The first leg of the UCL Round of 16 tie between AS Monaco and Manchester City was a thrilling one, finishing 5-3 in favor of the Citizens. And while City carried a two goal lead, Monaco could definitely take positives from the match, such as their surely insurmountable advantage in away goals. Monaco had to feel like they were going to be able to put at least two goals past City’s questionable defense in the second leg, especially considering they had scored the second most goals in all of Europe this season, trailing only Barcelona.
With the second leg approaching, AS Monaco knew what was in store for them as they prepared to face City- attack in numbers based on long periods of possession. This was what Pep Guardiola’s men came out to do, but Monaco’s high press prevented them from having any sort of significance chance whatsoever. They lacked the key pass in the final third; in fact, it was just a handful of times they even got to pressuring the Monaco back line. Whenever the likes of De Bruyne or Sané tried to construct an attack, multiple Monaco players would pressure them into running the ball out of play or intercepting it after a wayward pass. Monaco was swift and efficient in their attack, like a spring coiled in defense and bursting forward in attack. The first goal came through Mbappé Lottin’s brilliant touch, after the second ball from a clearance was failed to be dealt with. It was a pure striker’s goal, finding the finishing touch in a crowded six-yard box from a whipped in ground cross by Bernardo Silva. A clearly frustrated Guardiola could be seen on the sidelines. The second goal was no different, as another good cross found the net through Fabinho. The Monaco midfield of Bernardo Silva, Mendy and Germain with pacy striker Mbappé were the ones running the show, while the likes of Sané, Sterling and De Bruyne were virtually invisible. Monaco’s defense showed no lapses of concentration or a miscue in communication for Aguero to pounce upon- City finished the first half with no shot attempts.
Man City looked a lot better in the second half, stepping up their quality of passing and pressuring Monaco. This ultimately led to City getting back in the lead on the aggregate score, with Leroy Sané scoring. They looked as if they were finding their rhythm again- until a Bakayoko header from a well delivered set-piece found the back of the net. There were ecastic scenes in the normally subdued Stade Louis II, as the home side regained their advantage. The two manager’s substitutions with approximately 10 minutes left showed where the game was heading – Gardim took off Mbappé for midfielder Moutinho to get more men behind the ball and defend, while Guardiola took off defender Clichy for Ihenacho to enhance attacking options. In the end, Monaco were successful in preserving their lead, booking a ticket in the quarterfinals of this year’s Champions League.
It was a frustrating night for Manchester City, clearly second best on the field in the first half and being unable to maintain their attacking momentum after scoring a goal in the second. On the other hand, it’s going well on all fronts for Monaco- despite missing starting defender Glik and main striker Falcao, the youthful side managed to grab a crucial third goal in the game and hold onto it to progress to the next round. Gardim’s men are yet to be beaten at home this calendar year, and have allowed just two goals at home. They’re still in for the league title three points clear at the top, and are also in a French Cup final against PSG. Based on their incredible pressure and fast-paced attack, a strong run far in the European competition also seems plausible for Monaco.
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