This was one of the best Champions League matches in recent memory, and perhaps ever, with Manchester City losing an early lead to trail 3-2 an hour into the match, but coming storming back to win 5-3 in the first leg of their round of 16 tie against AS Monaco. Sergio Agüero scored twice, Radamel Falcao scored twice, and four other players scored in one of the most surprising, impressive, and entertaining games the game has seen in a long, long time.
The match played just as fast as the lineups promised that it could, with both Manchester City and AS Monaco going for the throat from the very first whistle. It took awhile for the first goal to be scored — 26 whole minutes — but after that, we rarely had to wait long for another.
The opener came from Manchester City exploiting a moment of tentative play from Monaco’s defense right after a second defender picked up a yellow card, but everything after that was sheer chaos. Going down a goal seemed to wake Monaco up in a big way, as their already-fast play turned up a few notches, launching counter attacks that had City all out of sorts. That chaos led to two goals before halftime, one on an excellent diving header from Falcao, and another just eight minutes later from Kylian Mbappe after a great run and finish from range.
Both goals were also helped by a comedy of errors from Manchester’s defense, a tone that would continue to be set for both teams throughout the second half. City would give up a penalty early in the half that Falcao couldn’t convert, and then at the other end Monaco’s keeper had a howler for the ages, deflecting an Agüero shot through his own legs and into the goal. Falcao wasn’t going to be outdone, though, with he and Thomas Lemar combining to absolutely embarrass poor John Stones, turning the City defender inside out and sideways before Falcao scored.
That gave Monaco a shocking 3-2 lead, one that would have given them an absolutely massive advantage in this tie — but the game still had half an hour left, and Manchester City and Pep Guardiola weren’t done yet.
After holding out resolutely for so much of the match, Monaco’s defense and midfield finally started to tire and show some cracks, cracks that City exploited ruthlessly. They found another gear of speed themselves, and Agüero and company started just running past defenders, forcing mistakes and fouls and desperation clearances one after another — and that started creating goals.
First it was Agüero with a phenomenal finish off a corner kick, volleying home an un-savable shot. Then it was Stones punching one home off a corner — and then it was Leroy Sané with a delightful finish off a pass from Agüero. All because of Monaco making mistakes they weren’t earlier in the match, and all set up to varying extents by David Silva, who was in ascendant form all throughout this spell of the match.
All told, it took just 11 minutes for City to go from trailing 3-2 to holding a commanding and shocking 5-3 lead, though perhaps with the way the rest of the match had gone, it wasn’t so shocking to see a wild scoreline like that. This incredible display of a match, one of the best in recent Champions League memory, sets up an equally promising match in the second leg of this tie in Monaco in a few weeks’ time. That’s going to be one that absolutely everyone must watch, because who knows what’s going to happen in that game.
Manchester City: Willy Caballero; Fernandinho (Pablo Zabaleta 62’), John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi, Bacary Sagna; David Silva, Yaya Touré, Kevin De Bruyne; Leroy Sané, Sergio Agüero (Fernando 87’), Raheem Sterling (Jesus Navas 89’)
Goals: Sterling (26’), Agüero (58’, 71’), Stones (77’), Sané (82’)
AS Monaco: Danijel Subašić; Benjamin Mendy, Kamil Glik, Andrea Raggi, Djibril Sidibe; Tiemoue Bakayoko (Nabil Dirar 88’), Fabinho; Kylian Mbappe (Valere Germain 78’), Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva (João Moutinho 85’); Radamel Falcao
Goals: Falcao (32’, 61’), Mbappe (40’)
Three things we learned
Manchester City scored one of the smartest goals you’ll see
There was nothing jaw-dropping about Manchester City’s first goal — the passes were good, but not breathtaking, the finish was simple, and there wasn’t a run or flourish or particular bit of skill or hard work to make it stand out. That is, until you look at the intelligence involved in the buildup to that goal, and then it becomes one of the best you’ll see.
Early in the match, Monaco’s right-sided center back Kamil Glik picked up a yellow card, and had played somewhat tentatively because of it. In the 25th minute, right back Djibril Sidibe picked up a booking of his own, putting the entire right side of Monaco’s defense on a yellow. Many fans would scream for their team to shove the ball down the throat of those two defenders for a spell, but few managers ever have their team do that — but that’s exactly what Pep Guardiola did.
It took just one attacking thrust for City to get the job done, with Silva feeding Sané straight through that shaky defensive pairing, easily beating both foul-shy men before centering the ball for Raheem Sterling to tap in. It wasn’t the fanciest goal you’ll ever see, but the sheer awareness and intelligence to recognize and exploit the situation to the fullest extent possible is incredibly impressive, and not something you see very often.
Their defense could use an intelligence boost, though
While City’s attack is lethally smart on the pitch, their defense was lethally unintelligent on Tuesday. Too often they’d be unorganized, with one player stepping up to play an offside trap while the others play the ball, or simply bad positioning and reactions.
A big part of that is the fact that this is a very makeshift defensive line, especially with captain and organizer Vincent Kompany out injured and backup goalkeeper Willy Caballero in goal, but even with that in mind their defense was completely catastrophic at times just because they weren’t thinking enough to do things right.
Monaco’s counter attack is ludicrously fast
Monaco lacked the pure pitch-burning of some of Manchester’s players, but they still have players who are plenty quick, and more importantly, they know how to move the ball quickly and effectively to wreak havoc.
Just look at their second goal for a perfect example of this — they won the ball back deep in their own territory, but in just a matter of seconds, Mbappe was running free behind City’s defense in the final third to score. There was no delaying, no dawdling, no waiting for an opening — their players just got the ball to where it needed to be and knew that someone would be there on the other side, because that’s just how they’ve trained themselves to be. It’s a wonderfully effective system, and Manchester City didn’t have a single answer for it all night long.