Date: 22nd February 2017 at 5:33pm
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Did you see what I saw at the Etihad Stadium last night? Or was it a mirage originated across the Arabian Desert? As the rain drizzled down and the queues outside got longer, I doubt anyone could have predicted the outcome of this Champions League first leg between City and AS Monaco.

The portents were there. A team that proudly leads its division in France, despite the riches and background of PSG, that scores goals by the bucketful and generally defends well against City, who are also not generally shy in front of goal, but whose defence has been failing to answer questions all season. Throw in a pathetically poor referee and the recipe deepens. One of the pundits on TalkStretford said, before a ball had been kicked that the aggregate could be 9-8. Little did he know that by the end of the night, his prediction could become reality when the teams reconvene in the principality in three weeks time.

Guardiola’s team selection once again bowled us a couple of googlies with Otamendi in the centre alongside Stones and Fernandinho playing as left back. Other than that it was what we might have expected with De Bruyne, Yaya and Silva behind Sterling Aguero and Sane. Sagna was the right back and Caballero between the uprights.

It was clear from the start that this was not going to be a touchy-feely cup tie. Both teams set off like trains seeking to get the business done. The pace of Sterling and Sane featured early as did the blistering speed with which Monaco counter-attacked City´s intended press. But it was midway through the first half before the first cut happened. Silva has been rejeuvenated with the new-found legs of Sane and Sterling out wide and he now takes more or less every opportunity to use his willing runners.

Earlier Aguero was not decisive enough trying to latch onto an intelligent cross by Sterling, but the same Sterling was to make no mistake after 26 minutes when Sane won the ball out wide left. He played a rather elongated one-two with Silva before skipping round the corner to lay it up for Raheem who clipped it home first time. Monaco had featured heavily on attack in the early stages but this was an excellent City goal which was to set the standard for the rest of the night.

The problem was that only six minutes later City became the self-inflicted victims of this ridiculous “play out from the keeper” routine which has us cringing on the seating decks. Caballero had already made one or two desperate punts to find players out wide but at a time when he should simply have hit it long he tries to find Sane who had come deep. Fabinho was ahead of the game, clipped in a neat cross and the man whose career the Stretfords tried so desperately to ruin swooped like a hungry eagle, with a diving header, to level the scores. I have to say that even the Pedmachine applauded the header but was visibly seething at the stupidity of Caballero’s awful clearance.

Monaco were suddenly back in it and once again their front foot football was causing City problems at the back. That said City too were causing headaches at the other end especially when Aguero got clean through, slipped the ball to one side of the keeper before being quite clearly brought down by Subasic. A penalty and red card looked inevitable, but only a yellow card came out. Then it became clear that it was Aguero for diving. How ridiculous!. We almost incessantly call our referees to book in this country but this was one of the most outrageous non-penalty decision ever seen. Not only did Sergio have one foot taken away, but he had them both. It was a decision that certainly changed the demeanour around the Etihad, especially as by now Sidibe and Glik had commited enough fouls for at least one of them to be in the new portakabins that masquerade as the away showers in the service tunnel. But this jester of an official seemed happy to brandish cautions but was too scared to escalate them to reds, where persistent infringement was the word.

Worse was to come ahead of the break and we saw what all the fuss was about in terms of Mbappe whose electric pace was giving City nightmares. From a free kick deep in their own half, Monaco went route one and the young Frenchman easily got in behind a static Stones and Otamendi and lashed the ball beyond Caballero.

City couldn´t get back on terms before half time, although there were signs that they were not ready to capitulate.

It was a determined set of Blues that appeared for the second half. As Monaco rejoiced City simply applied the stiff upper lip and got in amongst it.

But even so disaster was about to befall City when Otamendi’s poor challenge on Falcao resulted in the referee pointing to the spot. It’s normally Fabinho’s job, but Falcao fancied it. He tried to outwit Caballero with a stuttered run, but the big man was up to it and made what amounted to an easy save.

Aguero had been a bit lightweight in the first half but his time arrived after the break and he was duly rewarded ahead of the hour. Sterling it was who skinned the left hand side of the Monaco defence. He played Aguero in between two defenders in his favoured inside right channel, but there was still work to do. However it looked as though Subasic had been transplanted with Bravo as Sergio´s unconvincing shot squirmed under his body and into the net, for an equaliser that City deserved.

