Champions League Preview : Monaco v Manchester City
After a 5-3 thriller in the first leg at the Etihad three weeks ago, there is no doubt that Manchester City’s trip to the Stade Louis II is the most anticipated of all of the Champions League Round of 16 second legs. Needing at least two goals to progress, Monaco will be forced to go on the attack, something that the team can’t help but do in any case. City, under Pep Guardiola, are certain to do much the same, as any Pep-coached team is encouraged to do. As Leonardo Jardim put it in yesterday’s press conference, “both teams will no doubt respect their DNA because it’s difficult to change players’ attacking mentality. There’ll be a lot of space and attacking intent tomorrow.” In other words, Monaco’s manager expects another full-throttle encounter, but can his team progress against long odds?
Monaco did well to score three goals away from home, but the five that they conceded will be more worrying. The team were without the influential Jemerson, the Brazilian centre back whose improvement this season has largely gone unnoticed as Monaco’s attack has taken centre stage. Lacking his mobility and assuredness in the tackle, Monaco had to resort instead to the slow-footed pairing of Kamil Glik and Andrea Raggi. Jemerson makes his return for this match, but now Glik, equally important in terms of his aerial prowess, positional discipline and organisation, is similarly absent through suspension. Thus, while Monaco’s attack will no doubt continue to be in top form, there are certainly potential issues at the back.
Danijel Subasic, normally a superb goalkeeper, made a horrendous error in the first leg, and did so again at the weekend against Bordeaux, making a match in which Monaco had been cruising unnecessarily tense. While Monaco did win that match, there is something slightly ominous about the result: 2-0 would see the hosts through, whereas a 2-1 scoreline would be insufficient for progress. Subasic will keep his place in the absence of any real competition, but his recent mistakes will surely be preying on his mind given how finely balanced this tie is.
In attack, Kylian Mbappé continued his good form at the weekend, scoring a cracking goal to put Monaco in front, and should partner Radamel Falcao from the off. The Colombian, so influential in the first leg, is a bit of a doubt after suffering a hip injury against Bordeaux. Given the magnitude of this match, he is likely to start, but Valere Germain waits in the wings should he be needed. It’s not all doom and gloom for Monaco, however, as Djibril Sidibé and Tiemoué Bakayoko are once again at full fitness. Both Frenchmen started the first leg, but were clearly affected by niggling injuries by the match’s later stages, unable to affect the match with their usual brio.
Manchester City have their own issues to contend with, though, most notably in their formation. The visitors’ upturn in form has coincided with a change to an attack-minded 4-1-4-1 that allowed Guardiola to put as many offensive players on the pitch as possible, with Yaya Touré playing in front of the back four. However, there has been some suggestion that he will switch to a 4-2-3-1, with Kevin De Bruyne dropping out and Fernandinho joining Touré in a double pivot. The former Shakhtar Donetsk man is certainly more defensively inclined than Touré, and will be eager to put himself back in Guardiola’s good books after a stuttering cameo at left back in the first leg. Improved performances in domestic competitions have made him more likely to shield the back four on his own than to play alongside Touré.
That said, Guardiola is unlikely to change much, knowing how much more difficult a goal will make Monaco’s task. “I definitely feel that if we don’t score, we’ll go out. It would be a huge mistake to think about what we have done and not think about the job we still have to do. The best way [to defend] is score goals.” This is indeed a sage assessment from the manager, and given how industrious De Bruyne and David Silva were in tracking back in the first leg, he has no real reason to believe a more defensive formation will change his side’s prospects.
Indeed, City have largely kept faith with that 4-1-4-1 in their recent matches domestically, and while Stoke, Middlesbrough and Sunderland hardly pack the offensive punch of Monaco, the confidence that can be gained from an ongoing run of three clean sheets can’t be undersold. Between City’s improving defensive form and Monaco’s potential issues in defence, progress unfortunately looks unlikely for the hosts. Even so, one would be foolish not to tune in to a match that is sure to offer a similar level of excitement to the first leg.
AS Monaco (4-4-2): Danijel Subasic; Djibril Sidibé, Andrea Raggi, Jemerson, Benjamin Mendy; Bernardo Silva, Fabinho, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Thomas Lemar; Kylian Mbappé, Radamel Falcao
Manchester City (4-1-4-1): Willy Caballero; Bacary Sagna, John Stones, Nicolás Otamendi, Pablo Zabaleta; Yaya Touré; Leroy Sané, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling; Sergio Agüero
Predicted Score : AS Monaco 2-2 Manchester City