Manchester City will book a place in the next round of the Champions League with a victory or even a draw against Paris Saint-Germain today. But beating the French side will be a difficult task to accomplish.
The Blues did an unexpected double against the star-studded side last term to progress to the final of the competition. But the club reinforced even more by adding arguably the best player in the world to the roster, amongst several other high-profile names, if only to ensure that never happens again.
The team has done half of the job this term by beating City 2-0 in the first of their two legged group stage ties. Lionel Messi was on the score sheet, confirming just why they French side went all out for him, once he was available.
As the second installment of the showdown awaits at the Etihad Stadium, Pep Guardiola and his men face three particular problems.
1. Mauricio Pochetinno has Guardiola’s number
Facing the former Tottenham gaffer at the Etihad again beings to mind the disappointment of 2019 when the Blues were cruelly knocked out of the competition by the Lillywhites.
Currently, Poch is 3-0 up against Pep in their head-to-head battles as far as the competition is concerned. The Argentine led Spurs to beat City 1-0 in the first leg of their quarter final paring in 2019. A 4-3 loss in the reverse fixture felt like a loss as City failed to go through due to the away goals rule.
The pain of denying Manchester City a place in the semifinal of the competition is still fresh in the minds of many City faithful. That singular incident has ensured that playing Pochetinno’s team any day any time is a grudge match for City.
The unfortunate thing is that the Argentine seems to have Guardiola’s number. The first leg At Le Parc des Princes was the third tournament meeting between the two managers in two years. So far, the City boss has come up short.
The Catalan will need to get his tactics spot on to put Pochetinno in his rightful place.
2. Lionel Messi is Back in Form
It took the six-time Ballon d’Or award winner some time to settle down in his new sorroundings. But after battling with injuries and poor form, Messi is back doing what he knows how to do best.
So far, the forward has registered three goals in three UCL appearances for the club. After helping the side down City last time out, he is relishing the opportunity to do even more damage.
He is so good Guardiola does not know how to deal with him. The City boss confessed in the pre-match interview that he has no plans on how to stop the PSG starman.
“It’s so difficult. Sometimes when he has the ball he doesn’t know what he’s going to do - so imagine you have to know what he is going to do,” said Guardiola.
“There are players who you can say if they will go right or left. When he has the ball, not even he knows exactly what he is going to do.”
3. If You Think Messi is a Big Problem, Add Di Maria, Neymar and Mbappe
Arguably the most dangerous attacking quartet in world football. With this much firepower, how they trail City in the group is surprising. Two unexpected draws away at both Club Brugge and RB Leipzig meant the French side dropped four valuable points.
But facing City is a different ball game. Poch knows how to get the better of Pep. Besides, the players will be motivated to revenge last season’s losses.
With some much talent packed into one team, that is doable. The City boss has also acknowledged the fact that it’s not just about Messi.
“I cannot tell the players what he (Messi) will do, but hey, it happens with Neymar and (Kylian) Mbappe, with (Angel) Di Maria, with all the players up front in this team,” Guardiola stated.
“Every player could be a complete star in any team around the world, and all four are in the same team.
“But I am still glad and happy that he is still playing, at the level he plays and with the quality, so it will be nice to face him.”
That last part gives the Blues a soft landing. This team is now one of the best in the continent and should not be afraid of any opposition. Recent performances have shown just how good the team is.
Even in the first leg, the Blues dominated the encounter despite losing in the end. If the players bring on their A-game and put up the kind of performance we have seen against tough opposition this season, this should go City’s way.