Venue: Etihad Stadium
Date: 21 February 2017
Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (ESP)
Kick off: 20:00
For the first time in a couple of years, City are going into a knockout game without absolutely dreading the prospect of a heavy defeat. This isn’t necessarily because Monaco are weak opposition, but we now have Pep Guardiola and he won’t pick some of the tepid uninspiring lineups that Manuel Pellegrini liked to choose in Europe.
Here are some of the major talking points surrounding the game.
City’s slow defence
City have defended relatively well of late, but the test that Monaco will provide is different class to anything we have faced in months. They play an all-out attack 4-4-2 style system and all of their attacking players possess pace and power. City’s defenders without Kompany, do not possess either of these things. Otamendi, Kolarov and Stones are all pretty slow, and the full backs aren’t exactly blessed with pace.
Pep’s philosophy almost needs a high defensive line due to the core principles of pressing high, and controlling as much territory as possible, it will be intriguing to see if he drops the line a little bit deeper in order to try and neutralise Monaco’s attacking threat.
City’s clean sheets have come against teams that either try to sit deep, or teams like West Ham that simply don’t have any pace towards the top end of the pitch. I would personally not buy into our recent defensive run as signs of an exponential improvement.
Although he doesn’t offer much going forward, Bacary Sagna is a must start tomorrow as he is a smart defender who rarely gets caught out of position, and he actually has a little bit of pace in his arsenal which could be very helpful against this opposition.
Weirdly, City have gone from having loads of competition for places, to having very little, within two weeks. Gabriel Jesus’ injury has killed a lot of the unpredictability that Pep Guardiola had to work with on match days, and as of now there is not a lot of depth in the attacking areas of the pitch.
Against Huddersfield, Pep opted for a full rotation policy as all of the big boys were rested and fringe players such as Nolito, Fabian Delph and Jesus Navas were given rare starts. Annoyingly for Pep and the fans, none of the players stepped up to the plate and the attacking play was rather painful to watch. Nolito consistently cut in and did nothing with the ball, and Jesus Navas’ crosses appear to still be magnetised to the full backs shins.
As of now, it is pretty obvious that the only front three City can really go with is Sané-Aguero-Sterling. Iheanacho is highly rated by our fan base, but if Pep rated him that highly, then he would have made more appearances in recent weeks. Navas and Nolito aren’t playing well at the moment, and City aren’t the same team when De Bruyne or Silva is pushed out wide in order to accommodate an extra central player.
We are still a very strong team, but Jesus’ injury and the poor play of Nolito have set off a domino effect, which has left Pep Guardiola with less options than he had just a couple of weeks ago.
A lot of City fans are absolutely done with Claudio Bravo, but I still hold out hope they can he can rediscover the form that led to him being nominated for a UEFA Team of the Season place. Caballero has been OK, but City fans are really overrating every little thing he does right purely because of their dislike for Claudio Bravo. Caballero should have saved Sigurdsson’s shot against Swansea, and it was rather lucky that Gabriel Jesus bailed him out in the last minute.
Regardless, Caballero has played to a decent level in his appearances, but Pep still has a huge decision to make. The reality is that City are going to concede chances in this game, Monaco average three goals a game and that is impressive for a team in a top five European League, regardless of what you think of the competition.
Goalkeepers are strange creatures, mentally they do not function in the same way as outfield players, but I find it hard to believe that Claudio Bravo has suddenly become an awful keeper since his move to the Etihad Stadium. He was an immense shot stopper at Barcelona, and his demise is being overrated by City fans. He hasn’t been good enough, but the bigger issue is that City have conceded high quality chances on a consistent basis. Caballero has looked good because we haven’t conceded many high quality chances in the games he has played.
Bravo should be in contention for tomorrow’s match, he has real European experience, and to leave that on the bench could end up being a disastrous decision. He may come good, although Pep may not want to take a risk in such a huge game.
Monaco are a destructive force packed with young pacy and powerful players, and this could be a very tough couple of games for City. They generally play 4-4-2, although manager Leonardo Jardim may want to stick an extra midfielder in order to avoid being pinned back by City’s wealth of attacking talent.
Any fan thinking this is an ‘easy’ tie isn’t someone who understands the game all that well – this is a team that scores a lot of goals, and can open teams up with one or two passes. The man to watch out for is Thomas Lemar, a player who would fit perfectly in our team.
I think we will struggle early on, but our keeper will make some big saves and we will punish Monaco. City will emerge 3-1 victors, with Aguero scoring two goals to shut his ridiculous critics up. The other goal will be scored by David Silva, and former United man Falcao will bag a goal for the visitors.