It’s the 63rd minute. Riyadh Mahrez has just tucked the ball away from a neat Phil Foden cross to score his and his side’s second goal on the night. A quizzical Neymar looks around, rhetorically asking for an explanation from his teammates, as rain continues to pour down on him from the Manchester sky. His side’s last shot on target came in the 28th minute…of the first leg.
That one moment summed up the story of the match. A dominant, cunning display from Manchester City saw off a relentless yet rattled Paris Saint-Germain side to make it to their first European cup final in 51 years.
Coming into the game 2-1 down on aggregate, PSG had little choice but to take the game to City straight from kick-off, but were dealt an early blow as Kylian Mbappé’s calf injury relegated him to the bench; a blow that eventually proved fatal.
Still, PSG tried sticking to the plan and came out of the gates looking to get the first goal to make things exciting, and it seemed to have worked when they were awarded a penalty in the early minutes of the first half, but the ball turned out to have brushed off Oleksandr Zinchenko’s left shoulder and the decision was rightly overturned.
It didn’t take long for City to assert their dominance after that. Riyadh Mahrez capitalised on PSG’s sluggish defensive movement to slot one in in the 11th minute. PSG immediately tried to drive the ball towards the other goal, as they would continue to do so for the remainder of the match, but to no avail.
The limelight for City was stolen by their defenders, who put everything and a half on the line to make sure PSG got no chance to mount any sort of comeback. They celebrated every block they made as if they were last-minute goals. Rúben Dias and Oleksandr Zinchenko shone in particular, with Kyle Walker and John Stones no less intent on keeping the Parisians out.
Supporting the defenders was Fernandinho, Pep Guardiola’s embodiment on the pitch. The Brazilian veteran was central in making sure the PSG players grew irate with every minute that passed. He made six fouls in the game, each cynical enough to attract referee Björn Kuipers’ whistle, but innocuous enough to avoid a card: the epitome of tactical fouling. He managed to instigate Ángel Di María into lashing out and getting himself sent off for stomping on him in the 69th minute, taking out whatever sting that remained in PSG’s attack.
As he made sure the Parisians continued losing their cool, the 36-year-old also made sure his own teammates kept theirs, taking them aside for a little ‘talk’ every time they even hinted at wanting to have a go at an opposition player or even the ref.
PSG tried as much as they could, but by the time the clock reached the 90th minute the realisation had dawned on them – that this battle was over, their European race was run, and at the end of the day, they were beaten by a better, more composed side.
Their season back in France, however, is anything but done. They currently sit second in Ligue 1, one point off Lille, and need to play out their remaining three fixtures as strongly as they can, and hope Lille slip up just one more time. They are also in the semi-finals of the Coupe de France, which again isn’t a done deal by any stretch of the imagination given they’ll be likely to face AS Monaco should they make the final. After reaching the final in last year’s UCL and making the semi-finals in this one, PSG’s claim as a European giant has certainly strengthened, albeit they’ll have to wait a little while longer to win the Big Ears.
For Man City, on the other hand, the focus will be on finding out their UCL final opponent as Chelsea and Real Madrid clash in less than 24 hours. They’ve already won the League Cup and require just one more perfunctory win in the Premier League to secure the title. The Champions League, their Holy Grail, now rests just one hurdle away from them. Now that they have reached this far, their focus will solely be on (finally) going all the way.