City's fortunes improve ahead of Monaco clash
Manchester City’s new era under Pep Guardiola hasn’t quite had the start everyone expected, but things are beginning to fall into place at the Etihad Stadium. They are outsiders to win the Champions League this season, but nothing can be ruled out in football.
City face Ligue 1 leaders Monaco in the Champions League round of 16. On paper, Monaco look like easy meat for City, but they are anything but. Leonardo Jardim’s team have been relentless in front of goal this season. They clinically dispatched Tottenham both home and away in the group stage and have scored 65 goals in Ligue 1 so far, the highest in Europe’s top five leagues this season.
That having been said, Monaco’s aren’t one of the giants of European continental football, and that will play in City and Guardiola’s minds when they draw up their plans for the first leg in Manchester on 22nd February.
Monaco have progressed past the group stage only once in the last ten years, but one that occasion, in 2014/15, they eliminated Arsenal in the round of 16. The French Principality club are unpredictable opponents, but City seem to have clicked into gear of late.
Since their 4-0 loss to Everton in mid-January, Guardiola’s side have been more clinical in front of goal. They missed a few chances but scored twice against Spurs following that Everton game. Those goals were followed by seven goals in two games against Crystal Palace and West Ham, the latter subjected to a 4-0 humbling at home.
The arrival of Gabriel Jesus has provided fresh impetus to City’s attack, and in his first league start against the Hammers, the Brazilian forward scored his first league goal for the Sky Blues. City’s over-reliance on Sergio Agüero has cost them in the past, and in Jesus, Guardiola seems to have found the perfect replacement for the misfiring Argentine.
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In the last two months, Agüero has scored only twice: an unacceptable return for a striker in an elite team like City. Jesus has started in the last two games for City which is perhaps a sign of how Guardiola envisages his team for the future.
Furthermore, the 19-year-old former Palmeiras star is an unknown quantity in European football, hence he is some kind of a wildcard for City in their pursuit of the Champions League. Intelligent movements, awareness of space, and a poacher’s instinct in front of goal make Jesus a very modern day forward.
Based on the quality of the two teams, City should have little trouble dispatching Monaco. The Citizens are favourites by a distance for this tie, and should they make the quarter-finals, a favourable draw could see them equal or even surpass their best ever Champions League run.
City’s underwhelming 2016/17 campaign could yet end in European glory, but Monaco are one of a number of thorns in their way. Jesus’ January arrival has provided a bounce; it remains to be seen whether that bounce takes them into uncharted territory in the Champions League.