Fireworks aplenty in Champions League wins for Manchester City, Atletico Madrid
The Champions League round of 16 provided a seemingly endless array of fireworks on Tuesday, with Manchester City beating Monaco in an eight-goal thriller and Atletico Madrid torching Bayer Leverkusen in a 4-2 triumph in Germany.
Manchester City could have packed it in on a number of occasions, with Radamel Falcao and Monaco's attack hitting for three away goals and appearing to be on its way to an uplifting result at the Etihad. Sergio Aguero emerged as the hero, though, with two goals and a key assist in the 5-3 victory.
Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, pounced on Bayer Leverkusen with a pair of goals in the first half from Saul Niguez and Antoine Griezmann and took advantage of some atrocious defending to double that tally in the second via Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres, seizing control heading back into the second leg in Madrid next month.
Here are three thoughts on a wild day of action in the Champions League:
Sergio Aguero's redemption
For a while, it seemed as if Tuesday's match would be all about Radamel Falcao's continued resurgence with Monaco (15 goals in his last 15 games), and him putting an exclamation point on that in his return to Manchester, where he flailed while on loan at Manchester United. And while El Tigre's two-goal showing (both spectacular goals in their own ways) has Monaco leaving with some building blocks heading into the second leg, the day wound up being about Sergio Aguero.
After everything Aguero has done at Manchester City, it's a bit wild that it took a foot fracture to 19-year-old Gabriel Jesus for the 28-year-old Aguero to earn his way back into good graces at the Etihad, but he has made the most of it. He was certainly the beneficiary of some good fortune, with his right-angled shot on a breakway being spilled into Monaco's net by goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.
But his second goal and assist to Leroy Sane for the game-icer oozed class. If Aguero needed a confidence boost, Tuesday surely provided it, and it will be of great relief to Pep Guardiola that he can rely again on his Argentine superstar of the present, while his Brazilian forward of the future recovers. For all the transfer talk and chatter about Aguero's days at City being numbered, this was as loud a statement as any that he'll fight for the crest on his sky blue shirt.
Man City, Monaco live up to the billing
On paper, Manchester City and Monaco promised to provide some fireworks, but you never know how that will play out in reality, especially with managers manipulating tactics to control the flow of play over a two-leg series. That said, Monaco entered as the most prolific scoring team in all of Europe's top five leagues, scoring 76 goals in 26 games in Ligue 1. Built around the likes of Falcao, rising 18-year-old star Kylian Mbappe (who is living up to the hype) and Bernardo Silva, Monaco boasts an enviable trove of talent–both established and on the rise–though its inability to see out the game was ultimately its undoing.
City might be without Gabriel Jesus, but it still regularly trots out a potentially lethal combination of talent, and it proved to be enough to overcome some absolutely clueless defending. Down a goal three times, City willed itself to victory through its attack, seizing control of the ball and showing a relentlessness for which Guardiola's teams are known in asserting itself. It also didn't lack individual greatness, with Sane's assist to Sterling and Aguero's volleyed goal making for two eye-opening displays.
With eight goals in the first leg and Monaco needing to get after it in the second leg to have a chance, the matchup next month could provide ample entertainment–though living up to the standard set on Tuesday will be tough.
While nobody will be left complaining about the entertainment value of Tuesday's matches, the defensive purists will surely have some gripes. Between the goalkeeper giveaways, howlers and own goals, there was plenty of laughable moments. Take away Saul's curling beauty to open the scoring for Atletico Madrid (well, don't actually, because it was gorgeous to watch), and the rest of Atletico Madrid's goals were highly avoidable. Instead, Leverkusen, which benefited from a wonky own goal, is left with little hope going on the road in Madrid.
Manchester City, for all its joy after a hard-fought victory, has to look at the big picture and realize that little silverware is going to be won with the back line as currently constructed. Pep Guardiola clearly knows this, but the yearning for a ball-playing goalkeeper, coupled with a slow-footed, oddly positioned back four leaves the door open for Monaco to stage a comeback. It'll need to score away from the Etihad to secure its place in the quarterfinals, but it has good reason to feel confident about doing so.
Monaco, already down two goals and kicking itself for being unable to handle leads on three occasions, will be at even more of a disadvantage in the second leg, with center back Kamil Glik suspended after picking up a yellow card for an eighth-minute foul on Sane. Its margin for error is nonexistent, and it'll have to find a way to quell Manchester City's attack without its Polish anchor under those circumstances.