WEDNESDAY'S BIG STORIES

Real Madrid remain in this tie, somehow

Pep Guardiola knew. The fury when Riyad Mahrez took a heavy touch and thrashed the ball into the side-netting and the exasperation when Phil Foden took a heavy touch and lashed wide evidenced that.
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A two-goal lead for City against just about any other team in world football would probably prove terminal. Yet, Guardiola knew that a two-goal advantage against Madrid - following early strikes from Kevin De Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus - was, relatively speaking, meagre.
City led by two goals thrice - at 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 - but head to the Bernabeu with a fragile one-goal advantage after a 4-3 win in a pulsating first-leg encounter at the Etihad.
Phil Foden - scorer of a goal in a Champions League semi-final at the age of 21 - embodied City's disappointment in a forlorn post-match interview in which he lamented their tendency to "give the ball away in dangerous areas", adding that they knew that Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid would "punish them". And punish them they inevitably did.
First, Benzema hooked a languid left leg at Ferland Mendy's whipped cross to halve the deficit ahead of the interval.
Then, after first-half substitute Fernandinho - on for the injured John Stones - dropped a Trent Alexander-Arnold-esqe ball on the head of Foden six yards out to re-open the two-goal advantage, Vinicius Jr. reminded Fernandinho that he was, in fact, a 36-year-old playing out of position; the Real Madrid schemer schemed his way past the elder Brazilian with the sort of dummy that leaves long-lasting psychological scars before skipping his way from the halfway line to bear down on Ederson and slip the ball into the far corner.
However, if Real are inevitable, then City are relentless. And the relentlessly talented but also relentlessly industrious Bernardo capitalised on an advantage played by referee Istvan Kovacs to thunder City back into a two-goal lead. Their third of the encounter.

'We performed really well, but Madrid is Madrid' - Guardiola

And yet, those misses from Foden and Mahrez in the first half still felt telling as the match seesawed its way to 90 minutes. And when Aymeric Laporte's unnaturally out-stretched arm came into contact with a Toni Kroos set-piece and ushered the referee's whistle to his gob, the City boss's rage and exasperation in the first-half were provided further justification.
Up stepped Karim Benzema. He cut a nervous-enough figure as he angled his eyes left as he awaited the referee's whistle. Yet, it was a bluff - and a double bluff at that. The Frenchman had not looked left to slot the ball right. No, that would not have been a statement grand enough for Real Madrid. Nope. A Panenka.
It was a crucial goal in the context of the tie, but also felt indicative of Madrid's attitude to Europe's premier competition. Having won it 13 times, they are almost ambivalent to it, and, thus, play with a freedom their peers cannot.
City won the match but Benzema's swaggering penalty left Real with a sense of the initiative. They did not play particularly well against - give or take - the best team in the world and yet emerged very much in the tie. There is an inevitability about Real Madrid in the Champions League.

Dysfunctional PSG

Paris Saint-Germain are, if reports are to be believed, on the hunt, once again, for a new manager. The current boss Mauricio Pochettino was appointed on January 2, 2021, and has since won Ligue 1, Coupe de France and the Trophee des Champions.
On first inspection, that seems a decent haul. On second inspection, it also seems a decent haul. And on third inspection, well, it also seems a decent haul. So, to conclude, it is a decent haul.
Decent, it appears, is not good enough for a club set up in 1970. The club have won 44 trophies since. Pochettino has won 6.8% of those - in a little over a year.
And yet, like Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc, Unai Emery and Thomas Tuchel, the Argentine is awaiting the delivery of his p45.
Three of the above four are still currently working in the game. Two of them - Ancelotti and Emery - are in the Champions League semi-finals and the other - Tuchel - won it last year.
Perhaps the issue is not the managers but the club itself. It has been a club that reeks of dysfunction, and in a recent interview, Ancelotti revealed the levels of said dysfunction.
Speaking with Universo Valdano, Ancelotti detailed the rather bizarre working conditions at the club. It is an environment that seems hardly conducive for long-term building.
“I went there thanks to [sporting director] Leonardo, who I managed as a player," said Ancelotti. "It was a club that Qatar had recently bought. I really liked the project and there wasn’t a manager yet.
"I liked the project, but in the second year they weren’t so happy with me.
“For a Champions League match in which we were already through to the knockouts, we had lost a league game [to Nice, 1-2] before winning [against Evian, 4-0], and they told me that if I didn’t beat Porto, they would sack me. I told them, how can you say that to me, it breaks our trust? I decided to leave in February, even if they wanted to renew me.”
It is the above sort of short-termism that undermines the authority of the manager, and has blighted the club's pursuit of Champions League success. It also speaks of a club undermined by its own sense of entitlement - to consider sacking a manager if they lose a dead-rubber Champions League group stage fixture not only lacks acumen but is preposterous.
And, yet, it appears, little has changed as the club look to wield the axe again. Pochettino's tenure has not been without its issues, but how much of those issues are down to the manager and how much of it is down to the dysfunction that swirls around him? The recent fortunes of Tuchel, Ancelotti and Emery seem illustrative.

IN OTHER NEWS

Barcelona's social media manager was having none of Fermin Lopez mimicking Cristiano Ronaldo's celebration after scoring an overhead kick in Juvenil A's 3-2 victory against Cornella - that is according to Marca.
The publication have got hold of the full version of the player's goal and celebration, and compared it with the edited social media version.

RETRO CORNER

Rumour has it, Tuesday night wasn't even the best 4-3 Champions League match at the Etihad...

COMING UP

Andi Thomas will be back, picking through another night of Champions League football - this time, it is Villarreal against Liverpool.
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