Bit of a damp squib at the Etihad
Manchester City played out a drab, uninspired and uneventful 0-0 Champions League stalemate with Monaco, at a sparsely populated ‘Emptiad’ Stadium last night!
Do you know what, I think I’m getting the hang of this ‘Fake News’ and ‘alternative facts’ malarkey!
Move aside Kellyanne Conway, I’m on my way to the White House and a new career in trumping up distortion overload on behalf of Donald and his cronies.
That said, a record Champions League attendance of 53,351 could hardly believe what they were watching, as City and the men from Monte Carlo produced a pulsating 5-3 thriller that will live long in the memory.
Pep Guardiola’s men twice came from behind in a Round of 16, 1st leg humdinger, one which ranks as City’s most remarkable in their six years of competing in Europe’s top club competition.
Having scored 76 in just 26 Ligue 1 fixtures this season, much had been made of Monaco’s goal threat.
When a ‘reborn’ Radamel Falcao restored the French side’s lead for a second time on the night, making it 3-2, it began to look like Mission Improbable, if not quite Impossible, for City.
Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero had twice netted for the hosts to lead 1-0 and then pull it back to 2-2, but City were in need of something special.
In keeping with their manager’s approach to the beautiful game, Sterling, Aguero (twice), Stones and Sane weighed in with the goals, to cap a sublime showing and take a two goal advantage to Monaco on March 15th.
City’s elongated version of the SAS elite military force – Sterling, Aguero, Sane, Stones and Silva (SASSS) – took on a SASSSY appearance, as Yaya Toure’s renaissance in Sky Blue continued.
The Ivorian colossus has been instrumental in stabilising City’s fortunes since returning to the first team fold in late November.
Omitted from City’s CL squad for the group stages, Yaya has acclimatised to a deep lying role in front of the defence, bringing bags of experience and an unflappable air to proceedings.
Whereas youngsters, Leroy Sane and Sterling have been hogging the flanks – and the headlines – as Pep’s speedsters on the wings, Sergio Aguero has been the subject of unwelcome speculation about his City future.
Sergio – one of City’s favourite sons – was clearly a man with several points to prove, as he produced an indefatigable personal effort, within the framework of a mesmerising attacking performance.
His brace in the 58th and 71st minutes, set the platform for John Stones and Sane’s goals in the 77th and 82nd minutes, as City finally quelled a Monaco team fizzing with offensive threat, but defensively as solid as a Camembert cheese left out in a sizzling sun.
At one point Aguero was dispossessed in midfield before running back 20 yards to hustle and battle to regain possession, much to the delight of a watching Guardiola.
Pep has been demanding more and more of City talismanic striker and here was Sergio delivering, goals, assists, tackles, tracking back, as well as being denied another ‘stonewall’ City penalty.
How often have we seen that this season?
Referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz (apparently a big fan of Scottish band Simple Minds, so much so he models himself on the Spanish equivalent of lead singer - Juan Kerr)) added insult to injury, booking Aguero for diving.
It led to some City fans brushing up their linguistic skills and discovering the word ‘gilipollas’, as in the terrace chant ‘The referee’s a gilipollas…’ repeat to fade.
Aguero was substituted four minutes from time to a standing ovation and a kiss on the top of his head from Pep.
One can only hope the madness of selling Sergio is just that – utter madness – which will not come to pass until 2020 at the earliest.
Fellow Argentine Willy Caballero, clearly established as City’s No 1 ahead of Claudio Bravo, produced another memorable penalty save, denying Falcao what could have been a game-changing 3-1 Monaco lead.
Big Willy, and the now departed Joe Hart, have combined to save the last five penalties awarded against City in the Champions League. Memo to Pep – Don’t fear the prospect of any penalty shootouts!
Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva supplied masses of munitions to City’s SAS strike corp as City positively purred when in pro-active mode.
The polar opposite was true of a porous backline which adopted a defensive stance displaying schoolboy type errors.
Nicolas Otamendi’s positional play and spatial awareness were horribly AWOL on numerous occasions. Pep gave him a proverbial b*ll*cking – sorry pitch-side advice – on one notable occasion.
If rumoured interest from Real Madrid in ‘Otto’ develops this summer there is surely a deal to be done for this particular Argentinian Blue – either in a player exchange or hard cash.
In fairness, Otamendi wasn’t alone on a night of Keystone Cop defending from both sides, with a plethora of faux pas adding to the evening’s hysteria and excitement.
As genial Joe Mercer – City’s most successful manager of all time – once said: “I’d rather win 4-3 than 1-0 – football’s about entertaining the fans.”
Lovely sentiments Joe – but NOT when away goals count double!
Pep has already said he believes City will have to score in the Stade Louis II on March 15th if they are to preserve their 1st leg advantage and advance to the Champions League Quarter Finals.
With such an array of attacking riches on display only a fool would forecast a 0-0 draw in the second leg.
Sorry Donald, what’s that…it’ll be scoreless in Monaco in mid-March – oh, okay, whatever you say Mr President!
By David Walker