City were still in self-congratulatory mode when lightning struck once more in the City defence. The Blues were once more undone by a long punt out of defence which got Falcao one-on-one with Stones. There was a rapid in-and-out which left Stones sat on his backside before Falcao rubbed it in with the neatest of chips over a stranded Caballero. Again the groans sounded around the Etihad at the horrendous defending.

In one of City´s next attacks good build-up work between Silva, Aguero and Sterling saw the latter sprint clear of the cover before being clipped by the last man, but once again there was nothing doing when the world looked in the direction of the clown of a referee.

The best we were thinking of now was to try to get a draw and maybe win the away leg, but if anything it looked as though Monaco might run away with it. They varied their play, direct one minute, patient build-up the next and at this point the Blues of earlier this season might have been reeling, but they were to score two goals in quick succession from the unlikely source of corners. I have often suggested that the last time City scored from a corner was when Dave Watson or Niall Quinn were playing, as there was no evidence for years that they even practice them. Tonight however they were to become the City Saviour.

First up was one from Silva which was aimed at Stones. It travelled a long way over the head of Stones and waiting behind was Aguero who volleyed it past Subasic to once again give City a foothold.

Six minutes later it was same again. This time it was de Bruyne from the left. It was flicked on by Yaya into the path of Stones who atoned for his earlier misdemeanour by putting City ahead on the night. Once again the feeling changed and despite the worsening situation with one of the poorest referees I have ever seen, we were wondering what was in store next.

Five minutes later we found out as a City raid swept along the field. Silva was found outside the box. He waited for Aguero to divide the cover before playing a slide rule pass into his path. This was now a situation where Sergio would normally try to score but this time, as it says in the gospel according to St Pep “if someone is better placed, give it to them.” The back stick was loaded with Sterling and Sane. Sterling offside, Sane not. Aguero slid the ball in and thankfully it was the German who got there first to convert it into the net. This was a much deserved goal from an incredible young footballer who is starting to prove his worth.

Neither City nor Monaco could trouble the scorers again although Falcao was robbed of his hat-trick by the feet of Caballero just before the end.

There is little doubt that this goal-fest may only be the precedent to another one in three weeks time on the south coast of France. It is unlikely, even at the admission of the manager, that City can sit and defend their two-goal lead against an attack abundant with goals, so they too will have to make a game of it. I would like to think that the Blues can survive a lead like this despite the pounding they will get. We must not forget that City scored five goals against the Monaco defence and that this must be remembered when everyone goes on about our indifferent defending. Even without new-boy Gabriel Jesus, City had enough pace and power to win in adversity here.

The type of goals conceded were those that usually send your head down and have you staring at the floor. But City got their heads up, rolled their sleeves up and together with fantastically attack-minded opposition delivered what must be the best European match served up since Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-4.

It was not unexpected to see the marks out of ten give Silva, Aguero, Sterling and Sane 9, Yaya 8 and the defence an assortment of 4s and 5s.

But what a round this has been so far. Goals galore doesn´t cut it. There were 14 last night in two ties alone and the astonishing antics of last night provided us with an incredible insight as to just how amazing it is that against the background of more illustrious neighbours, Atletico de Madrid is a rich breeding ground for top-of-the-range strikers.

We may recall that before moving to Sue´s Liverpool and becoming the darling of my woman, Fernando Torres was a young goal machine at the Estadio Vicente Calderon. As he took exit to Merseyside, one Sergio Aguero arrived. This replacement goal machine moved on to City to be replaced by Falcao. Apart from his two-pronged blip at Stretford and Chelsea, where I don´t think the coaches understood his offering, he too has not found the back of the net to be a stranger. His place was taken by Griezmann, who is also banging them in regularly in Madrid.

All of these players scored last night in the Champions League!

If as reported, Griezmann is getting the wrong taxi from Manchester Airport soon, let´s hope that he follows in the footsteps of Falcao and Di Maria. Neither left a positive footprint on the turf of the Theatre of Rubbish and both high-tailed it away at the earliest opportunity only to rediscover the form they had before they arrived at the red-and-white repository.

Come on City!!

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