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Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City beat Mauricio Pochettino’s PSG 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday evening, coming from behind in the second half thanks to goals from Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus after Kylian Mbappe had opened the scoring for PSG. The result means City will top group A, enabling them to have an easier opponent in the Round of 16.



Manchester City nearly took the lead in the fifth minute when Rodri directed a header past Keylor Navas from a free-kick but Presenel Kimpembe was in the right place at the right time to head it away from the goal line. Riyad Mahrez fired in a shot in the second phase from a narrow angle which was saved comfortably by Navas.

Mahrez continued to be the main threat for Guardiola’s side, getting the better of young PSG left-back Nuno Mendes in almost every instance where he was able to isolate him 1v1. The Algerian winger combined exceptionally well with Ilkay Gundogan whose smart late runs into the box were difficult to track, helping create several half-chances.



PSG right-back Achraf Hakimi stood strong and blocked from a Mahrez shot in the 18th minute after a neat one-two with Gundogan, who was captain on the night. The two linked up again, leading to a shot from Zinchenko which was blocked as well, this time by the Parisiens’ captain Marquinhos.

The German midfielder went extremely close just after the half-hour mark after a poor clearance by Mendes. Gundogan curling shot looked destined to nest in Navas’ left hand corner but it struck the post and scores remained level. His partner-in-crime, Mahrez picked up the loose ball and curled a shot of his own, this time to Navas’ right but the PSG shot-stopper got a strong hand on it to palm it away from danger.



City continued to push but were not able to find the killer pass and PSG struggled with the English side’s high press. The absence of Marco Verratti hurt them, as it has done on several occasions in the past, with Pochettino’s side unable to progress play to their forward line. The trio of Neymar, Messi and Mbappe were largely anonymous in the opening 45, with the only event of note coming just before the interval when a quick break resulted in Mbappe firing his shot wildly over.

The tide quickly turned after the restart though with all of the front three involved in the opening goal. Messi kickstarted the move, picking up the ball in midfield and interchanging well with Neymar before receiving it back in the penalty area. His deflected cross from the left-hand side fell to Mbappe, who made no mistake, putting his shot through the onrushing Ederson’s legs to give PSG the lead in the 50th minute.



The game entered into a lull before sparking back into life after the hour mark. City were patient in their play and Mahrez once again called Navas into action with a save from an acute angle. It was a moment of ingenuity from Spanish metronome Rodri that broke open PSG’s defence. His clipped ball over the top finding the run of Kyle Walker who had been uncharacteristically defensive until then. Walker’s cross deflected off substitute Gabriel Jesus before falling to Raheem Sterling who tapped it in at the far post.

The game opened up more after the equaliser with Jesus drawing a sharp save from Navas before Neymar squandered a golden opportunity to restore PSG’s lead. The Brazilian winger created the chance himself, moving through the heart of City’s defence but firing wide when face-to-face with Ederson.

And he was made to pay for his miss just a couple of minutes later. It was the combination of Gundogan and Mahrez once again proving decisive, the latter crossing toward the back post. Bernardo Silva got on the end of the pass to tap it back into the path of Jesus who made no mistake, giving Guardiola’s men a well-deserved lead.



PSG pushed for an equaliser but were unable to get any rhythm going and City saw out the win comfortably. Here are our talking points from the match –



With Kevin De Bruyne missing out due to Covid and Jack Grealish suffering from a knock, the responsibility for providing the creative thrust from midfield fell to Ilkay Gundogan. The German midfielder was absolutely immense for Guardiola, covering every inch of grass and contributing positively in both defence and attack.



His combination with Mahrez was brilliant throughout the night, his tireless legs helped create overloads on the City’s right and his pressing prevented any PSG threat from materialising. The spotlight usually shines bright on the likes of De Bruyne and Grealish but Gundogan has shown consistently over the last couple of seasons that he is just as, if not more, important to the system as the other stars.



A lot was expected of PSG’s expensively assembled attacking line-up but as of now we have only seen sparks and not a sustainable solution. Amidst rumours of Mauricio Pochettino’s departure to Manchester United, the empire is seemingly falling apart even before it could establish itself.

That is of course relative – PSG have already qualified for the next round albeit in second place and are well clear atop the French league table. However, there has been no free-flowing football and it is increasingly looking like the attacking trio is a bit too luxurious, especially for a manager like Pochettino who likes to have all of his players involved in each phase of play.



City’s Champions League campaigns have followed a clear pattern in recent years – a rather easy Champions League group, followed by some impressive knockout stage performances before the inevitable overthinking collapse in the latter stages. However, a more difficult group this season has perhaps helped Guardiola in figuring out his best side before the pressure stages.

It remains to be seen whether it will work for the Catalan – his side comprehensively outplayed PSG in both legs but were still beaten in one of them. Signs though are looking like this could be City’s best shot at a Champions League title after their disappointing final defeat to Chelsea last season.

Ritwik Khanna
Economics student supporting FC Goa and Manchester United, in true masochistic way. Can be found reading Jonathan Wilson and Sid Lowe or planning a quirky trip in his free time.

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