Manchester City

Two of the best teams in Europe lived up to one of the most-anticipated games of the season in the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg.

Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola renewed their managerial rivalry as Paris Saint-Germain hosted Manchester City in a spectacular game of two halves. 

A resounding second-half comeback for City, after they seemed to have met their match in the opening period puts them in the driving seat in their crunch tie after a 2-1 win.

For 45 minutes, City played with fear and a lack of belief that meant they were lucky to trail the French champions by just a single goal.

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The skills of Neymar and Ángel Di María along with the searing pace of Kylian Mbappé had threatened to blow City away, a neat header from captain Marquinhos produced the opener via Di María’s corner.

Force the issue and they could be torn apart by one of the best counter-attacking sides in Europe. Pep Guardiola’s men were right up against it.

Marquinhos and Neymar
Marquinhos headed PSG into a flying start

Despite getting outplayed, City remained focused and professional as they withstood PSG’s first-half barrage, before turning the tie on its head in the final half-hour.

The Sky blues scored from two set-piece situations to once again overcome a deficit, having done the same with Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden in their last UCL game against Borussia Dortmund.

Kevin de Bruyne scored the equalizer in the 64th minute with a cross that crept in at the far post before Mahrez recreated his 2019 AFCON semi-final heroics with a well-disguised freekick through the wall seven minutes later.

De Bruyne’s attempted cross caught Keylor Navas flat-footed as noone made a connection with the delivery.

“It set up in a perfect position. It’s so difficult for the goalkeeper because he expects someone to touch it,” he said of his goal.

“We kept going and with the second goal, Riyad is good for us. He asked me if he could take it and I said: ‘Yes, if you believe in yourself’. He scored. Who am I to say something?

“There is still a game to go and we have to concentrate on that.”

City looking to conquer the continent  

Riyad Mahrez
Mahrez’s freekick crept into a gap in the PSG defensive wall and fooled Keylor Navas

City are taking care of the slight margins and riding their luck as Navas, who is a key player in PSG’s UCL campaign, will look to quickly forget an unfortunate evening. 

Guardiola’s game management was the deciding factor as he aims to push his magnificent City side all the way in Europe. Indeed, 10 years after his last Champions League triumph, he is on course to deliver a stunning treble.

After increasing the intensity in their press in the second period, PSG were unable to play out and had no physical presence to hold the ball up front. They would lose their composure when Idrissa Gueye was sent off for a rough tackle on İlkay Gündoğan.

It goes without saying, being without their best ball-winner in the Senegalese destroyer makes Pochettino’s second leg task that much harder.

“Sometimes you need time to be relaxed and to be ourselves,” Guardiola explained post-match.”The first half is normal – over 180 minutes you don’t want to lose the ball and you don’t play free.

“We changed a little bit the way we pressed and the second half we were more aggressive.”

The Catalan has been guilty of overthinking the big occasion on European nights, leading to four consecutive quarter-final exits. But his water-tight defence and ability to adapt as the game unravels could be key in 2021.

Having now largely subdued Erling Haaland, Neymar, and Mbappé for three straight Champions League knockout games, the Premier League Champions-elect now have one foot in a possible all-English final. 

Should City make their first-ever UCL showpiece, they will aim to emulate rivals Man United who in 2008 beat Chelsea – possible 2021 finalists – to win a Premier League, League Cup, and Champions League three-peat.


Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin

Chief Editor of the Football Castle, Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin is a football junkie and writer of the beautiful game.

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