FIRST THOUGHT: It's All Different Now
From here on out, everything changes.
Gone are the incessant questions City has faced ever since the sheikh's took over. City's motivations--at times their very existence--has been open to criticism and ridicule for so long, fans have become somewhat inured. You can't buy class. You can't buy character. You have no history.
These things were said over and over and over again.
It never stopped being annoying. It never stopped, period.
And whenever City fans tried to talk some sense, saying that aggressive investment was part of a long-term strategy, that the sheikh's were developing a world-wide brand and as evidence would point to a gradually growing trophy case, critics would laugh and point their fingers at one competition: the Champions League.
Not that City didn't bring some of the criticism on themselves. Their stated intention was to target this competition. Still, critics enjoyed immersing themselves in the lazy narrative that City just couldn't succeed in the CL because they didn't have 'heart', they didn't have the 'it' factor, they lacked 'character' and therefore were not a big club.
Lost in the narrative? City were well on their way to improving in European competition before the obscenely designed piece of hooey that was Financial Fair Play (what a contradiction in terms that legislation was). I'll got to my grave wondering how different things would've been had FFP not come into existence. It had the express intent of targeting City and their opponent last night, Paris St. Germain. No one talks about FFP anymore because even its designers recognized that in front of a judge, UEFA's arguments would get tossed so far out of a courtroom, you'd need satellite imagery to find them.
The endless critiques, FFP, a season of inconsistency and injuries, the mocking of pundits who claimed that only Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne--maybe!--could start for PSG... we need to let it all sink in for a moment.
Because it's all over now.
Manchester City are in the semi-finals of the Champions League. There will be only three other teams that can make that claim.
Manchester City, if we use the metric of CL competition, are one of the four best teams in Europe.
From here on out, everything changes because what happened last night has never happened before. History was made. And with the best manager in the world coming next season, with an even greater influx of talent, with one of the best youth systems on the planet and facilities that would make any organization blush with envy, there is every likelihood that history will repeat itself and that City will be back in the latter stages of the Champions League for years to come.
SECOND THOUGHT: Player Ratings
SUMMARY: Like the first match, City started strong. Like the first match, PSG dominated possession after the opening ten minutes (75-25 at one point). And like the first match, City closed as the stronger, more cohesive side. Unlike the first match, City was strong defensively throughout and Manuel Pellegrini gets a lot of credit from me for it. Whereas in the first half last Wednesday, PSG had numerous through balls and runs on goal, last night we saw nary a one. Pelle clearly told his side to stay in formation and contain. It worked wonders.
- 9 or above is Man of the Match material
- 8 or above is a winning effort
- 7 or above did the job.
- 6 or above didn't do the job.
- 5 or thereabouts helped us lose.
GK: Joe Hart (8.5) Two Ibrahimovic cannon shots, a Cavani breakaway and a couple (but only a couple) of scary moments didn't faze the man. Are City really considering bringing in another goalkeeper next season? Just say no.
LB: Gael Clichy (8) Did anyone notice anything from PSG coming down the left side? Yeah, me neither. I've written it before and I'll do it again: this guy right now is the best left back in English football.
CB: Eliaquim Mangala (8.5) It took awhile but 'it' is happening. The 'it' being Mangala becoming a first-class defender. Earlier in his City career, one did not have to work hard to remember his mistakes. Now? I'm having a hard time remembering his last one. There was a time this season he was fourth on the center back depth chart, behind Demichelis. After last night--and after solid performances in previous weeks--he's our most reliable defensive player.
CB: Nicolas Otamendi (8.0) A fearless performance. He can raise the anxiety of City fans with his aggression but virtually everything he did was on point last night. The two best center backs in this cup tie both played for Manchester City.
RB: Bacary Sagna (8.0) Another fine performance. Let it sink in again that this guy came over on a free transfer.
CM: Fernando (9) It's a shame he got beat twice after the goal was scored because up to that point (and beyond) he was magnificent. I'm not sure how many pundits wrote that PSG had a major advantage in midfield--I honestly lost track--but the best midfielder on the pitch last night not named Kevin De Bruyne was wearing #6 and wearing blue. Like Mangala, a vilified player and like Mangala, he's become essential. The decision making, the passing, the defense on the ball--all of it was working last night.
CM: Fernandinho (8) There may be some commenters who have him higher and I'm not sure I would argue. What I won't argue is this fact: City won the midfield battle last night so the narrative that nobody on City could start for PSG needs to be set on fire and swept into the nearest dust bin.
LM: David Silva (7.5) The CAM baton has been passed to the presently more effective Kevin De Bruyne and good on Merlyn for recognizing as much. I was most proud of how he stayed home on the left side and resisted the urge to drift. He remains a wonderful player with the ball at his feet.
CAM: Kevin De Bruyne (9.5) Last week, I wrote that he was City's best signing in five years. Today, I'm writing that he's the best signing of any English club this season. What a player this guy is--vision, touch, a wonderful shot and underrated speed. He's happy here and City are no doubt ecstatic to have him.
RM: Jesus Navas (8.0) Our third player who has been roundly criticized and has had a wonderful CL tie. In the commentary I heard on the game, there was yet another reference to his lack of shooting ability and only belated praise for his tireless work ethic and severely underrated defensive work.
ST: Sergio Aguero (8.0) Incredibly hard work by City's best striker ever. On the penalty miss, I predicted in a pub full of people that he would shoot right and that Trapp would dive in that direction. Time to mix up the penalty shots, Sergio. Other than that, he was by a good margin the best striker on the pitch.
Yaya Toure (7.0) Played the last 10+ minutes and did fine. The larger issue might be this: is he now City's third-best central midfielder?
Fabian Delph (7.0) On for a short period of time but made his mark with a good run on the left side.
Kelechi Iheanacho (NR) On for the final minutes and if City fans have their way, he'll be the first striker off the bench from now until the last whistle of 2016 is blown.
THIRD THOUGHT: How Good Are City's Players?
Good enough to start for PSG. Consider that, in this tie, PSG scored two goals--one on a gaffe and one where Ibrahimovic was offside. PSG had other chances and didn't convert. And that seems to be the entirety of the evidence that they, and not City, were the superior side. After the match, Ibrahimovic said he felt PSG were the better team. Well, I beg to differ. To wit, in true Five Thoughts fashion:
- Aguero had a clearly better tie than Ibrahimovic.
- Navas/Silva were miles better than Di Maria and whoever else was on the wing for PSG.
- De Bruyne, Fernando and Fernandinho were all better than PSG's vaunted midfield.
- Mangala and Otamendi were both better than Thiago Silva and whoever was playing alongside Thiago Silva.
- There isn't a goalkeeper outside of Germany better than Joe Hart.
Let's not forget Manuel Pellegrini out-managed Laurent Blanc.
I like Ibrahimovic but he's got it wrong. The better team won. After all, they had better players.
FOURTH THOUGHT: A Stand-Out Fact
For the second time in his career, Pep Guardiola might be replacing a manager who won the previous year's Champions League.
FIFTH THOUGHT: Poll!
You know what to do.