Messi’s majestic race and finish leaves Manchester City behind in PSG’s wake | Champions League



It had to be him. The occasion had called him. The crowd had come to see him and spent most of that Champions League game at the box office wanting it to happen. And then it’s done.

When Lionel Messi took possession of the ball and rushed in from the right wing, he traded passes with Kylian Mbappé and, in the blink of an eye, Manchester City opened up. It was truly the most perfectly weighted of Mbappé’s films and the luck was there.

Paris Saint-Germain were leading 1-0, although City had the best of the previous 73 minutes. Could the maestro pick the top corner of the edge of the area to ensure victory? It was a silly question, especially for Pep Guardiola, who has seen this movie before – over and over again. Of course, Messi could. It seemed to be happening in slow motion, a left kick and the ball infallibly flying past Ederson before home support exploded, the outpouring of joy and love.

It feels like they still can’t believe Messi is a PSG player. But that was the night he announced himself as such. After three largely disappointing appearances for his new club and a knee injury, he chose his first Champions League game in a noisy Parc des Princes to come to life.

Lionel Messi guides his strike into the net to seal the victory. Photograph: Matthias Hangst / Getty Images

Guardiola has won everything with Messi in four glorious seasons at Barcelona – 14 trophies, including two Champions Leagues – but it is also true that since the departure of the Catalonia manager, no player has scored more goals against his teams. . He is now seven in five games. City had tried to sign Messi in the summer of last year and, if the timing of his departure from Barcelona had been different from this, they might have tried again.

Guardiola’s shoulders slumped as delusional PSG fans pulled out their camera phones to capture the lens of posterity, to prove they were there. They chanted Messi’s name, as did Barcelona fans, which seemed a bit incongruous, and City had to reflect on the cruelty of it all.

They had conceded early on to an Idrissa Gueye rocket, also perfectly placed inside the angle of the post and the crossbar, only to recover and ask plenty of questions. City were the better side in the first half, when Bernardo Silva put forward a failed contender for the season, and they remained in the spotlight in the second half until Messi’s goal, albeit the chances clear have become rarer.

PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino had reason to thank another of the club’s new signings – goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who made a series of fine saves – and a crucial streak for City had taken a turn they wanted to avoid. They started it superbly on Saturday with the victory at Chelsea. Now they have to shake their heads ahead of the visit to Liverpool on Sunday.

There was a buzz every time Messi stepped on the ball, as he did during the prep for the deciding goal, although the energy for the movement was provided by the always dangerous Mbappé. After playing a back and forth with Messi, Mbappé blew the ball to Achraf Hakimi and rushed for the signing, picking it up unattended before crossing for Neymar, who scuffed his shot. Gueye, however, pinched past Kyle Walker, took a throw-in and passed Ederson.

Silva still won’t be able to explain how he didn’t equalize in the 27th minute. The excellent Kevin De Bruyne picked Raheem Sterling in the middle with the outside of his boot – a lavish cross – and Sterling only had to score to head against the crossbar. Then Silva really had to score on the rebound and yet, at close range and with a gaping open goal, he hit the crossbar. Presnel Kimpembe cleared.

Bernardo Silva sort of hits the crossbar from three yards moments after Raheem Sterling's header also came off the bar.
Bernardo Silva sort of hits the crossbar from three yards moments after Raheem Sterling’s header also came off the bar. Photograph: DeFodi Images / Getty Images

City had more than enough play to be tied at halftime. They were confident on the ball, advancing through Jack Grealish on the left or making quick changes to Riyah Mahrez on the other flank. They seemed able to shoot men out behind a PSG backline that endured some nervous moments. João Cancelo and Rúben Dias have extended Donnarumma. The threat of PSG came to be measured against the clock but this is where Mbappé flourishes. He exploded in the back for 38 minutes to hit Ander Herrera only to make Ederson fall over.

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Should City have finished the first half with 11 players on the pitch? De Bruyne stretched out on Gueye in the 39th minute, looking to play the ball, but ended up planting his crampons in his opponent’s calf. It didn’t look good on reruns but the VAR were happy with the yellow card that was given at the time.

De Bruyne reworked Donnarumma on 55 minutes and it was City who kept pushing. Neymar almost walked in after sprinting away from Walker, but you know who did. Donnarumma would save Mahrez later. For City, there was nothing but frustration.


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