If we are going to ignore the glaring truths, we can start by saying that Manchester City will be traveling to Paris to face Paris St.Germain in their first UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final match ever. That is a truth within itself, but not the point of contention most football fans will immediately point out.
There are the obvious parallels. Two clubs with a diverse roster of internationals with the ambition to cause havoc across Europe play each other in the only real competition left for either team to succeed in. Sure, PSG have been in the quarters before -- but this is their fourth straight season in doing so, and their ambitions and talent have yet to reach their potentials on the grand stage. Manchester City also face similar scrutiny, and if we are going to pay attention to the elephant in the room, then we must acknowledge that like their Parisian counterparts, they’ve spent too much damn money to keep winning the league and not hoist a Champions League Trophy.
This Wednesday, City and Ligue 1 Champions (for the fourth season running) PSG face each other for only the second time in the long history of either side. Their first matchup was a UEFA Europa Cup qualifier that ended in a draw in 2008, a game that saw a young Vincent Kompany, Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta all playing. Eight years later, each club find themselves looking to get to the next step of footballing glory.
Paris St. Germain rely on all-world midfielder Blaise Matuidi to be the box-to-box midfielder that links up with the defenders and also distributes to the forwards, and since the departure of winger Ezekiel Lavezzi, Lucas Moura has shown out on the left wing, keeping Edinson Cavani at bay on the bench. Former Real Madrid and Manchester United star Angel Di Maria will likely be the main cog that keeps the PSG offense going, and as he likes to tuck in with guile, it will be up to Fernandinho and whoever Pellegrini chooses to partner him with to keep the Argentinian at bay.
Then, there is Zlatan. The 34-year old Ibrahimovic has to be foaming at the mouth at the opportunity to play opposite of Eliaquim Mangala, for the French defender’s rashness and often ill-timed mistakes will be under close scrutiny by PSG. Ibra finished the weekend with hat-trick against Nice, and has scored in his last four Champions League matches. It will be a team effort on the defensive end for City and containing Ibrahimovic will be of top order. Having Kompany out for this tie could be the deciding factor in whether or not City can be successful against PSG, but it’s quite possible that Mangala could prove that he’s worth the price tag that City supporters and rivals alike enjoy pointing out.
Manchester City will be boosted by the return of Belgian attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne. De Bruyne was a huge part in City’s 4-0 destruction of Bournemouth, playing centrally as he delegated and distributed in the Blue’s attacking third. KDB was sorely missed during City’s vital late winter stretch of matches, and his absence undoubtedly contributed to the lack of creativity that was seen in City’s front line. Along with De Bruyne in coming off the injury report is Samir Nasri, the Frenchman who has missed all of six months with a thigh problem. Joe Hart will be back after missing a few weeks with a pulled calf in the Manchester Derby, and energizer bunny Fabian Delph is also a potential selection for Manuel Pellegrini. Yaya Toure will be out after suffering a knock, and captain Vincent Kompany and Raheem Sterling are also out with injuries to their calf and knee, respectively.
Paris St. Germain will be without their Swiss Army Knife of a midfielder in Marco Verratti, and will also be missing the services of Javier Pastore. Even with these two vital injuries, we’d be doing the Parisians a disservice if we said that their options for a starting XI don’t rival any squad in Europe.
City are past the point of fledgling European wanna-be. They’ve got the structure, support and executive know how to win trophies, and now it’s time for their players and coaches to do their part. It’s a fact that City supporters themselves wrestle with: Having a small-club mentality with a Galactico’s checkbook. It’s a space that is an awkward one to belong in, and having tradition is ends up being swallowed whole by the “win now-ask questions later” mentality of modern sport. No longer a project, Manchester City must show that they are indeed an established club and a well equipped challenge to any and all clubs on the planet.