As one of the two captivating ties – the other being an all-Spanish tie featuring Barcelona and Atletico Madrid – in this season’s UEFA Champions League (UCL) quarterfinals, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) take on Manchester City in the first leg at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday night.
The French side have already sealed the Ligue 1 title and will be going all out to reach their first Champions League semifinal. City, on the other hand, are fighting to achieve a top-four finish, in a season which has not gone to plan for them. They are fourth on the table with 54 points and have seven games to ensure Champions League football for next season.
This match-up between PSG and City has definitely got football fans very much excited. There, however, seems to be an ambiguity over “the favourites” for this tie, unlike the other three. Some fans genuinely think that Laurent Blanc’s side will prove too hot to handle for City. Some more are of the opinion that the Ligue 1 champions might not have the cutting edge to their game, having already wrapped up the domestic league title.
So, we thought, why not give the fans and neutrals clarity and a perspective on how these two sides stack up?
Despite having great financial resources and star-studded squads consequently, both these sides have yet to make their mark in the Champions League. While PSG have reached the quarterfinals for the third consecutive season, City have made it to the last eight for the first time in their history. Barcelona overwhelmed the Barclays Premier League side at the R-16 stage during the last two seasons, with the Parisians also falling to the Catalan giants on two (in 2012/13 and 2014/15) of the three occasions – Chelsea beat them on away goals in the 2013/14 season – when they have got to this stage of the UCL.
Psychologically, therefore, Laurent Blanc’s side would not want to come unstuck at the quarterfinal stage yet again. The same cannot be said about City, who, having got past the R-16 stage on their third attempt, can play freely and without the pressure element.
PSG have been utterly dominant in France and have now won the Ligue 1 title for the fourth season in a row. But can you weigh them based on their domestic domination? Not exactly. Yes, Ligue 1 is quite similar to Bundesliga and Serie A, in that the two leagues continue to be dominated by Bayern Munich and Juventus, respectively. But the German and Italian champions have outperformed their French counterparts on the European stage in the recent past and until PSG can replicate that, I do not think they can be considered a force in Europe.
You can say that City also need to prove themselves at the Champions League level – by which I mean they must beat the likes of Barcelona, Bayern, Real Madrid, to name a few – to be considered a European force. But the English Premier League is a lot more competitive than Ligue 1 and despite that, City have not done too badly in the last four seasons. So, from the Cityzens’ point of view, there is no reason to feel any lesser than the team from the French capital.
Coming to this tie in itself, I think the in-form players are in the PSG ranks. The concept of match-winners is different and most teams have them. But the important aspect is, which players have been performing well, ahead of a high-profile game as this. The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Angel di Maria and Lucas Moura are enjoying good seasons overall while you cannot say the same about the integral players in the City ranks.
Their squad has been plagued with injuries throughout this campaign, and though the indispensable Kevin de Bruyne returned to action on Saturday, there is, at the time of writing this, the likelihood of Yaya Toure and Joe Hart not featuring against PSG on Wednesday. Vincent Kompany is out with a calf injury too. With almost half their squad’s core unable to feature, City might not be on par with the Parisians in terms of quality. They will once again rely heavily on Sergio Aguero for goals and hope that de Bruyne continues from where he left off against Bournemouth. David Silva, who is having an ordinary season by his standards, will also need to raise his game.
Talking of differences, Angel di Maria and Lucas Moura, who are expected to flank Ibrahimovic in PSG’s 4-3-3, are incredibly pacey and have trickery to go with it as well. City have a conspicuous problem against fast players, and their defence in recent years has had an overwhelming propensity to get pulled all over the place. I wonder if the Ligue 1 champions can trouble Wednesday’s visitors with their speed and movement. City rearguard’s ineptitude has been exposed multiple times this season and PSG, being a good overall side, could make the difference.
What City will also have to do is, match PSG for energy. Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta and whoever among Adrien Rabiot, Javier Pastore and Marco Verratti plays, will bring plenty of energy to their side’s midfield. Without Toure, the double pivot of Fernandinho and Fernando Reges will, and must, give the Cityzens the thrust in the middle of the park. Not only will they have to contain the PSG midfielders and offer protection to their own backline, but also impose themselves in order to get into the psyche of Blanc’s side. Fernando, given his recent form, will be very vital to City’s chances of beating the Ligue 1 outfit.
City, without a European heavyweight in their sight, might come out of their leash and try to play their natural game, which is to keep the ball and try to score goals. Against Barcelona, they always had to contend with the inherent sharpness of Lionel Messi & co. and therefore, could not be as attack-minded as they usually are.
Having said that, PSG have plenty of ammunition of their own and will provide a stringent examination of City’s attack and defence. And with Wednesday’s visitors expected to play with a bit more attacking intent than in the last two seasons, it does promise to be a highly fascinating encounter that, for the various reasons mentioned above, does not have a “favourite”.