City 90 minutes from Istanbul Champions League dream
*City need to defend their 2-1 away first leg win
*All Blues fit for second leg at Etihad
* Crucial test for Guardiola's men
With Istanbul firmly in their sights, Manchester City gear up for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final showdown with Paris Saint-Germain at the Etihad tonight.
An ideal second-half showing from Pep Guardiola’s men saw them emerge 2-1 winners from last week’s first leg at the Parc des Princes, during which Marquinhos’ header was cancelled out by strikes from Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez.
Both sides enhanced their chances of domestic success at the weekend, as Man City beat Crystal Palace 2-0 while PSG kept their title hopes alive with a 2-1 win over Lens.
It truly was a game of two halves at the Parc des Princes. After Mauricio Pochettino and Guardiola had exchanged remarks on the touchline – a familiar sight from Premier League days gone by – the former’s side began to assume control of the tie, but they only had Marquinhos’ header to show for it.
One would have paid good money to be a fly on the wall during Guardiola’s half-time team talk, as the Catalan coach’s words clearly spurred Man City to come out all guns blazing in the second period, and they were deservedly level thanks to De Bruyne’s fortuitous effort, which eluded everyone before making the net ripple.
The Belgian playmaker then renounced free-kick duties to Mahrez, who managed to squeeze the ball through the narrowest of gaps exposed by Leandro Paredes and Presnel Kimpembe to put City in front, and the likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe could not come up with any answers to their opponents’ determined performance.
Having banished the demons of three consecutive quarter-final exits, Guardiola has his eyes on the prize and a spot in the showpiece event at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium on May 29 – where Liverpool produced the famed ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ – and they have the Premier League title all but wrapped up after a successful outing at Crystal Palace.
One man in particular – Sergio Agüero - would love nothing more than to get in his hands on Europe’s most prized piece of silverware before he bids his farewells to City.
Marquinhos’ header was only the fourth goal that Guardiola’s side have conceded in this year’s tournament, and a goalless stalemate with Porto represents the only occasion that City have failed to come up trumps so far – winning 10 out of 11 – but City need to adopt a gung-ho approach this week.
Then again, attack may be the best form of defence for City, who have scored at least two goals in each of their last six Champions League matches, and Guardiola could afford to give a wealth of his attacking players a complete rest at the weekend – such is the ludicrous squad depth in the Etihad ranks.
Guardiola’s side must still navigate another 90 minutes to book their spot in the final, but on the previous 47 occasions that English clubs have won the first leg of a European tie away from home, they have progressed to the next stage 47 times, so avoiding that unwanted record is another incentive for City to get the job done.
Of course, there is still the possibility of PSG coming up against their old leader, Thomas Tuchel in the final – with the German hoping to steer Chelsea past eternal champions Real Madrid. Pochettino’s side cannot waste time fantasising about back-to-back finals just yet, though, as they head to the Etihad Stadium aiming to channel the spirits of Leeds United, Leicester City and Man United – three sides who have already beat Man City on their own turf this term – in their bid to turn the tie on its head.
Guardiola once again has everyone fit and ready for this pivotal encounter, and there should be an immediate recall for John Stones, who is still serving a domestic suspension.
Ruben Dias also enjoyed a rare rest at Selhurst Park, but will displace Nathan Ake, while Kyle Walker’s return to the side could push Joao Cancelo out to the left over Benjamin Mendy, unless Oleksandr Zinchenko does enough to earn a start.
Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva ought to reprise their roles in midfield as Fernandinho and Agüero drop out, although the latter has declared that he is ready to be called upon this week.
As for PSG, Mbappe’s name was nowhere to be seen on the teamsheet for their meeting with Lens, but Pochettino is optimistic that the Frenchman will recover from a minor calf issue in time to lead the line. Angel Di Maria and Marco Verratti were both unused substitutes on Saturday but will most likely displace Pablo Sarabia and Julian Draxler, while Mauro Icardi is likely to join the latter two on the bench if Mbappe is indeed passed fit.
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Walker, Dias, Stones, Cancelo; Rodri, Gundogan, Silva; Mahrez, De Bruyne, Foden
PSG possible starting lineup:
Navas; Florenzi, Marquinhos, Kimpembe, Bakker; Paredes, Herrera; Di Maria, Verratti, Neymar; Mbappe.
Kick off is at 8pm on Tuesday. The game will be shown live on BT Sport, with commentary on BBC Radio Manchester and the Manchester City website.