It was the classic suction cup shot, a counterattack masterpiece, and when Phil Foden crossed and Riyad Mahrez shot high into the Paris St-Germain net, the only disappointment was that the stands at Etihad Stadium were empty. What a scene it would have been.
At the time, Mahrez had two, PSG was broken, having previously hinted that they would get the goal they needed to make a game, and Manchester City knew it. For the first time in their history, they are going to the final of the Champions League.
When money started pouring in from Abu Dhabi, this was the dream. It has taken time and the journey has been a lot of anguish and anguish. And yet now the club is one game away against Chelsea or Real Madrid in Istanbul from peak glory.
Pep Guardiola had predicted that his City players would suffer and they did. They put their bodies on the line to keep PSG at bay, with all their excellent defenders but, when Mahrez looted a second time, the tension faded.
City had managed the draw and their emotions; PSG was lost in the rush to demand the wrong kind of revenge. Ángel Di María was sent off by a smug stamp to Fernandinho and there would be a flutter of yellow cards for them, some bordering on a darker color.
A pre-match statistic had shown that of the 319 teams that had won the first leg of a European Cup or a Champions League tie away from home, only eight had failed to progress, and none of them were from England. One of them had been PSG, which was eliminated by Manchester United in 2018-19 and another was Ajax in that same season, humiliated by Pochettino’s Spurs in the semi-final.
The focus of Pochettino and that of all the others was at this moment and in this field, which began the game spattered with hail. Beginnings of May. Ground crews had needed to rake him off the lines prior to kickoff. Surrealism comes standard these days and the ground conditions were tough.
Against the shudder, City’s nerves had been fired from the start, as had those of referee Björn Kuipers, who pointed to the penalty spot six minutes after PSG appealed for a hand against Oleksandr Zinchenko. An Abdou Diallo cross had hit Rúben Dias and crashed into Zinchenko’s shoulder and it really was a mystery why Kuipers made his decision. Happily for City, VAR made the rule.
City felt better when they took the lead and it was Ederson who started the play with a magnificent long ball from the edge of their own area for the rushing Zinchenko. PSG was frozen. With Phil Foden breaking the six-yard box, Zinchenko cleverly cut for Kevin De Bruyne and, when his shot was blocked by Alessandro Florenzi, the ball broke for Riyad Mahrez, who shot from a narrow angle.
For PSG, it didn’t change much. They still needed two. And they did a lot to threaten the first during the first quarter. Marquinhos got up to guide a header against the crossbar as the moment came when Ederson rolled towards Bernardo Silva, who was entertained and stolen by Di María. With Ederson in a bad position, Di Maria had a lot to aim for from the edge of the area. It snuggled inches wide.
City made mistakes in the first half. There were moments of anxiety when they tried to play from behind and a loose pass or two in midfield. Guardiola howled in frustration when Fernandinho released the ball into a dangerous area and PSG saw the opportunity. Neymar and Di María blinked but, to Pochettino’s frustration, their final product was poor.
PSG had the best possession and territory in the first half, but what City did before the break was put the men around the ball in cover and maintain their form. City nearly scored a second in the 45th minute when Mahrez saw Keylor Navas block a shot from an even tighter angle and, from the rebound, Silva’s curler went wide.
The scene was different at the beginning of the second half with practically all the sleet scraped off the field. Two dozen or so employees had worked hard during the break, and it was easy to imagine that Guardiola had given them the order. The idea of Manchester weather getting in the way of City perishes.
It was tempting to see Kylian Mbappé’s absence from PSG starting XI as a boost for City (the forward was not quite fit after a calf injury) and certainly his replacement, Mauro Icardi, struggled to prevail.
City measured their progress on both denied occasions and a big one when Zinchenko launched a vital block on Neymar. John Stones, who had been beaten in a 50-50 challenge by Di Maria to start the move, celebrated wildly with Zinchenko. Dias also launched himself against an Ander Herrera volley.
He was still a bit nervous and then he wasn’t, Mahrez’s second cut the tension and brought down the red fog over PSG. Foden hit a post, but City had enough. They had led PSG to distraction.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism