PSG 1-2 Manchester City, Parc des princes
(Marquinhos 15′ – De Bruyne 64′, Mahrez 71′)
Manchester City’s recovery from a goal down in Paris tilted this heavyweight Champions League contest in the favor of the English champions-in-waiting. For PSG, it was a second half collapse that leaves them needing to deliver something extraordinary next week in England.
Things had been going so well for PSG. The Marquinhos-Kimpembe defensive axis offered PSG stability, while Marco Verratti in midfield and Neymar in attack were both exceptional. Angel di Maria was also purring on another one of his inspired nights where the ball seemed glued to his feet.
One of the Mauricio Pochettino’s trademarks is his ability to galvanize a collective spirit to accompany — or elevate — his players’ individual excellence. And when Marquinhos jumped high to flick in Di Maria’s corner, it was no less than the French champions deserved.
De Bruyne leads fightback
Pep Guardiola’s penchant for going striker-less has served him well, but the instincts of a dedicated striker was glaring in the first half. Their only chance before the break fell to Phil Foden, the exciting English prospect, but his finish lacked the ruthlessness of a Gabriel Jesus or Sergio Aguero.
Kevin de Bruyne, the Manchester City captain and every bit the inspirational leader as his PSG counterpart Marquinhos, had fired a warning shot on the hour when his improvised overhead kick was only a whisker away.
Marquinhos, far right, puts PSG ahead with a glancing header — his fifth goal in his last 12 Champions League games.
That proved to be a precursor to what would follow a few minutes later, but the goal came not from a piece of brilliance, to which we’re accustomed watching De Bruyne, but a complete fluke. His teasing ball into the box evaded everyone and wrong-footed Keylor Navas, who could only watch it flash past him.
City’s second half renaissance came after Pep Guardiola, the City coach, had implored his team to show more personality. “At halftime, I told the players we needed to be ourselves,” Guardiola said. “We needed to be more aggressive and we didn’t let them breathe after the break.”
PSG lose their heads
That goal shifted the dynamic of the game completely. PSG were no longer in control and City, probing for gaps in the PSG defense, won a freekick on the edge of the box. De Bruyne was standing over it again, but Riyad Mahrez surprised everyone, hammering it past a PSG wall that didn’t seem to be completely ready. That mattered little – City had flipped the contest on its head.
Pochettino and Guardiola have a history of serving up breathtaking footballing spectacles and Pochettino will have to inspire his players to something extraordinary again in Manchester to realise a Champions League dream that is as much theirs as City’s.