All or nothing for City, PSG in clash of the titans

Pep Guardiola's Manchester City (above) will have to try and stop Paris Saint-Germain's star duo of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe to qualify for their first Champions League final.
Pep Guardiola's Manchester City (above) will have to try and stop Paris Saint-Germain's star duo of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe to qualify for their first Champions League final.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes today's Champions League semi-final, second-leg clash against Paris Saint-Germain will be even tougher than the potential title decider.

City took a 2-1 lead back to the Etihad and are one step away from their first final in Europe's biggest competition.

Asked if this game was the biggest he will have been involved in with City, Guardiola told a press conference yesterday: "I don't know. It's the first time most of us are here together.

"We've been looking for this moment for many years. We don't speak about PSG because we play against them a week ago. We just speak about us, us and us and what we have to do."

Keeping the ball will be key to his plan for the return leg to minimise PSG's threat on the counter-attack. City will again have to cut off the supply to Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, as they did in the second half a week ago.

Mbappe alone has scored five goals in PSG's last two away Champions League trips to Guardiola's former clubs Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Even though the French World Cup winner was seen limping in training and at the airport yesterday, Guardiola expects the forward, an injury doubt due to a calf strain, to play.

PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino rested the 22-year-old and started with Marco Verratti on the bench in their 2-1 win over Lens in Ligue 1 on Saturday.

Unlike Guardiola, who could afford to make eight changes for City's Premier League win over Crystal Palace as they have effectively sewn up the domestic title, PSG are one point behind Ligue 1 leaders Lille.

Neymar, scorer against Lens, admitted that there was a certain tiredness within the squad but promised a warrior-like performance from PSG today as his team attempt to overhaul their deficit.

"We have to believe, never mind what the stats say or what our percentage chances of winning are," Neymar said. "I will do everything to secure qualification whatever happens, even if we need to die out there on the field."

Guardiola, who has a full squad to choose from with the exception of defender Eric Garcia, is mindful of how difficult the task is.

Asked what worries him, he said: "A few things. At the same time I'm incredible optimistic. I'm more calm than before. The players trained well today, yesterday...

"The second leg semi-final is always the toughest game, more than the final. We control our emotions to do exactly what we have to do.

"We try to convince the players that's the best way to win this game."

Elaborating on his comparison of the two rounds, the Spaniard with two Champions League titles (2009 and 2011) from managing Barca added: "From my experience, the semis are always difficult. You play with the result of the first leg, you forget what you have to do which is to win the game."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2021, with the headline 'All or nothing for City, PSG in clash of the titans'. Subscribe