When the draw for the first knockout round of the Champions League was made a little over two months ago, many were adamant that Manchester City had been given a straightforward tie. ‘They should breeze past Monaco’, was the summary from many “experts”.
Even then City were not in great form, winning only two matches in seven across all competitions before the 2-1 defeat of Watford on December 14. But it was widely assumed that Pep Guardiola would get them firing on all cylinders before the return of European football. It was also suggested that free-scoring Monaco would tail out by the time February rolled around.
Monaco are yet – as apparent “experts” predicted – to tail off. They continue to score for fun and they possess a squad which is full of young talent, none of whom have departed in January.
In fact, their form in front of goal so far in Ligue 1 has been quite remarkable. After 26 matches they have 76 goals, a tally bettered by no other team in Europe’s top five leagues. Making that record look even more impressive is the fact that big-spending Paris Saint-Germain have netted 26 times less.
Most goals from set pieces in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season:
Real Madrid (15)
Specialists ? pic.twitter.com/4nAXkBUjo4
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 24, 2017
Leonardo Jardim’s men have even been pretty resolute at the back as well, conceding 24 times, giving them the fourth-best defence in the league.
The obvious criticism some are likely to come up with is that Ligue 1 “isn’t as good as the Premier League”. Perhaps, but there can be no doubt about the ability of many players in that Monaco squad, while confidence also plays a part. They have it in abundance – do City? Doubtful.
— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) January 23, 2017
Monaco’s spread of goals has also been noteworthy. Six players have scored five or more in Ligue 1, including a resurgent Radamel Falcao, while Kylian Mbappe and Bernardo Silva (not part of that group of six) have become two of Europe’s most sought-after under-21 players with their respective performances this term.
— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) January 26, 2017
It seems clear that if City are to progress and live up to their billing as apparent favourites, they will need to defend well, something they haven’t exactly done so far this term. Their record of 29 goals conceded, more then Middlesborough, and a club who didn’t spend a reported £47.5m on a centre-back last summer.
Fluid, unpredictable and extremely athletic, this is a Monaco team that has the attributes to really test the best of them, just ask PSG and Tottenham. Unai Emery’s men lost 3-1 to them, while Spurs were defeated home and away in the Champions League group stage.
City have been complacent this season and that has ultimately seen them trail eight points to Chelsea to date; to be honest, you can probably write them off right now.
And if they continue that pattern in Europe against Monaco, they absolutely have the players to leave Guardiola embarrassed. It’s no fluke that Jardim’s kids have scored four goals or more in a single match ten times this season.