The first iceberg floating in Manchester City’s unchartered waters comes in the shape of French giants Paris Saint Germain. The Ligue 1 winners (yeah, they won their league ages ago) have been in superb form all season and confidently dispatched Chelsea in the last 16 to reach the quarter-finals.
Pellegrini has already made history by taking Manchester City this far yet he knows full well that if City were to sneak past PSG here, his legacy at City would be looked back at in more favourable light.
With several consecutive league titles in the bag, is there a feeling among the fans – and the hierarchy – that European glory should be following sooner rather than later?
Yes, in fact everyone connected with PSG is becoming increasingly confident that the Champions’s League is with each year more realistically in their grasp. They have never had a better squad pound for pound than this season since the beginning of the QSI era and the feeling in France is that Les Parisiens must absolutely overcome Manchester City in order to show real progress, having been knocked-out in the quarter finals by Chelsea and Barcelona during the previous two seasons in this competition.
The two footballing ‘projects’ are often compared against each other. How do you think they stack against one another?
I think Samir Nasri recently summed it up quite well when he said that the difference between Manchester City and PSG is that with the latter there is very little movement in terms of players leaving and entering the club from transfer window to transfer window. Over the course of the last three years, PSG have signed usually just one marquee player each summer, Angel di Maria, David Luiz and Edinson Cavani are all examples of that, without any proven player leaving the club.
This allows for greater stability for PSG who have been building effectively the same squad for about three seasons now, a squad that is probably the best ever in French league football history. Whilst Ligue 1 does not compare to the standard of the Premier League for obvious financial reasons, at Manchester City there appears to be much less patience afforded to individuals both at player and staff level. That is always a dangerous atmosphere to create because it is only ever conducive to short-term success. PSG have attempted to follow the example of Arsenal and Manchester United in that respect, Manchester City are more so following a Chelsea type “hire and fire” philosophy in terms of players and management.
Does the dire state of Ligue 1 hinder or benefit Paris Saint Germain in Europe?
Ligue 1 is not in a dire state. This team last year, PSG had Monaco and Lyon chasing them all the way for the title until the final pair of weekends of action and actually at times played better football then they have during this campaign. However, due to a collection of reasons that have suppressed the powers of Monaco, Lyon and Marseille this season, if you only judge Ligue 1 on the state of the league table, then I understand your conclusion.
Overall, having the title wrapped up officially already presents PSG with a dilemma. On the one hand, their domestic games no longer really have a competitive edge. They have only won one of their last five Ligue 1 matches. However, it allows them to totally concentrate on the Champions’ League, resting players accordingly and the vast majority of the players who will be directly involved tonight have such great experience and quality that they do not need a run of games before hand to build their confidence – they can turn it on whenever to devastating effect.
Angel Di Maria is the spark that has taken PSG to the next level. Would you agree with that statement?
He has become a reliable source of assists and a bridge between midfield and attack that few could have expected him to become so early in his PSG career. I don’t think that any “next level” has really been reached. As some of the more heralded players age, I think certain parts of the PSG team have become weaker, namely at the heart of midfield with a Thiago Motta who simply is not the player that he was two years ago. Will Di Maria cause Manchester City problems? Absolutely, but if that is all that the Citizens are worried about, then that would be very misguided.
Are PSG really going to let Zlatan Ibrahimovic go for absolutely nothing in the summer?
In essence they do not really have a choice. The Swede is totally in control of his future. The million-dollar question in French football journalism is what Zlatan decides to do next. Unfortunately, nobody really has a clue, but the ultimate plan for Ibrahimovic is to end up in the MLS in Miami for the 2017/18 campaign. For this reason, it makes more sense that he signs a one-year contract extension with PSG, rather than joining a new club simply for one season only. The reason why Ibrahinovic is so entertaining to cover is that nobody knows what he is going to do or say next. That remains the case here.
Where can Manchester City hurt PSG?
David Luiz, to put it bluntly. If Agüero can concentrate on attacking the two channels that directly affect David Luiz, then Manchester City have a good chance of scoring at the Parc des Princes. From a defensive point of view, Manchester City would be well advised to hold a deep line and be patient. Any attempt at pressing, but especially a high press, is a waste of time and energy because of how deep the PSG midfield habitually sits from an attacking starting point.
Line-up and score prediction?
PSG line-up: Trapp – Maxwell, Luiz, Silva, Marquinhos – Matuidi, Rabiot, Motta – Lucas/Cavani, Di Maria, Ibrahimovic.
Prediction. PSG 3-1 Manchester City.