Manchester City reached their first Champions League final with hardly any shocks. It was enough with two cons, two goals from Mahrez, to dismantle a deflated Paris Saint-Germain without Mbappé and with great difficulty led by Neymar, melancholic and dejected before the impeccable organization of an inaccessible opponent based on order. Guardiola’s hand can be seen in every particle of this signature team, owner of the first ticket to Istanbul.
The Manchester uprising on Sunday was covered in snow on Tuesday and the sinister silence of the pandemic fell on the Etihad to reduce the splendor of the semifinal. Without the energy of the crowds, football becomes a strange exercise, a forced grimace, a purely contractual matter. The teams complied with the procedure. They showed up to sign the card. They played. Time passed, which is perhaps the most remarkable part of the game, in the absence of a crowd. The footballers never received the warmth of the audience, nor were they convinced that the cameras are signs that organically integrate them with a social group.
Forced to rebel, the PSG men did what they could to show that they were competing for pride, for dignity, for desperation. With the exception of Verratti for a while, and Ángel di María for most of the evening – with a ball in between, this man is inaccessible to catastrophes – they did not succeed. Neymar did not succeed, not even subjected to the predicament that for all professionals the approach of 30 years with the need to make merits to renew a contract supposes. The ten played well. He is incapable of doing it wrong. But that was not enough to defeat the machinery that was put in front of him.
Terribly reduced by the injury of Mbappé, who remained on the bench covered by a black cap, Pochettino reorganized his team with everything he had at hand to deactivate his rival. Marquinhos took the rear to the opposite field, Verratti and Herrera alternated to link with Neymar, and Di María left the left lane to associate with everyone and sow chaos in the opposition. Above floated Icardi, waiting for some illuminated to put a pass with an advantage between Dias and Stones. The first onslaught sent the City back. For a few minutes, Guardiola’s team found itself deformed, devoid of the ball that provides the axes of its identity. At least almost all of them. Because it was in that period when City rediscovered the resistant facet. Dominated, sunk in his area, forced to run and wait, the squad of light blue jerseys ended up finding serenity in the defensive order. Apart from a Marquinhos header to the crossbar, after a corner, the visitors could not put Ederson to the test. The goalkeeper didn’t make a stop.
Minute ten had passed and the two teams were on the local court. It seemed that PSG was in charge when Ederson’s goal kick was coordinated with Zinchenko’s start. The Ukrainian full-back, who finally proved to have more football in his boots than Cancelo, flew through the midfield line, broke the offside, and when he reached the bottom he ended up throwing the backing defense out of square by handing the ball to De Bruyne. . The Belgian’s shot bounced off Kimpembe and Mahrez hit the near post.
Gundogan’s position, usual inside attack, changed into a double pivot. Sheltered alongside Fernandinho, the German helped keep watch over Neymar while depriving De Bruyne of his supplies. As often happens when he changes the 4-3-3 for this more conservative drawing, City lost presence in attack because it limited their chances of passing. He lost the initiative, but it didn’t affect him too much either, given his opponent’s frustration. While the 1-0 did not change their need to score two goals to come back, the PSG players began to behave as if their inability to get a shot between the three suits persuaded them that any revolution would fail. It was decisive, but in reverse, the nine that replaced Mbappé. You can’t play worse than Mauro Icardi. The epitome of the spectator player, the Argentine watched a few plays as if he couldn’t intervene in any way. He not only deprived his colleagues of valuable support. It was as stopper as Dias or Stones.
The second half began and the only thing I saw of Mbappé were the eyes through his panties and his black hat. It looked like tuareg in the snow. Grave, impassive, he followed the game with the same gloomy air as his colleagues on the field. PSG continued without shooting at the door. Neymar’s attempts to grab the handle of each operation only drove his team away from its goal. Possessed by frustration, Di María stepped on Fernandinho and the referee sent him off for assault.
Mahrez, after a well-directed counterattack by De Bruyne, finished 2-0 and became the protagonist of the semifinal with a hat-trick. The trick that opened the door to the first Champions semi-final in Manchester City’s history.