When Marcelino was named as Villarreal’s manager back in January 2013, the club from Castellón were in a dire position for the first time in a long while. The season prior to that they’d been playing Champions League football, but a combination of injuries and all sorts of other issues during that year resulted in a shock relegation – a fate that threatened to suddenly tear apart all the good progress that had been made by them since the turn of the century.
Hopes were extremely high for the initial meeting of Man City and Monaco in the Champions League three weeks ago. After they played out a thrilling 5-3 in the first leg at The Etihad, it's fair to say that the anticipation was more than justified. So, naturally, there was good reason to be excited about this return game in Fontvieille too – and once again the pair delivered.
As Radamel Falcao delicately lifted the ball over Willy Caballero, the travelling band of Monaco fans in the corner of The Etihad erupted with joy. They were far from the only ones overwhelmed by that finish; his exquisite piece of skill bringing gasps and stunned silences from spectators all over the world. Even amidst the madness going on around him that night in a game that’ll go down as one the most memorable in Champions League history, it was a perfect, scarcely believable demonstration of composure on the biggest stage of club football.
The story of Pep Guardiola’s interest in bringing Thiago Alcántara to Bayern Munich in 2013 is a quite well-known one. Asked in one of his first few press conferences about his transfer targets and who he’d be looking to sign to bolster the squad of the German giants, he issued a strong statement. “Thiago oder nichts,” he said he’d told the board. It was to be him, or no one.
Going into the first knockout round of this year’s Champions League, the match-up between a flowing Man City and Leonardo Jardim’s free-scoring Monaco side had a strong case to be touted as the most exciting draw. Neither of the teams have been particularly defensively-inclined this season, proving prone to errors at the back while instead relying on the pace and firepower at their disposal to see opponents off. So goals and an open tie could be expected between the two. And that, to understate things, was exactly what we got.