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Paris Saint-Germain took the world by storm when they signed Neymar from Barcelona and Kylian Mbappe from Monaco in one of the biggest transfers in history. Now, PSG are set to face Manchester City in the Champions League Round of 16. The tie is delicately poised after the French champions were held to a draw at the Etihad Stadium, while City are unbeaten in their last 15 games in all competitions and have dropped only two points in their last 12.
Paris Saint-Germain had a memorable night at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday, beating Manchester City 2-0 on their way to a second consecutive Champions League quarter-final. In a performance that was at times breath-taking, PSG’s attacking duo of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe ran City ragged and the French champions could have won by a bigger margin, had it not been for some poor finishing.
Same town, same customs. On the eve of the most important game of the season. -Paris Saint-Germain took the same approach as their last trip to the northwest of England.
When the French superclub faced Manchester United in the group stage of the Champions League at Old Trafford in December, they stayed at the Lowry Hotel in the city centre and Marco Verratti answered questions from French broadcaster RMC the day before the game. They won 3-1, which was the defining moment of their season. So, before Tuesday’s game against Manchester City, they were back at the Lowry and Verratti was invited back for an interview.
Of course, the entire PSG squad is hoping for a win to reach the final of the Champions League for the second year in a row. However, there is one notable difference in their training: the manager. Thomas Tuchel was sacked 22 days after that win at the Theatre of Dreams, but Mauricio Pochettino will rely on the same recipe of preparation and routine to try and repeat what the Parisians showed in the match against Anthony Marcial and co.
The team spirit and collective intensity was amazing that night. PSG moved the ball well, created chances, capitalized on their opportunities and weathered the storm. They will have to do it again and again if they want to qualify for the final.
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To beat City by two goals difference or win by more than 2-1, Pochettino – on his return to England and the stadium where he once broke Pep Guardiola’s heart with Tottenham Hotspur in this competition – must get his tactics right. Verratti and Leandro Paredes should be strong enough to handle the home team’s pressure. Angel Di Maria, Kylian Mbappé and Neymar will have to be clinical and combine well. And then there’s Julian Draxler, who could be a surprise guest on Tuesday night. Whenever he has been in PSG’s starting eleven in Europe, his versatility has been an asset and he has performed well, especially against Barcelona and Bayern earlier in the competition.
Another factor is also in PSG’s favour: Playing away from home, which PSG have done impressively this Champions League season. Whether it was at Old Trafford, Camp Nou or the Allianz Arena, the Parisians have used those opportunities – and the pressure there – to get the best out of themselves and record big victories.
Mbappé’s physicality, however, is a problem. He wasn’t quite fit in the first game loss and was rested this weekend as his teammates struggled against Lens. The Etihad is a special stadium for the French world champions. He became world famous for it in February 2017 at the age of 18 for Monaco, when he played 45 minutes for City in the Champions League round of 16. The Paris-born striker is now 22 and has become a much better player, but a repeat performance would be perfect for PSG.
Kylian Mbappé and PSG need to repeat Manchester’s magic to beat City in the semi-finals. ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images
Of course, City are a very different team to the United who beat PSG in December, they have different qualities and the stakes are much higher for them in this semi-final than in any other match in the club’s history.
This team and coaching staff can further establish their legend in the annals of City by reaching the Champions League final for the first time. Thirteen years after Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan took over the club and spent more than $1 billion to make it a perennial contender for the biggest prizes, five years after the arrival of Pep Guardiola and five years after losing against Real Madrid in their last – and only – appearance on this stage, the club is just one game away from the holy grail of being crowned king of Europe. And just days after the game against PSG, City can also be crowned Premier League champions for the third time in the last four years.
Guardiola has taken a cautious approach to the preparation and explained that at a press conference on Monday: I haven’t said a word about them and Man City just need to concentrate on what we need to do, but the pressure is on. Imagine what the European Cup means for the manager, the players, the fans and the club. You’re so close.
Man City have had a successful European campaign so far: getting through the group stages (against Porto, Olympiacos and Marseille), beating a naive and inexperienced Borussia Monchengladbach and masterfully containing Erling Haaland to eliminate Borussia Dortmund. They won last week in Paris by two lucky goals, but that result was due to a strong response after the break, after a first half in which they were lucky to lose only 1-0. This return trip will be very different.
Could the anticipation of such a close finish be unbearable for her and eventually finish her off? Maybe. Guardiola’s side will be looking for a draw in their opening match on Tuesday. But we saw in the first half of the first game, when there was still a lot of football to be played, that the pressure was still taking its toll, and Guardiola even admitted that after the game.
READ: Julien Laurens on PSG 1, Man City 2
Can this happen again? Man City are playing confidently and with a lot of confidence. They know how to play their game and win. At Crystal Palace on Saturday, where they played with virtually a reserve team, they picked up their 32nd win of the season. Won last 35 games (all competitions). Their strength lies in psychologically exhausting the opponent when they have the ball, keeping it as long as possible and limiting chances with their relentless pressing when they don’t have the ball. That’s exactly what they did in Paris in the last 45 minutes. They forced PSG to make mistakes, prevented them from playing backwards and giving the ball to Neymar or Mbappé.
Especially the way they took out Mbappé was impressive: For the first time in his career, he did not score a single goal in a Champions League match. But he will be back on the pitch on Tuesday, against Guardiola, against Kevin De Bruyne, against the rest of the City team. Against all odds. Or, as Neymar says, with 1% chance of qualifying but 99% confidence.
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