Playing on a field sprinkled with an ominous layer of ice, Manchester City finally put an end to its hoodie in the Champions League, making the best Paris Saint-Germain 2-0 to reach its first final.
In fact, the feat was long overdue. Bringing Pep Guardiola to Manchester was to be the last ingredient in turning the club into a European superpower. However, since his arrival, one of the best coaches of all time has often proved to be an obstacle rather than a help when it comes to the final stages of the competition.
His reflection and rethinking over the past four seasons has constantly contributed to City’s early outings. Nowhere was this more obvious than last campaign, when Guardiola’s surprising back-to-back switch was followed by a much more surprising 3-1 defeat by Lyon.
Apart from Guardiola’s tactical tweaks, another problem for City in Europe is their fragile mentality. In 2017, they entered the eighth-final second match against Monaco with a 5-3 lead and blew it, losing 3-1 in France. Their failure to cope with the chaotic match of the quarterfinals with Tottenham in 2019 was also indicative of their fragile psychology.
In this campaign, they showed clear signs that the scaly City of past seasons has found its phenomenon. In the quarterfinals against Borussia Dortmund, they were seriously tested in both legs. Still, they faced the task and eventually progressed comfortably.
A similar story was against PSG. After suffering a fair share of scary moments in the opening exchanges of the first match, they came together after a break and presented one of their best 45-minute performances from the Guardiola era, securing a 2-1 victory in the process.
As impressive as that was, City retained the clearest evidence of their renewed rematch mentality. It took them only 11 minutes to find the result through Riyadh Mahrez, and then they barely gave PSG an inch.
Their ability to deprive their opponents of space to act was exceptional. Maintaining their shape to the millimeter, they hunted packs like wolves that had not eaten for weeks. Neymar, one of the best in the world, was forced to go deeper and closer to get the ball with each passing minute, while Mauro Icardi could put a camping chair, such was his limited participation.
In the rare cases in which PSG managed to escape, City’s back four were as stoic as ever. Shortly before the clock, John Stones and Alexander Zinchenko celebrated a blocked shot by Neymar, as if they had just found £ 1,000 in the back of the couch while Kyle Walker put on one of his best protective displays.
The real star of the show, however, was Ruben Diaz. Much has been done about the transformative effect that Virgil van Dyck had on Liverpool a few years ago, but Diaz’s influence has been no less incredible. Here he looked like the archetypal modern central defender: mobile, composed and intelligent, finishing the game with a high team of three blocks and 90% accuracy.
With such a solid foundation on which to build, it came as no surprise when Mahrez – now to be considered a “big game player” and not just an artist – added a second goal to all but guaranteed City’s progress. . While PSG imploded, addressing the irritable children around them, Guardiola’s accusations largely kept their cool and saw the game without any problems.
It has been under construction for more than a decade, but City is finally in the Champions League final. To make up for lost time and a failed investment, they must now win it – and once they find a new, ruthless mentality, they will most likely do so.