Date: 22nd February 2017 at 8:27pm
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This was the game that had it all. A spectacular footballing arena reflected through its pulsating atmosphere the dazzling events played out before it on Mancunian grass. Monaco came to town highly rated which proved to be rightly so, but the French squad staggered out of Ringway shellshocked such was the intensity of City’s fightback. A new scoring record had been set for the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie and Les Monégasques’ 2 month unbeaten record was at an end, whilst City’s unbeaten run stretched to 7 games…

It was the manner of City’s stellar fightback that Planet Blue will relish most this week after the squad flew to Abu Dhabi today for some timely rest and recuperation and warm weather training before the business end of the season kicks in. A clear and present will to win shone through against Monaco that will stand the Blues in good stead for the important battles to come. Monaco were tremendously fast on the counter, but not unlike our own defence, there was a shakiness about their own that struggled to handle direct runs down the channels. We were witnessing a contest with an end to end frenzy that harked back to the Kevin Keegan era of ‘we’ll score more than you’ in all its bonkers glory.

However, beyond City’s collective determination and the securing of the discipline required to get around a UEFA conspiracy theorists dream of a shocking ref, I believe there were two key performance factors which combined to turn this game in the Blues favour regardless of any defensive frailty. The first was to hook Fernandinho out of his left back stand in role shortly after the hour mark and Monaco’s third goal. The battling Brazilian had been terrorised to that point and Bacary Sagna’s switch from right to left full stabilised City’s defence almost immediately. The procession along Monaco’s right flank was suddenly arrested. The second factor was City’s superior fitness levels. As we saw twice against PSG in last season’s competition, the Ligue 1 side’s legs started to go with 20 minutes remaining and they promptly conceded 3 goals in 12 minutes. A replay of City’s fifth will make for harrowing viewing back at Stade Louis II.

There was so much to appreciate when City poured forward. Leroy Sané and the rejuvenated, Slippy Gerrard praised Raz Sterling are thriving from Spanish Dave’s Silva service and Kun Aguero as predicted in these cyber pages duly delivered a timely riposte to shite stirring hacks and BT Bitters foaming over his six game goal drought. 20 goals to the good for the season for the Mighty Atom now. And that’s after two lengthy suspensions! Take it!

I don’t think it’s churlish or ill timed today as a fanbase to analyse where things went wrong for us last night even if the British media will steadfastly prefer to focus on anything City-negative. Were last night’s win sealed by the Stretford Galacticos or Liverpool they’d be eulogising about the win relentlessly. However, my main gripe is the City goalkeeping issue backing a defence that still doesn’t look fully comfortable with the playing system. Nico Otamendi and John Stones’ positioning for runs into the box were bloody awful, getting the wrong sides of their men and not staying on their feet. These are basic errors that need stamping out. I still think communicative orders from behind them is a problem and it’s the keeper debate which continues to worry many of us. Much as I believed late last year that we would see this stronger second half of the season as the City squad became more accustomed to the gaffer’s methods, I am still of the opinion that there is still too much of an element of tightrope walking in the Blues penalty area.

As rumours circulate in Germany of a thumping City bid for Bayern’s Mr. Neuer, 39 games into the season, I am increasingly at a loss from a purely footballing perspective as to why Pep chose to offload 29 year old Joe Hart in favour of resting City’s defensive ambitions upon the shoulders of veteran keepers Claudio Bravo and Willy Caballero. Caballero has proved himself of late to be more vocal and combative than Bravo, but whereas Bravo has yet to repel shots for us in the way that penalty specialist Caballero does, the Argentine has a propensity to stay rooted to his line rather than come out for crosses. As one seasoned Blue remarked to me at half time after Caballero’s howler last night, which ever way anybody dresses it up, including Pep, you cannot legislate for such shocking distribution from a goalkeeper at this level. With a guaranteed 16 fixtures remaining across 3 competitions in this campaign, our goalkeeping situation remains an achilles heel that still threatens to derail our season’s ambitions. There will be less margin for error as each fixture builds in importance.

Pep appears to be promising more of the same when the two sides meet again next month by suggesting that City must score again to get through to the quarter finals. Should another shoot out develop there is of course a strong chance that City with only 6 defeats in 22 fixtures on the road across all competitions could again eclipse Monaco, but surely there has to be an acknowledgement that we must provide a sterner defensive proposition than we are doing at
present if we are to reach the final stages of the tournament again.

There’s an awful lot of football to be played until we next meet. Monaco will play four times including Marseille in the French Cup and City will play three sides, Huddersfield, Sunderland and Stoke (or Boro in the cup). Providing we can keep our main men fit there is no reason why the Blues can’t fly south on a winning streak.

A special mention to the 1894 Group of City supporters who led the vocal charge at The Etihad last night. The atmosphere for Champions League games is building steadily!

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