Manchester City will start as favourites in their first ever Champions League final, after Pep Guardiola’s side put in a complete performance against a PSG side that simply fell apart
Maybe on reflection PSG were done for the moment it appeared that Kylian Mbappe was not going to be fit enough to play. Take the flying French forward out of Mauricio Pochettino’s team and they simply cannot play the same way.
Mbappe leads the PSG charge. He scares defenders and in his wake there opens space for others.
We saw that in Paris last week as the French champions threatened to take the tie away from Manchester City in the first half and the absence of that threat was notable at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday night.
Riyad Mahrez (left) and Kevin De Bruyne (right) scored four goals between them in the two legs
It is not that way for Pep Guardiola’s City. It is not that way at all and that is part of the beauty of them. Their completeness is part of what sets them apart. There are no weaknesses, no holes.
Take one player out – for example Raheem Sterling – and slot another one – Phil Foden – in and there is no interruption to the monotonous effectiveness of the machine.
A defender can lose form – like the Frenchman Aymeric Laporte did last season – and another one is waiting. Just look at John Stones now. A career that appeared destined for a reboot someplace else has now moved to a level of fresh excellence at the club that looked too big for him just 12 months ago.
This is what Guardiola has built at City, a team and a squad that can be morphed and manipulated to meet the demands of a long domestic and European season without anybody really noticing.
They were magnificent in beating PSG here, a class apart from what remains a very dangerous French team.
They did it without a centre forward. Guardiola is hustling the great Sergio Aguero towards the exit and has lost faith in Gabriel Jesus. But it doesn’t matter when you win.
Phil Foden was impressive again, he has become the player everybody he hoped he would
Last summer David Silva left the club. Kevin De Bruyne has not always been at his best. Again, it hasn’t mattered. Foden has become the player everybody he hoped he would, Riyad Mahrez has moved to another level while Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan have returned to prominence after some time in the shadows.
It is all this that contributed to this performance, this victory. PSG functioned only in fits and starts in this second leg and it was nowhere near enough against a City team that is in such rare form that it just rolled all over them.
It is the goals that they will remember. Three for Mahrez over the course of the tie. One for De Bruyne that started to turn things in City’s favour in Paris.
There could have been more. One for Foden for example. How he would have deserved one on another night of excellence.
It was another tough evening for Neymar, who was kept at bay throughout both matches
But this was a victory over two games that was built on something more than the moments that will be played out and recreated in school playgrounds on Wednesday morning.
Facing an opponent that had won in Barcelona and in Munich to get here Guardiola’s team were perhaps as disciplined and resilient as perhaps they have ever been.
This was a landmark victory that was earned not by individual brilliance but by committee.
City play a different style of football than their great modern rivals Liverpool but there was something about this victory that was reminiscent of Jurgen Klopp’s team at its best.
It was the sense of common purpose, of furious desire, of an ability to lift yourself to another level simply because you knew that all around you your team-mates are doing it.
Ruben Dias (left) and John Stones (right) have been excellent at the back for City all season
Stones and the left back Oleksandr Zinchenko celebrated the latter’s block from Neymar early in the second half as though City had scored a goal. Stones’ central partner Ruben Dias brushed off a ball taken in the face as if being troubled by a fly.
And the upshot of it all was that it was too much for PSG, just as it had been for Borussia Dortmund in the last round.
City experienced sticky moments in both ties. They were heading out when trailing to Borussia at half-time of their quarter-final second leg. They were on the rack for 20 dreadful minutes in Paris also.
But over time City’s reserves of quality and dependability got them through both with something to spare.
This is not the most instinctive team Guardiola has ever managed. There are not quite as many open mouth moments these days.
De Bruyne impressed again – City were far too good for PSG and will start the final as favourites
That may change over time. This is a City team that remains under construction. But it is hard to recall a version that has been so effective, so ludicrously hard to play against.
PSG fell apart late in this game. Their discipline appeared to be a weakness in the first match and it was here. Pochettino’s squad also lacks a little depth and needs a centre half and, perhaps, a better goalkeeper.
City? They do not do weakness. They may change and players may fall in and out of favour. But their great modern strength is their utter predictability.
They were far too good for PSG and will start their first Champions League final as favourites.