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article imagePSG & Manchester City rue defensive mistakes in entertaining draw

By Tyrrell Meertins     Apr 7, 2016 in Sports
It took no less than 10 seconds for Sergio Aguero to classify the theme of a generally open first leg encounter between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.
Nicolas Otamendi’s simple clearance from the half-way line witnessed Aguero receive the ball behind David Luiz, subsequently leading to the Brazilian’s booking. With neither side showcasing competent organized defending out of possession, and several runners within both attacks, managers Laurent Blanc and Manuel Pellegrini experienced several scares.
Pellegrini named an unchanged XI that blitzed Bournemouth over the weekend, while Marco Verratti’s groin injury saw Adrien Rabiot feature in midfield alongside Blaise Matuidi and Thiago Motta. More importantly, for City, at least, was the roles of Fernando and Fernandinho at the base of midfield.
City have been heavily scrutinized for their poor defensive shape with Yaya Toure in the XI, but the Ivorian’s absence ensured Pellegrini’s midfield offered a defensive presence and dynamism in central areas. The away side offered an improved defensive structure when PSG monopolized possession, by refusing to press high up the pitch and solely focusing on limiting space in central areas.
Kevin de Bruyne and Aguero sat off the PSG centre-backs and tracked the movement of Rabiot and Motta, while Fernandinho monitored Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s movement into midfield zones. Yet, on the rare occasion where De Bruyne did push towards centre-back, Thiago Silva, Fernandinho pressed Rabiot, whilst David Silva tucked into a narrow position to ensure City remained compact.
PSG initially attempted to replicate City by playing balls over the top to Di Maria and Ibrahimovic, as their creative passers were tightly marked in midfield zones. Although City appeared content out of possession, Pellegrini’s men were guilty of bizarre defensive lapses for majority of PSG’s best chances.
Eliaquim Mangala was involved in a contentious incident with compatriot, Blaise Matuidi, as the PSG midfielder’s powerful run through midfield wasn’t tracked. Still, following Joe Hart denying Ibrahimovic from the spot, City were fortunate to concede one goal in the opening period.
First, Otamendi’s adventurous run into PSG’s half resulted in a poor pass, and Motta playing in Ibrahimovic free on goal, but the Swede fired his effort over the net. Then, PSG equalized via Ibrahimovic pressing Fernando at the edge of City’s box, as the 28-year-old’s clearance deflected off the Swedish striker and in the net.
City, on the other hand, mounted attacks on the counter when Fernandinho and Fernando won possession in midfield. In this regard, Navas and De Bruyne were crucial breaking down the right as the former delivered a cross that Silva nodded over the net, and the latter scored the opener courtesy of Fernandinho’s storming run.
"In the first half we made some important mistakes that we can't repeat if we want to continue in Champions League,” said Pellegrini.
"I think that a lot of the time one player can change a team. Kevin was very important before the injury and fortunately for us he has returned the same way."
PSG may have created the better chances throughout the first half, but Blanc wasn’t pleased with the open affair, which ultimately led to a slight tactical alteration. Opposed to playing through central areas, Cavani positioned himself closer to Ibrahimovic, thus providing space for left-back Maxwell to surge into. The Brazilian full-back’s initial cross of the half witnessed Cavani’s near post header sail over the net, and his adventurous positioning created the corner that led to Rabiot’s goal.
Sloppy clearances in the City half provided a spell of PSG dominance, but despite a few moments of brilliance from Di Maria, the hosts failed to test Hart. City still posed a threat on the counter, however, due to Aguero’s running, and Navas’ pace from the right. Coincidentally an overlap between Navas and Sagna was the catalyst for Fernandinho’s fortuitous equalizer.
"Two mistakes allowed Man City to score goals that are, as you know, very important away from home. That's our biggest regret," Blanc said.
"It's not a good result, we made too many technical mistakes."
At 2-2, Pellegrini turned to Fabian Delph for additional vigour and protection in midfield zones, while Blanc summoned Lucas Moura’s pace, yet PSG’s possession lacked guile and incisive passing in the final third – a recurring theme throughout the match. Blanc deserves credit for his rejigged second half approach, but complacency and defensive lapses proved costly for both sides, here.
Pellegrini’s tactical acumen has been heavily questioned throughout his tenure at the Etihad, but his approach here limited PSG’s threat in central areas, and maximized his attackers’ strengths in transition. Ultimately, this may be one of the few ways City can overcome a superior possession-based side, as several PSG second leg absentees presents a realistic opportunity for the English club.
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