snatched a win.
MONTPELLIER MISSES OUT
Montpellier missed the chance to move up to third place after drawing 1-1 at relegation-threatened Dijon.
Defender Damien Le Tallec earned a point for Montpellier with a 61st-minute equalizer, shortly after striker Wesley Said put 18th-placed Dijon ahead in new coach Antoine Kombouare’s first game in charge.
Montpellier’s draw leaves it fifth and two points ahead of sixth-placed Strasbourg, which has played a game more.
Defending champion Paris Saint-Germain is 13 points clear of second-placed Lille, having played two games less, with Lyon 17 points behind PSG in third place.
Strasbourg kept its consistent start to the season with a 2-1 win at Toulouse. Midfielder Ibrahima Sissoko grabbed the winner midway through the second half.
RENNES WINS AGAIN
Defender Damien Da Silva was involved at both ends of the field as seventh-placed Rennes won 1-0 at Nantes.
He put Rennes ahead with a glancing header from forward Hatem Ben Arfa’s free kick after 13 minutes. Ben Arfa has set up both his goals this season.
With Nantes pushing for an equalizer during a frantic second half, Da Silva appeared to block a goal-bound shot with his arm. Claims for a penalty were dismissed by referee Ruddy Buquet, whose video assistants either did not spot the infraction or deemed it an accidental handball.
Then, in the closing stages, Da Silva made a legitimate block to keep Nantes at bay.
Earlier, Buquet had consulted VAR to rule out a sixth-minute Nantes goal from defender Diego Carlos for a handball.
Rennes coach Julien Stephan – who is the son of France’s World Cup-winning assistant coach Guy Stephan – has made a great start to his fledgling managerial career with four straight league wins.
This hard-fought victory ensured continued bragging rights for Rennes over 11th-placed Nantes, which has not beaten Rennes at home in 14 years.