- Second-half goals from De Bruyne and Mahrez turn semi-final on its head
- De Bruyne proves the master on Manchester City’s graduation night
- Player ratings: Neymar fades while De Bruyne flourishes
After the resilience came the brilliance as Manchester City, on their greatest night in the Champions League, mounted a thrilling comeback against Paris St-Germain and took a significant step towards their first final.
No one will write off PSG, not with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria leading the front line, in next week’s second leg in Manchester, but this was a performance that showed just how far City have come during this campaign.
Having been utterly dominated by PSG, having almost been made to look ordinary at times, they struck back with an outstanding second-half performance to claim the win with the French champions even reduced to 10 men as their frustrations spilt over. Mauricio Pochettino will be furious at PSG’s implosion, especially given the way they knocked out Barcelona and Bayern Munich to reach the last four.
City’s performance was summed up by Riyad Mahrez, who was tackling back in his own penalty area in the first period to deny Neymar and then scored the crucial winner from a free-kick. It was also summed up by 20-year-old Phil Foden who, having spurned a golden chance, after which he could have gone missing, ended the game by slaloming past four defenders before almost scoring.
Remarkably it is now 18 successive away wins in all competitions for City, but this was by far the most impressive. Last season they would have folded under the intense pressure they faced from PSG, but instead remained patient, held on and regrouped before passing their opponents off the pitch. It was quite extraordinary with Neymar simply starved off the ball and Mbappe not even having a shot. For City Ruben Dias was immense.
Having been 1-0 down at half-time in their quarter-final against Borussia Dortmund to win 2-1, City achieved the same turnaround in Paris, showing a maturity and game management that they simply have not possessed before in this competition.
In truth PSG were at fault for both the goals they conceded, within seven bizarre minutes, and Pochettino will have been shocked at how they fell apart and the mistakes they made. They were also, of course, a result of the intense pressure City were able to sustain with Kevin De Bruyne leading their aggressive charge after what Guardiola lamented was a “passive” first period.
At half-time social media was abuzz with eulogies to Neymar, led by Jack Grealish and James Maddison, but the Brazilian was never quite the same after landing heavily on his elbow as he re-emerged with heavy strapping.
Before that it was City who had to be patched up. It was felt this could be an epic semi-final and so it unfolded with PSG setting traps, countering quickly and Neymar stealing the show. But it was another Brazilian who struck first for PSG.
Di Maria’s delivery was excellent as he whipped the ball into the near post for Marquinhos, who was allowed to run clear of Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan to beat Joao Cancelo to a header and glance the ball across goal and into the net. PSG’s set-pieces were precise. From the other flank Neymar crossed for Leandro Paredes, again at the near post, to send his header narrowly wide.
There was danger everywhere, but City finally threatened when Cancelo picked out Bernardo Silva with an angled cross from deep, which was met at full stretch, only for Keylor Navas to alertly turn it away at his near post.
By now it was incredibly open, with remarkable quality. Foden and John Stones charged down shots and Di Maria dribbled through, only to overhit a simple pass to Mbappe. PSG threatened again as Alessandro Florenzi broke into the area and appeared to set up Neymar before Mahrez toe-poked the ball away.
Then came Foden’s miss as PSG lost the ball and Bernardo squared it across the area. Foden was free and just had Navas to beat, only to drive the ball high and straight at the goalkeeper.
The end-to-end contest showed no signs of letting up as PSG broke. Neymar instigated it with Mbappe then running at Stones, checking back, and back again, before crossing for Marco Verratti, who only just failed to get his studs on the ball inside the six-yard area.
But, by then, the momentum had swung. City were far more positive, far braver and kept the ball as PSG were hurried into errors.
From one De Bruyne met a clearing header to scissor-kick narrowly over the bar but, if he was unfortunate in that moment, then the captain certainly had luck on his side as he drew City level. His inswinging cross from the left was dangerous but, still, Navas should have collected it as Stones ran in. Instead the goalkeeper stayed on his line and the ball curled inside the far post. Navas lay on his back, arms over his head, staring into the sky. He knew. And the goalkeeper was soon furious again as he was beaten once more.
Foden was fouled and De Bruyne stood over the free-kick. Twenty-two yards out he looked certain to take it but, instead, it was Mahrez who stepped up. “If you believe in yourself take it,” De Bruyne told his team-mate and he did although, in truth, it was a poor effort. Unfortunately for PSG, both Paredes and Kimpembe in the defensive wall foolishly turned, the ball went between them, Navas was unsighted and beaten to his right.
