With Pellegrini, don't rule out Man City for success
Chilean's tactics spot-on as City enter first semi-final
QUARTER-FINAL, 2ND LEG
MAN CITY 1
(Kevin de Bruyne 76)
PARIS ST GERMAIN 0
● Man City progress to semi-finals 3-2 on aggregate.
With an elegant sweep of his right boot, Kevin de Bruyne swept Manchester City into the club's history books.
The 1-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain at the Etihad Stadium yesterday morning (Singapore time) sent Manuel Pellegrini's team into their first-ever Champions League semi-finals.
In the battle of Europe's moneybags, PSG, eliminated on a 3-2 aggregate loss, were reduced to the role of students.
They had better watch and learn.
The Champions League is no place for slouches.
The widening gulf between the elite three - Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid - and the rest on the continent sees to it that the wheat is almost always separated from the chaff.
Yet, Pellegrini has shown that getting your tactics spot-on can significantly reduce the gap.
Laurent Blanc can attest to that.
First, the City boss got the best out of the highly versatile de Bruyne.
Before the two clashes against PSG, the 24-year-old Belgian had started four times in the competition, all in the wide areas, as he usually does for his club in the English Premier League.
But, probably sensing the direct danger he can pose to a suspect PSG central defence, Pellegrini twice opted to start de Bruyne in the hole behind striker Sergio Aguero.
On both occasions, the Chilean hit the nail on the head.
In Paris last week, de Bruyne terrorised David Luiz and Thiago Silva, scoring the opening goal in the 2-2 draw.
Yesterday morning, the City manager deployed the Belgian in the same spot, allowing him to thrive in the space between PSG's unfamiliar-looking three-man defence and midfield.
Again, de Bruyne did not disappoint, scoring the most important goal in City's Champions League history.
Pellegrini also resisted the temptation to start Yaya Toure, who had just recovered from a knee injury, in midfield.
Instead, he opted for the more defensive and committed central pairing of Fernandinho and Fernando, to hold off a PSG side obliged to attack.
The double-Brazilian midfield act ended up providing the fulcrum for their victory.
Fernandinho and Fernando formed the defensive shield in front of their backline, thwarting all the individual brilliance the star-studded PSG could offer.
They broke up play, kept their shape and covered for their teammates with such efficiency that there was almost no way through for the visitors.
On the few occasions that it happened, centre backs Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi cleared the danger.
The fears over a defence missing the injured Vincent Kompany proved unfounded after all.
And this was the most unexpected bit.
No one anticipated a clean sheet from City, certainly not when PSG had the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Angel di Maria in tow.
Whatever Pellegrini drilled into his central defenders must have worked, as the awkward pairing ditched their usual nerves and played like an experienced European partnership that has won countless battles.
On a night like this, they hardly put a foot wrong.
Suddenly, City are in the last four of a competition they looked so out of depth just a few months ago.
The fighting display from his charges would have pleased Pellegrini.
Not bad for a manager who's leaving at the end of the season to make way for Pep Guardiola.
The underdogs proved they have bite. Four years ago, unfancied Chelsea upset those same odds to claim an unlikely Champions League triumph.
Pellegrini can be forgiven for believing that City, too, can go all the way.
- MAN CITY: Joe Hart, Bacary Sagna, Nicolas Otamendi, Eliaquim Mangala, Gael Clichy, Fernandinho, Fernando, Jesus Navas, Kevin de Bruyne (Yaya Toure 84), David Silva (Fabian Delph 87), Sergio Aguero (Kelechi Iheanacho 90)
- PARIS ST GERMAIN: Kevin Trapp, Gregory van der Wiel, Serge Aurier (Javier Pastore 61), Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Maxwell, Adrien Rabiot, Thiago Motta (Lucas Moura 44), Angel di Maria, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani
"I know that we receive a lot of criticism for different reasons, but I think that we are improving every year. One of the targets is to win, of course, some day the Champions League. Of course, this season, next season."
— Manuel Pellegrini believes Manchester City can win the Champions League
"It doesn’t matter — they will always be difficult opponents. Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Real Madrid — for me, they are the same. Interesting for whom? The media."
— Pellegrini on the possibility of drawing Bayern Munich, coached by his successor Pep Guardiola, in the semi-finals
Blame me for PSG exit: Blanc
Paris St Germain coach Laurent Blanc accepted full responsibility for his team's Champions League exit to Manchester City yesterday morning (Singapore time) and said he was angry and disappointed with the outcome.
PSG, who clinched the French title last month and are now 28 points clear in Ligue 1, were beaten 1-0 in their quarter-final, second leg as Kevin de Bruyne's 76th-minute strike sealed a 3-2 aggregate win.
"I am disappointed and angry," said Blanc. "I really believed we would win this tie and qualify for the semi-finals.
"But we fell short over the two legs. We were not clinical enough, we were not efficient enough and we paid the price by failing to qualify."
Since Blanc took over as PSG coach from Carlo Ancelotti in 2013, he has guided the club to three successive French titles, but has also suffered three Champions League quarter-final defeats.
"We had our chance in the first leg and I have a lot of regrets about the first game. We scored two goals, but that was not enough," he said.
"Of course, we had players suspended tonight, but I am not going to hide behind that.
"I am the one responsible. I selected the team, I selected the strategy and I am as disappointed as the players, but the buck stops with me."
Blanc conceded that City were the better team over the tie and deserved to win, but added that the hosts had been far from spectacular.
The former France international said the Champions League was becoming predictable with the same three teams, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, always reaching the latter stages.
"There are always the same three teams in the semi-finals and one guest team and this year, they are Manchester City," he said.