He was a great centre half, Laurent Blanc. Manuel Pellegrini played the position with distinction in Chile, too. No wonder what went on in Paris on Wednesday night left both men looking rather pained at times.
It was a finer evening for Pellegrini, obviously. A relatively high-scoring away draw at this stage of the Champions League is a very creditable feat indeed.
Manchester City were not fancied to get anything from this match and have instead achieved a result that has seen the home team progress on more than 79 per cent of occasions in the second leg. They have every chance of making the last four from here.
It proved crucial as Manchester City took the lead despite the home side having the bulk of possession. Fernandinho picked out Kevin De Bruyne on the break, and the Belgian made no mistake in firing past Kevin Trapp.
The advantage only last three minutes as the English side conceded in comical fashion. Hart played a short goal kick to Fernando, but the Brazilian dwelled on the ball a fraction too long.
As a result his attempted pass clipped the outstretched foot of Ibrahimovic and into the back of the net, to the amazement of all in attendance.
Yet as defensive error piled upon defensive error, both managers threw tortured shapes on the sidelines. City’s opening goal started from a misplaced pass; the equaliser was a sloppy defensive calamity as poor as any passage of play the competition has seen; City went to sleep for PSG’s second; a botched defensive clearance invited them back into the game for the draw.
The only surprise in a game of great untidiness was that Sergio Aguero should play such a small part in it — particularly after David Luiz was booked for fouling him just 14 seconds in. One would think he might play havoc from there — instead Kevin De Bruyne was at the heart of what was best about City last night, while Fernandinho was Johnny-on-the-spot, making the first goal, scoring the second and at fault for one of PSG’s, too.
The wooden spoon however goes to Fernando, whose blooper to let PSG back in the game should have come with its own laugh track.
So City have good reason to feel confident, but reason to fear also. Defend like this again in Tuesday’s second leg, and it is really anybody’s game. A replica scoreline certainly couldn’t be ruled out, with two teams primed to attack but vulnerable defensively.
City lack the personnel when Vincent Kompany is out; PSG lack the test in their domestic league. Too many simple wins, too many mismatches. At least City are getting weekly run-outs. It is West Brom at the weekend. Never easy, as Leicester discovered recently.
Still, for now, the breakthrough season in Europe is still on. City should at least fancy their chances with even a low-scoring draw enough to put them into the last four. The quarter-finals are already virgin territory for this group and few fancied City for more, with so many influential players absent.
Instead they performed creditably, Pellegrini’s gamble in bringing Joe Hart back from injury rewarded with a penalty save from Zlatan Ibrahimovic after 13 minutes. Indeed, on chances, PSG probably shaded it. That doesn’t mean this wasn’t a good display by City, though. When they went ahead after 38 minutes it was payback for some good early work.
So it was De Bruyne who put City ahead shortly before half-time. What an important player he could have been this season. City looked energised by his return and he was the player who capitalised on a rare mistake by Blaise Matuidi after 38 minutes. Fernandinho cut out his pass and fed the ball swiftly to De Bruyne on the right. He cut inside where Luiz’s feet appeared to be trying out for a role as a Billy Dainty tribute act, allowing the Belgian a clear sight at goal. He needed no second invitation, lashing the ball past goalkeeper Kevin Trapp, to the anguish of PSG coach Blanc. PSG turned the tie around after the restart as they took the lead in the 59th minute. After netting against Chelsea last round, Adrien Rabiot netted against another English opponent as he fired home from close range after Hart could only parry Edinson Cavani’s header.
However the topsy turvy contest saw another fortuitous strike, though this time it went in City’s favour. Bacary Sagna’s cross came off Thiago Silva and into the path of Fernandinho. The Brazilian’s weak effort glanced off the PSG defender but managed to trickle in to level the score.
The two goals away from home means Manuel Pellegrini’s side are favourites to progress through to the semi-finals, though they’ll certainly be weary of a PSG squad that netted twice at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea last round.