What a turnaround and PSG lost their heads. Neymar kicked out at Dias and was booked, but it was rightly a red card for Idrissa Gueye after he lunged horribly at Gundogan catching him nastily on his leg.
Could City capitalise and even kill the tie? They tried, but could not find a third goal. PSG are still in this, of course they are, but it is City who are the firm favourites after a memorable evening.
For a lot of our people it was the first time in the semi-finals so they wanted to do it well.
The last 10 minutes of the first half was good, and the second half was excellent. We scored two goals away and that is so important but we have a tough job to do in six days. We still have 90 minutes to beat them and against a team like PSG anything can happen. I want us to be more relaxed, more ourselves in the second leg.
Full time PSG 1 City 2
PSG were very good in the first half but City were absolutely magnificent in the second, scoring two away goals, and the tactical switch, with full-backs pushed much further forward, bamboozled PSG. The home side looked rattled and City filleted them. Great performance.
Jason Burt’s match report is incoming and will appear here imminently.
84 min PSG 1 City 2
Ander Herrera replaces Paredes.
It’s all City. PSG are creaking. Mahrez, who has been sensational in attack and defence, flashes a left-foot shot into the side-netting. PSG look spent, unable to cope with the assault down the flanks this half when Guardiola took the full-backs off the leash.
74 min PSG 1 City 2
PSG’s heads have gone a bit. Neymar boots Ruben Dias on the calf after the centre-back plays it back to his keeper and earns a booking.
City storm up the right and Mahrez pings a left-foot diagonal into the box, Foden meets it, with Kimpembe stuck to him, and flicks a header on goal, back to goal, that Navas saves.
65 min PSG 1 City 1
A minute after Walker bombed 60 yards and snuck up the inside right channel almost by stealth to square the ball through the six-yard box, City score. There was no one on the end of his cross but it was good enough to earn a corner from which De Bruyne, 25 yards out, whipped the ball back into the box, arcing it from left of centre towards the right post. All it needed was a glancing header but it dipped quickly, diddling Navas and the city runners and crept inside the post. Navas was left to look like a mug but he was unsighted for most of its flight and set himself to defend the header or prod that never came.
60 min PSG 1 City 0
Another very good passage of probing with precision from Manchester City down the right, lasting 90 seconds before Mahrez cuts inside of the overlapping Walker and whips a left-foot cross towards the penalty spot from the right angle of the box. Kimpembe glances a defensive header across the box and De Bruyne meets the flick with a bicycle kick, volleying the ball with his right six inches over the bar.
56 min PSG 1 City 0
First PSG attack of the half, Mbappe breaks down the right, shimmies and shakes Stones off just enough to make room for a cross. He whips a daisycutter through the six-yard box and Verratti slides in. Had he been wearing rugby studs he might have reached it but it whistled past the soles of his feet.
52 min PSG 1 City 0
Very good from City, probing away, stringing 30 passes together after Cancelo beats Florenzi but is tackled by Di Maria as he shapes to shoot in the box. City recycle the ball out of the area, send it to the right and then De Bruyne dribbles it back again until he overhits slightly and Di Maria exploits that extra space to buy a cheap foul by throwing himself between ball and De Bruyne.
46 min PSG 1 City 0
Off we go, City attacking from right to left, have knocked it back to Ederson who sends one straight up the right and Bakker heads clear before Mahrez can get in. A few moments later, though, Mahrez goes again and Bakker goes straight through him. Free-kick on the right, 25 yards upfield from goal.
How we used to watch
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Half-time PSG 1 City 0
Paris Saint-Germain were fantastic in attack and defence in the half but City have Ruben Dias in defence and he has been outstanding in helping to keep his side well in this tie. They have had one very good chance, a couple of quarter chances and maybe need to tweak the tactics a little to get Rodri playing more of those diagonals.
Cancelo could easily be sent off if he continues to tackle Neymar and Mbappe with such force. Wonder if it would be better bringing on Mendy or Zinchenko with their clean slates early in the second half. And Sterling to give Florenzi more to deal with down the left – but that would mean withdrawing either Bernardo or Foden and it seems a wee bit philistine to suggest that too soon.
43 min PSG 1 City 0
Excellent chance for Foden on the left of the box when fed by Bernardo’s foraging down the right and square ball. Foden has a clear path to goal from 15 yards after but he goes for more precision than power and tries to pass it in and in the end, when Gueye slides across him, he slices it straight down Navas’s throat and the keeper slaps it away.
