Defence proves to be City's undoing

Monaco's French midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko celebrating with forward Kylian Mbappe Lottin (left) after scoring a goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 football match against Manchester City in Monaco on March 15, 2017.
Monaco's French midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko celebrating with forward Kylian Mbappe Lottin (left) after scoring a goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 football match against Manchester City in Monaco on March 15, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

Pep's attack policy backfires, with rearguard unable to keep out Europe's top-scoring team

MONACO • So the wealthy, self-regarding Premier League has now managed to provide only five Champions League quarter-finalists in six seasons. So it is now down to Leicester City to keep the battered English standard flying in Europe's elite club competition.

Many reasons underpin English underachievement, including the intensity of the domestic game, but it is also the frequently naive nature of the defending. Manchester City have the attack to go far in the Champions League but a back line that make too many mistakes - as they showed in their 3-1 defeat at Monaco which saw them exit the last-16 stage on away goals.

Teenage prodigy Kylian Mbappe and Brazilian midfielder Fabinho struck inside the opening half hour as Monaco, trailing 5-3 from the first leg, wrested away control of the tie at the Stade Louis II.

City manager Pep Guardiola improved his side by pulling Kevin De Bruyne back to help Fernandinho shield the defence, and pushing David Silva up. Silva put through Leroy Sane, who pulled one back on 71 minutes.

But City's Achilles' heel, their defence, was exposed again and the unmarked Tiemoue Bakayoko headed Monaco into the last eight.

It was a deserved victory for the Ligue 1 side. Monaco, particularly in the first half, came at City in waves.

  • 1

    Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has failed to reach the quarters for the first time in eight seasons as a coach.

    5

    City are the first team in Champions League history to be eliminated in a knockout tie after scoring five goals in the first leg.

    11

    City have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 11 Champions League away games.

Mbappe, their 18-year-old striker, further enhanced his reputation, and the bidding war will surely commence in the summer for his services. Bakayoko, even with a bandaged right knee, bestrode midfield alongside Fabinho. Benjamin Mendy stormed forward from full back, revelling in the space afforded him by Bacary Sagna. City's defence as a whole was abject, slow to close down.

"I wonder if Pep will be telling his defenders at half-time that they are actually allowed to tackle someone," former England striker and BBC pundit Alan Shearer tweeted.

Guardiola had gambled in his 100th European club fixture, starting five attackers with only Fernandinho shielding a backline shorn of some of its more redoubtable defenders. Pablo Zabaleta's calming influence was missed amid the early storm.

Nicolas Otamendi was dropped for Aleksandar Kolarov. And when Bernardo Silva delivered a second-half free-kick into the area, it was Kolarov who was caught out, the ball clearing him and headed home by a stooping Bakayoko.

"My philosophy has always been the same, that of attacking," said Guardiola. "In the first half, I was not able to convince my players to play in a certain way, to motivate them, to show more personality. I knew how to do it after the break.

"But the important thing is always to stay true to our DNA, to our style of play. We only did it in the second half."

As Guardiola blamed himself, it was the Spaniard's struggle to build a tight City defence that earned him most criticism.

"They were too high, it's pathetic defending," former Manchester United centre-back Rio Ferdinand said on BT Sport in reference to City's lack of organisation leading up to Bakayoko's goal.

"You have to give yourself the chance to see the ball. If you stay that high you give the guy taking it an area to hit.

"There is no one in there who is commanding that box, dictating to the line of defence telling them where to be. That's the problem."

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2017, with the headline 'Defence proves to be City's undoing'. Print Edition | Subscribe