Manchester City reached their first-ever Champions League final as Riyad Mahrez’s double sealed a 2-0 win against Paris Saint-Germain in Tuesday’s semi-final second leg.
Pep Guardiola said this had been five years in the making as City won 4-1 on aggregate. They will play Chelsea or Real Madrid in the final in Istanbul on May 29.
Here’s a look at key takeaways from the game.
Guardiola makes his point
Criticised for meddling with Manchester City’s tactics with disastrous results in last season’s shock Champions League quarter-final defeat against Lyon, Guardiola enjoyed a moment of sweet redemption as his astute game-plan laid the foundations for their historic victory.
With a 2-1 lead to defend from the first leg in Paris, he needed to come up with the right approach to ensure his team didn’t let PSG back into the tie.
Some believed Guardiola’s desire to prove he could win the Champions League without Lionel Messi had affected him in the latter stages of the competition in the past as he tinkered with team line-ups unnecessarily.
Guardiola last won the Champions League when he lifted the trophy for the second time in his Barcelona reign in 2011. He hadn’t been to the final since then, with City’s Champions League campaigns littered with agonising exits in the Guardiola era.
But this time he struck just the right note, with a counter-attacking approach that set City up to take advantage of PSG’s need to chase the game.
It worked to perfection with Mahrez’s opening goal coming after a long pass from Ederson exploited the gaps left by PSG at the back.
“We approach this game like any other game,” Guardiola had said ahead of the second leg, but even he knew the 289th match of his City reign was unlike any that had come before.
At last, Guardiola and City can put their chequered European history behind them as they chase a remarkable Premier League, Champions League and League Cup treble.
Win one more game on May 29 and Guardiola will be among a select band of just three other managers – Bob Paisley, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane – to win the European Cup three times.
With 25 major trophies to his name in just 12 seasons in charge of Barca, Bayern and City, the 50-year-old can silence any lasting doubters and cement his status as one of the greatest coaches of all-time with victory in Istanbul.
Rock-solid Dias leads the way
Ruben Dias has made a superb impact since arriving at Manchester City from Benfica last year and this was the Portugal centre-back’s finest moment yet.
After initially failing to fill the void left by Vincent Kompany’s exit in 2019, City have finally found a worthy successor for the inspirational Belgian. Dias was rock solid as PSG fought to get back into the tie, making a series of brave blocks and well-timed interceptions.
Twice, he denied PSG by putting his body on the line without a second thought, but the 23-year-old’s tour de force came in the 62nd minute.
Ander Herrera’s volley was flying towards goal, but Dias flung himself in the way, taking the ball flush on the face to stop the shot testing City keeper Ederson.
Dias wasn’t the only defensive hero for City and when Oleksandr Zinchenko made a last-ditch block to deny Neymar inside the City area, John Stones hugged the left-back with unbridled joy – a celebration that set the stage for the party to come at the final whistle.
PSG blunted by Mbappe injury
The glum look on Kylian Mbappe’s face as he sat huddled on the PSG bench encapsulated a miserable evening for the France star and his team.
Mbappe wasn’t fit to start after suffering a calf injury and he remained an unused substitute as PSG’s final hopes faded away.
PSG had scored three at Manchester United, four at Barcelona and three at Bayern Munich in the Champions League this season. But five of those 10 goals came from Mbappe and his absence made it impossible for PSG to overturn the first-leg deficit.
Brazil star Neymar had shouldered the burden when Mbappe was absent in the past, with PSG winning all five of their previous games under Mauricio Pochettino without the 22-year-old.
But Neymar was hounded into submission by City’s tenacious defence and Mauro Icardi, starting in Mbappe’s place, was unable to replicate the threat posed by the World Cup-winning striker, who has 37 goals in 43 appearances this season.
PSG choke again in Europe
For PSG, it was another painful European exit they could complain little about. In the competition for the ninth consecutive season, it seemed that PSG had come of age when they knocked out defending champions Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals ending the Bavarians’ record winning run in the competition.
The Parisians had exited the Champions League at that stage in four out of these nine seasons.
But PSG’s European exits often calamitous. In their first season back, PSG put a strong performance only to lose out to Barcelona on away goals. They drew both games and were in a winning position before Pedro sent the Catalans through with a late goal.
In 2014, PSG seemed to be in the driver’s seat when they headed to Stamford Bridge with a 3-1 lead but a nervous performance was punished by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea as they progressed on away goals after a 2-0 win that had a very late Demba Ba goal.
A season later they were humbled by an all-conquering Barcelona before losing out tamely against Manchester City in 2016.
Their biggest embarrassment on the European stage came in 2017 though when they relinquished a 4-0 lead to lose 6-1 in the return leg at Barcelona in what was the greatest Champions League comebacks of all time.
A defeat to Real Madrid at the same stage followed in 2018, before another calamitous exit at the hands of Manchester United in 2019. Leading 2-0 coming into their home leg, PSG despite dominating the match managed to lose 3-1 after VAR awarded United a late penalty.
The 2019-’20 campaign was perhaps their best in the Champions League when they reached the final, and went down 1-0 to a very strong Bayern Munich side.
But a 4-1 aggregate defeat to Manchester City in a tie when PSG were the better team for large parts seems a return to the old days for the Parisians who often find it hard to hold their nerves at key times in the Champions League.
PSG in the Champions League (Last 9 seasons)
|2012-'13||Quarter-finals||Lost to Barcelona on away goals|
|2013-'14||Quarter-finals||Lost to Chelsea on away goals|
|2014-'15||Quarter-finals||Lost to Barcelona (1-5 on aggregate)|
|2015-'16||Quarter-finals||Lost to Man City (2-3 on aggregate)|
|2016-'17||Round of 16||Lost to Barcelona (5-6 on aggregate)|
|2017-'18||Round of 16||Lost to Real Madrid (2-5 on aggregate)|
|2018-'19||Round of 16||Lost to Man United on away goals|
|2019-'20||Final||Lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich|
|2020-'21||Semi-finals||Lost to Man City (1-4 on aggregate)|
Referee’s performance under scanner
The referee didn’t make the best of starts to the game as he awarded PSG a penalty for a handball on Oleksandr Zinchekno despite the ball bouncing off his shoulder. It took VAR very little time to overturn the decision but the referee made another error in judging a handball minutes later. This time it was outside the penalty box and VAR could not intervene.
To make matters worse, PSG players accused the referee of disrespecting them by using foul language.
“The referee tonight said f**k off to Leandro Paredes. If we say that we get a 3 or 4 match ban,” PSG midfielder Ander Herrera said after the game.
“The referee also told me ‘f*** you’ twice. For them, it’s normal, if you say that it’s ten matches [ban]. I talk a lot to the referee but I don’t say that,” added PSG’s Marco Verratti.
However, PSG players didn’t help themselves by losing their cool. Angel di Maria could have little complaints about his red card. Four other visiting players were booked as Mauricio Pochettino’s men completely lost the plot after City scored their second goal on the night.
(With AFP inputs)
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