Pep Guardiola’s men emerged victorious from an 8 goal thriller against a fearless Monaco side, in what has gone down as one of the greatest Champions League matches in history.
From a neutral’s perspective, it doesn’t get any better than this – 8 goals, a missed penalty, goalkeeping errors, unfair refereeing and both sides playing as if defending was never on the agenda. At 5-3, this tie is far from over and like Guardiola said, City will have to score if they wish to progress.
And score they can, as they prove tonight. Aguero, Sane, Sterling all got on the score sheet. Even John Stones got in on the action (likely because he wasn’t faring so well in defence) and he scored City’s 4th, a goal that was essentially the winner.
Aguero was unfairly booked for diving after being clearly brought down in the penalty box, but Karma came to the rescue and allowed him to get on the score-sheet twice, as Subasic’s blunder and a mental lapse from Sidibe while ‘marking’ him allowed him to bring his side back on level terms.
Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva and the rest of Europe’s most wanted players took the time to remind the world what the hype was all about. They dismantled City’s midfield and defence on more than one occasion and ultimately, it was their inexperience that proved to be their undoing.
However, this tie hardly over, far from it in fact. If so much can happen in 90 minutes in the first leg, the second leg at the Stade Louis II promises to be an even more exciting clash as both teams have everything to play for.
Drama was ever present throughout the 90 minutes and didn’t subside till the final whistle was blown, much to the relief of the coaches and to our dismay. We take a look back at some of the major talking points and things we learnt from Manchester City’s victory over Monaco.
Costly Errors Haunt Monaco
Early in the second half, Nicolas Otamendi brought down Radamel Falcao in the City box in a bid to stop the Colombian from getting on the end of a delicious cross from Mendy. The Argentine would be booked for his troubles and after sometime, a penalty would be awarded to the visitors.
Monaco’s 31-year-old Captain stepped up, and made a complete mess of it. It was a low, weak shot not far from the center of the goal and Caballero was handed an absolute gift. That penalty save was the start of City’s resurgence and the hosts never looked back after that.
Around 19 minutes later, Monaco were made to pay for that missed opportunity after Raheem Sterling played a wonderful ball to Sergio Aguero upfront, who took a shot at Danijel Subasic’ near post. It came right at the Croatian, but it slipped from his hands and landed in the back of net.
Sergio Aguero’s second goal of the night and City’s third. was largely thanks to momentary mental lapse from Djibril Sidibe, who was marking him at the far post. Silva’s corner kick dropped perfectly for Aguero, who smashed it into the bottom corner whilst Sidibe was behind him, ball watching.
These silly errors cost the Monégasques. Each of these errors were avoidable and had Monaco kept their heads about them, City would’ve just lost the match 3-1. It will be interesting to see whether these mistakes come to haunt them in the second leg at the Stade Louis II.
City’s Shot-stopper Stumper
There is a desperate need for a new first-choice shot stopper at the Etihad, that much was clear going into the match. Willy Caballero’s display against the visitors further emphasized the fact, even if he did manage to slightly redeem himself with a penalty save and some late heroics.
Given City’s insistence on playing the ball from the back, the Argentine attempted to play the ball to Fernandinho on the left flank, but instead it fell to Bernardo Silva, who passed it wide to Fabinho. The Brazilian put in a stunning cross to Falcao who equalized with a diving header. 1-1.
Apart from that, he didn’t close down Kylian Mbappe’s well or fast enough which allowed the French teenager to give his side a short-lived lead. Claudio Bravo’s troubles this season have been well documented and letting Joe Hart leave looks like a bigger mistake each passing week.
Perhaps a continuous run of games will help Caballero improve his form, but he cannot be considered a long term option. Guardiola’s only other goalkeeper is 21-year-old Angus Gunn who likely won’t be considered an option unless both Caballero and Bravo are unavailable at the same time.
Sane & Sergio Shine
In all his years at City, it is unlikely that Aguero would have ever been left out of the squad like he has been this season under Guardiola. The arrival of Gabriel Jesus has threatened his starting spot at the Etihad and it likely he only started this tie due to the Brazilian’s injury.
The last time he scored in the Champions League was back in September in the group stage. Since then, it had been over 500 minutes without a goal in Europe’s biggest competition. If that wasn’t enough pressure, he was falsely booked for diving early on in the game.
He has also been linked with a move away from Manchester City for a while now, but his performance on the night served as a perfect reminder to Guardiola, that he couldn’t write him off just yet. 2 goals and an assist for Leroy Sane’s goal showed just what the Argentine was capable of.
Both Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane were brilliant for Guardiola’s side on the night. All eyes may have been on Monaco’s youngsters going into this tie, but City’s young wingers showed maturity well beyond their years and were the focal points of nearly every City move going forward.
