Champions League quarter-final second leg
Manchester City (2) v Paris St-Germain (2)
Etihad Stadium, 7.45pm
TV3, BT Sport Europe
Manchester City's hopes of reaching the Champions League semi-finals have been dealt a considerable setback with the news that Vincent Kompany has lost his fitness battle and will miss the tie against Paris St-Germain.
Kompany was able to train with the rest of the squad on Monday morning but the manager, Manuel Pellegrini, said afterwards it was "not possible" for the team's captain to be involved against the French champions.
Pellegrini had better news about Nicolás Otamendi even though the Argentinian did not take part in training because of a twisted ankle he suffered in Saturday’s 2-1 win against West Bromwich Albion. Otamendi landed awkwardly while jumping for a corner but Pellegrini said his player would be available to partner Eliaquim Mangala in the heart of defence.
Kompany’s absence, nonetheless, represents a major blow bearing in mind the team’s defensive issues when the Belgium national captain has been missing. Pellegrini had said on Saturday that Kompany was “touch and go”, having been out for almost a month with his fourth calf injury this season, but his latest prognosis was that the player was “not 100 per cent” and it was too risky to involve him.
That leaves Pellegrini with the decision of whether to gamble with Otamendi’s fitness or recall Martín Demichelis for the first time since his traumatic appearance in the Manchester derby when he was given such a torrid time by Marcus Rashford a player with experience of playing in World Cup and Champions League finals was substituted early in the second half.
After drawing 2-2 in Paris, City approach the second leg in a position of strength and Pellegrini offered his support to the team’s much-criticised defence. “We have to trust the squad. We are always talking, seeing and working with all the defenders. Maybe they made some mistakes in the last game against PSG but I trust they will play in the level that means they can do it.”
Whoever plays, City are guaranteed a challenging night given that PSG won their fourth successive domestic title with a couple of months to spare and currently have a 28-point lead in Ligue 1, with 83 goals from 33 games. City, in stark contrast, are 15 points adrift of Leicester City at the top of the Premier League and the imbalance of their results does not entirely spread confidence.
Against bottom-half teams Pellegrini’s men have the best figures in the league, winning 15 out of 18 games and drawing the other three. But compare that to the nine points they have taken from 13 games against top-half sides, the third-worst record in the league.
The accusation is that City have mastered the art of beating lesser teams but do not have the nerve for more difficult assignments. Pellegrini, however, was dismissive when it was pointed out to him that PSG might be encouraged by the five defeats his team have already suffered on their own ground.
“It doesn’t matter what has happened in other games in England,” he said. “What matters is that we played a very equal game in Paris. Before we played in Paris a lot of media thought we didn’t have any chance to continue and we demonstrated we have the same level as Paris.”
For Pellegrini, a place in the semi-finals would go a long way to removing some of the criticism that has attached itself to his final season as manager, but the real story for City is what it could do to invigorate the club on two fronts.
Firstly, seeing off a team with PSG’s growing reputation would represent City’s finest achievement in Europe of the modern era, and the biggest scalp yet for a club where it still feels suspiciously like they have an inferiority complex in this competition.
Secondly, it might help to convince the club’s fans that the Champions League is a competition to embrace when, until this point, it has been an awkward relationship. “The fans, for different reasons, have not been 100 per cent in this competition but as we continue further they will be,” Pellegrini said.
Would he encourage them to stop booing the Uefa competition anthem? “It depends if you are superstitious,” he replied. “If you are superstitious, we have been winning when they boo.” Not, though, in knockout ties against one of Europe’s superpowers. That is the challenge for City and it is one that if they pass it could change the way they look at this competition for good. Guardian Service