41 min PSG 1 City 0
From the free-kick PSG work it forward quickly down the right then Florenzi dribbles at pace into the box, knocking the ball too far ahead of him but Neymar slides on to the loose ball to shoot in any case but Mahrez had tracked back and made a super block. PSG demand a penalty but if anything it was Florenzi who touched Neymar.
37 min PSG 1 City 0
The way PSG attack at breathless pace then sit and smother City’s tempo is why they’re 1-0 up. But the genius of De Bruyne will not be suppressed and his wonderful footwork on the left, a shimmy and a shake, loses Gueye and he zips a cross through the box that needed only a City centre-forward to convert. PSG scramble it away.
35 min PSG 1 City 0
End to end at the moment as PSG break like lightning down the right with Florenzi and Di Maria. They work it Verratti who crosses from that flank but, for once, Mbappe’s control lets him down. It would have been him v Ederson from 12 yards. When he recovers he scuttles the ball back to Bakker whose shot is blocked.
21 min PSG 1 City 0
Good ball from Rodri, 40-yard diagonal out to Mahrez down the right. He attracts Bakker to him then slips the ball back but PSG scramble it clear.
That same ball, left to right, almost bears fruit when Cancelo arcs another over the defence and Bernardo nips between Kimpembe and Bakker to reach it by the byline, fully lunging, and hits it with the outside of his foot towards the near post. Navas turns it behind.
13 min PSG 0 City 0
PSG corner on the left after a Walker tackle on Di Maria. Neymar takes and bends it deep, fooling everyone. PSG work it back to Florenzi who shoots from 18 yards into a thicket of legs and the ball rebounds over to Neymar on the left. Neymar opens his body and rifles a shot that Stones blocks over for another corner.
12 min PSG 0 City 0
Walker is penalised for a foul on Paredes on halfway. The right-back had lost the ball and was trying to retrieve it by flinging his right leg around his to try to flick the ball away, giving the Argentina midfielder a hurdle to fall over. City deal with the free-kick effectively and Dias makes a crisp, decisive tackle on Di Maria.
3 min PSG 0 City 0
Foden, out on the left, is found by De Bruyne but they go backwards and Mbappe picks off a pass just inside the City half and hares forward up the inside right. Rodri tries to redeem his mistake but can’t catch him for toffee. Mbappe squares to Neymar at the edge of the area but Walker has been very diligent and gets the block in that takes the sting out of his shot.
Pep Guardiola on the absence of an orthodox striker
If we win, it works well, if we don’t win, why we don’t play with strikers. We need that type of game, lots of passes, the guys have the quality to keep it. In the right moment you have to defend and attack together.
And on PSG
It’s a team that wins the league. To do that, you impose your games. All the opponents in the French league defend so so deep, so you have to find a way to attack them. At the same time, pace upfront with Di Maria, Mbappe, Neymar. Today, Draxler doesn’t play from the beginning. They are incredible players who can of course punish you, but in these stages all the teams can punish you.
One absentee tonight ….
Massively disappointed not to be on @btsport tonight for such a great game. A late shout after a positive Covid test to an important member of our team. Obeyed our strict social distancing guidelines, but it was decided to be ultra cautious & get tested before returning to work.
— Gary Lineker 💙 (@GaryLineker) April 28, 2021
Your teams in black and white
PSG Navas; Florenzi, Marquinhos, Kimpembe, Bakker; Gueye, Paredes; Di Maria, Verratti, Neymar; Mbappe.
Substitutes Rico, Kehrer, Dagba, Diallo, Kurzawa, Rafinha, Danilo, Kean, Sarabia, Herrera, Draxler, Icardi.
Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Stones, Cancelo, Rodrigo, Gundogan, Bernardo, Mahrez, Foden, De Bruyne.
Substitutes Steffen, Trafford, Ake, Mendy, Fernandinho, Garcia, , Zinchenko, Laporte, Sterling, Jesus, Aguero Torres.
Referee Felix Brych (Germany)
Stones, Rodri and Bernardo return for City
Your City team to take on PSG! 💪
XI | Ederson, Walker, Dias, Stones, Cancelo, Rodrigo, Gundogan, Bernardo, Mahrez, Foden, De Bruyne (C)
SUBS | Steffen, Trafford, Ake, Sterling, Jesus, Aguero, Zinchenko, Laporte, Torres, Mendy, Fernandinho, Garcia
— Manchester City (@ManCity) April 28, 2021
Jason Burt on Neymar’s transformation
Our football correspondent spoke to Pini Zahavi to profile the PSG and Brazil forward who, it can be argued, is underrated in England – like many before him – for his reaction when tackled or, indeed, fouled. Contains this extraordinary assessment from his agent:
With all the amazing respect I have for Ronaldo, for Messi I believe – and not because of my relationship with him – that he is the biggest talent ever in world football. It’s my opinion. He’s the biggest talent. I am sure that before he will retire world football will understand that.
