Manchester City knocked out Paris Saint-Germain in England on Tuesday, winning 1-0 and 3-2 on aggregate to reach the semifinals of the European Cup for the first time in its history, offering a devastating blow to a terrific season for PSG, and leaving one of the world's richest clubs, and its coach, facing an uncertain future.
Having scored a pair of away goals during the 2-2 draw in Paris last week, Man City didn't need to score in order to go through, but Kevin De Bruyne's 76th minute goal settled the nerves at the Etihad Stadium, which saw few chances beyond two PSG goals (rightfully) ruled offside, and a missed penalty kick by Sergio Aguero in the 30th minute, after Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed one in the first leg.
Man City became the sixth English team to reach the semifinals in the Champions League era.
The rush to judgment in Paris. PSG's Qatari ownership invited the success, or failure, of the latest billion-dollar soccer project to be judged on a minimum of evidence by setting up shop in the weakest of Europe's top leagues, which lends itself to no one taking the club's domestic accomplishments seriously, and its merits being judged entirely on a handful of Champions League games.
Both Manchester City and Chelsea became relevant only after barrels full of ‘new money,’ but all five of the Premier League titles the two clubs have combined to win in the last 11 years make for a successful season on its own, for PSG it’s a European crown or bust.
This season’s version is easily the best team Paris has produced under its recent largesse, and in my opinion, PSG isn't just better than this year’s City team, PSG is significantly better -- when fully healthy, but you won’t have known it by watching these two legs.
City was the better team in this series, especially after PSG really shot itself in the foot with a terrible performance in the first leg during a wild 2-2 draw.
David Luiz was suspended for Tuesday’s game after a yellow card seconds into the first leg, but far more damaging was the absence of the inexhaustible Blaise Matuidi after an absolutely dreadful ruling by the referee, who cautioned Matuidi for no reason midway through the first leg, ruling him out of the second leg.
With Marco Verratti injured for both legs, and Thiago Motta limping off in the first half, one of the world's best midfields didn't find a single starter on the field when it mattered most in Manchester.
0 - Paris will play 45+ minutes without Verratti, Matuidi & Motta for the 1st time in UCL since 12/03/14 v. Leverkusen. Depopulated.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) April 12, 2016
Laurent Blanc knew his job was on the line, again, and chose to start the game with a formation PSG hadn't played all year, 3-5-2, the coach toyed with formations and lineups throughout, as PSG's normally dominant and precise midfield could barely function, leaving Ibrahimovic scarcely touching the ball, in what may have been his last UCL game at PSG, and perhaps his last chance to win the Champions League.
In oceans of hot water, Blanc wasn’t in the mood to hand out compliments after the game: "They are a good team, not a particularly spectacular team, but they are efficient and they get the job done"
When asked about all the tactical changes, Blanc said: "When you don't go through, you regret everything."
Ibrahimovic’s opinions on the tactics were typical: "In the first half we played in a system that we'd never tried. It went as it went."
And so it did.
PSG has reached the quarterfinals four straight years, three under Blanc, and if there is to be a fall guy, Blanc looks like the man for the job. According to France Football's Philippe Auclair, PSG chairman Nasser El-Khelaifi didn't visit his team's dressing room after the game - as he usually does, and the cover of tomorrow's L'Equipe is set to read: "This failure is first and foremost the failure of Laurent Blanc."
Credit where it's due. City only had four shots on goal over the two legs, but Man City looked far better prepared to play both games, even though it’s no secret that Manuel Pellegrini lost his job several months ago (to someone still coaching in the competition, at Bayern).
"Whether I leave the club at the end of the season or not this achievement is the same. I don't think about leaving at the end of the season,” Pellegrini said "For me it's exactly the same, it doesn't matter if we get Bayern or Barca or Real or whoever. I repeat I don't want to link what happened tonight with the future.”
It would be interesting to know what Pep Guardiola, who will be coaching Man City next season, is thinking right about now.
As Man City's disappointing season just became a huge success, and the well liked Pellegrini, a dignified 62-year-old Chilean who has suffered through months of Guardiola rumors, has now taken the Citizens somewhere they've never been, which is what Jupp Heynckes did right before Guardiola arrived in Munich, by winning the first treble in German history, the same season Heynckes knew he was being let go, setting an impossible standard that Guardiola has yet to reach at Bayern.
If Bayern Munich and Barcelona progress on Wednesday to join Real Madrid and Man City, that will mean the four clubs with the most valuable rosters in the world will be have reached the Champions League semifinals.
Highest total player value by club (per transfermarkt): Real Madrid $795 million, Barcelona $790 million, Bayern Munich $660 million, Manchester City $572 million -- PSG is tied for seventh at $473 million.
The value of Kevin De Bruyne. De Bruyne joined Man City in August from VfL Wolfsburg for $85 million, making him the most expensive player in Man City history, after the 24-year-old Belgian led the Wolves to a second-place Bundesliga finish last year while scoring 10 league goals and tying the Bundesliga record for assists with 20 – and was named German Player of the Year.
Manchester City struggled to stay in the Premier League title hunt without ‘KDB’ after he went down with a knee injury in early February, losing four out of the seven matches De Bruyne missed, tying another (City has 11 wins, five losses and five draws in the EPL when De Bruyne plays since his arrival).
De Bruyne missed both of City’s games against Dynamo Kiev in the round of 16, but he scored two of the three goals against PSG, the first in Paris in just his second game back from injury.
And with the game in Manchester finding the Champions League semifinals hanging in the balance, De Bruyne's composure at the top of the box found the back of the net, which meant a toothless PSG needed two goals in less than 15 minutes.
The timing of De Bruyne's strike was remarkable, as it came seconds before Cristiano Ronaldo knocked De Bruyne’s former team out of the Champions League in Spain's capital with his third goal -- the hat trick perhaps the most clutch performance by Ronaldo of his entire career -- finding that quarterfinal also ending 3-2 on aggregate, in much different fashion. Madrid roared back for a 3-0 win in Spain after losing the first leg, 2-0, in Germany.
The Wolfsburg team that Ronaldo knocked out had been led by De Bruyne to second place in Germany only a season ago, but without him, the Wolves are currently eighth in the Bundesliga -- and 29 points behind second-place Borussia Dortmund.
De Bruyne's goal to make it 3-2 on aggregate, and carry Man City to its first ever European Cup semifinal, came in the 76th minute -- Ronaldo's goal to lift Madrid, looking for its 11th European title, came in the 77th minute.
Now they await Wednesday’s combatants.