Belfast Telegraph

Pep's pop at City's strikers could mark the end for Aguero

By Jack Pitt-Brooke

Pep Guardiola could have singled any of the Manchester City team out for criticism on Wednesday night after they crashed out of the Champions League at Monaco, drawing 6-6 on aggregate but exiting on away goals after a 3-1 defeat on the night.

The defence had shipped another three goals and the whole midfield was absent without leave in an abysmal first half.

But it was the front three who got it in the neck, in public, from Guardiola when he gave his press conference soon after the final whistle at the Stade Louis II.

"Why was the second half a problem with our defence?" Guardiola bristled. "The problem was the first half when we were not there. Our strikers have to be aggressive and pick the ball up, but we didn't, at this crucial time. That is why we are out."

Guardiola was furious that his players had ignored his pre-match instructions.

Before the game he had said that the only way City could beat a team like Monaco was by "taking the ball and attacking as much as possible". But it was clear in the opening minutes that was not going to happen, and in that first half City lost the game.

"We wanted to show personality, not to let them think," Guardiola said afterwards. "But they could pass and pass the ball."

The message clearly got through to the players, who all said afterwards they had fluffed their lines.

"We forgot to fight as a team, press as a team and defend as a team," Bacary Sagna admitted.

Just think back to when City have played some of their best football this season, and certainly their most Guardiola football, and which players they had in their team.

It was in late January and early February, when City had Gabriel Jesus up front, not Sergio Aguero. That was how it was for their 4-0 win at West Ham on February 1, their most complete performance of the season.

Gabriel was everything Guardiola wanted in a centre forward. He is quick, mobile, selfless but above all, in Guardiola's favourite word, "aggressive", harassing opposition defenders when they have the ball. That is how this City team are meant to play, winning the ball back and defending against the counter-attack through constant pressure from the front.

Aguero has come back into the team since Gabriel broke his foot at Bournemouth on February 13. He has worked hard on a side of the game that does not come naturally to him.

But on Wednesday night he could not do what Guardiola wanted him to do, taking the game to Monaco and putting them under pressure. He could not provide the leadership to Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling and Monaco realised soon enough they were off the hook.

Gabriel is still recovering from his metatarsal fracture in a protective boot, but on Wednesday night he looked more invaluable to City's future than ever.

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