- Arthiac Team
On a fine Tuesday night in Paris, PSG took on Manchester City in the Champions League as the fans had to grab a pack of chips and dips to watch what unfolded in the Parc des Princes.
The star-studded line-ups of both sides had only one aim in mind-to win.
Mauricio Pochettino started all his front 3 superstars as Neymar, Mbappe and Messi took centre-stage at the Parc des Princes, but the spotlight was on the Argentinian icon, Lionel Messi.
As usual, Pep Guardiola started the game without a recognised central striker, even though he had Gabriel Jesus in his armoury. City's front three included the likes of Sterling, Grealish, and Mahrez, who swapped positions time and time again to make things happen in the attacking third of City's play as they added to the creativity in midfield to get the ball into the box time and time again.
The game got underway as Man City looked to make in-roads within the opening 5 minutes of the game, but it was PSG that struck first in the 8th minute as he hit the roof of the net, which left Brazilian keeper, Ederson, standing still. It was the drive, pace and agility of Kylian Mbappe that created the angle and space by drawing the sky blue defender onto him as his pass found its way to Idrissa Gueyw, who wasted no time in pulling the trigger as the Parisian fans roared with delight.
It was at that time, after the goal, when Messi and crew joined in the action to pile up the pressure on Pep Guardiola and his boys.
However, Man City didn't hold back at the sight of that goal as they kept pushing for an equaliser by asking "positional" questions of PSG's defensive set-up after taking the lead. Yet, as always, City failed to find the end product as they lacked the figure and stature of an actual number 9 who would stick the ball in the top/bottom corner in front of goal.
Man City's first clear chance to score a goal came in the 25th minute when Kevin De Bruyne whipped in a cross into the box as Raheem Sterling's header hit the bar, which was followed on by Bernardo Silva who hit the under-side of the bar as Pep Guardiola was forced to look in anguish as his side had not grabbed an equaliser.
Nevertheless, City kept coming at Pochettino's boys and kept asking questions which PSG found an answer.
Have you ever been in a situation where you're in class and your professor asks you a question, and even though you may not know the "exact" answer, you kinda connect the dots "in and around" the answer and manage to "construct" your own solution?
Well, that's exactly what the Parisians did, but in all fairness, they had constructed a much better answer at the end of the city's countless questions.
Joao Cancelo stung the palms of Gianluigi Donnarumma as he fired one in from distant range to question the Italian shot-stopper.
Neymar took a swipe at goal off his left foot as there was a clear indication that the Brazilian grew frustrated as the game grew on as his side were unable to get past City's countless pressure.
Hey Buddy! Have you been in this crazy situation when there's this 1 kid somewhere in class who constantly raises their hands to throw in a question or two to the professor?
Well, maybe you've experienced it or maybe not, but Man City was a clear example of the above mentioned reality that some of you and your kids have seen in their educational institutions.
By the end of the first half, PSG came to life as Ander Herrera had a question for Ederson to answer and the Brazilian keeper did pretty well as the threat from PSG on the break was still alive.
In the corner of the first half, Ruben Dias lurked in behind his Portuguese teammate, Nuno Mendes, as a cross from a corner was met with real authority, but Gianluigi Donnarumma was up to the task.
Sterling was presented with yet another opportunity in front of goal, but this one was even more tougher as he dragged it wide and past Donnarumma.
KDB had a question, but Donnarumma had a last ditch answer by pulling out a save out of his feet to deny the Belgian! Just as it was in the first half, Manchester City were the ones asking all the questions, while PSG had a few of their own.
However, the moment of truth had come, when PSG found an answer, and it was the Argentinian who gave it when he teamed up so well with Kylian Mbappe and slotted it past Ederson once again, as the Brazilian keeper was once again left standing as he saw the ball go past beyond his reach, and finally, the boys and girls in red and blue could call Messi a "Parisian."
How does PSG's chances to win the CL fair up now?
Well, you could say that Mauricio Pochettino and his men have set a bar already in match-week 2 in the Champions League so far this season as they took down Manchester City.
They definitely have set a standard and a certain bar!
But, has it really convinced you? Ehhh...not for us. Here's why:
If you look at the game, PSG were all about their front 3. Yes, Idrissa Gueye and Ander Herrera are also in and around the penalty area to score goals, but they are a side that banks immensely on the flair and finesse of their front 3 in Neymar, Mbappe and Messi. If they fail on their night, the rest of the team might even fail.
In the game against Manchester City, it seems as though Pochettino has set his side up into two halves:
- 5-6 men or maybe even 7 men behind the ball to defend.
- Get on the attack with the front 3 of Neymar, Mbappe, and Messi.
