As someone who writes about coaches and tactics, I was interested in watching the return leg of the Monaco/Manchester City matchup. Setting aside the obscene number of goals in the first match, there were two questions in my mind I could not wait to see how Leonardo Jardim addressed. The first was the line-up. Monaco score goals; they attack and use their youthful legs to come after you and press with the intent to grab the first goal. However, so often in these kinds of matches, we see managers hedge. Down two goals in the aggregate, managers tell their players to push forward, but still hold back a few midfielders or keep that defensive midfielder in the starting XI that sits back. This allows a team to mostly go for goals but still prevent that decisive away goal. More often than not, however, that kind of half-hearted commitment to attack backfires.
The second was how Monaco would line up without Radamel Falcao. The French side’s captain had a hurt hip, and undoubtedly he was motivated to play well in the match. Without the famous forward, how would Monaco press City successfully?
Monaco lined up in what seemed like a 4-2-3-1 formation but when the whistle blew is quickly morphed into a 4-4-2 with the wings pushed up. Germain was the point man but had support on his sides. Initially it seemed that Monaco wanted to exploit the City fullbacks as much as possible. Guardiola had started Clichy and Sagna with the intent of providing some bite in the attack but it also allowed Monaco to surge forward and push men into the box looking for a cross. That’s where the first goal came from – after a scramble for the ball a pass in was poked past Caballero by Mbappe for an early lead.
The key to these kinds of ties, as anyone who has watched an Arsenal Round of 16 second leg has heard, is to score early. With an early goal you grab momentum, the crowd gets into the game, and your opponent begins to real a little. Monaco showed this is a correct assumption. Aided by an official that called few ticky-tack fouls, Monaco took the momentum from the first goal and continued to surge forward, entering halftime with a commanding 2-0 lead in the match and the advantage in the aggregate.
With the exception of Barcelona v. PSG round one, good teams rarely play a miserable first half then play an equally bad second half. City came out flying, not allowing the Monaco midfield any time with the ball and seizing the time of possession early in the half. Jardim played an interesting game -he wanted his young side to continue to press and push City, but how long would he allow City to control possession and create more and more scoring chances? His first substitution – young Almany Toure for the injured Andrea Raggi – showed that Jardim still wanted his young, fresh legs to press with the hopes they could hold city or nick another goal. It was the latter as Fabinho scored in the 77th minute to restore the advantage, after which Jardim decided to go defensive and substitute on Joao Moutinho (who I thought should have come on earlier).
In the end, Monaco played their game. Despite some shameful defending in the first leg, they wanted to push the biggest advantage they had over City. They are younger, more aggressive, and seemingly fearless, and this mentality which City doesn’t see as often in the Premier League was something they almost, but not quite, could get by with their older roster.