Amid all the (justified) concerns about the financial state of modern football, the sharp stratification of the game, a saving grace remains. It may not last long, and once it’s gone, it may never come back. But perhaps the greatest strength of football is that it remains deeply contradictory. It is a fickle sport that seems to enjoy nothing more than prodding the expectations and desires of those seeking to control it.
Sheikh Mansour took over Manchester City in 2008, and since then the club has spent just over $ 1.75 billion net on players. Qatar Sports Investment took over Paris Saint-Germain in 2011 and since then the club has spent just over $ 1.1 billion net on players. And yet neither of them has won the award that their owners cherish most: the Champions League title.
They are getting closer. PSG lost in the 2020 final. Man City lost in the final last season. And yet, even last season, when the financial impact of the pandemic had started to exacerbate the problems traditional elites were already having keeping up with the state-run and oligarchy clubs, it was another petroclub, the Chelsea, who emerged from the pack to win the Champions League. Chelsea, now with a reliable forward in Romelu Lukaku to complement a supremely well-structured midfield, will be a great threat to repeat, but it is PSG and City who are the favorites when the group stage begins, despite Wednesday’s results such as maybe expose some flaws. in their respective Death Stars.
Manchester City’s Champions League outings have followed a clear pattern. There were the chaotic away goal losses to Monaco in 2017 and Tottenham in 2019 as City repeatedly unraveled at halftime. And there were losses to Liverpool in 2018, Lyon in 2020 and Chelsea in 2021 when Pep Guardiola’s tactical adjustments were apparently aimed at stopping the threat of the opposition’s counterattack destabilizing his team and leading to defeat. To use the popular phrase, he had thought too much.
However, the strange thing about what happened last season is that, after a questionable start, City had been very effective in closing the opponents’ counters. He had gotten a bit more cautious, generally managing to keep five men behind the ball and generally playing with a double pivot, until the final when he played no pivot at all. In that sense, what happens in the group stage says little about City’s overall chances. The danger is less an RB Leipzig in transition after the departure of his coach and three important senior players that is Guardiola overcomplicating a highly effective system against a high-class opponent.
In that sense, the opening of the game on Wednesday will be a concern. A 6-3 win over Leipzig that featured some stellar goals was comfortable enough, but this felt worryingly like the first leg of that loss to Monaco four years ago – a game that was wildly open, but offered none. feeling of control. it is probably necessary to win the Champions League.
The fact that PSG is so favored seems largely rooted in the belief that Lionel Messi is good enough to take that extra step that has been missed in the last two seasons. Maybe it is, but the problem for PSG is less the front line, which has been packed with stars for years, than the midfield and defense. In that sense, bringing in Sergio Ramos (who has yet to play for the club as he is recovering from injury) and Achraf Hakimi, even Georginio Wijnaldum, may be more significant than Messi’s signing.
Barcelona have suffered a series of tough defeats in recent years – to PSG twice, Juventus, Roma, Liverpool and Bayern – because their front line doesn’t protect their midfield. Messi had become not only a panacea, but also a problem. He saved Barça frequently, but his reluctance or inability to press exposed an aging midfield. With Neymar and Kylian Mbappé also half-hearted pushers, there are serious dangers for PSG’s midfield.
Once again, Club Brugge, PSG’s rival on Wednesday, should not have been proof of that. But it turned out that PSG were poor in Belgium, lacking cohesion in the final third, playing generally slow and being outclassed for long periods. PSG shouldn’t be in danger of being eliminated in the group stage thanks to the problems at Leipzig, but this was not the performance of a team on the verge of winning the Champions League. There is a lot of time, of course, to fix that, and this was the first time forward Neymar-Messi-Mbappé played together – Mbappé limped off injured after 51 minutes didn’t help either – but there will be a major improvement and a period. full acclimatization if PSG wants to be a threat.
The city, perhaps, may think it can adjust with a couple of adjustments; PSG, for the moment, seems much further from being a viable challenger, although it will need time to consolidate. When the two financial giants meet in two weeks at the Parc des Princes, perhaps we will have a better idea of which, if any, has a chance to play on May 28 in the final in St. Petersburg with the ability to make your title come true. -The dream of obsessed owners.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.