Manchester City will take a one-goal advantage into their home leg of this Champions League semi-final, but such a result looked most unlikely after a first half against Paris Saint-Germain in which they were a goal down and struggling to contain their French hosts.
Marquinhos’s header set PSG on their way during a first period in which Mauricio Pochettino’s side pressed fast and broke even quicker. However, City fought back and demonstrated immense character to not only dominate the second half but score twice through Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez to ensure Pep Guardiola’s side have the upper hand in this semi-final.
Story of the game
The hunger of both these teams, who have both never won this competition, was clear to see. To be crowned Kings of Europe is not an easy feet but it was evident how much these clubs want to achieve such an accolade and the quality of the game was worthy of a final.
PSG had their fire-starters in Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe dovetailing Neymar in an attack that combines speed and skill. It was always going to be a challenging evening for the City defence and from the first whistle they had a glimpse of what was to come.
Rodri was dispossessed, allowing Neymar to race into the City area and shoot tamely at Ederson. Then Alessandro Florenzi, PSG’s full back, had a fierce attempt blocked only for Neymar to force another save from Ederson, this time the City goalkeeper could only push the ball over rather than claim it.
For all of the home side’s succinct attacks which weaved amongst the blue City shirts, their goal came via a set-piece. Di Maria swung in a vicious corner on 15 minutes and captain Marquinhos, who was an injury doubt ahead of the game, escaped Ilkay Gundogan and headed past Ederson. The goal meant that the PSG captain has scored in Champions League quarter-finals and semi-finals for two successive years.
Pochettino urged his side to continue their onslaught. City’s full backs, who are usually so adventurous going forward, dared not to pass the halfway line all that often. Di Maria caused further problems from another corner kick as Neymar also teed up Leandro Paredes to head wide. A brilliant flick from Florenzi created another opening but Mahrez got back to deny Neymar.
City were simply happy to remain one goal down heading into half time. Their best chances had come via PSG mistakes: Keylor Navas gave the ball away and Phil Foden swooped to cross for Mahrez but his header was cleared. Foden also spurned a chance when fed by Kyle Walker, it was an easy stop for Navas.
There had been signs that City were slowly manoeuvring themselves onto the front foot towards the end of the half, and had actually edged possession - 52 to 48 per cent - throughout the opening period, but the real emboldenment came in the second half. During the interval Guardiola urged his players to do what they normally do: play with belief and as if in a local park not the Parc des Princes.
Straightaway there was a difference. The visitors were now more aggressive. The swift interchanges in passes and positions was enabled by not having a recognised striker on the pitch, Foden was able to run into space around the PSG defence, Mahrez glided in from the left.
The threat of the French champions on the counter was still apparent when Mbappe wrong-footed numerous members of the City backline but his ball across was too strong for Marco Verratti. However, City were now moving through their gears.
De Bruyne went close as he latched onto a Presnel Kimpembe header to send an overhead kick flashing just over the crossbar. Guardiola took off Joao Cancelo, who had become increasingly influential down the left but was on a booking, on came Oleksandr Zinchenko and he soon had an assist to his name.
A corner was worked across the PSG area, through Zinchenko, and on to De Bruyne. The Belgian lofted a dangerous cross towards the back post, no one in the area properly attempted to reach it and the ball simply rippled Navas’s net having gone in at the far post.
A head of steam was no being built and when City won a free kick just outside the area it looked like De Bruyne was lining up an attempt for his second goal of the evening. Instead, it was Mahrez who stepped up and sent a curling shot through a hole in the PSG wall, created by the turning Kimpembe and Paredes, and past Navas.
PSG, who are adept at letting leads slip in this competition, were getting frustrated and started to snap. Neymar was booked for a dig at Ruben Dias, and then Idrissa Gueye was rightly dismissed for a reckless, dangerous lunge on Gundogan. Referee Felix Brych didn’t hesitate in showing the PSG midfielder a red card.
Pochettino went on to label the two goals his side conceded as “accidents” and admitted that he and his coaches are still trying to get the players, which he inherited when he took over in January, to play at a “high level of intensity and energy for the full 90 minutes”.
PSG have 90 minutes to save themselves in this competition for this season. If they can’t, then City will be a step closer to their maiden Champions League title.