Kylian Mbappe turned to the bench. A wry smile was accompanied by what sounded like a knowing nod, which reflected supreme confidence.
If you had been Joao Cancelo and seen such a show of composure from such a deadly player as Mbappe ahead of a Champions League semi-final, you might have been tempted to ask for a replacement. immediate.
While much of the pre-match preparation from PSG’s point of view focused on the Frenchman and his illustrious attacking partner Neymar, in the end their magic was lacking in Paris as Manchester City seemingly put on a foot in next month’s final.
City’s 2-1 win would not have been backed by many punters on the back of a particularly captivating first half at the end of which PSG arguably should have been more than 1-0 to good.
There was a key first-half pattern drawn in two minutes as PSG showed their midfielder’s raw tenacity. Rodri was stolen and a block was thrown, which led to Neymar shooting Ederson.
This relentlessness of the central trio of PSG was essential for the hosts to beat their City counterparts in the first 45 minutes.
While Mbappe and Neymar had been the center of attention, it was their pitch that shone.
0 – Tonight was the first time Kylian Mbappé completed 90 minutes in a UEFA Champions League game and failed to attempt a single shot. Thames. #UCL
– OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 28, 2021
Mauricio Pochettino’s setup underscored the respect for Pep Guardiola and City, with PSG’s form resembling two banks of fours designed to smother the spaces Kevin De Bruyne likes to exploit.
But on top of that, PSG almost constantly had Mbappe and Neymar as a central attacking duo. Pochettino was well aware that counterattacking teams led by running backs have been a problem for City.
Neymar’s deception at times in the first half certainly didn’t make City’s life easier. He left a few defenders in knots during Ederson’s test in the 13th minute, before hitting a clever nutmeg on De Bruyne.
But for the most part, the star-studded PSG duo have taken a step back.
Idrissa Gueye, Leandro Paredes and Marco Verratti were particularly effective when they stalked the City midfielder, while the threat of counterattacks meant City full-backs played withdrawn roles.
While they would normally create overloads, there was little sign of this as Cancelo and Kyle Walker were forced to sit deep.
Marquinhos’ wonderful header was a fair reward for PSG’s excellent performance in the first half and could have pointed out: “ Hey, there’s more to PSG than Mbappe and Neymar! ”
But the roles changed in the second half, and dramatically.
With full-backs pushed higher and midfielders a bit narrower, City have sought to smother PSG and keep them in their own half as much as possible.
The intensity adopted by Verratti, Paredes and Gueye was seemingly unbearable and the withdrawal at Mbappe was cut instantly almost every time, as Neymar became a passenger.
The Brazilian’s most important move after the break was to sprint 30 meters to ask the referee to fire De Bruyne. He failed.
47 – In the history of the European Cup / UEFA Champions League, there have been 47 times before tonight an English team winning the first leg of a two-legged knockout draw away, and on all 47 occasions, the English team has progressed. . Leg work. #UCL pic.twitter.com/QtWjT41QK8
– OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 28, 2021
The start of City’s second half saw them far above and it remained the status quo virtually until full time as they appeared less rushed and returned to their ball retention ideals.
The equalizer certainly had a hint of fortune on it as De Bruyne’s delivery from depth went all the way, but it was a consequence of City’s relentless pressure.
Their second, shortly thereafter, will undoubtedly have Pochettino asking questions of his players, with Riyad Mahrez’s free-kick somehow allowed to squeeze through a weak wall.
Gueye’s right red then helped maintain City’s lead, but it was Guardiola’s changes in the interval – putting City back on the front foot and control – that proved crucial.
The Catalan has often been accused in the past of getting in his way, overcomplicating things and getting caught, especially in this competition.
Not here, however. No, he went back to basics when their situation seemed a bit risky and it turned out to be a masterstroke.