Tuesday 27 June 2017

Defensive frailties come back to haunt Guardiola

Monaco 3 Manchester City 1 (Agg: 6-6 Monaco win on away goals)

Fabinho
Fabinho

Jason Burt

Close to the casinos of Monte Carlo, Pep Guardiola went for broke. And bust.

The Manchester City manager gambled with an attacking line-up but was outscored and outplayed as Monaco claimed their place in the Champions League quarter-finals.

Incredibly, it means Leicester City are the last men standing for the Premier League after Guardiola's 100th match in European competition ended in crushing disappointment.

Never before has he exited the Champions League this early in the competition and the recriminations will ring long and hard.

So should the celebration of this marvellous, attacking Monaco side who have now scored 126 goals in 47 matches this season.

They rolled the dice, too, and they went for it. Kill or be killed, Guardiola said, and it was City who suffered with some suicidal defending playing its part. He has questions to answer.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters

Rarely has a match been met with such expectation: an expectation of goals.

The French League leaders have been averaging more than three goals at home and that air of expectation swelled as kick-off arrived.

Rejuvenated

But there was a blow for Monaco when the rejuvenated Radamel Falcao, such an outstanding presence in the first-leg, was ruled out through injury.

Manchester City's Sergio Aguero reacts after a missed chance. Photo: Eric Gaillard/Reuters
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero reacts after a missed chance. Photo: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

If that was a boost to City then they were almost immediately reminded of the incredible threat Monaco posed.

They scored. And it came from, of course, the brilliantly precocious 18-year-old forward Kylian Mbappe, who turned the ball home from close range as he met Bernardo Silva's precise low cross.

Monaco tore at City. Mbappe had already come close when he was released by captain Valere Germain, who had caught Fernandinho dawdling in possession, with Willy Caballero rushing out to turn his shot away.

It was from the resulting corner that Monaco struck, after Silva's original shot was blocked by John Stones.

As Silva crossed the ball, three team-mates had strayed offside, but not Mbappe, who claimed his 11th goal in 11 games - the 37th home game in a row that Monaco had scored - and evidently looked set for more.

Manchester City's Sergio Aguero shoots at goal. Photo: Eric Gaillard/Reuters
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero shoots at goal. Photo: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

Indeed, he had the ball in the net again, with a powerful drive across Caballero, but had marginally strayed offside this time, much to City's relief.

The visitors had to gain a foothold but kept surrendering possession. Time and again. They were pushed back, looked slow, almost lightweight, with the irrepressible Fabinho and Tiemoue Bakayoko dominating midfield and a chance opening up for Germain but his rising shot cleared the crossbar.

Again it stemmed from a mistake by Fernandinho, who was being overrun in the centre, losing the ball.

The warning was there, but City did not take heed. Mbappe broke cleverly down the left from halfway, linking with Thomas Lemar, who picked out the overlapping Benjamin Mendy to cross the ball superbly for the onrushing Fabinho, who crashed a side-footed shot past Caballero.

The defending was appalling. Collectively and individually.

As things stood, City were out. They needed a goal, as Guardiola had predicted although he could not have expected his team to start as badly and continue to play as badly as this.

They were being outplayed, overrun, overpowered, destroyed with the only possible consolation being that they surely could not play any worse than this.

The half-time whistle came as a relief. The City fans cheered their team off. It was a desperate call for them to lift themselves.

There had been no threat from City, with just one touch inside the Monaco penalty area in that first half and although there were no changes in personnel when the game resumed there was a change in approach.

City finally showed some intent. Finally they gained some control in Monaco's half; provided some threat with David Silva more prominent and Kevin De Bruyne springing Raheem Sterling inside the area. Everyone appeared to stop but Sterling was onside, although even he hesitated, eventually turning the ball back towards Sergio Aguero, with Andrea Raggi intercepting as he pulled the trigger.

Monaco's intensity had inevitably dropped - partly because of City's response; partly because they did not need to score again.

The onus was on City and they went close when Leroy Sane suddenly burst, skipping down the left and into the area to find Aguero who ballooned the ball over from inside the six-yard area.

If that was a tricky chance then the next opportunity spurned by Aguero was not, as Silva broke the offside trap to roll the ball into his path only for Danijel Subasic to block. Aguero should have scored.

City were awake. Sane struck the side-netting, Aguero was again denied and the pressure was building as the clocked ticked before, finally, they broke through.

De Bruyne flighted the ball out to Raheem Sterling who cut in from the right and shot. Subasic turned the ball across goal and Sane reacted quickly to send it high into the net.

Would it be enough? Monaco looked beaten but, emphatically, were not.

Back they came and, from a free-kick, Bakayoko was somehow allowed to run free, unmarked - what was Aleksandar Kolarov doing? - to guide a header past Caballero.

It was now up to City. They attacked, desperately, but could not do it. They were out. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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