PSG are more than capable of taking advantage of the Blues’ flaws in the return leg, yet somehow Manuel Pellegrini’s men are moving closer to an unlikely semi-final appearance.
They couldn’t, could they? This Manchester City team, for all their quirks, are on the verge of making the most unlikely of statements.
This team, accused of sleepwalking towards the summer, could find themselves in the Champions League semi-finals in a week’s time.
Having reached the last eight for the first time in their history, they were not given much of a chance of advancing further given their dismal form over the past two months, and a tough draw against Paris Saint-Germain, the runaway champions of France, did not provide much optimism.
But here they are, with a 2-2 draw in the bag, two away goals that put them in the driving seat ahead of next Tuesday’s return leg in Manchester.
If onlookers are not quite sure how they do it, perhaps they are not the only ones. One first teamer admitted earlier this season that, after the brilliant win in Seville and the dreadful loss at Stoke City, he could not put his finger on exactly what was wrong – or right. It was an issue with concentration, that’s for sure: in Seville the Blues knew it was do or die. Against Stoke, for whatever reason, it was not.
It is a pattern that has seemed to repeat itself all season. Since February 1, City have suffered bruising defeats to Leicester City, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United in the league, kissing goodbye their title hopes as a result, but they have triumphed in the League Cup final and swept aside Dynamo Kiev on their own turf.
Those are two of their best performances all season.
It seems that in the biggest of games, they get the job done. Quite why that does not apply to the Premier League is anybody’s guess, but standing on the brink of the Champions League’s final four it will barely matter.
Especially as the competition just might be opening up. City certainly rode their luck in Paris, but that may not be the end of it. With Wolfsburg leading Real Madrid 2-0 heading into the return at the Santiago Bernabeu, one of Europe’s top clubs could be out of the equation. The German side should not be discounted – if they knock out Madrid, they will deserve their place – but there is no denying that it would represent a winnable tie for City.
Bayern Munich are by no means home and hosed with their 1-0 advantage over Benfica, while Barcelona will be similarly wary of their 2-1 win against Atletico Madrid.
There is no sense in getting carried away, but after City rode their luck to emerge with two away goals from a tie few gave them hope of surviving, their fans can afford to dream.
Not that their manager will: “We must not talk about the semi-final,” Manuel Pellegrini, who had his name sung by fans for the first time in weeks, said.
“It’s very important now to play the second leg at home not thinking we already qualified. I repeat, they are a very good team with very good players, so after that, if we qualify we can talk about the other things.”
He added: “No I don’t think we are favourites, not before this game and not after this game. I think that between big teams like City and PSG you don’t have a favourite and we must play a good game in second leg if we want to continue.”
Considering City conceded a penalty, essentially kicked the ball into the net on Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s behalf, and fell behind to an offside goal, there are a number of issues to address.
But that has been the case all season. Still, they are here, closer to a Champions League semi-final than anybody would have ever imagined. If things keep going their way, that may not be the limit of their ambitions.
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