Gary Lim: City can count on Terrific Trio
The spine of Hart, Toure and de Bruyne must deliver against PSG
QUARTER-FINAL, 2ND LEG
MAN CITY v PARIS ST GERMAIN
(Tomorrow, 2.45am, Singtel TV Ch 112 & StarHub TV Ch 212)
- Teams tied at 2-2
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini can still leave the club on a high at the end of the season.
The Champions League remains his only chance of a golden swansong.
The Citizens are on the cusp of a historic semi-final spot, following a 2-2 away draw in the first leg of their quarter-final clash with Paris Saint-Germain last week.
But their uncertain performance at the Parc des Princes showed that there is still work to be done if they are to go all the way.
The task of clearing the immediate obstacle ahead may rest on their trusted trio at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
They need goalkeeper Joe Hart to repeat his heroics against PSG last week and also inject the confidence into a shaky backline which will miss key centre back and captain Vincent Kompany.
The return of Yaya Toure, who missed the first leg but came on as a substitute in last Saturday's 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion, will provide the power and stability in the centre of the park.
Attacking midfielder Kevin de Bruyne has hit top form since returning from a knee injury earlier this month, compensating for the absence of the injured Raheem Sterling.
Should all three start and rise to the occasion, don't bet against Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Co. leaving the Etihad with their tails tucked between their legs.
"The most important aspect of this team is to score. Do we think we need to draw 0-0? That’s not the way we normally play. We went there to try and win the game and tomorrow we’ll do exactly the same."
— Manuel Pellegrini saying Man City will not settle for a goalless draw against PSG
"I am absolutely confident, because with this defence we played a lot of games in the Premier League and in the Champions League and, if we are in this stage, it is because we have good defenders. Maybe they made some mistakes in the last game against PSG, but I trust they will play in the level they can do it."
— Pellegrini, giving his defence the vote of confidence
It wasn't until Pellegrini's double substitution in the 60th minute, in last saturday's game against West Brom, that City really came alive.
The two players who came on? Toure and de Bruyne.
With the score tied at 1-1 at the time, Toure's drive and appetite in midfield turned the tide decisively in City's favour and, six minutes later, Samir Nasri clinched the match-winner.
Toure had missed City's previous two matches, including the first leg against PSG, due to a knee problem.
Given Fernando's disastrous display in Paris, the Ivorian's return is a welcome boost.
Not only does Toure offer a direct threat from central midfield, but his 1.91m-tall frame also comes in handy when defending set-pieces.
The 32-year-old is rumoured to be unhappy though, reportedly because City have yet to discuss his contract extension despite promises to do so.
His agent has even said that Toure will buy himself out of his remaining year left at City if nothing is done about his contract situation.
A big performance against PSG may change everything.
KEVIN DE BRUYNE
His timely return has given Man City just the boost they needed.
During his 12-match absence, they won just four matches.
The 24-year-old Belgian has played a total of 164 minutes of football over three games since coming back, and has made an impression in each of those matches.
A clever volley in the 4-0 win over Bournemouth on April 2 marked his comeback, but it was his opening goal in the first leg against PSG last week that may prove to be City's most important of the season.
His devastating performance in a central attacking position behind striker Sergio Aguero at the Parc des Princes had Pellegrini purring.
The Chilean said: "I think that a lot of the time one player can change a team.
"Kevin was very important before the injury and, fortunately for us, he has returned the same way."
PSG are obliged to attack tomorrow morning after conceding two away goals.
De Bruyne's speed, incisive play, and excellent shooting are just what City need to deliver the sucker-punch.
Pellegrini gambled on his fitness last week and it paid off handsomely, with the England international producing the most crucial intervention of the game.
When PSG earned a 14th-minute penalty with the game still goalless, it seemed City's European campaign was about to go into meltdown again.
But up stepped Hart to brilliantly save Ibrahimovic's spot-kick to deny the hosts a morale-boosting early goal.
Astonishingly, it was the 28-year-old's third successive penalty save in the Champions League.
Hart is no stranger to saving City's blushes in the competition, with memorable displays against Borussia Moenchengladbach, Roma and Borussia Dortmund in the past.
With PSG set to employ an attacking game plan and City's defence looking shaky with the absence of Kompany, City will be counting on Hart to keep their backgates locked.