City have Hart but no defence, says Neil Humphreys
Incoming Guardiola will be mad to change goalkeeper, but he must replace defence
QUARTER-FINAL, 1ST LEG
PARIS ST GERMAIN 2
(Zlatan Ibrahimovic 41, Adrien Rabiot 59)
MAN CITY 2
(Kevin de Bruyne 38, Fernandinho 72)
Pep Guardiola should be on the phone to his extensive scouting network.
The incoming Manchester City manager reportedly fancies Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen as an early marquee singing at the Etihad, but the solution presented itself in Paris yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Joe Hart remains the man for all seasons.
His unflappability between the sticks, along with his side's stellar attack, are the reasons City face a better than average chance of extending their unlikely European run to the semi-finals.
On paper, the 2-2 draw against Paris Saint Germain was a terrific result against outside contenders for the trophy.
On the pitch, their defending was excruciating, more in keeping with the Championship rather than the Champions League.
Eliaquim Mangala has long been the punchline with endless variations, but Nicolas Otamendi also contributed to the expensive, farcical double act.
With a combined cost of £72 million ($138m) - or almost the price of a Neymar or a Luis Suarez - the extravagant waste of resources really does underline the haphazard nature of Manuel Pellegrini's reign.
An honourable man, no doubt, but the excessive spending has delivered ever diminishing returns and Guardiola's job description is deceptively simple - buy better, buy smarter.
Guardiola's longstanding admiration for ter Stegen is obvious. The German's sweeper-goalkeeper abilities allow his sides to build fluidly from the back; the hallmark of any Guardiola side.
But the fundamental quality of any goalkeeper is to make pivotal saves.
Hart saved City yesterday. He kept his outstanding forward line and erratic defence in the tie with a string of fine stops, not least his remarkable effort to save Zlatan Ibrahimovic's 14th-minute penalty.
He faced down the Swede and won. Across the continent, and across a couple of decades now, few goalkeepers could make such a claim.
Hart's penalty stop, coming so early in a riveting contest, clearly rattled the Swede, who spurned a hat-trick of decent opportunities.
One miss in particular defined the contest and City's exasperating inconsistency under Pellegrini.
In the 24th minute, the hapless Otamendi presented possession to PSG in midfield, the ball delivered gift-wrapped in blue and white ribbons.
Ibrahimovic seized the initiative, but ballooned his effort over the bar, the worst of his first-half misses.
But Hart's contribution was critical. He narrowed the angle and refused to fall.
In the end, the 34-year-old opted to chip the towering presence denying him a route to goal.
He looked foolish, but Hart's astute decision-making had fooled the marksman.
That moment represented City's season in a microcosm, hanging on against a legitimate European powerhouse, but only through Hart's tenacity.
Not for the first time, Pellegrini's men earned a decent result in spite of their defence, not because of it.
To roast that old chestnut briefly, City labour without their leader Vincent Kompany not so much because of his imperious stature, but because his powder-puff replacements are lightweight and unreliable.
Mangala almost suffered the ignominy of an own goal. Bacary Sagna, who rarely suggested he had earned the right to replace Pablo Zabaleta at right back, conceded the penalty.
And Adrien Rabiot enjoyed the freedom of Paris, left entirely alone in the six-yard box, to score PSG's second.
If the Parc des Princes was a theatrical stage, then City's defence would have resembled a wretched performance of King Lear, where Sir Ian McKellen had been replaced by a wooden, first-year drama student. The only reason the Paris comedy didn't end in a Shakespeare tragedy was Hart.
PSG were equally illogical, veering wildly from superb in attack to shambolic at the back, with David Luiz earning an early booking and a second-leg suspension by falling back on his clownish traits.
Laurent Blanc will be concerned with his defence's inability to handle the excellent Kevin de Bruyne. On current form, the Belgian is one of only two world-class players in the City side. The other is Hart.
Both men kept City's European dream alive, at either end of the pitch. But de Bruyne is at least accompanied by Sergio Aguero and David Silva in their attacking orchestra.
Hart finds himself surrounded by the tone-deaf pair of Mangala and Otamendi, the Laurel and Hardy of Champions League defending.
It was another fine mess they got Hart into, but his assured display earned City a short-term reprieve, if not a long-term one.
Guardiola should now tweak his transfer strategy. When he arrives at City, the Spaniard must show Hart some serious love. He can start by showing Mangala and Otamendi the door.
It’s not the first time we concede goals at home — quite the opposite — but we proved we can score away too. So if we manage to give the same performance, without committing the same mistakes, we can go through.
- PSG coach Laurent Blanc
Pellegrini: no more mistakes
POROUS: Edinson Cavani finding space to flick on the ball for Adrien Rabiot to score PSG’s second goal. Such errors must be avoided if Man City are to progress, said their manager Manuel Pellegrini (below) . PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini admitted that his side must not repeat the defensive errors that marred their Champions League quarter-final, first-leg clash with Paris St Germain yesterday morning, despite the 2-2 draw giving them the edge.
Away goals by Kevin de Bruyne and Fernandinho at the Parc des Princes mean City have the upper hand ahead of next Tuesday's return, but those strikes sandwiched a farcical goal presented to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and an Adrien Rabiot effort for PSG.
The French champions also saw Ibrahimovic have a penalty saved by Joe Hart early on with the game still goalless, so the evening could have gone far worse for Pellegrini's men.
"In the first half, we made an important mistake that we cannot continue to do if we want to stay in the competition," said Pellegrini of the awful mix-up between Hart and Fernando that allowed Ibrahimovic to score.
"The second goal of PSG was offside. It was not a mistake of the defence, but of the linesman.
"But it is important also to keep that mentality because when you receive the goal that we conceded in the last minute of the first half and then you concede a goal that is offside, it is not easy to try to recover.
"But I think the team have the personality and they believe in what they do. They always try to attack and we scored the second goal."
Nevertheless, Pellegrini refused to label his side as the favourites to advance now as City eye a first Champions League semi-final.
The Chilean has also not ruled out the possibility of captain Vincent Kompany returning for the second leg.
His opposite number Laurent Blanc is left with a selection headache for the second leg after both David Luiz and Blaise Matuidi picked up bookings that mean they will be suspended for the second leg.
Marco Verratti and Javier Pastore will also miss the game due to the injuries that prevented them from featuring in Paris as PSG go to England having to overcome the handicap of those away goals.
Blanc felt that PSG were made to pay for their errors.
"I don't know if we were weak, but there were many mistakes in terms of building up our play and in two of these mistakes it allowed Man City to score important away goals," he said.
"This is our main regret. We made mistakes we're not used to, but maybe it's the quality of this City team and the way they pressed us.
"We conceded first and things could have gone differently, but I was satisfied by the way we came back, although we couldn't manage to score the third goal.
"What I will take from this game - it's not the first time we've conceded at home. We always concede at home but, in the past, we've proven that we can score away."
- Wire Services.