Monaco will be without the Polish centre-back Kamil Glik, who is suspended. He is a loss not only for his defensive quality but for his capacity to get goals: seven for his club this season, including one in the Champions League. Radamel Falcao had missed two games with a groin problem but he came off the bench in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Bordeaux and could be available. Other than the long-term absentees Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus, last seen in the Trafford Centre on a mobility scooter, Manchester City have a full squad to choose from.
After the 4-0 defeat at Everton two months ago, something clicked for City, who have won eight and draw three of the 11 games since, climbing to third in the table and reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup. There may still be question marks about their defence, but going forward – with the exception of last week’s 0-0 against Stoke with a slightly weakened side – they have played with great fluency. Monaco continue to impress in France, Saturday’s 2-1 win over Bordeaux leaving them five points clear of PSG at the top of the table. The defeat at City is their only reverse in their last 17 games and they’re by some margin the top-scorers in Ligue 1, averaging almost three goals a game.
City’s 5-3 win three weeks ago was the first time the sides had met and was extraordinarily open, characterised by superb attacking play and poor defending. Although City triumphed and may end up being very glad of that fifth goal, it might have been a very different story had Radamel Falcao not missed a penalty that would have given Monaco a 4-2 lead. There are other reason for City to be cautious, not least the fact that as well as beating Tottenham twice in the group stage, Monaco have won four out of five two-legged ties against English opposition.
MONACO’S LACK OF WIDTH
Glik aside, there seems little reason to think either side will make any changes from the teams that played in the first leg. That means City operating a 4-3-3 with Monaco using a 4-4-2. Often when those shapes match up, the team playing 4-3-3 has an advantage centrally and can dominate the ball, but the team playing 4-4-2, if it can get the ball wide, poses a threat down the flanks. Monaco, though, play their 4-4-2 very narrow, with Bernardo Silva and Thomas Lemar tucking in, so the shape can at times resemble a 4-2-2-2. In addition, with David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne playing so high for City, it could place huge pressure on Yaya Toure. In effect the usual polarities are reversed: in this case the narrow 4-4-2 should be able to overman in the centre, but what that means is that there are opportunities for City’s full-backs, probably Fernandinho and Bacary Sagna, to get forward. That said, in the first game, Fernandinho often tucked in as extra cover alongside Toure.
OPENING UP THE CENTRE
In practice, in the first leg, City were able to create space in the middle by shifting Fabinho and Tiemoue Bakayoko away from their positions protecting the heart of Monaco’s back four. There was nothing particularly complex about how they did so: the holders just followed the natural movement of David Silva and De Bruyne from inside to out. That in turn created space for Sergio Aguero to drop off almost into a number 10’s position. City repeatedly hit him with quick, direct passes and he would lay it off to Toure, who regularly advanced beyond Falcao and Kylian Mbappe, who were, in theory, picking him up, with Lemar and Bernardo Silva occupied by the full-backs. With Andrea Raggi often following Aguero, that created space for Raheem Sterling to attack from the flank.
In the Premier League, Manchester City have averaged 60.8% possession. In Ligue 1, Monaco have averaged 51.4%. That suggests Monaco are much more prepared to allow the opposition possession and look to hit them on the break. City had 67.4% possession in the first leg and, while similar domination of the ball seems unlikely at the Stade Louis II, they could easily have 60%. In theory that should allow them to control the tempo and take the sting out of the game, but that isn’t Guardiola’s way.
Guardiola has admitted his side probably need to score if they’re to go through and after the chaos of the first leg it’s hard to make any predictions at all beyond that there will be goals. Over 3.5 in the game is 2.02 or over 4.5 is 3.35. Beyond that, anything could happen.