Throughout June on Typical City, we’re looking at some of the best matches Manchester City have played in the Sheikh Mansour-era. Day by day, we’re taking a trip down memory lane to some of the classic encounters the Blues have had since the 2008 takeover – you can view the rest of the featured games on the Best of the Mansour Era page.
Day 25 in this series takes us back into last season’s Champions League. City, through to the knockout stages, were up against Monaco for a place in the quarter-finals. Nobody who had gone to the Etihad for the first leg of the game could have been expecting what happened next…
Manchester City 5-3 Monaco
Tuesday 21 February 2017
City: Caballero, Sagna, Stones, Otamendi, Fernandinho (Zabaleta 62), Toure, Sterling (Navas 89), De Bruyne, Silva, Sane, Aguero (Fernando 87).
Unused: Bravo, Delph, Nolito, Iheanacho
Goals: Sterling (26), Aguero (58, 71), Stones (77), Sane (82)
When Monaco came to the Etihad Stadium in February 2017, they were seen as one of the great attacking forces of the Champions League to that point in the season. Unfortunately for City, the one thing that 2016-17 had proved also to that point was that Pep Guardiola’s team were hopeless at defending. With the French side also weak in that area and with the Blues having scored a lot of goals already that season, it almost telegraphed what was about to happen.
Even then, though, few would have expected to see a game as end-to-end and action packed as this one.
It had all started so normally. The home side were on top and playing some confident, attacking football – restricting their opponents to the odd counter attack – and it was no surprise to see Raheem Sterling put the Blues in front. David Silva had poked the ball through to Leroy Sane on the left side of the penalty area and his low cross into the middle was met perfectly by the England winger to tap into the Monaco net. Everything was going to plan and City looked to be in control of a game that could have got away from them if the visitors had been allowed to start quickly.
But, just after the half hour, it all went to pot. A couple of weeks earlier, Guardiola had taken Claudio Bravo out of the team and reinstated Willy Caballero as the club’s first choice – all in a bid to take the heat off the goalkeeping situation. Bravo was making mistakes and Caballero had clearly improved, though the equalising goal came from a goalkeeping error.
The Argentinian chipped an attempted pass to the flank, but it was too short to reach its target and landed kindly for Fabinho. He controlled it for Bernardo Silva to find space and, when the midfielder returned it to the full back, his cross found Radamel Falcao unmarked at the back post. There were 31 minutes on the clock when the former Manchester United and Chelsea striker headed into the net.
City should have been gifted a great opportunity to take control of the game just two minutes later, though. Almost from kick off, Sergio Aguero was played clean through on goal and one-on-one with the goalkeeper. As he entered the box, he skipped around Danijel Subasic and was clearly brought down as the Monaco man lifted a leg and swiped at the striker’s ankles. He should have been dusting himself down to take a penalty against a substitute goalkeeper – it was a blatant spot kick and red card – but instead he got to his feet to be shown a yellow card. The referee accused him of diving.
It went from bad to worse in the 40th minute. A long ball over the top beat the City defence for pace and allowed Kylian Mbappe to run towards goal. From a tight angle, he lashed a shot past Caballero and into the roof of the net, putting the visitors in front with their second away goal. It was looking like an uphill task for the Blues.
Just three minutes into the second half and it was looking like curtains. Nicolas Otamendi’s rash challenge, attempting to cut out a low cross from Benjamin Mendy, brought down Falcao as the striker missed his shot on goal. It took the referee a minute to think about it, but he eventually pointed to the spot and showed the defender a yellow card. It was the right call – but City had their goalkeeper to thank for keeping them in the game, as Caballero dived left and gathered the striker’s weak kick.
City were on the ropes, but it was a goalkeeping error at the other end that sorted them out. Sterling slid a lovely pass through into the path of Aguero and, with room to shoot, hit an effort straight at Subasic. It wasn’t that well struck and the forward must have felt like he’d wasted the chance – until the goalkeeper let it slip through his hands and into the net for 2-2.
It should have sparked the Blues into life, but they were behind again within three minutes. John Stones became isolated with Falcao as the forward latched onto a ball over the top and, after looking like he’d dealt with the danger, the defender was muscled out of the challenge and the striker got into a shooting position. As Caballero came off his line to narrow the angle, Falcao went over the top and produced a sublime chip to make it 3-2 to the visitors. It was far from ideal, with it being a third away goal, too.
However, Aguero was looking reinvigorated. The goal he’d scored for City’s equaliser earlier in the evening was what he needed and suddenly he was looking so much more dangerous than he had done in the weeks before. A David Silva corner landed perfectly for him to volley inside the box, and he whacked it into Subasic’s net, leaving the goalkeeper rooted as the ball flashed past him. It was a second equaliser and a stunning finish from the Argentinian.
It was another corner six minutes later that put the Blues back in front. They’d not led since midway through the first half and, with just under a quarter of an hour to play, they were back in the lead. Kevin De Bruyne curled it in, the cross flicked off the head of Yaya Toure and Stones was at the back post to poke it over the line. The defender seemed to relish making up for his earlier error.
Still it was looking tight for the second leg. The Blues were suddenly in their stride and it seemed like there were more goals to be had – Guardiola knew he needed to build up a good lead to take to Monaco, especially with the visitors’ three away goals. Sane was next on the scoresheet with six minutes to play, after Silva had lofted a beautifully disguised pass to Aguero on the left side of the box and the Argentinian squared it to give the winger an open goal.
At that point, the manager decided to settle for a two goal lead. At 5-3, Guardiola deemed the cushion big enough to take into the away leg – backing his own team to at least score in Monaco – and he brought on Fernando to shore up the middle. It worked in calming the game down, but it still felt like their opposition were dead on their feet and there were more goals to be had.
City would eventually go out of the tie on the away goals rule, following a 3-1 loss in the second leg and a 6-6 aggregate draw.
After the game, Pep Guardiola thought his team needed to attack in the second leg: “I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.
“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”
Written by David Mooney
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