Kylian Mbappé limped off after scoring two in the weekend’s victory over Metz but all noises suggest he should be fit tonight as Mauricio Pochettino, with the exception of long-term absentee Juan Bernat, has a full squad to choose from including Marquinhos and Abdou Diallo, who will have had fitness tests today, Rafinha and Mauro Icardi, all recovered from injuries that kept all but the left-back Diallo out of the quarters.
For City everyone is fit, a sentence one so rarely types about a football club it seems too short to leave it unadorned.
The team news should drop at 6.45pm.
Mike McGrath’s preview
Pep Guardiola will have the words of Johan Cruyff ringing in his ears when he sends his players out at the Parc des Princes tonight. It will be Manchester City’s own version of Total Football that gets them through to their first Champions League final.
Guardiola admitted he can only get to sleep when he stops thinking about the damage Kylian Mbappé and Neymar can inflict on opponents. His answer is for City to make attack their best form of defence and learn from past failures in the competition.
When the coronavirus pandemic reduced last season’s knockout stages to a one-legged format, Guardiola paid the price for trying to stifle Lyon with a like-for-like formation. With the lesson learned, he says City will attempt to impose themselves on Mauricio Pochettino’s team rather than negate them.
“The best balance is to have the ball. If you have the ball all the time the balance of the team is already there,” Guardiola said. “It is the only way. We are going to concede counter-attacks, they have the quality with Mbappe, Neymar, Di Maria, Verratti, Paredes, the physicality and the personality they have. With Marquinhos and the keeper too, they have a lot of weapons.
“The only way to minimise these kind of things is to impose your game like we have built in the last five years. Lyon beat us with counter-attacks, two or three mistakes, we were done. We will try to impose our game.
“I learn from my experience in this competition that as much as you are close in the latter stages, to be who you are the more chance you have to go through.
“When you are thinking a lot about the opponents and what they do, it will be difficult. In this stage you don’t find opponents who don’t have real skills. The way you play with the ball creates stability in the team and that is what we are going to try to do.”
Guardiola looked relaxed on the eve of his biggest European game at City during his five years at the Etihad Stadium. The mood was how Cruyff approached the big games, his mentor at Barcelona telling him to enjoy the moment.
There was no time to celebrate Sunday’s triumph in the Carabao Cup final. Players were in for a recovery session on Monday then work started on PSG. It is “work” but Guardiola wants them to enjoy being at this stage of the competition and everything that goes with it.
Most of City’s players were not involved in the 2016 season when they last got to the semi-finals and Guardiola wants them to get used to the customs of getting to the business end of Europe’s elite tournament.
“I learnt from Johan Cruyff: when you arrive at these stages there is only one thing you can do and that is enjoy the game,” Guardiola said. “Enjoy the responsibility and the pressure. Enjoy the fact that you have not lived more of these situations. That is elite.
“The mythical sentence, just one minute before we go to Wembley to play our first final that we won in 1992 against Sampdoria. Get out and enjoy it.
“Top players enjoy this situation because they take the responsibility. That’s why the greatest win this competition and the greatest clubs win this competition because they play it as a friendly game. That’s what I want to see in my team and that is we are going to do it.
“As a moment, enjoy the travel, the coffee you take in the terminal, the hotel, our dinner together watching the other semi-final, the press conference, the walk on the day of the game, the training. All the process. it is not just the moment you are going to play. We are privileged to be one of the best four teams in Europe this season and we must enjoy it.”
Guardiola says the Premier League is the important competition and the Champions League is the “nicest one” but this is the one City wants after their ascent under their Abu Dhabi owners in the last 13 years.
For the Spaniard, getting to the final would prove that he does not “overthink” the big matches, which has been levelled at him before and looked to be the reason for their downfall last season in Lisbon.
“Every time you get older you realise how difficult it is to win trophies,” he said. “Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, all these teams that have many Champions Leagues in their cabinet and it’s normal for them.
“For us it’s something new and we are grateful to live it. We were looking for many years to be here.”