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Monaco's Moreno in at the deep end with PSG coming up twice

PARIS (AP) — Robert Moreno is straight into the deep end in his first managerial role at club level, with Monaco facing back-to-back league games against dominant Paris Saint-Germain. Monaco travels to Paris on Sunday Jan. 12 before facing the defending champion three days later in a rearranged fixture. Monaco, which is owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, is in seventh place after recovering from a difficult start.

Moreno will be tasked with trying to close the five-point gap on third place — which secures a berth in the Champions League qualifying rounds — although the 10-point gap to Marseille in second spot and automatic qualification remains a long shot.

Moreno, who had a brief spell in charge of Spain during the qualifiers for next year's European Championship, is not concerned about his inexperience at managerial level. “I don’t think it will change much for me,“ the 42-year-old Spaniard said. “Over the past nine years I was an assistant, I took part in all the decision-making in a team playing at the top level, the only difference being that the visible face was someone else.“

Besides, Monaco's insistence made him feel valued. “I received a lot of offers after I left the national team. The project presented to me by Monaco was the best, offered me the most guarantees,“ he said. “I felt like I was their first option, that’s what motivated me.“

He's getting a crash-course introduction to the French league against free-scoring PSG. The defending champion is seven points clear of Marseille, with a game in hand. Coach Thomas Tuchel is starting games with four forwards: Kylian Mbappé, Neymar, Angel Di Maria and Mauro Icardi.

This is an even more frightening prospect considering Monaco's shaky defense is among the weakest, with 26 goals conceded in 18 games. Poor defending was a significant problem last season, too. Center half Kamil Glik's lack of pace has regularly been exposed, and Brazilian Jemerson remains inconsistent. Moreno may look to bolster his defense during January's transfer window.

His immediate task in midfield will be galvanizing former Spain and Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas. The 32-year-old Fabregas was a big signing when he joined last January, but his form has been mediocre.

Monaco looks strong in attack, though, with the prolific Wissam Ben Yedder topping the scoring charts with 13 goals and Islam Slimani leading the league with eight assists along with Di Maria. They have been well supported by attacking midfielder Aleksandr Golovin — one of Russia's best players at the 2018 World Cup — who has three goals and three assists.

The only other midfielder to have scored is Gelson Martins, also with three, so that is an area where Moreno may also strengthen. MORENO'S BACKGROUND Little is known to the wider soccer public about Moreno, who has mostly worked behind the scenes.

A former Barcelona club scout, he was a long-serving assistant to Luis Enrique at Roma, Celta Vigo and Barcelona, one reputed for his pioneering video analysis and expert understanding of the 4-4-2 system.

Moreno coached Spain for six games, with four wins and two draws helping the team qualify for Euro 2020. He was promoted from assistant coach when Enrique left to be with his ill nine-year-old daughter, who died last August from bone cancer.

But after Enrique was re-hired to lead Spain at Euro 2020, he excluded Moreno from his coaching staff, accusing Moreno of being “disloyal“ for not wanting him to regain the job until after the competition.

“I don’t want anybody with these characteristics in my staff,“ Enrique said. “Being overambitious is not a virtue, it’s a flaw.” Still, Enrique credited the work Moreno had done and Moreno was reportedly well appreciated by Spain's players during his brief stint.

Asked about his relationship with Enrique, Moreno said recently: “I spent nine exceptional years by his side. For me, what happened is in the past.“ JARDIM'S LEGACY Jardim leaves Monaco with a mixed legacy.

Although he was sacked twice in little more than one year, the club still owes him a lot. Jardim shaped young talents like Bernardo Silva, Mbappé and Benjamin Mendy, turning an inexperienced squad into one of the most entertaining teams in Europe in a successful 2016-17 season which produced over 150 goals. Monaco beat PSG by eight points to win the French title, and played dazzling attacking football in reaching the Champions League semifinals.

Jardim's plans the following season were hampered when the club sold Silva and Mendy to Manchester City, Mbappé to PSG and Tiémoué Bakayoko to Chelsea in a vast summer offload generating more than 300 million euros ($336 million).

He tried to rebuild but could not replicate the spark in a weakened side. Then, early into last season, he was sacked to make way as former France great Thierry Henry was thrust — ill prepared — into his first managerial role.

It backfired and, embarrassingly for the club, Jardim was re-hired to replace Henry and save Monaco from relegation. He managed that, but another poor start this season sealed his fate despite heading into the winter break with a 5-1 home win.

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