Lionel Messi and PSG’s ‘Team of Individuals’ provide Man City Champions League benchmark – Sean McCormick


Messi and PSG’s ‘Team of Individuals’ show City the benchmark

It is often said that defeats, particularly early in the season, can be a blessing and City will have to hope that Tuesday’s defeat at the Parc des Princes will prove to be just that.

If Pep Guardiola’s side want to make good on their ambition to win the Champions League, then their big-spending opponents showed them the benchmark they have to reach if they are to go one better than last season’s defeat in the final.

Lionel Messi has made a slow start to his PSG career but he finally got on the scoresheet for his new side with a stunning winning goal.

With the scoreline 1-0 and both sides creating chances, Messi took the game by the scruff of the neck. Picking up the ball on the halfway line, the 34-year-old drove infield from the right-hand side, played a neat one-two with Kylian Mbappe before shrugging off the challenge of Rodri to curl a stunning effort beyond a helpless Ederson and into the top corner.

The Parc des Princes erupted and it was a stark reminder of why Les Parisiens’ front three of Mbappe, Messi and Neymar is the envy of world football.

Much of the pre-match talk was how City were collectively a better team than their opponents. Indeed, City great Shaun Goater dubbed the clash ‘The World’s Best Individuals vs The World’s Best Team and Manager’.

It was the former who won the battle on this occasion and City now know the levels they need to reach to win the war and, ultimately, achieve their dream of winning the Champions League.

Sterling and Mahrez gamble backfires as Grealish learns harsh reality

They say never change a winning team – particularly a winning team who just beat European champions Chelsea on their own turf – but when you have the attacking options at City’s disposal, you can excuse Guardiola for wanting to tinker.

But the decision to bring in Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez for Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus backfired as neither player grasped their big opportunity to shine.

Sterling cut a lonely, frustrated figure up front but squandered his big opportunity when his header from point-blank range made its way on to the crossbar when it looked easier to score.

Mahrez, twisted and turned and hustled and harried but lacked the cutting edge in front of goal when the half-chances presented themselves.

Both Foden and Jesus ended the game on the pitch and will almost certainly start in Sunday’s trip to Liverpool – most likely alongside Jack Grealish, who struggled against the doubling up of Achraf Hakimi and Marco Verratti.

Pochettino regains European stranglehold over Pep

Pochettino, of course, engineered a famous quarter-final win over City when he was Tottenham boss as he guided Spurs to the final of the competition in 2019.

However, Guardiola gained his revenge with a semi-final win over PSG last season and there would have been no doubt that he would have been keen to earn more plaudits after getting the better of Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel on Saturday.

After City earned praise for the way they pressed the Blues on Saturday, PSG took the sting out of that press and allowed City very little time to breathe themselves.

The midfield pivot of Verratti, Ander Herrera and Idrissa Gana Gueye prevented any City space on the counter-attack, while the battle between Grealish and Hakimi on the left-wing was won overwhelmingly by the PSG full-back.

Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte – immense against the threat of Romelu Lukaku on Saturday – were culpable for the first goal as PSG’s triple threat pulled them out of position.

They are issues that will need solving ahead of the reverse fixture at the Etihad Stadium.

Idrissa Gueye of Paris Saint-Germain celebrates after scoring

No striker argument rears its head again and will continue to do so

Bernardo Silva’s first-half miss was so unbelievable that it would be ridiculous to suggest that as justification to an argument that City got it wrong when not signing a forward over the summer.

But with every setback this term, it is an argument that will continue to rear its head after the club’s public pursuit of Tottenham forward Harry Kane.

City registered 18 shots on goal in the game, three times more than their opponents, but lacked any ruthlessness in the final third as they ended the game on the wrong end of the result.

Should that cutting edge fail to return in the big games then it could well cost them dearly this season.

Club Brugge throw spanner in the works

City and PSG remain heavy favourites to progress from the group but Belgian champions Club Brugge, and their litany of young stars, could well throw a spanner in the works.

Brugge drew with PSG on matchday one and backed that up with a shock 2-1 win over RB Leipzig – the team many felt would provide City and PSG in with the biggest threat in Group A.

It means City will head to Belgium next month trailing both Brugge and PSG in the group standings and, away from home, many will now label the tie a potential banana skin.

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