Mbappe and Neymar magic in short supply as Pep's tinkering helps put City in charge

By Sports Desk April 28, 2021

Kylian Mbappe turned towards the bench. A wry grin was accompanied by what looked like a knowing nod, one that portrayed supreme confidence.

Had you been Joao Cancelo and seen such a display of composure from a player as deadly as Mbappe ahead of a Champions League semi-final, you might have been tempted to ask for an immediate substitution.

While much of the pre-match build-up from the PSG perspective focused on the Frenchman and his illustrious strike partner Neymar, in the end their magic was in short supply in Paris as Manchester City seemingly put one foot in next month's final.

City winning 2-1 wouldn't have been backed by many punters on the back of a particularly gripping first half at the end of which PSG arguably should've been more than 1-0 to the good.

There was a key pattern to the first half established within two minutes as PSG showed the raw tenacity of their midfield. Rodri was robbed and a counter was sprung, leading to Neymar shooting at Ederson.

That relentlessness from the PSG central trio was essential to the hosts outcompeting their City counterparts in the first 45 minutes.

While Mbappe and Neymar had been the centre of attention, it was their supporting case who were shining.

Mauricio Pochettino's set-up highlighted the respect held for Pep Guardiola and City, as PSG's shape resembled two banks of four designed to snuff out the spaces that the likes of Kevin De Bruyne enjoy exploiting.

But on top of that, PSG almost constantly had Mbappe and Neymar up as a central attacking duo. Pochettino was well aware that counter-attacking teams led by ball-carriers have been a problem for City.

Neymar's trickery at times in the first half certainly didn't make life easier for City. He left a couple of defenders in knots when testing Ederson in the 13th minute, before then pulling off a clever nutmeg on De Bruyne.

But for the most part PSG's star duo took something of a backseat.

Idrissa Gueye, Leandro Paredes and Marco Verratti were especially effective as they hounded after the City midfield, while the threat of counter-attacks meant City's full-backs played withdrawn roles.

While they would normally create overloads out wide, there was little sign of that as Cancelo and Kyle Walker were forced to sit deep.

Marquinhos' wonderful header was a just reward for PSG's excellent first-half display and might have had some pointing out: 'Hey, there's more to PSG than Mbappe and Neymar!'

But the tables turned in the second half, and dramatically so.

With the full-backs pushed higher and the wide midfielders coming in a little narrower, City looked to suffocate PSG and keep them penned into their own half as much as possible.

The intensity adopted by the likes of Verratti, Paredes and Gueye was seemingly unsustainable and the out-ball to Mbappe was cut out instantly almost every time, while Neymar became a passenger.

The Brazilian's most significant movement after the break was to sprint 30 metres to ask the referee to send De Bruyne off. He was unsuccessful.

City's start to the second half saw them well on top and that remained the status quo virtually until full-time, as they appeared in less of a rush and instead returned to their ideals relating to ball retention.

The equaliser certainly had a hint of fortune about it as De Bruyne's delivery from deep went all the way in, but it was a consequence of City's unrelenting pressure.

Their second, not too long after, will undoubtedly have Pochettino asking questions of his players, with Riyad Mahrez's free-kick somehow allowed to squeeze through a feeble wall.

Gueye's straight red then helped maintain City's lead, but it was Guardiola's changes at the interval – getting City back on the front foot and in control – that proved pivotal.

The Catalan has frequently in the past been accused of getting in his own way, overcomplicating things and getting caught out, especially in this competition.

Not here, though. No, he went back to basics when their situation was looking a little dicey and it proved a masterstroke.

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