Manchester City may be a lot of things, but they are never boring to watch. Pep Guardiola’s came back from 2-3 down to beat French leaders Monaco 5-3 in a game that simply had everything from goals to dubious refereeing decisions.
From the first whistle, the game didn’t disappoint the pre-match billing of two very attack-minded sides going head to head. Both teams excelled with pace on the counter-attack, in what was an end-to-end thriller that will go down in Champions League history as one of the most entertaining games.
It was a surprise it took 26 minutes for the deadlock to be broken. Some magical link-up play between Leroy Sané and David Silva ultimately led to Raheem Sterling converting from close range, which got the Etihad crowd roaring.
However, within a matter of minutes, Radamel Falcao cancelled City’s early lead, latching on to the end of a Fabinho cross, who was excellent all night. Questions were asked of City’s defence, yet at 1-1 it still felt City were in control.
That was telling when Aguero found himself through on goal, and rounded the goalkeeper, before being fouled. The referee booked Aguero for what he judged to be simulation, much to the anger of the home fans. This marked a turning point in the game – the heads dropped of both the City players and supporters, and to rub salt into City’s wounds, Kylian Mbappé neatly finished a counter-attack to put the French side ahead going into the break.
The most important moment of the game however came early in the second half, when the Spanish referee pointed to the spot for a foul by Otamendi, given by the official behind the goal. Again City were left feeling hard done by, but the hero of the 2016 Capital One Cup triumph, Willy Caballero, denied Falcao from 12 yards. It almost feels like Caballero is as good at saving penalties as Yaya Touré is at scoring them, despite the penalty being rather poor in truth.
At the other end, City were gifted a goal when Aguero’s effort was fumbled by Monaco keeper Subasic. Credit has to be given to Raheem Sterling however for his energetic run down the wing, which was just one of many exceptional runs by City’s wingers in the game. Sterling and Sané are developing into Pep’s perfect idea of wide players.
City were brimming with confidence now, however the match was turned again minutes later as Falcao chipped the City keeper following some dreadful defending by John Stones.
Following this goal, Guardiola turned to his bench and replaced fan-favorite Fernandinho with veteran Pablo Zabaleta, who many fans say changed the game. His no-nonsense, aggressive approach stopped Monaco’s wingers getting the delight they had been getting all game.
Aguero, who was excellently industrious all night in terms of his work rate off the ball, leveled the game once more with a superb volley, before John Stones made amends for his earlier mistakes sliding on to the end of a set piece at the back post.
The final say in this mentally exhausting encounter went to German winger Leroy Sané, who couldn’t miss when Aguero selflessly played him in on goal. The Sané, Aguero and Sterling trio encapsulated what Pep wants from his sides in terms of pace and skill on the ball, but exceptionally high work rate off the ball too.
City may have a two-goal cushion to take to Monaco, but if this leg was anything to go by, it will be far from easy. It is no coincidence there is a number of Monaco players linked with City and other elite European clubs in the media, as the likes of Silva, Mbappé, Fabinho and Lemar proved their worth on the big stage.
The game was the highest scoring first leg tie in the history of the competition, and it would be nice to re-watch the game without the rollercoaster of emotions I and most other City fans probably experienced.
One could talk for hours about refereeing decisions or defensive errors in this game, but it would do injustice to the two free-flowing, relentless attacking sides on display in an Etihad epic.