DAVID SHONFIELD: Reborn Radamel Falcao big threat to City prospects

The Champions League scripts department has been doing some clever rewrites lately.

Fifteen goals in the first four games of the knock-out round set a new record last week.

Another goal rush could be on the cards this week, starting with Manchester City and Monaco this evening.

City’s goal count in the league has just topped 50, and if there were a trophy for missed chances they would already have won it.

Monaco have scored 76 — three goals a game — led by a revived Radamel Falcao, who seems determined to make up for lost time and has been scoring at a rate of one every 81 minutes.

Falcao is no longer the explosive striker he was at Atletico Madrid, but is sharper inside the box, and once more scoring consistently even if against weaker opposition.

Against Tottenham in the group stage he was a more intermittent threat, and had a penalty saved by Hugo Lloris, so there’s a question as to whether he can make an impact against an erratic Manchester defence. Monaco can also be a threat in the air, with the tall Argentinian Guido Carillo.

A third option is Kylian Mbappe, only just 18, who has impressed so much as a substitute this season that there is talk of Falcao moving to China in the summer and Mbappe taking over. The youngster has scored two hat-tricks since the start of December.

Part of the script for this tie should have been a comparison between Mbappe and City’s teenager Gabriel Jesus, injured against Bournemouth last week. We still have the contest between the two former Atletico strikers, Falcao and Sergio Aguero, which ought to motivate them both.

Monaco’s real strength, however, is their young midfield in which Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva have caught the eye. 

Their energy and passing, alongside the strength of Tiemoue Bakayoko and the vision of the Joao Moutinho gave Tottenham a torrid time and have overpowered a lot of sides in Ligue 1.

Monaco have scored four or more in 11 matches. They put 12 goals past Metz in two games and scored eight in their double against Marseille. Nancy and Montpellier were hit for six. They have also had the better of Paris Saint-Germain, winning 3-1 at home back in August and drawing 1-1 at the Parc des Princes.

That second game three weeks ago is the more relevant because PSG are a significantly stronger side now, as they demonstrated so convincingly against Barcelona.

Monaco went behind to a penalty late on against PSG, but equalised in stoppage time, and, if anything, the balance of play was just in their favour. They had more goal attempts and looked dangerous down the flanks and at set-pieces.

PSG were weakened by the absence of Marco Verratti, so decisive against Barcelona, but the match will still have flashed up warnings for Pep Guardiola about Monaco’s energy in midfield and the way PSG were caught offside.

Guardiola is of course far more experienced in Europe than Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim. 

Yet, as he showed against Arsenal in a 3-1 win two years ago this week, Jardim is a clever tactician who prepares his players to exploit opposition weaknesses.

Jardim, like Guardiola, has the personality to win players’ confidence. In Portugal, he achieved a record 15 consecutive wins with Braga and took them to third place in the table. 

Later, at Sporting, he broke the domination of Porto and Benfica with a young attacking side.

In between those two jobs, he had a short spell in Greece with Olimpiacos, which was suddenly cut short when he was sacked, despite the club being unbeaten and 10 points clear. 

There were unlikely stories in the Greek press about Jardim having an affair with the Olimpiacos president’s wife. What is true is that he fell out with the board at two of his previous (Portuguese) clubs, as well as Olimpiacos. 

And only last summer it seemed that Monaco’s Russian owners might decide to terminate his contract because of ‘internal conflicts’.

With Monaco topping Ligue 1, they are a lot happier now. And in the wake of PSG’s great result last week, French optimism about the Champions League is clearly on the up.



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