Man City vs. Monaco was flawed but perfect entertainment for the neutral
The legendary Italian journalist Gianni Brera famously said, "The perfect game ends 0-0." That's because when teams do everything right and don't make mistakes, they cancel each other out.
Brera was obviously a product of his time and culture (1950s and '60s Italian football), but I couldn't help but think about him after Tuesday night's 5-3 clash between Manchester City and Monaco, particularly listening to my colleagues in the ESPN FC studio dissect the game. They all agreed it was exciting, but the initial analysis was all about the sheer cluster mess of gross, wanton mistakes by both teams.
This game pleased the neutrals who got to see eight goals, some tremendous moments of skill, plenty of fast-paced action and many handbrake turns in the sporting narrative. Manchester City fans presumably enjoyed it too, not just for the victory but for the character shown in coming from behind.
But the point made in the studio was that if you're Pep Guardiola, once you walk into the dressing room and shut the door behind you, you're going to read your players the riot act, particularly when it comes to your defenders. That may well be the case, but as a neutral, the two overarching themes from Tuesday night are that no manager can legislate for individual mistakes and that blunders don't offset quality and narrative in our enjoyment of the game.
In other words, if you see skill and a storyline, it doesn't matter how many mistakes there are: it will still be exciting and enjoyable.
On the subject of mistakes, it was suggested on Tuesday night's show that Guardiola ought to have worked harder and better with the likes of Willy Caballero, Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones, whose errors led directly to each of the three Monaco goals. It's true, but only to a point.
Maybe it applies a little to Caballero, whose ill-fated clearance went straight to Fabinho and led to Monaco's opener (though, to be fair, there was plenty of work to do after that). Maybe Guardiola can be a little less obsessed with possession and work with him to better define when to boot the ball up the pitch and when to find a teammate.
But frankly, the other two errors were brain farts. Otamendi was caught flat-footed by a ball over the top and Kylian Mbappe punished City. That's either misjudgement or lack of concentration, and it's not something you're going to improve with coaching. Not with a guy who is 29 and has some 350 games for club and country under his belt. Otamendi clearly knows how to concentrate and knows how to judge the flight of a ball. If he didn't, he would not have gotten to where he is, but for whatever reason, on this occasion he got it dead wrong.
The same applies to John Stones on the third goal. Yes, it was an exquisite (and hugely difficult) bit of skill from Radamel Falcao to beat the keeper, but the defending on Falcao before that was atrocious. Stones got way too tight and was easily rolled. Given that he's quicker than Falcao and defensive help was coming anyway, once it became clear he wasn't going to get to the ball first, the textbook thing to do would have been to step away, stay on his feet and remain goal-side.
To be honest, you would think Stones knows this and has known it for a very long time. Yes, he's only 22, but he's been playing organised football since the age of 7, and honestly, this is Little League stuff. He made a very bad decision and was beaten not because of a deficit in skill but because of a deficit in judgement. At this stage of his career, coaching isn't going to change that. He knows better. Or ought to.
Individual, out-of-the-blue mistakes also featured for Monaco, of course. Danijel Subasic's blunder on City's second goal and Falcao's missed penalty aren't the sort of things you're going to fix through coaching at this point in their careers.
To put it in tennis terms, these are the equivalent of unforced errors. In some ways, such crass blunders are easier to digest than mistakes made because of poor tactics, lack of athleticism or technical ability. Managers know they can come at any time; you can't legislate against them, they just happen. And they often have an outsized effect on the outcome.
What managers can influence and minimize, through training and tactical acumen, are what you might call "forced errors." The right formation and the right movements can increase your chances on both sides of the ball. Here, Guardiola is far from blameless; if you really want to be pedantic about it, Leonardo Jardim must also take some responsibility for the way Monaco collapsed in the last half-hour and conceded those set-piece goals. You imagine both are at work to fix them.
As for what makes an entertaining game, what set this apart was the magic of Bernardo Silva's dribbles, Leroy Sane's first touch and acceleration, Falcao's delicate chip, David Silva's assist for the final goal and countless other moments, too many to list here. It was a steady stream of "OMGs" from two managers who afforded their sides the freedom to attack, invent and delight.
The seesaw scoreline only amplified the drama along with the sense that, if you looked away or turned to your phone, you might miss something truly special. (These days, of course, the video would be on your social media feed within seconds, but there's nothing like seeing things in real time.) But all the mistakes, however grotesque, didn't diminish the spectacle. And that's something worth remembering. We can live with errors, more so with unavoidable or unpredictable ones, as long as there's a payoff in quality and narrative.
Tuesday night at the Etihad will be remembered for some time. Not because it was perfectly played, but because it played out perfectly, giving the (neutral) audience everything they could have wanted.
Brera was correct about the perfect 0-0, unstoppable force vs. immovable object and all that. But that's from a very narrow, technical and tactical perspective. That may be the world some fans of the two clubs inhabit, and certainly the two managers.
As for me? I'm very happy this game wasn't "perfect" by Brera's definition.
Gabriele Marcotti is a Senior Writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.