PSG and Manchester City, two powerhouses of European football enjoying similar trajectories of success in their respective countries, are set for a stellar showcase on the 6th of April at the Parc des Princes in the first of a two-legged tie to determine who will progress to the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League.
The story for these two clubs this season has been completely different in terms of their respective domestic competitions. PSG, having almost secured their domestic league title yet again, are looking forward to European glory that has eluded them so far.
Manchester City, on the other hand, are reeling from their dismal domestic campaign and are locked in a heated battle with Manchester United and West Ham United for a place in the top 4, with only three points separating the three teams.
Wednesday’s clash for the two clubs therefore mean different things. PSG have emerged as one of the favourites besides Barcelona and Bayern Munich to win the prestigious competition while City will look to regroup next season under Pep Guardiola.
This is the first time in the club’s history that Manchester City will be featuring the semi finals of the continent’s elite tournament, ironically coming off the back of one of the most disastrous seasons for the club since the Middle Eastern oil Sheikhs took over the club in 2008.
PSG has been relatively more successful having qualified for their fourth consecutive quarter final. The Parisians would be looking to reach the semi finals of the elite tournament for the first time since the 1994-95 season when they defeated Barcelona, who have knocked them out twice in recent years.
Laurent Blanc vs Manuel Pellegrini
This season, Blanc’s side have achieved the remarkable feat of having an insurmountable 25 point gap to separate themselves from the second place Monaco in the French league. Blanc will however look to recreate the same mode of dominance in Europe to shake off the tag of underachievers for PSG.
Nicknamed ‘Le President’ for his leadership skills on the field as a player wearing Marseilles’ colours, Blanc has never progressed beyond the quarter finals of the Champions League in his managerial career, having been knocked out thrice at this stage while in charge of PSG and once while in charge of Bordeaux. In the year he took Bordeaux to the quarter finals, he managed to top a Champions League group that had European heavyweights Bayern Munich and Juventus.
His opposite number, Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, however had progressed to the semi finals of the Champions League in his first attempt with a talented Villarreal side only to be undone by Thierry Henry and Arsenal in 2006. Pellegrini was unable to replicate that success in 2009 while in charge of a star-studded Real Madrid side. The Galacticos, which included the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, exited the Champions League after being beaten by Lyon in the round of 16.
The two successful coaches are meeting for the first time and will look to best each other with everything they have at their disposal.
Mangala vs Zlatan
While both sides are known for their attacking flair in their own leagues as well as in Europe, their defending has come into question in recent times. The City boss will look to Mangala to lead the defence in the absence of captain Vincent Kompany. Pellegrini was not shy with his praises for the Frenchman who would play a pivotal role in keeping his countrymen at bay.
“If you have the statistics then you will see every time Mangala plays then we win. In a few games this season he has made mistakes, which is very awful to concede, but if you review his overall performances, he is a very good player. I don’t think the price made a difference for him. He is a very young player, he is adapting to a difficult league in the Premier League. He has all the conditions to be a very important player here and I’m sure he will improve in every season he plays in the Premier League,” Pellegrini said in a pre match interview.
He will be tasked to stop the formidable Zlatan Ibrahimovic who boasts a record of 105 goals in 117 Ligue 1 games for PSG and 19 goals in 31 appearances in the Champions League throughout his illustrious career playing for Ajax, Juve, Inter, Milan, Barcelona and PSG. The 34 year old Swede shows little sign of stopping as he will take the field on the back of a hat-trick in the weekend game against Nice and a further 4 goals against Troyes just a fortnight before.
Aguero vs Thiago Silva
Having taken on the number 10 shirt following Dzeko’s departure to Roma, Sergio Aguero remains, despite his struggles in an injury riddled season, City’s key player. The diminutive Argentine will be flanked by the extremely talented Kevin De Bruyne and veteran David Silva, so there will be no dearth of support given the team’s attacking depth.
This is what makes PSG captain Thiago Silva’s task all the more difficult, the Brazilian finding himself often having to cover for his compatriot David Luiz, who hasn’t been his best ever since his big money switch from English giants Chelsea. Thiago Silva’s game too has not been what it used to when he was playing for AC Milan as he’s often found wanting at the heart of the defence.
Rabiot vs Fernandinho
Fernandinho, the ex-Shakhtar Donetsk man, has scored twice in the league this season and once in Europe, and is easily one of the best defensive midfielders in England at the moment. He will look to keep the PSG attack at bay and look to intercept as many balls as he can and also help out the attack with his darting runs off the box. Yaya Toure is all but set to miss the game with a knee injury and in his absence, City will look to Fernandinho to contribute to their game with both his offensive and defensive aspects.
In the absence of Italian playmaker Marco Veratti, who is the most important midfielder in Blanc’s side, Adrien Rabiot will look to anchor the midfield with Matuidi and Motta. The young Frenchman has a similar style of play to Veratti.
Having 2 goals in the Champions League this season to his name in 3 matches, he played a key role in the midfield against Chelsea, opening up the defense on more than one occasion with his trademark through balls and long passes.