Sane, only 21, was arguably City’s best player. It would suffice to say that he has has surpassed expectations this season, as many expected him to be signing ‘for the future’. Now one of the first names on Guardiola’s team sheet, he already has 4 goals and 3 assists in 20 appearances this term.
Sane first set up Sterling’s opener with a superb run, getting past 2 defenders, playing the old ‘one-two- with Silva in the box before squaring it off for Raheem Sterling to tap it in. In the 82nd minute he would score City’s 5th goal, finishing City’s best move of the night with an easy tap in.
Sterling and Sane, despite not having the best of fullbacks to cover for them, did a superb job. Guardiola will once again be relying heavily on his dynamic young duo to help lead Manchester City side as far as they can in the Premier League, and in the short term, past Monaco in the second leg.
Monaco’s Young Guns Justify Widespread Interest
AS Monaco have a fantastic young side, comprising the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar, and Tiemoue Bakayoko who are all 22 years of age, or younger. The media is rife with news and rumours linking them away from the Ligue 1 and this performance showed why.
Leonardo Jardim’s young men, led by Radamel Falcao, put in a fearless performance and very nearly got the better of one of England’s best and most expensively assembled teams, led by one of the world’s best managers.
Kylian Mbappe was a constant menace to City’s defence with a pace and finished with aplomb after leaving his marker for dead. Bernardo Silva wowed those at the Etihad with a wide range of passing, technical ability and brilliant footwork.
Mendy and Sidibe, along with their wingers doubled up on City’s fullbacks and Fernandinho and Bacary Sagna were left chasing their heels for most of the night. In midfield, Fabinho had a superb game alongside Bakayoko, restricting DeBruyne and Silva’s influence as much as they could.
So it comes as no surprise that nearly every major European club wants a piece of this young and exciting squad. Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea have all been linked with their players and at the end of the season, Monaco are surely going to find it difficult to keep a hold of a lot of their players.
Vintage El Tigre
Albeit he did not end up on the winning night, the Colombian hitman had a superb game, barring that horrid attempt at a penalty. It was Falcao’s first game in England since leaving Chelsea at the end of last season and what a return it was.
He scored a superb diving header to get his side back up level in the 32nd minute. He would later see his weak penalty saved by Caballero. In the second half with the scores 2-2, Falcao gave his side the lead with a stunning strike.
A long range pass from Thomas Lemar found the Colombian international on the left flank, where he held off a challenge from John Stones whilst cutting into his right and producing an exquisite chip over the head of Caballero after catching the Argentine off his line.
It was vintage Falcao, the one who had the world at his feet prior to his knee injury nearly 3 years ago. After two failed loan spell in both Manchester United and Chelsea, the 31-year-old has 23 goals in all competitions this term and is currently spearheading Monaco’s Ligue 1 title charge.
Had he put away that penalty and made it 3-1, the scoreline would have likely been a different one. It was after the penalty save that the Citizens gained confidence and momentum. However, with 90 minutes still left to play, Falcao still has time to make amends.
We can expect the Citizens to put extra focus on the Colombian in the second leg after having experienced first-hand what he is capable of. Needless to say, the former Atletico Madrid striker’s finishing, experience and leadership will be key to his side’s chances at the Stade Louis II.
Fernandinho’s Fullback Experiment
Going back to Guardiola’s goalkeeping problems this year, they have only been compounded by the fact that he hasn’t finalised on a regular back-four for his side. Barring John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, he has tried to utilise nearly all his defenders at positions other than their own.
Despite Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksandar Kolarov and Gael Clichy all available, Guardiola chose to play Fernandinho at left-back. Whilst the Brazilian did fairly well as a fullback in victories against Swansea and Bournemouth, those 180 minutes weren’t nearly enough to prepare him for AS Monaco.
The 31-year-old did the best he possibly could have, but this won’t do if City go forward in the competition and face more experienced and better sides, and Guardiola knows it. It wasn’t something Monaco would have expected going into this tie, but will certainly hope to exploit in the second leg.
It is still unclear why Guardiola insisted on playing Fernandinho at fullback for such an important tie. Perhaps he has taken a leaf out of his former club Barcelona’s book, who have resorted to playing midfielder Sergi Roberto at right-back for most of the current campaign.
Experience and Endurance Won This Battle
In the end, experience, endurance and the sheer will of the Citizens played a large part in helping them win this match. Guardiola’s men were mature enough to not lose their focus despite going down twice in the match and in that respect, the visitors’ lack of mental strength was evident.
The Citizen’s received a boost in confidence after Falcao’s missed penalty and maintained their focus throughout the game post that incident. Fatigue too, played a role in deciding this tie in the latter stages. City had that advantage, playing in league that far more physical, competitive and faster.
The visitors just began looking worn out – lapses in concentration, defensive errors, they weren’t as quick to press as before and this combined with a loss in confidence can spell disaster, as City took a mere 10 minutes after Aguero’s equalizer to put the game beyond Monaco’s reach.