Venue: Parc des Princes
Date: 6 April 2016
Referee: Milorad Mažić (SRB)
Kick off: 19:45
Paris Saint Germain and Manchester City have never met before in the ‘City of Love’, but the pair have forged one of football’s most powerful long-distance relationships in the last five years. Fueled respectively by the riyal of Qatar Sports Investments and the dirham of the Abu Dhabi United Group, PSG and City have embarked on conquests of their divisions, collecting 16 pieces of silverware between them since their last and only previous meeting back in December 2008.
Back then Mark Hughes, who now manages Stoke City, and Paul Le Geun, who was sacked as manager of Oman last November, were in charge of the now superpowers of modern football. 25,625 spectators attended the 0-0 draw in the group stages of UEFA Cup, a fixture in which Javier Garrido, Darius Vassell and a 35-year-old Claude Makélélé all featured. Tomorrow, in Paris, the two clubs will compete for a place in the semi-finals of the Champions League; Zlatan Ibrahimović, Sergio Agüero and Kevin De Bruyne – three of the finest players in world football – will all play. Things have changed in the last eight years.
Ever since the French side were bought out in 2011, it feels like we’ve been waiting for this one. We had El Clásico on Saturday, and on Wednesday we’ll have El Cashico – a battle between the big spenders. That’s the narrative for this one, anyway. Admittedly, it’s difficult not to reference the money when previewing this game, but we should also set some time aside to discuss the players, the systems and the managers that are totally unfamiliar with one another. The sides have a lot in common, but what’s more intriguing is the fact that they really don’t know each other too well.
Much of PSG’s success can be put down to how perfectly the styles of Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti blend in the heart of their midfield. Behind Matuidi, a physical, box-to-box player, Motta provides composure and experience. Pulling the strings is Verratti, the 23-year-old Italian who boasts a pass accuracy rate of 93% in Ligue 1 this season. But Blanc’s side will go into this game without the former Pescara man who has been ruled out with a groin injury and that’s something us City fans should be very pleased about indeed. Javier Pastore is also unavailable with a calf problem.
Nevertheless, we have midfield troubles of our own. Yaya Touré did not train at the CFA today meaning we’re likely to line up at the Parc des Princes with a midfield two of Fernando and Fernandinho. I know Verratti’s injury may convince a few that we might be able to get away with it, but putting two midfielders up against one of the most ferocious counter attacks in Europe sounds suicidal to me. However, Fabian Delph did make a return to training today and could line up alongside Fernandinho and Fernando to give the back four some extra protection.
Not that I think that’ll happen. Kevin De Bruyne made a scorching return to action against Bournemouth at the weekend and has to start again, but possibly not in the number 10 position. It’s likely that we’re going to be doing more defending than attacking tomorrow night and playing David Silva on the same flank as either Lucas Moura or Ángel Di María will render Gaël Clichy’s job almost impossible. Our wingers will have to track their men and while neither De Bruyne nor Silva are the greatest of defenders, De Bruyne is the quicker individual.
Joe Hart has been passed fit and has flown with the squad to Paris. Other than the Englishman replacing Willy Caballero between the sticks, I see Sagna for Zabaleta as the only other change Manuel will make to the starting line-up tomorrow.
I’m anticipating an exciting match up tomorrow and the performance at the weekend has definitely raised the optimism levels that were at rock bottom after the derby defeat. This one will be a case of ability, rather than money, talking, and I think we’d all be delighted with a draw.
Predict the score:
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