Manchester City 5 - Monaco 3: Manchester City still can’t defend — and after conceding three goals at home they still aren’t certain to go through — but who really cares when Pep Guardiola’s men can produce a performance like this which must go down as one of the greatest Champions League ties of all time?
Ravaged at times by Radamel Falcao, who scored one of the competition’s great goals to put his side 3-2 up, City nevertheless completed a quite remarkable 5-3 victory against very strong opposition thanks to two goals from Sergio Aguero and further contributions from Raheem Sterling and John Stones and Leroy Sane.
It means they head to Monaco on March 15 still in with a big chance of reaching the quarter-finals for the second year in a row and with supporters beginning to believe that the Guardiola era really could be as exciting as they were promised.
“A lot of things happened but in the moment we were lucky,” Guardiola said. “We were stable mentally. The old and young guys in the team played amazing. To live this experience helps us a lot in the future.
“Monaco has more history than us in the competition and you need this kind of experience to learn and improve. Of course anything can happen in Monaco and we have to score goals.
“The result is ok. It could be better, could be worse, but it is what it is.”
So much money has been spent at the Etihad in a bid to conquer Europe that this was the kind of night when all the world was watching to see if Pep Guardiola’s team are ready to take that mantle; and although there were mixed answers the overall sensation was one of pure elation as the Spaniard’s team proved they have the attacking talent and the passion to succeed even if the defence is perennially wobbly.
Before kick-off Guardiola described Monaco as “the most successful team in Europe in terms of scoring goals” and admitted he feared their “killer strikers” and although he was proved right you could use those exact same phrases to describe City’s side after a night that had everything.
The French visitors, who beat Tottenham twice in the group stage, arrived in Manchester as the highest-scoring team in any of Europe’s main leagues with 76 goals in 28 games, 19 of them coming from striker Falcao who certainly had a point to prove to English supporters.
He, remember, was something of a flop on loan to United where he managed only four goals in 31 games - and was even worse at Chelsea where he barely made it off the bench.
But the Colombian was something special in this match and for long periods looked like being the game’s most important player.
City did take the lead - Leroy Sane’s excellent run down the left resulting in a low cross which Sterling turned home from close range after 26 minutes. But even at that stage the scoreline didn’t tell the whole story.
Monaco created at least five chances in the opening 20 minutes despite having only 35 per cent possession and deserved their equaliser when Caballero’s misplaced clearance resulted in Falcao scoring with a diving header.
That was defensive mistake number one.
By half-time the visitors were ahead - this time Kylian Mbappe (a player described in the French press as the ‘new Henry’) getting down the side of the City defence far too easily and finishing the move with a flashing drive across the home keeper. Defensive mistake number two.
City did, however, have reason to be furious with Spanish referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz who not only waved away strong penalty appeals from Aguero at 1-1 when he was brought down attempting to round keeper Subasic - but also handed the striker a yellow card for diving. The decision, to say the least, was harsh.
The referee was the centre of controversy again in the second half when he awarded Monaco a penalty for a foul by Nicolas Otamendi on Falcao as the striker stretched to reach an excellent ball in from the left. The official was probably the only person in the ground who spotted a foul – but thankfully for City, Caballero saved Falcao’s powderpuff penalty to keep his side in the tie.
City went into this match without new hero Jesus following his injury at Bournemouth last week but also without key defenders Vincent Kompany, Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov – all ruled out within the last seven days - and it left them with little option but to attack.
That made for an enjoyable all-action evening and although you wonder if the pace of the game played into Monaco’s hands, there was a feeling of elation at the Etihad when Aguero eventually equalised in the 58th minute minute.
It came after another lightning-quick break but also owed a lot to a terrible mistake from keeper Subasic who allowed the Argentine striker’s bobbling shot –to slip into the net.
This was Aguero’s 19th goal of the season – despite recent stories that he isn’t rated by Guardiola – but I was soon overshadowed by Falcao’s wonderful chip which put Monaco back in front and underlined that defending and not attacking is by far the biggest problem in this half of Manchester.. The Colombian may be 31 but he made mincemeat of Stones before exquisitely lifting a beautiful effort over Caballero’s head.
There’s no doubt Stones should have done better but what City fans can’t complain about, however, is their team’s passion and belief – because somehow they still turned the game around.
First, Aguero volleyed his side level with 20 minutes to go and then Stones, of all people, turned home a corner at the far post to send the Etihad into raptures. There was still time for Sane to tap home a fifth – and for Monaco to miss a chance at the other end – as a sensational night of football finally came to an end.
If the football world was, as Guardiola claimed, watching this tie closely and itching to pass judgement on his side, the only conclusion anyone could reach was this breathtaking match was one of the greatest of all time – between two wonderful attacking teams.
Can City defend? Can they really win every match this way? Probably not. But on this occasion that really isn’t something to complain about.
Caballero 6, Fernandinho 6 (Zabaleta 62; 6), Stones 6, Otamendi 5, Sagna 6, De Bruyne 7, Toure 7, Silva 7, Sterling 7 (Navas 89), Aguero 8 (Fernando 87), Sane 8. Subs: Bravo, Nolito, Delph, Iheanacho.
Subasic 5, Mendy 8, Raggi 6, Glik 7, Sidibe 7, Bakayoko 6, Fabinho 7, Mbappe 8 (Germain 79; 6), Lemar 7, Bernardo Silva 7 (Moutinho 85), Falcao 9. Subs: De Sanctis, Dirar,, Carrillo,, Diallo, Toure.
Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz (Spain)
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