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City are a more coherent, balanced team than PSG and they can use that to their advantage.
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There are many similarities between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City. Both clubs have in effect ascended to the top table of European soccer thanks to the investment of sovereign states. Qatar Sports Investments took control of PSG, a club that was only founded in 1970, in 2011. Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, is the owner of the biggest side of the French capital. Sheikh Mansour, the deputy prime of the United Arab Emirates and the owner of an investment company for the Abu Dhabi royal family, has been the proprietor of Manchester City since 2008.
Needless to say, this form of ownership is not to everyone’s taste. But PSG and Manchester City have reveled in their position as nouveau riche rebels looking to shake up the game and take on its complacent traditional powers. Both have enjoyed huge success domestically: Manchester City have won three of the last four Premier League titles, and PSG has finished top of Ligue 1 in seven of the last nine years.
Up to now, however, European glory has proved elusive. The Champions League is the prize that PSG and Manchester City (and, by extension, Qatar and Abu Dhabi) covet most. PSG have beaten finalists in 2020 and City finished as runners-up earlier this year. But as things stand, neither of the mega-rich upstarts has been able to prise the trophy away from the likes of Real Madrid, Liverpool, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich.
Dig a little deeper, though, and clear differences between PSG and Manchester City are discernible. City’s project is manager-led. Pep Guardiola has been at the helm since 2016 and has been afforded the freedom to shape the squad to his liking. PSG have employed three different coaches during Guardiola’s time at the Etihad Stadium, and their recruitment policy has tended to focus on high-profile superstars.
That strategy reached its apex this summer, as PSG signed Lionel Messi on a free transfer and then rejected several offers from Real Madrid for Kylian Mbappe. As such Mauricio Pochettino has an astonishingly gifted front three at his disposal, with Messi and Mbappe joined by Neymar, the most expensive player of all time.
That looks tantalizing on paper – but soccer is played on grass. The star-studded forward line has yet to click. They have only played together once in Ligue 1, thanks largely to Messi’s absence through a lack of match fitness and injury. But all three did start in the 1-1 draw with Club Brugge a fortnight ago, and the Belgians were the better team on matchday one of the Champions League.
This is a very different assignment for Pochettino than the one he had in his previous job at Tottenham Hotspur. The Argentine created a ferocious team spirit at Spurs, where the collective was prized above any individual. It is impossible to replicate that sort of atmosphere at PSG, where Messi, Mbappe and Neymar are all vying to be the main man.
It is also difficult to reproduce the sort of pressing soccer that Spurs were synonymous with during Pochettino’s time in charge. No member of PSG’s forward trio is particularly hard-working without the ball, and that will be a problem in the biggest games this season.
It is difficult to imagine, for example, PSG turning in the sort of display that City did in their 1-0 win at Chelsea on Saturday. Guardiola’s side dominated that match because their pressing was so effective. They closed down the opposition at every opportunity; crucially, there were no passengers in the team. A similar approach could bear fruit against PSG on Tuesday. City will be wary of the home team’s pace on the counter-attack, but they will aim to diminish that threat by controlling the ball.
PSG possess an abundance of individual quality that can turn any game in their favor. Even if Messi is not passed fit in time to feature, the likes of Mbappe, Neymar and Mauro Icardi will ensure PSG are not short of firepower in the final third.
But before they can capitalize on that talent, PSG need a plan to get the ball into attacking areas. That is where they could struggle, especially as Marco Verratti, a midfielder capable of beating City’s press, and Angel Di Maria, a link between midfield and attack, are sidelined. Guardiola’s team might have to weather an early storm at the Parc des Princes, but their press-and-possess strategy should ultimately see them take control of proceedings.
That, in turn, should lead to an away win. City have been defensively sound for most of the season to date, save for a slightly shaky showing in the 6-3 victory over RB Leipzig on matchday one. Back City to beat PSG on Tuesday, just as they did in last season’s semi-final.
|Paris Saint-Germain vs Manchester City Information|
|Teams||Paris Saint-Germain vs Manchester City|
|Location||Parc des Princes, Paris, France|
|Time||Tuesday, 28 September 2021, 15.00 PM EDT|
|How to watch||Paramount+|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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