Second-half goals from De Bruyne and Mahrez put Man City in box seat
Paris Saint-Germain’s miserable second-half implosion completed by Idrissa Gueye red card
Riyad Mahrez’s free-kick goes through the Paris Saint-Germain wall for Manchester City’s second goal during the Champions League semi-final, first leg at Parc des Princes. Photograph: Alex Grimm/Getty Images
Paris Saint-Germain 1 Manchester City 2
Pep Guardiola had called for calm, for his Manchester City players to be themselves, for them to enjoy the occasion. The manager made the point that Champions League semi-finals do not come around very often. For City, this was only their second.
It was hard going in the first half as Neymar thrilled for Paris Saint-Germain. The French champions’ lead at the interval might have been greater than that given to them by Marquinhos’s early header, even if City had their moments at the other end.
Guardiola’s men took on board their manager’s words, particularly during the break, and the way that they turned around this first leg was about more than their quality. It was about their composure, their belief in Guardiola and themselves.
Kevin De Bruyne sculpted an equaliser that had been coming when he bent a low ball into the area and watched it bounce all the way through and into the far corner and City were in dreamland shortly afterwards when Riyad Mahrez guided a free-kick through a poorly set PSG wall and past Keylor Navas.
It was no more than City deserved and PSG’s angst was reflected in the horror challenge by Idrissa Gueye on Ilkay Gündogan that saw him given a straight red card in the 77th minute. City have more than one foot in their first final in this competition.
PSG called the tune in the first half and they made the dream start when Marquinhos rose unchallenged to guide Ángel Di María’s corner inside the far post.
The delivery was marvellous, flat and quick and, tiptoeing away from Gündogan and through City’s zonal marking, Marquinhos could use the pace on the ball. On the touchline, Mauricio Pochettino barely flinched. Inside, his heart leapt.
This would have been the perfect final. It was hugely watchable, with the technical quality on both sides high. Neymar took the breath with his balance, quick feet and explosiveness, particularly in tight spaces, and it was clear from an early juncture that City dare not lose the ball in the wrong areas.
Pochettino’s team is set up to punch hard on the counter; they set traps to entice the turnover and, when Rodri was robbed in the second minute, Kylian Mbappé fed Neymar and City were relieved when the finish lacked power and precision.
PSG threatened again on 28 minutes from a corner, Neymar picking out Leandro Paredes, who glanced just wide, but they particularly enjoyed themselves in open play in the first half.
Neymar verged on the unplayable. He forced Ederson to tip over for the corner that led to Marquinhos’s goal, having conjured a yard of space that simply did not appear to exist, and PSG could also point to a first-half shot by Mitchel Bakker that was blocked by John Stones and further flashes from Neymar.
So often in the key games, the release of Guardiola’s line-up leads to discussion, conjecture. Not here. His line-up was as expected; no tricks, no over-thinking. With no recognised No 9, De Bruyne pushed high at the tip of the formation although, as ever, it was fluid. Bernardo Silva could move up in support. De Bruyne flitted, sometimes swapping with Phil Foden on the left.
City’s two big moments in the first half followed PSG errors as they tried to play out from the back. Navas passed straight to Foden on 32 minutes and, when Mahrez headed his cross towards Silva, in the middle, PSG were in trouble only for Paredes to intervene with a flying clearance.
The second was the clearcut chance, Paredes giving the ball away to Kyle Walker, who found Silva and, one square pass later, the shot was on for Foden. Ten yards out, he blasted it too close to Navas, who tipped over. He had to do better. João Cancelo had earlier picked out Silva at the far post only for Navas to have his angles covered.
Neymar emerged for the second period with his arm strapped following a fall in the first half and City set about inflicting more meaningful damage, pressing higher, penning their opponents back.
PSG massed men behind the ball, Di María tucking in on the right of midfield, and they tried to get numbers around any City player to see possession around their box.
They wanted to counter and there was one moment when Mbappé beat Stones to cross low for Marco Verratti, who stretched but could not apply a touch.
Yet City turned the screw, shutting down PSG’s passing lanes, coming to dictate the tempo. De Bruyne unfurled an overhead kick that flew high. Walker burst up the right to cross but there was nobody there. PSG could feel the most exacting test and they felt the air drain from them upon De Bruyne’s moment of ingenuity.
City wanted more and they got it when Mahrez squeezed his free-kick through a gap in the PSG defensive wall.
This tie feels over.