• Tom Abadie


Updated: May 7, 2021

Manchester City qualified this week for their first European final after beating PSG at home in the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals.

The Citizens played unorthodox football compared to their usual style of play but in the end, they scored another two goals past the French defence, after scoring two last week. Pep Guardiola reaches his first Champions league final in ten years, winning the competition in his last appearance back in 2011 with Barcelona. Let’s dive into the tactical keys to City’s success.

Tactical turning tables

Paris Saint-Germain had to two score two goals to go through or at least get an extra 30 minutes of extra time. This meant, against such a good City team, that they had to make compromises on their solidity and be far more attacking than usual. The block played a lot higher and played out from their defence a lot better than last week. While there is a loss at the end, Paris actually started the game very well, pressing City very high in their own half. By gaining back possession deep into the opposition’s half, Paris was very dangerous in the first 25 minutes. Unfortunately, without Mbappé, the Parisians were lacking the efficiency in front of goal or simply someone to get in behind to switch things up. While Paris retained the ball, there was little to no surprises in their build up play, so it was easy for City to stop those attacks. Additionally, Icardi was invisible and Neymar/Di Maria far less precise when it came to passing and dribbling than last week. This led Paris to playing into Manchester City’s hands very often.

Paris had a lot of opportunities on goal, 14, but none on target. Why is that? Because John Stones and especially Ruben Diaz were rocks at the back and blocked 9 of those 14 shots. The defensive pair were incredible, blocking everything that came their way. The Portuguese probably had the best performance for a defender in the Champions League all season, stopping anything that came in his zone. City soaked in the pressure, grouped up as a team and defended as a unit, something we have seen a lot of this year. Diallo and Florenzi did not bring anything going forward, therefore blocking the channels was not so important. By solidifying the centre of the pitch, grouping up in front of goal, City were sure to not only stop anything that came towards them, but also gain back possession easily to go back on the counter, something we have not seen Manchester City do much this season. The defensive efficiency from the centre backs, but also the wing backs who were immense and more importantly Fernandinho. On the day of his 36th birthday, the Brazilian midfielder was harassing everyone, conceding small fouls here and there but essentially cutting off any transmissions to the Parisian attackers. There was a bit of provocation, but that’s part of his game. It led to Di Maria lashing out at him 20 minutes from time, only to be sent off. Mark Von Bommel would be proud of that performance.

Efficiency as a centre piece

Yes, Manchester City defended very well, but how did they score two more goals while being a very low block most of the game? Well, you see, Ederson plays in goal but could start in Barcelona’s midfield any day of the week. Jokes aside, his long-range passing sent Zinchenko through, with a long kick from his box into the Parisian’s last third. Through on goal, the Ukrainian passed it back to De Bruyne, who had a shot on goal. Deflected, the ball ended up in Mahrez’ feet, who finished it off. 1-0, and the Algerian’s second goal in the tie. Paris’ high block left them vulnerable behind the backline and with players having Ederson’s passing range, it was no surprise to see City exploit that weakness.

The second goal came from a quick counterattack, very unlike Guardiola and his men. Quick passing in midfield eventually put Foden through on the left-hand side before he crossed it in low for Mahrez who smashed it home. None of the Parisian defenders were anywhere to be seen, and City took advantage of that. The Algerian gets a third goal in the tie. Growing up in Sarcelles, in the Parisian area, playing football on tarmac in front of his apartment and now scoring 3 of the 4 City goals against Paris, that must have meant a lot for the winger. He and Diaz were easily the top performers last night, bringing out their shinny boots for a night under the stars (or snow in last night’s case).

Manchester City did not dominate for most of the first half. And they didn’t retain possession like the usual in the second half either. However, the compact block they had built, and the exceptional quality of their attacking talent meant there was no way they were not going to reach the final. Paris can be disappointed in last week’s performance, taking their foot off the pedal in the second half which led to City’s two goals. However, this week was a whole different story, and they were simply no match for Manchester City. The Citizens stroll into the final in Istanbul with the tag of favourites. They could achieve a treble if they win the final in May (and don’t fall off in the league).