It was “beautiful” in the eyes of Pep Guardiola and Leonardo Jardim was so enthralled that he congratulated his Monaco team on their 5-3 defeat. Defensive expertise was not the only thing absent at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday. There was no sign of regret either. Organised chaos may be the way forward for Manchester City in this season’s Champions League.
Loaded in attack, exposed at the back, Guardiola made no apologies for a night of pure entertainment before flying off for a spot of warm-weather training in Abu Dhabi. “That’s why the people contracted me to come here,” he said following a remarkable victory in the first leg of the last-16 tie.
They also hired him to furnish the development of Manchester City with the Champions League trophy and in that respect, he had much to ponder en route to the Middle East. Adjustments are required for next month’s second leg, he conceded – but there is no prospect of a different approach.
“We hope to see these kind of games,” Yaya Touré said. “Even myself, when I sit on the sofa watching a European game, that’s the kind of performance I want to see. It was brilliant. We enjoyed it and the fans enjoyed it. From the beginning of the season until now, we always attack, we always show that. That’s the most important. With the new manager now it’s all about attack.
“Sometimes you can do a mistake but mistakes are part of the game. If you don’t do mistakes, the football is not going to follow. We try to keep it going, try to be focused, try to do what we can and try to win trophies. We just have to keep it going, just have to focus and performances like that, even you guys [in the media] were delighted to see it.”
Five goals at the halfway stage of a knockout tie are not enough for Guardiola, who vowed to pursue more at Stade Louis II and predicted City will go out of the competition if they do not find the net on 15 March. In the same breath, he added: “We are not going to defend that result.”
The admission fits perfectly with the City manager’s philosophy, the style that brought him two European Cups with Barcelona and the reason he was long courted to fill the crucial missing piece by the club’s owner. Yet, on the evidence not only of Tuesday but also his first campaign in English football, it would not have been a diversion from the truth to say City cannot defend a 5-3 advantage over the highest-scoring team in Europe’s top divisions.
Reflecting on an extraordinary game from a safe distance conjures the same conflicting emotions as the contest itself. City scored five against the league leaders of France, a team three points and 26 goals superior in their domestic division than Paris Saint-Germain, who achieved the more complete performance in their 4-0 dismantling of Barcelona.
City showed character, their never-say-die spirit prevailed, they exploited Monaco’s weakness at corners – scoring twice in six minutes with deliveries from the left and right – and their commitment to attack, allied with that of their opponents, produced a memorable contest that the defeated manager could savour. “Of course I can enjoy it,” Jardim said. “We work hard to put on a show because we are passionate about football. We want to please the fans.” A refreshing alternative.
But – and of course there is a but coming – the impact of Sergio Agüero, Leroy Sané, Raheem Sterling and others was undermined, almost fatally so, by an exposed defence and their continued problems when left with responsibility on the ball.
Guardiola admitted he knew Monaco would target the space behind City’s defence the moment Kylian Mbappé was confirmed in Jardim’s starting lineup. He backed his tactics to prevail and he was vindicated, although Nicolás Otamendi’s painful struggle against an 18-year-old making the highest-profile start of his fledgling career, and John Stones’ toils against the rejuvenated 31-year-old Radamel Falcao, made it a close-run thing. A more pragmatic team than Monaco will not be so accommodating.
Touré, however, believes the landscape of European’s elite competition has changed, and City’s chances of winning the Champions League have changed with it. The midfielder added: “To be honest, it is open this year, it is definitely open, because when you see PSG win against Barcelona, what can you say about that?
“Everybody has changed. Monaco were brilliant, and in the head as well. An inexperienced team maybe would think the game was done but, with City, we have a lot of experienced players in our team like David Silva. We have always been used to coming back in games.
“We showed a lot of desire and hunger as well. Maybe people underestimate [City’s character] because the history is not behind us, if you know what I mean. A team like Manchester United, people will always believe them because they have the history. That’s the situation. We just try to do our best, try to come close to United – and that is what has got to happen in the few years coming.”