The big absentee for Manchester City is Gabriel Jesus, who has a fractured metatarsal and could be out for the season. His pace and movement had made a huge impact even in his short time at the club and also made clear the limitations of Sergio Aguero, even if the Argentinian is a better finisher. Ilkay Gundogan is still out with his knee injury while Vincent Kompany has suffered yet another problem. Monaco are without the Brazilian attacking midfielder Gabriel Boschilia, the holding midfielder Tiemoué Bakayoko and the Argentinian forward Guido Carillo.
Man City’s draw away to Huddersfield in the FA Cup on Saturday was frustrating, but it followed a run of four straight victories in which it looked as though they have begun to assimilate Pep Guardiola’s ideas. Admittedly, Jesus played an important role in those games, but it wasn’t just about his movement. Omitting Claudio Bravo has brought a sense of stability at the back, while Yaya Toure is enjoying a renewed spell of form. Monaco drew against Bastia on Friday, leaving their lead at three points, but they’d won six of the seven games before that.
City and Monaco have never met before, but Monaco’s record against English clubs is generally very good. They beat Tottenham at Wembley in the group stage this season and have won four and drawn two of eight away matches against English league clubs. In five previous two-legged ties against English sides, they’ve won four, including putting out Arsenal at this stage in 2015. City beat PSG in last season’s quarter-finals, drawing 2-2 in France before a 1-0 win at the Etihad.
Monaco have been extraordinarily prolific this season, scoring 76 goals in 26 league games, along with nine in six in the Champions League group stage. City may not score at quite such a rate but 51 in 25 games makes them second top scorers in the Premier League. Neither are exactly defensively secure: City have kept just five clean sheets in the league and one in the Champions League, while Monaco – although they’ve kept 11 in France – kept only one in the group stage. That suggests a high-scoring game: not surprisingly, over-2.5 goals in the game is as short as 1.72.
CENTRE OF MIDFIELD
Monaco have tended to play a 4-4-2 this season, using a resurgent Radamel Falcao alongside Valere Germain, with Kilian Mbappe, the 18 year old who has been compared to Thierry Henry, an option from the bench. If they play like that, though, it places great pressure on the centre of midfield where Monaco already look under-strength because of the absence of Bakayoko. Joao Moutinho will presumably come in, but that removes the option of using Moutinho on the left, shifting Thomas Lemar to the right and deploying Bernardo Silva as a central creator behind a lone front man. City, presumably, will use Yaya Toure at the back of midfield with Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva in front of him. In terms of numbers, never mind quality, that should give City the edge.
SILVA v FERNANDINHO
The full-back areas have been a major concern for City all season, particularly with Aleksandar Kolarov so often being used in the centre. The deployment of Fernandinho at left-back in the win over Bournemouth made sense as a temporary measure, as much because it gets him in the team as for his particular qualities in that position. His passing and aggression are clearly qualities Guardiola likes and given how well Toure is now playing there’s no obvious space for him in the middle. Guardiola has also hinted through his selections that he prefers Pablo Zabaleta to Gael Clichy. If Fernandinho is played at left-back, though, it would mean him coming up against Bernardo Silva, who has been in excellent form all season, scoring six goals and registering five assists, and would subject his defensive capabilities to significant scrutiny.
Monaco have not been quite as impressive on the road as they have been at home and for that reason, plus the absence of Bakayoko, City probably ought to win, but they seem extremely short at 1.62. That leads to two potential conclusions. Either back Monaco with a small handicap – +0.75 is 2.12 – or back a high-scoring game. The absence of Jesus may tip the scales slightly against City, but backing over 3.5 goals at 2.85 is probably the best option.