Tuesday 25 April 2017

Aguero on double to help City fight back in thriller

Man City 5 Monaco 3

Flair City: Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring his side’s third goal with Leroy Sane during last night’s thrilling Champions League clash at the Etihad. Photo: PA
Flair City: Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring his side’s third goal with Leroy Sane during last night’s thrilling Champions League clash at the Etihad. Photo: PA

Sam Wallace

Pep Guardiola came to Manchester City to create a dynasty of European success. Even if that never happens, he will at least be able to look back one day and say that February 21, 2017, at home to Monaco was a masterpiece of sorts.

Not perhaps the kind of masterpiece that a master controller like Guardiola usually prefers but a piece of attacking football from City that competes with anything they have done in this competition over the previous five seasons.

Radamel Falcao chips the ball over Willy Cabellero to score his second goal of the night. Photo: Getty
Radamel Falcao chips the ball over Willy Cabellero to score his second goal of the night. Photo: Getty

It was a classic cup tie in every respect and that City, 1-0 up, then twice behind to this fine Monaco side were able to come back to win by two clear goals said a lot about them.

There was a missed penalty from the visitors, and one that mystifyingly was never given to Sergio Aguero, and 10 bookings in a game of breathtaking technical accomplishment but it would be a shame to linger on the imperfections.

Aguero came roaring back to form with two goals and at the other end so too did Radamel Falcao, the Colombian who looked bust during two years in the Premier League and who scored a second that was close to perfect.

Passing

Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta and Monaco's Tiemoue Bakayoko leap for the ball. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City's Pablo Zabaleta and Monaco's Tiemoue Bakayoko leap for the ball. Photo: Reuters

Then it looked like City might go under, but they kept coming back. Their defence was run ragged by Falcao, yet John Stones emerged from it to score the fourth. City were passing through Monaco in the finest Guardiola traditions for the fourth, scored by Leroy Sane.

This was Champions League football of the deluxe version, with two attacking forces that comprised of some of the finest talents in the competition, be they 18 years old or a good deal more travelled than that.

The same could not always be said for the defences, in particular the one that Guardiola has bet the house on.

First of all, the worst decision of the half from the Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz - which will do nothing for the paranoia about Uefa that grips the Etihad at the best of times, including this evening when the old anthem was resolutely booed once again. Mateu Lahoz booked Aguero for diving when he went over the legs of Danijel Subasic in the penalty area on 34 minutes.

No argument that Aguero was on his way down as the Croatian's long legs swept towards him but then there was nowhere else to go. It should have been a penalty and with the score at 1-1, amid a captivating exchange between the two sides attacks, it felt like a crucial moment for City.

They had always looked vulnerable in defence and not just because Fernandinho was at left-back. The commitment to passing out from the back almost cost them in the early stages and, when they did clear the press with the longer ball, they looked much better for it.

The 18-year-old Mbappe, a France U-21 international, was born in 1998, albeit after France's World Cup victory of that year which gives you some perspective on his youth, although there is no question he is ready for this level.

He turned Nicolas Otamendi on 18 minutes and, by the time the Argentine was facing the right way, he might as well as have stopped to watch the disappearing teenager.

That was not to say that City did not have some good moments and Aguero should have got a foot to Kevin De Bruyne's pass with his right foot on 23 minutes that was hit instinctively without a glance upwards.

De Bruyne had his hands full battling the right-back Benjamin Mendy, another one of these French prodigies who look the part.

Then the breakthrough for Guardiola's team, from the left side where Sane twisted and turned and when he finally lost the ball was given it back by David Silva and crossed to Sterling to tuck one away from close range.

It looked offside at first glance but the Englishman was behind his fellow winger when the cross came in.

It felt like Monaco had a goal in them and it came on 32 minutes when Willy Caballero's distribution let him down again.

Dropped

From Fabinho to Bernardo Silva and back again, the ball was crossed from the right and Falcao headed in at the back post, his fifth in the last five games, and his fifth in six in the Champions League.

Then came the Aguero booking and perhaps City were still all at sea when, five minutes before the break, Fabinho dropped a simple ball over the home defence and Mbappe ran on to smash one past Caballero from close range.

Guardiola was shaking his head a lot by this stage although that one could not blame the Spanish referee.

Certainly Mateu Lahoz took his sweet time over the award of the penalty that Monaco missed within five minutes of the new half.

This was a relentless game and it seemed like no one was prepared to take their foot off the gas however intense it became.

Falcao was fouled as he reached for Mendy's cross on 48 minutes, tripped by Otamendi who - this time like every other time - seemed about three beats off the pace. The foul was spotted by the referee's assistant and, by the time Falcao stepped up to take the penalty, a few minutes had elapsed and the pitch cleared of whatever had been thrown on.

It was a terrible penalty and Caballero saved easily to his left. It was compounded by Subasic's dreadful error for the second City goal, a shot from Aguero after Sterling had run from inside his own half with the ball.

The Croatian goalkeeper never got behind what should have been an easy one to stop and it crept in at his near post.

With so many goals on the night, Falcao's second deserved to be remembered for a long time. He chased a punt into the left channel, held off Stones with sheer brute force, cut inside and then dinked a chip over Caballero.

It had all shades required for a great striker's goal.

Aguero's equaliser came 10 minutes later, a volley on the full from Silva's corner to the far post. Goodness knows, this was entertainment, but there was also a feeling that City had taken the best that Monaco had thrown and were back on top. They finally took the lead for the second time on the night on 77 minutes: a De Bruyne corner flicked on by Yaya Toure and finished at the back post by Stones.

The fifth from Sane was the best team move of the night, and that was saying something given what had gone before. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport