Pep Guardiola could have singled any of the Manchester City team out for criticism on Wednesday night after they crashed out of the Champions League at Monaco. The defence had shipped another three goals and the whole midfield gone absent without leave in an abysmal first half.
But it was the front three who got it in the neck, in public, from Guardiola when he gave his press conference soon after the final whistle at the Stade Louis II.
“Why was the second half a problem with our defence?” Guardiola bristled. “The problem was the first half when we were not there. Our strikers have to be aggressive and pick the ball up, but we didn’t, at this crucial time. That is why we are out.”
Monaco vs Manchester City player ratings
Monaco vs Manchester City player ratings
1/22 Danijel Subašić 8 out of 10
Had very little to do in the first-half but made some very important stops in the second, including a fine reaction stop to deny Aguero after the forward had raced through on goal.
2/22 Djibril Sidibé 7
Not quite as impressive as Mendy, but made a nuisance of himself whenever he got forward and largely kept the in-form Leroy Sane quiet.
3/22 Andrea Raggi 6
Imperious in the first-half, ran ragged in the second. At 32, he was always going to struggle against the pace of Sane but his positioning also let him down as City flooded forward late on.
4/22 Jemerson 6
Overplayed the ball on occasions and often guilty of making needlessly ambitious passes when there was a more simple option available. Did very well in the air though and denied Raheem Sterling in the second-half with a superb tackle.
5/22 Benjamin Mendy 8
The man of the match. No defender has more assists in this year’s Champions League than the 22-year-old. Dominated Sagna going forward. Dominated Sterling staying back.
6/22 Bernardo Silva 8
A typically bright performance from the forward. Always comfortable in possession and a threat whenever he picked up the ball and looked to play in one of Monaco’s forwards.
7/22 Fabinho 7
Took his goal very well, beating Caballero with a composed, first-time finish. Made a number of crucial tackles and interceptions, too.
8/22 Tiemoué Bakayoko 7
Not the 22-year-old’s finest performance with a number of his passes went awry, but what does that matter? Scored the winning goal, pouncing on an error from Kolarov to nod pass Caballero at close-range.
9/22 Thomas Lemar 7
A bright start from the winger who overlapped nicely with the excellent Mendy. It was his well-taken free-kick which led to Monaco’s pivotal third goal.
10/22 Valère Germain 7
Offered more of a physical threat than his strike partner. Won a number of his aerial duels with Kolarov and unlucky to see a long-range strike whistle over the bar in the first-half.
11/22 Kylian Mbappé 8
Hard to believe he is only 18. Took his goal with confidence and terrorised the City defence with his direct running.
12/22 Willy Caballero 6
Cannot really be blamed for any of Monaco’s goals. Always quick off his life and dealt with Monaco’s aerial threat well, confidently punching clear on a number of occasions.
13/22 Bacary Sagna 5
His lack of pace was ruthlessly exploited by the fantastic Mendy. Was guilty of wandering out of position for Monaco’s second goal.
14/22 John Stones 5
Should have done better with Monaco’s second-goal, when he was pulled out of position by Lemar. His partnership with Kolarov does not look convincing.
15/22 Aleksander Kolarov 5
Struggled against the pace of Mbappe, the strength of Germain and utterly at fault for the crucial third goal.
16/22 Gael Clichy 6
One of the few City players to venture out of his half early on. But his distribution was lacklustre and, like Sagna, he struggled to stop his opposition full-back from raiding forward.
17/22 Fernandinho 6
Preferred by Guardiola to Yaya Toure for his greater energy, but as City’s only defensive midfielder, spent much of the game chasing shadows.
18/22 David Silva 6
Completely overshadowed by his namesake in the midfield. Grew into the game and one of City’s better players in the second-half, but will be disappointed with his display.
19/22 Kevin De Bruyne 6
Did better for City when he dropped deep and played in Sterling with a superb through-ball in the second-half, which the winger failed to take advantage of.
20/22 Raheem Sterling 6
Largely ineffectual although he did turn Mendy in the second-half, leading to Sane scoring City’s only goal.
21/22 Leroy Sane 7
Ineffectual in the first-half, City’s best player in the second. Scored their only goal and twice put it on a platter for Sergio Aguero, who endured a night to forget.
22/22 Sergio Aguero 4
One of the Argentinian’s poorest performances in a City shirt. Missed a hatful of chances in the second-half.
Guardiola was furious that his players had ignored his pre-match instructions. Before the game he had said that the only way City could beat a team like Monaco was by “taking the ball and attacking as much as possible”.
But it was very clear in the opening minutes that was not going to happen, and in that first half City lost the game. “We wanted to show personality, not to let them think,” Guardiola said afterwards. “But they could pass and pass the ball.”
The message clearly got through to the players, who all said afterwards they had fluffed their lines. “We forgot to fight as a team, press as a team and defend as a team,” Bacary Sagna admitted afterwards.
Just think back to when City have played some of their best football this season, and certainly their most Guardiola football, and which players they had in their team.
It was in late January and early February, when City had Gabriel Jesus up front, not Sergio Aguero. That was how it was for their 4-0 win at West Ham United on 1 February, arguably their most complete performance of the season.
Gabriel was everything Guardiola wanted in a centre forward. He is quick, mobile, selfless but above all, in Guardiola’s favourite word, “aggressive”, harassing opposition defenders when they had the ball. That is how this City team are meant to play, winning the ball back and defending against the counter-attack through constant pressure from the front.
Aguero has come back into the team since Gabriel broke his foot in Bournemouth on 13 February. He has worked hard on a side of the game that does not come naturally to him. Guardiola has said Aguero is playing the best he has ever seen and there was a hope that Guardiola could change the 28-year-old, and turn him into his type of player after all.
But there is no getting past the fact that Aguero and Gabriel inhabit very different bodies, play very different games and exist at very different stages of their career. Aguero is the best finisher in the Premier League but last night he could not do what Guardiola wanted him to do, taking the game to Monaco and putting them under pressure. He could not provide the leadership to Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling and Monaco realised soon enough they were off the hook.
There has been a debate this year whether Gabriel or Aguero will be City’s first-choice centre-forward next season. City have always insisted that Aguero is not for sale although Aguero himself has said more than once that City have not yet made that directly clear to him.
Eventually, if not in 2017 then in 2018, Guardiola will have to choose between the two candidates to be his leading man. If he was starting to think that Aguero could be moulded into someone more like Gabriel, to do all that pressing from the front, Wednesday night might have given him some pause. Gabriel is still recovering from his metatarsal fracture in a protective boot, but last night he looked more invaluable to City’s future than ever.Reuse content