Well, it's usually difficult to rely on 3 individuals to do the bulk of your scoring in the Champions League when the competition has gone up to another level.
But what sets PSG apart from the rest is that they have Neymar and Messi who are in there with all the finesse and skill to take them forward, while the pace of Kylian Mbappe just creates spaces for the South American duo to score goals.
They certainly have a lot of different aspects to their game, but overall, if you go to see, it's about the "Quality" in that front 3 that makes this PSG squad soldier on in the tournament.
Mbappe and Neymar were seen doing bits of defensive work as well to put Pep Guardiola and Man City at bay. We're sure that Mbappe and Neymar will keep doing that week in akd week out, but yesterday showed that they are individuals that will go the extra mile when needed.
It wasn't a good performance from PSG last night, but Lionel Messi! You've heard a lot about the guy already. To score that goal at that moment in the game was just brilliant! There is more like that coming from Messi himself.
That's the quality that we've been stressing on so far.
City had the quality to punish PSG, but with the likes of Lionel Messi over there, he certainly knows how to rub salt to the wounds of City's missed chances and failure to capitalise on the opportunities they created.
However, here is the big question:
Can you rely on 3 quality individuals to get you to win the Champions League?
It's a really really difficult question to answer. Over the years, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have made it possible to rely on just the front 3 to win the Champions League while the others in the squad were out there (with all due respect) supplying assists time and time again, keeping the ball, creating play, being creative and much more. There is nothing wrong with that.
However, as we've seen in recent years with Bayern Munich and Chelsea winning the Champions League, your entire squad needs to have the identity and character to push up front and get in on the scoring.
We can certainly include Real Madrid in this debate as well. There was a time under Zinedine Zidane where Cristiano Ronaldo was the only player firing for Los Blancos.
Benzema and Bale were off the scoring charts for large portions of the season. That was when the likes of Kroos, Modric and Casemiro came into the fold and scored goals along with Marcelo, Asensio and Carvajal. It was the team that got them forward and through.
Two seasons ago, when Bayern Munich won the Champions League, it was Muller, Lewandowski, Gnabry, Kimmich, Pavard, Coutinho, Choupo-Moting and many more getting on the score sheet. The whole team got in on the act.
Last season, Chelsea didn't have a proper out-and-out striker! Yet, they found a way through Azpilicueta, Giroud, Mason Mount, Havertz, Alonso, Kante, Rudiger and many more individuals who came into the fold and got goals.
Our simple and basic point here is that it's a "Collective" effort to go a long long way into the tournament.
Yeah, you could say that the rest of the side can do their bit as well as they can and let Neymar, Mbappe, and Messi flourish up top. There will be stages later on in the season where opposing sides will come into the fold and ask PSG much more colossal questions.
However, the Champions League season has just got underway and we wouldn't want to put it past the Parisian side that they wouldn't claim the trophy that they crave for at the centre of that huge club.
How far can this Man City side go in this tournament?!
To PSG’s advantage, the fact that Manchester City didn't have a proper striker made PSG's night difficult, but not difficult enough even though Pep Guardiola had the personnel in and around to make things happen for his side.
Man City created so many chances in and around the penalty box, but no one seemed to find the net.
Ferran Torres was a player who got the job done as a striker for Pep in the past in many many games last season and this season as well.
Yes, he is not a clear and direct central striker, but in a game where margins define games, you take the tools that you've got to create those margins.
One of the examples last night was Sterling's header. A striker would have buried it. He would've placed it in the bottom left/right corner.
Even Bernardo Silva's horrendous rebound miss in front of an open goal was a good indicator that Man City will be struggling this season without a central striker.
In the game against Southampton, it felt that they would score considering the quality of both sides.
However, yesterday's game was the same as it was last weekend against Chelsea. A lot of play, creativity and questions, but they just lacked the answers and end product. It just felt that they wouldn't score even though Man City had a lot of possession of the ball.
To some extent, you could say that Pep could do the Thomas Tuchel way by winning the Champions League, but the personnel differs from both sides as well as the approach, tactics and the strategy used by both managers.
Right now, so far, Pep Guardiola has not been able to get the right combination of players that would suit his style and strategy before he goes into a game. It's all up in the air as his side is not consistent with their end product so far this season.
Our fear is that it could just get worse as the season keeps going, but the only way out of this Centre-Forward trap is if his front men like Sterling, Mahrez, Grealish, Torres, Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne get going from this weekend onwards when they take on Liverpool at Anfield.
Every step from now is going to carry an added burden, but you and I will know if these Man City boys have got the legs to go the extra mile to breach boundaries for them to be successful this season!