Manchester City 5-3 Monaco: looking back on a Champions League thriller

There was brilliance on show but some fans were left stranded outside the stadium at kick-off, plus Falcao returned to Manchester a different player

1) Agüero earns a break

His first goal may have been a gift from the Monaco goalkeeper, Danijel Subasic, but Sergio Agüero had every right to feel one was due. The Argentina striker had enough pressure and distractions coming into the game, with his starting role threatened by the arrival of Gabriel Jesus – he only returned because of the youngster’s departure with injury – and six games without a goal. In the Champions League knockout stages it was 522 minutes without a goal at kick-off. To compound his problems, Agüero’s first sight of the Monaco goal resulted in huge controversy when he was booked for a perceived dive over Subasic when a red card and penalty could easily have been the outcome. A weak-minded forward might have retreated into his shell. Instead Agüero struck twice, teed up another for Leroy Sané and had Pep Guardiola applauding on the pitch after racing back to regain possession. A superb response.

2) Mbappé justifies the Henry hype

No mention of the Monaco sensation is complete without reference to Thierry Henry – and not only because the former France international was effusive in his praise of the teenager in the buildup to this fixture. With explosive pace, strength, balance, two exquisite feet and interest from Arsenal, Kylian Mbappé invites comparisons with the man he replaced as Monaco’s youngest goalscorer aged 17 years and 62 days. They were not discouraged here. The third-youngest French player to start a Champions League game – aged 18 years and two months – had City on edge and the away fans enthralled every time he drove at an accommodating home defence. When switched from the left to the right of Radamel Falcao midway through the first half he frequently embarrassed Nicolás Otamendi, particularly when tearing away from the ponderous defender to score his side’s second goal in emphatic style.

3) Empty seats are not a sign of apathy

There were hundreds of empty seats dotted around the Etihad Stadium at kick-off but, for once, blame could not be pinned on a supposed lack of fervour for the Champions League among Manchester City supporters. As is customary, and despite appeals for restraint from Pep Guardiola, the Uefa anthem was booed by a sizeable section of the home crowd and set a strange tone. But the number of fans stranded outside the ground when the game kicked off should be of greater concern to City. Photographs taken just minutes before the first whistle showed hundreds queuing at the entrances outside and supporters continued to trickle into the stadium during an absorbing first half. The club had reduced ticket prices for Monaco’s visit but there are issues to address as the Etihad expands.

Monaco’s Radamel Falcao celebrates scoring their first goal.
Monaco’s Radamel Falcao celebrates scoring their first goal. Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

4) Falcao back in Manchester as a different player

It was a sorry sight when Radamel Falcao toiled through two seasons on loan in the Premier League, first with Manchester United – where he scored four goals in 29 appearances – and then at Chelsea, where he fared even worse with one goal in 12. The cruciate injury that deprived Colombia of their leading marksman for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil appeared to have taken a permanent toll but back at Monaco the 31-year-old has been rejuvenated and his 22nd goal of the season was a moment to cherish at The Etihad Stadium. To chip a goalkeeper from inside the area with two defenders on his shoulders and a third, John Stones, left sprawling after his own mistake was a reminder of Falcao’s exquisite talent. It was to Manchester City’s relief that it did not extend to converting from the penalty spot.

5) Caballero compunds City’s goalkeeping problems

Pep Guardiola was apoplectic the moment Willy Caballero cleared long, not short as instructed, and sliced a weak ball straight to the Monaco midfielder Fabinho. The manager knew what was coming. Two passes and one cross later Radamel Falcao had cancelled out Raheem Sterling’s opener. In the eyes of the incensed City manager Caballero committed a basic error and not even a vital– but straightforward – penalty save from the Colombia striker, or late intervention with his feet, disguised the reality that, with Claudio Bravo toiling, a new keeper is required this summer. Monaco targeted the veteran’s weakness in possession – the assist to Fabinho was his second poor clearance under little pressure – although he was not the only goalkeeper to endure a night of torment.


Andy Hunter

The GuardianTramp

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