Flawed Yet Thrilling
8 Goals, 10 Yellow Cards, 27 Fouls: The highest-scoring first-leg knockout tie in the CL history shows that football doesn’t have to be flawless to be entertaining
Pep Guardiola chucked his coat to the ground. A water bottle quickly followed after. He paced around his technical area, rubbing his face and scratching his head. The team against which his Manchester City played would not be tamed; they would not be quelled.
They wouldn’t submit to the imposition of his will. He had just seen Monaco score their first goal — scored by the irrepressible Radamel Falcao. He’d score a better one before the night was out. Not for the first time Pep’s team had been cut through; pierced by high-precision arrows in red and white. Monaco are at once Guardiola’s dream team and his worst nightmare. “When two teams want to attack like that then sometimes football is nice and beautiful,” Guardiola said.
This was the most entertaining game of this season’s Champions League. City won it not by trying to take the sting out of it but through bloody-minded brutality. At 3-2 down they lookeddownandout.WillyCaballeroandJohn Stones had been abysmal. But something happened.Monacoweresappedoftheirenergyand their poise, and City grew in strength.
They fought back, chased harder, scored from set pieces. Monaco’s composure deserted them, betrayed their status as a work in progress. Yes they are Europe’s top scorers but they need to be when conceding goals like this.
It wasn’t a victory that relied on traditional Guardiola qualities; there were corners delivered into the Monaco area like bombs. They were savaged, and left vulnerable to beautiful goals. And where Stones and Caballero had been liabilities they were instead solid late on. Stonesgotthego-aheadgoalat4-3andCabellero denied Radamel Falcao his hat-trick. We knew Monaco had many ways to inflict damage. We knew that because they’re top of the Ligue 1 table, ahead of Paris St-Germain who were 1/10 to win the title before the season that started. We knew that because they have scored more goals than any other team in Europe’s top five leagues. We knew that becausehalftheirsquadisbeinglinkedwithmassive money moves to clubs all across Europe.
Bernardo Silva — chief among the jewels jealously eyed by the continent’s elite ran the show for his side with his footwork, speed of thought, his control of the ball and his surroundings.
It is not hard to see why golden boy Kylian Mbappe is being likened to Thierry Henry. He glides across the grass like Henry with those long legs of his. He tortures defenders with his pace and directness. He is possessed of cold blood in the area. When Monaco’s goals came there was a ruthless simplicity about them; a simplicity that played on City’s long-standing inability to shut the gate. Caballero’s needless coughup of possession al lowed Fabinho to cross expertly for Radamel Falcao. Mbappe’s run between Stones and Otamendi is not the type of run that should be bamboozling Champions League defensive partnerships.
Stones was taken to school by Falcao for the third in one of the goals of the season as the Colombian audaciously chipped Caballero. He would’ve had a hat-trick but for a missed penalty. All in all this game had everything; eight goals, 10 yellows, controversial refereeing, comical defending. City — to their credit — hung with Monaco every step of the way and then knocked them over. Sergio Aguero was menacing; proving himself all over again in the absence of Gabriel Jesus. He earned the “Sergio, Sergio” chant from his fans and an attempted high-five from his coach. Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of football; sometimes you don’t need to and just enjoy it.
This was the most entertaining game of this season’s Champions League
ManchesterCitywonthematchnot by trying to take the sting out of it but throughbloody-mindedbrutality