Man City beat PSG to make Champions League semi-finals
No quarter given: Manchester City players celebrate as they reached the European Cup semi-finals for the first time in their history CREDIT: REX FEATURES
T his was the game when Manchester City finally said hello to the Champions League and warmly embraced the competition. It is an acquaintance that they are likely to enjoy for many, many years to come. It was a coming-of-age performance; a defining moment; a moment in history.
How did City beat PSG to reach the Champions League semi-finals?
That they did so with a manager who they are saying goodbye to at the end of this season only added to the sense of drama; the sense of destiny; the sense of growing peculiarity in this craziest of seasons – and, emphatically, the sense of irony and a shade of embarrassment also.
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini congratulates goalscorer Kevin de Bruyne CREDIT: REUTERS
W hen the draw is made on Friday there is surely an inevitability that City will be paired with Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich (should the Bavarians come through against Benfica) but maybe the Gods are already saving that meeting for the final in Milan next month. Or maybe, irony of ironies, Guardiola will go out of the competition before Manuel Pellegrini.
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So often the Champions League has thrown up the kind of quirks that Pellegrini and City are going through right now. And Guardiola, also.
City's next manager replaced Jupp Heynckes as Bayern's coach in 2013, the appointment was announced during the season, and the German went on to win a treble – including beating Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final at Wembley – before departing. Guardiola has not achieved that with Bayern. Yet
Will Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini end up being pitted against his successor when the draw is made on Friday? CREDIT: REX FEATURES
T hat was a less improbable triumph than this one would be but there are other parallels. City's Premier League collapse has not been as catastrophic as Chelsea's was in 2011-12 but there are similarities in the way that Roberto Di Matteo's side went on to win the Champions League that season, beating Bayern – Heynckes' Bayern of course – and what is happening at present.
So often, also, winning the Champions League feels like the end of something – both times Jose Mourinho has triumphed (in 2004 with Porto; in 2010 with Inter Milan) he left, although those departures, unlike Pellegrini's, were on his terms. But, importantly for City, if not for the Chilean, this progression feels more like the beginning of something.
City fans stayed after the final whistle to celebrate their win CREDIT: REX FEATURES
T he fans waved their flags at the end, they sang ‘Blue Moon' and they stayed after the final whistle to celebrate. They were finally full of noise and belief as they reached the semi-finals for the first time in their history; the 10th English club to do so.
It was all the more satisfying for City that they defeated Paris St-Germain who, like them, are the nouveau riche who want to be part of Europe's elite and with whom they have been compared with unfavourably when it comes to the Champions League. The stakes were that high; the margins that slender.
And yet City and Pellegrini deserved this. Tactically he got this right and there were vindicating performances from the likes of Nicolás Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala who have, justifiably, been criticised while the manager's big call – to leave out Yaya Touré – was also correct.
Eliaquim Mangala marked Zlatan Ibrahimovic closely on Tuesday night CREDIT: AFP
P SG were hurting afterwards and for them this does represent the end of something as they will probably now move on some of their older players, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic. City would have shared the same emotions had they lost. Not just because they had gone out but because they had gone out to PSG.
“Manchester City are the guest club, invited to Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern's party,” PSG coach Laurent Blanc said afterwards. His reasoning is that those other three are always in the last four – although Bayern and Barca both have work to do – but he also knows that City, like PSG, have the ambition and resources to want to make their invitation a permanent one.
Paris St-Germain manager Laurent Blanc CREDIT: REX FEATURES
D o they also, now, have the belief? Pellegrini, usually so under-stated, allowed himself to stray into the territory of declaring that City can win the Champions League this season and they can. They have to think that after the most glorious night the club has experienced in the competition.
“Unmissable” was the slogan splashed across the advertising and social media posts to drum up interest and successfully make sure that the stadium was full. And this was unmissable – an unmissable opportunity for City. If they had gone out the recriminations would have started on the early announcement of Guardiola's appointment, over the strength of this squad, the vast spending and whether it has been wasted and the effect this would have on the rest of City's league campaign in which a nightmare scenario could then begin to unfold of them being outside the top four and out of the Champions League next season.
There was an explosion of ticker-tape at the beginning but there were boos also when the Champions League anthem was played. City fans still had to be won over and probably still have to be won over by Uefa. They can be expected to boo in the San Siro should they reach the final.
B ut the relationship is becoming less strained. There was anger directed at the Spanish referee – Carlos Velasco Carballo – and a feeling of conspiracy against City in some of his decisions but the Champions League is no longer the enemy. It is surely no longer a competition City do not feel comfortable in. They embraced it and they can, who knows, go on and win it.
Above all, though, this felt like a night for a new European superpower to emerge. City grasped that chance.