The Etihad was essentially spinning during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg between Manchester City and AS Monaco.
Play flipped quickly up and down the pitch. The Sky Blues were able to build a few solid chances in the early periods. The French attack was held to stray but dangerous looks at the net.
Then the gates opened and it looked as if City’s group stage woes with Celtic would be replayed, or worse, that they would be given a steep hill to climb in the second leg at Monaco.
Things turned out quite differently but the sourness of many moments in the game will be hard to forget.
Here are three things we learned:
1 - The players are excited
When Leroy Sané scored the Blues' fifth goal, the squad piled onto one another in an unusually goofy celebration. Yaya Touré looked wildly youthful as he bounced between teammates, tackling a few guys with his lanky frame.
Sergio Agüero’s brace will certainly cause the jaded rumors hanging around him to dissipate. He performed well in multiple roles and looked far more comfortable in City’s newly solidified system.
Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané continued to show immense quality and liveliness to keep Monaco guessing.
The City players are obviously dedicated to their task. Because it stresses their attacking efforts, John Stones has to deal with moments like Monaco’s third goal, which left the English center-back on his back in shock.
The fact that Stones himself scored a goal to give City a lead they wouldn’t relinquish says a lot about how the team wants to fight. Their ability to enjoy the atmosphere at the Etihad was amazing.
2 - They never buckled
With Monaco leading 2-1, City could have sunk into the torpor that usually leaves them scrapping for a point.
After evening the score, though, the Blues were ready to be on the front foot. The solid efforts of the first half began to mold into more passionate attempts. Even a 3-2 deficit didn’t deter an emboldened Sergio Agüero and the fleet of Sky Blue strikers.
From that point forward, they operated in Monaco’s third with cool quickness to climb toward a result that reflects Pep Guardiola’s vision to the utmost.
Even as they continued to get hit with tough looks from the French side’s lethal attackers, they worked up the pitch to have two or three men ready for the final touch and made the match magical with their energy.
3 - Pep is getting results
The list of players who have proved their potential on a number of occasions is growing.
Although many will tend to focus on the mixed roles of Fernandinho, Pablo Zabaleta and others, along with the mistakes caused by excessive creativity in initial stages of possession, the growth of multiple players points to Pep Guardiola’s influence in the squad.
The front six has been arranged quite exquisitely. They could help the Blues acquire serious silverware in the near future.
City’s back five has been improving. Transfer rumors often allude to Guardiola’s designs on renovating the defense but it is not beyond expectation that the current players show adequate improvement to hold off Europe’s toughest.
City have been far more consistent of late. Their draw against Huddersfield was a scary sign before the match with Monaco, but the Blues were ready to display their hunger for the final touch against the Frenchmen.
It was surely exciting to see them muscle their way to a dominant victory. With equal strength in front of their own goal, this squad could do some damage before the season ends.