After nearly a decade of trying and failing, Manchester City reached the UEFA Champions League final with a semifinal-clinching 2-0 victory over PSG (4-1 aggregate) at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.
Riyad Mahrez hit the Parisians for a pair of goals — one in each half — while superstar Kylian Mbappe was left to watch helplessly from the bench. A calf injury kept him out of the starting lineup and off the field altogether.
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Three things we learned: Manchester City – PSG
1. One last task, one last trophy to lift: Manchester City have just about done it all in the last 10 years — everything except, of course, lift the Champions League trophy. Either Chelsea or Real Madrid (tied 1-1 after the first leg) await in the final on May 29 in Istanbul.
2. Pep’s first UCL final since 2011: Look, Pep Guardiola is undeniably one of the greatest managers of his generation, but it would have been difficult to defend him as the greatest if he went a full decade without a Champions League final appearance — especially if he had done so while managing global giants like Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City. In many ways, this season could very well go down as Pep Guardiola’s best-ever coaching job — something we originally discussed on PST Unfiltered back in February — for the way he effectively rebuilt the team he already had in place midseason, turning it into a suffocating defensive juggernaut without a fit or consistent center forward to rely upon. In the end, PSG went without a shot on target in the second leg after going without in the second half of the first leg a week go.
3. Striker-less system sure to become all the rage: In every sport the world over, there are at any given time perhaps a handful of brilliant minds currently innovating and changing their respective sport for the better by implementing equally brilliant ideas — and to great success, oftentimes. Everyone else is 1) clawing and scraping to stay
alive in a job, and 2) ripping ideas off the aforementioned brilliant bunch. Eventually, everybody ends up playing the game in one of just a few different ways. So, not only will managers all over Europe see what Pep Guardiola has done this season while deploying a striker-less system, but chairmen and directors of football — the ones responsible for balancing the budget in these uncertain times of continued pandemic fallout — might also be enticed by the idea given the standard rate for top-class strikers these days. A club that doesn’t already have one might realize that planning to play without a striker is the most cost-effective option.
Man of the Match: Riyad Mahrez
Manchester City – PSG recap
PSG were awarded a penalty kick for handball in the 8th minute, but the briefest of video reviews revealed the ball had, without a doubt, come off the top of the shoulder of Oleksandr Zinchenko.
Three minutes later, Manchester City broke through for the first time to take a 3-1 aggregate lead. Ederson’s miles-long kick sent Zinchenko in behind the PSG defense, from where he was able to find Kevin De Bruyne as he arrived to the penalty area. De Bruyne’s shot was blocked en route to goal, but the ball fell to Mahrez, who received the ball in full stride and slotted a right-footed finish under Keylor Navas and just inside the far post.
Manchester City were hardly home free, though, as PSG ramped up the pressure and were only denied a massively important goal by the woodwork in the 17th minute. Angel di Maria whipped a ball in from the left wing and Marquhinhos rose high above two Man City defenders at the back post. Much to the Brazilian’s chagrin, the crossbar made the save when Ederson couldn’t.
The clinching goal — the one to go 4-1 up on aggregate and leaving PSG with no choice other than to score three goals in 25 minutes — was a work of art created De Bruyne and Phil Foden. De Bruyne got the ball 15 yards in his own half and played Foden into space on the left. Foden carried the ball 40 yards before playing back to De Bruyne, who immediately slid it back into Foden’s path as he raced into the penalty area. A simple cross to the back post found Mahrez arriving all by his lonesome for the emphatic finish.
The game had been chippy from a few untidy challenges in the opening few minutes, and eventually PSG’s frustrations grew to the point of boiling over. Di Maria angrily kicked out at Fernandinho five yards off the field, raking his studs down the shin and ankle of the 36-year-old birthday boy.