“Let’s hope the fourth official indicates 15 minutes of added time,” joked Darren Fletcher commentating on BT Sport. Who could blame him? As Manchester City recovered to beat Monaco in the first leg of the Champions League second round, the two combined to produce one of the most thrilling matches in the tournament’s history.
Monaco swept aside the hosts in the first half, with goals from Falcao and the prodigious Kylian Mbappe cancelling out Raheem Sterling’s opener. After Sergio Aguero equalised, Falcao regained the French side’s lead with a dink over Willy Caballero that will live long in the memory – and not just for the way the Colombian left John Stones on his back-side.
During the mayhem Aguero was booked for diving when he should have had a penalty and Falcao missed his own spot kick. Eventually City roared back with three goals between the 72nd and 81st minute. Aguero levelled with a lovely volley from David Silva’s corner, while Stones earned a redemption strike to make it 4-3. Leroy Sane finished the rout after a scything move featuring Aguero and Silva. In truth, Monaco collapsed just as City had earlier.
It was the kind of match that had you watching through your fingers because of the lapses in defence. Consider Caballero’s clearance which plunged his team into danger before Mbappe scored. Think back to how Subasic should have saved Aguero’s first goal. But on the other hand there were moments of brilliance, such as Falcao’s chip and Sane’s endless running and productivity.
The fun started with Bernardo Silva nutmegging Yaya Toure and Mbappe dribbling past Nicolas Otamendi as if he wasn’t there. It’s easy to see why Mbappe, 18, is being touted as the next Thierry Henry. Sterling opened the scoring, turning in Sane’s cross after the German evaded three defenders on the left.
Monaco battled back to take the lead. Fabinho swung a cross towards goal which Falcao headed in, and moments after Aguero was wrongly booked when Subasic brought him down, Mbappe scored the vistors’ second. He left Otamendi for dead and side-footed into the roof of the net, taking advantage of Caballero’s shanked clearance.
The Ligue 1 leaders should have been further ahead by the time Falcao missed a penalty that would have put his side 3-1 up. The forward with 16 league goals this season slid to meet a cross with Otamendi, resulting in a tussle which nobody on the pitch thought was a foul apart from referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz. Otamendi was booked, and Falcao rolled his penalty straight at Caballero. It was never a penalty and City got their just rewards.
They pulled it back to 2-2 when Sterling, breaking from the halfway line, laid off a diagonal ball for Augero whose shot tricked through Subasic’s grasp and into the Monaco net. The Croat may have gained solance from Falcao’s lob for 3-2, but City completed their rout thereafter.
Aguero equalised after meeting Silva’s corner beautifully, while it felt ironic that it was Stones who put them 4-3 ahead after he let Falcao muscle past him earlier. The England defender converted Kevin De Bruyne’s corner at the far post, and as Monaco began waving the white flag, Sane got the goal his performance warranted. Meanwhile City and Monaco will meet again in the second leg on 15th March, just in case you were thinking this season’s Champions League couldn’t get any better.