Man City rise again to beat Monaco in game of the season
City emerge victorious with three goals in 11 astonishing second-half minutes after twice falling behind to French opponents
Manchester City 5 Monaco 3
Eight goals, a missed penalty and a brilliant save, those lucky enough to be at the Etihad on Tuesday night witnessed the match of the season as Manchester City and Monaco served up a classic.
That Pep Guardiola's side are in the driving seat after the first leg of the Champions League last 16 tie is down to a stirring second-half comeback during which they scored four goals and twice came from behind. But the tie is far from over given the way the French league leaders performed.
Were it not for Willy Caballero the visitors would have scored a couple more goals, with the City goalkeeper saving a second-half penalty from Radamel Falcao and then denying him again on the stroke of full-time with a superb save.
Apart from his missed penalty, Falcao had a night to remember as the Colombian returned to Manchester for the first time since his disappointing spell with United in 2014-15.
He scored his side's opening goal on 32 minutes with a diving header, not long after Raheem Sterling had put City 1-0 in front.
Then came the first of several controversial refereeing decisions, when Sergio Aguero was clearly brought down as he rounded Monaco keeper Danijel Subasic but was instead booked for diving. To make matters worse Monaco took the lead minutes later when Caballero unable to keep out Kylian Mbappe's powerful strike after Nicolas Otamendi was exposed by a simple ball over the top.
Early in the second half Falcao missed the opportunity to make it 3-1 after he was fouled by Otamendi in the box and this time the referee pointed to the spot.
His failure to extend Monaco's lead gave renewed life to City, and Aguero equalised just before the hour mark. It was a weak goal for the visitors to concede, goalkeeper Subasic allowing the South American's speculative drive from the edge of the box to slip through his fingers.
Monaco responded in stunning fashion three minutes later as Falcao twisted and turned and left the hapless John Stones on his backside before scoring his second of the night with an outrageous chip over the head of the helpless Caballero.
But back came City with three goals in 11 minutes. Aguero launched City's second comeback with an emphatic volley from close range. Stones then made up for his earlier blunder against Falcao as he stabbed home the fourth and Leroy Sane added a fifth in the 82nd minute minutes, tapping in Aguero's pass to cap an extraordinary night of football.
Or so we thought. Just at the death Falcao looked to have scored a fourth for the visitors but Caballero somehow got a leg in the way of the shot to preserve City's crucial two-goal advantage.
Cutting City's lead to one and having four away goals in the bag would have put a very different complexion on the second leg. But as it stands City will be favourites to progress thanks to the clear daylight between the two teams.
"It was a crazy game," said Cabellero. "Fortunately we won but we have to play against this fantastic team again. We have to enjoy this but we don't have anything yet. The most important thing is we recover our mentality and team spirit."
City manager Pep Guardiola also hailed his side's composure in clawing their way back into a match that also saw ten yellow cards brandished. "We were stable mentally," he said. "The old and young guys in the team played amazing. To live this experience helps us a lot in the future. Monaco has more history than us in the competition and you need this kind of experience to learn and improve. Of course anything can happen in Monaco and we have to score goals."
Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim praised his side's performance but also rued their mistakes in not killing off their opponents. "We made a couple of errors in defence that we were punished for and I think the real key to this game was the missed penalty to make it 3-1," he said. "But we've got 90 minutes to go, playing at home, so it's far from over."
Radamel Falcao could 'kill' Man City as Aguero sweats
Sergio Aguero will be hoping to prove a point to manager Pep Guardiola when Man City take on Monaco in the Champions League tonight. But another South American striker could steal his thunder as reborn Premier League flop Radamel Falcao returns to England.
The pair will be the centre of attention at the Etihad, with Aguero hoping to profit from the misfortune of Gabriel Jesus, the man who appears to have been bought to replace him.
But with Jesus out for the rest of the season after breaking a bone in his foot, Aguero could be given a reprieve, although his place in the starting XI is by no means certain, says Al Hain-Cole of Goal.com.
Guardiola clearly prefers playing a "fluid front three", he says, and that doesn't suit Aguero. "Should the former Bayern Munich boss choose to go down this route and leave Aguero on the bench yet again, then Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane or Nolito could prove effective options to play in the false nine role."
If he were left out of such a big game it would surely signal the beginning of the end of his City career.
Against that backdrop, Hain-Cole believes the Monaco strikers could be a better bet when it comes to finding the net. Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim has seen his side score 76 goals in 24 Ligue 1 fixtures this season, "the best goals to game ratio in Europe's top five leagues".
Falcao, who endured a nightmare time at Manchester United and Chelsea, has 22 goals in 22 starts this season and four goals in five European games. He's "well worth backing" to find the net, says Hain-Cole.
Guardiola certainly seems anxious. "The former Barcelona and Bayern manager has never failed to reach the semi-final stag of Europe's top club competition," notes ESPN, but has said critics will "kill" his side if they fail to put in an impressive performance.
He added that he was "really impressed" by the French side. "Their strikers Radamel Falcao and Valere Germain are killers in the box.... The full-backs play like wingers and the wingers play like attacking midfielders. They are a complete team."
But City are under pressure. After Arsenal's humiliation in Munich and Leicester's travails, which mean they can't expect to go far against Sevilla, "the responsibility of representing the Premier League in Europe's elite competition is therefore likely to fall on Guardiola's shoulders", says Paul Hirst of The Times.
But Guardiola has also "had to get used to the perception that City are not yet viewed as a bona fide member of Europe's elite".
He has also warned his side to remember what happened to Barcelona, who were humbled by Paris Saint-Germain 4-0 last week. And he has every reason to fear Monaco who "play like an expensive, sexy Leicester", according to JJ Bull of the Daily Telegraph.
"The worry for Guardiola is, as Monaco have shown this season, that it doesn't matter how much individual players cost if they don't make the team better. Jardim's team has momentum, confidence, skill, power and balance. Man City's isn't quite there yet."