Date: 16th March 2017 at 10:13am
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Monte Carlo went bust for City as they crashed out of European football, for this season at least, atop the richest multi-story car park probably in the world on Wednesday night.

The key to success as far as the Blues were concerned was to get the first goal and add to the two-goal lead they fought so valiantly to achieve in the match of the decade at the Etihad three weeks ago, but it was not to be.

City’s problems commenced an hour before kick-off when Guardiola handed in another inexplicable team sheet, or at least the proposed line-up contained therein. I was happy to see Caballero in goal but not to see Sagna selected ahead of Zabaleta for a match of this magnitude. The rest of the back line contained Stones, Kolarov and Clichy, the latter of which must now be on the home straight in East Manchester.

The added mystery was to position Fernandinho as the sole holding midfielder, pushing forward De Bruyne and Silva with Sane and Sterling out wide. The Mighty Atom was the sole striker.

AS Monaco lined up in a good old-fashioned 4-4-2, using Sidibe and Mendy to push forward into a 2-4-4 designed to overwhelm City in midfield from minute one. They achieve this with almost ruthless efficiency in the early stages, attacking dangerously and unopposed from City’s widemen.

Fernandinho never sits right for me in a “sitting” position in midfield and virtually the first time he was given the ball by Caballero he cost City an early goal against. Instead of using the men ahead of him, he was caught on half way and Monaco quickly and clinically processed the ball down City’s right. For some obscure reason, Sagna was marking space on the opposite side, Mendy got himself a free run at Sane and Aguero before placing in a razor sharp cross to find Mbappe in the mix on the six yard line to fire home in true predator fashion.

With the aggregate score now leaving Monaco only one behind, they went on to totally dominate the first half, overloading the midfield with their assortment of big men leaving Silva and the beleaguered De Bruyne completely out of the time. The reality was that City couldn’t string three passes together as Monaco retrieved the ball quickly and hit the City back line even more quickly.

It was probably amazing that this City defence lasted until 28 minutes without conceding a second goal, but when it came, once again it was with the precision of a surgeon’s knife that the combination of Lemar and Mendy shredded the right side of City’s defence before spotting that Fabinho had drifted away from Sterling and the ball into him was slammed home without asking questions.

City managed to get to the break without further embarrassment. It was a half that had seen nothing in terms of attacking football from a team selected for its attacking prowess. De Bruyne was simply shocking and I hardly recall seeing Silva on the ball. Because Monaco were able to push Sidibe and Mendy forward, Sane and Silva found themselves confronted by two every time they got the ball and Aguero looked lost battling with two and sometimes three defenders.

Change needed to come quickly for City. At the half I would have left De Bruyne in the changing rooms and sent out Yaya. I would have also binned Sagna who had been mainly responsible for the two goals, both times being absent from his position. No wonder Stones, who put in one of his best performances, did not look like a happy camper.

Pep, however is not one for admitting mistakes, judging by the number of times he is “happy”. He did however pull De Bruyne back alongside the toiling Fernandinho, giving the team a more 4-2-3-1 look and it immediately looked more solid and City began to get involved in a match that was in grave danger of moving away from them.

The chances started to appear. Aguero, Sane and Sterling suddenly found what looked like chasms of space but two good saves by Subasic and a couple of Stoke City-esque blocks kept the Blues at bay.

Silva was getting more involved and Sane was finally attacking only one defender and was getting past him. City needed a goal and it was to arrive in the 71st minute. De Bruyne was at last finding range with his passes as he was getting the ball in more unopposed locations and his searching 40-yarder found Sterling out wide. He turned on the after-burners and cut inside Mendy before drilling in a left foot shot which was too hot for Subasic to handle. His spill went straight to Sane who hammered it straight into the roof of the met. City were once again alive in the contest and you could see Pep screaming at them to continue to press forward, clearly untrusting of his defence. Even Sue let out her best banshee-like screech, likened in some circles to a woman giving birth.

But, and there always is a but where City are concerned, as quickly as De Bruyne became saint, he became sinner. Giving away what can only be described as a stupid free kick, 40 yards wide right, he presented City with one final piece of unnecessary pressure and it was to prove terminal.

With the defensive line holding far too far forward, the free kick was swung in towards the penalty spot and Babayoko bulleted his header beyond Caballero to win the tie for Monaco. Kolarov found himself stuck underneath the ball and there was no resistance from any other blue shirt.

So it was a disappointing end to another relatively poor campaign in Europe, the Barcelona home result apart, from City. Quite frankly the Blues are never going to win anything in Europe with a defence like this one. What would Pep give for wing backs like Mendy and Sidibe, the Ligue 1 equivalents of Walker and Rose, only in my opinion, better? He must look at the ex-Gooner jesters formerly known as Sagna and Clichy and vomit. Kolarov has proved on-and-off that he can play centre back, but for me only Stones should remain.

I can’t help feeling that Yaya would have made a difference. He is City’s man for the big occasions having delivered almost every time he has been asked so to do in matches of this magnitude. But Guardiola persists with the manifestations of De Bruyne who for me has been out of his true form for 6 weeks or so. Yaya would have added the rock-like monster to block up the midfield, moved the ball forward more quickly and with more precision than Fernandinho and De Bruyne, whose first half passing was simply awful.

Additionally I had to feel sorry for Aguero, once again commissioned to toil among three gigantic defenders, but I’ll tell you what?I don’t think, Tevez apart, I have seen a centre forward work so hard without the ball and try so hard on the limited occasions he got it to make something happen. Guardiola would be a lunatic to even consider shedding this footballer come the end of the season. Monaco showed how to play an effective 4-4-2 and Pep should bear this in mind before he considers any kind of life without Sergio.

In reality, City now have only the iconic FA Cup to play for and I think from the teams left in the hat the Blues would probably have chosen Arsenal, but there is a lot of work to be done before that competition surfaces again. The Blues now have probably the trickiest triumvirate of matches to come in the Barclays Premier League with Liverpool due to visit the Etihad on Sunday before City go on another Capital Mystery Tour to face Arsenal and Chelsea. I would once have suggested that this was a season-defining run of fixtures, but for me City’s season is more or less already defined, although they must maintain sufficient interest in the Premier League to ensure a top-four finish.

I can only see Otamendi, Yaya and Zabaleta as the changes for Sunday’s match with Clichy, Sagna and maybe Fernandinho the victims. Sue has already thrown in the towel as she expects what she calls “My boys” to sacrifice the three points at the Etihad. But when did City last beat Liverpool in the League?

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