It wasn’t really a surprise that Manchester City vs. Monaco was spectacular. There’s a reason why it’s the match-up to watch of the Champions League round of 16. Expectations were sky high, and yet the first leg managed to be even better than anyone could have even expected. It was the best match of the entire tournament. Hell, it might have been the best match in years.
A quick look at the scoreline, Manchester City 5-3 Monaco, would give away that it was thrilling, but somehow, that doesn’t do it justice. Nor does saying it was the highest scoring first leg in the history of the Champions League. It was that bonkers.
Leroy Sane’s incredible play to set up the opening was really just a preview of what was to come.
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Even Radamel Falcao completely abusing John Stones was only a small part of the match’s greatness.
Because while there were some truly spectacular goals — and eight(!) in total — the appeal of the match was its pace. And its chances. And all the near-misses.
What the scoresheet, and even highlights, won’t show is Sergio Aguero getting dragged down by Danijel Subasic for what should have been a penalty kick, only for the referee to card Aguero for diving. But even that was a misdemeanor compared to the hilarious goal Subasic let find the back of the net when Aguero fired in the second half. And the scoresheet also won’t show Falcao missing a penalty kick with a bizarre stop in the run-up and then horrendous shot.
What didn’t make it onto the top line was as exhilarating as what did, which is stunning in an eight-goal match.
And it wasn’t just what happened. It’s who did it all.
Monaco are the highest scoring team in Europe with an attack that has completely annihilated every defense Ligue 1 has put in front of them. They’re led by young stars like Tjomas Lemar and Kylian Mbappe, who torched Nicolas Otamendi all match long. And when Otamendi was done getting embarrassed, Stones added to his ignominious debut season with the Citizens by having Falcao manhandle him. That’s the same Falcao whose career fell off a cliff when he was on the other side of Manchester and was left for dead just months ago, the casualty of a knee injury that appeared to have wiped him from the relevant soccer scene.
Meanwhile, Manchester City were led by their young stars, Sane and Raheem Sterling. The duo were nothing short of amazing, with each scoring a goal and setting up many more chances. Their pressing, as was the case with the Monaco youngsters, turned the match to chaos and upped the pace of the match to frantic levels. But when it wasn’t the two youngsters getting the job done, it was Aguero, reminding the world that he is still one of the best despite being pushed out of the starting lineup just weeks ago by Gabriel Jesus, only to get back in when the Brazilian was hurt.
Things got so out of hand that it was very clearly all unplanned. And yet completely according to the script, only no one would have turned the pandemonium up this high.
Critics will point to the lack of defense in the match and they would be right. Otamendi and Stones had as much to do with his as anyone else. And if the defenders missing, so were the midfielders. Both teams completely bypassed them, playing so fast that the men in the middle were almost MIA. But when you look at how the match played out, is that even a criticism? Because the product was as terrific as anything else anyone else could have dreamed up.
There is nothing wrong with a superbly played game by two magnificent teams. We cherish those for good reason, as the likes of Real Madrid grind out a dramatic 1-0 win over someone like Atletico Madrid. It’s a joy to watch, but sometimes it’s even better when things get … messy.
Manchester City vs. Monaco was spectacularly messy. Defending was optional at times, young stars showed just how breathtaking they are, legends added to their tales of greatness, referee debates ensued and the goals didn’t just add up — they were memorable, just like the match. From a pure entertainment standpoint, it couldn’t have been any better,