There was a stage in the first half when it seemed possible Paris Saint-Germain would run away with it. Quite literally - PSG do a lot of running. But at half time, with some alterations from Pep Guardiola, the running stopped.
At their best, Mauricio Pochettino’s side are a force of nature. For periods of the first half, it felt as if City had their face stuck out a sunroof in a gail-force wind. Kylian Mbappe was kept quiet throughout, but the threat of the Frenchman sprinting in behind never to be seen again prevented the visitors from suffocating their opponents as they typically do.
Neymar, however, had more luck in troubling City. As did Angel Di Maria, whose wicked corner kick delivery put the opener on a plate for Marquinhos. The Brazilian defender was also impressive as PSG appeared set to blow the Premier League champions-elect off the pitch in the opening 45 minutes.
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However, when the dynamic changed at half time the difference between the two sides was exposed. PSG’s world class individuals were left without a structure to keep them competitive against a team, and an opposition manager, that recognised the need to press higher on their opponents.
Guardiola stopped Mbappe and Neymar in the second half by not attempting to stop them at all. Instead, City targeted the supply lines, going tighter to the likes of Idrissa Gueye, Leandro Paredes and Marco Verratti. This was surely a factor in the red card-worthy tackle that saw a frustrated Gueye ejected from the game after 77 minutes.
PSG - Manchester City
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Pochettino is an exceptional coach, but he has yet to truly get to grips with the group of players he inherited. The Argentine asked Di Maria to step into central midfield to prevent PSG from being overwhelmed by a more aggressive central unit of Kevin de Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri, supported by Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden, but it wasn’t enough.
City’s structure, on the other hand, gave them a platform to improve on their somewhat passive first half performance. Guardiola has a tendency to overthink things in the Champions League, but in this instance he had full faith in the groundwork he has put in place over the last four years.
It wasn’t solely down to tactics. The introduction of Oleksandr Zinchenko on the hour gave Manchester City some much-needed composure at left back. Joao Cancelo had been left flustered by Di Maria, but the Ukrainian handled the situation much better. Zinchenko proved in his 30-minute cameo that he is more than a utility player.
Angel Di Maria (PSG) face à Manchester City
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Zinchenko was City’s only change, but the options available to both managers on the bench also illustrated where these two teams are in their current development. PSG had Ander Herrera and Danilo Pereira to introduce while Guardiola left Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho, Gabriel Jesus, Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy, Ferran Torres and Raheem Sterling on the bench for the full 90 minutes.
Manchester City are reaping the reward for being four years into a project under the same manager working towards the same goal. PSG, however, have had three different managers in the same timeframe. Their squad is an incoherent mix of what Unai Emery, Thomas Tuchel and Pochettino have all wanted at one point or another at the Parc des Princes.
The time for learning is over for PSG, a club that wants instant results having reached their first Champions League final last season, but Wednesday night proved to them that they can only get so far with a team of individuals. Guardiola’s City presented them with an image of what they should aspire to be.
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