Something quite extraordinary happened at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday night as Manchester City booked a maiden Champions League semi-final slot; they kept a clean sheet.
City did actually achieve the same feat in the last round when a limited Dynamo Kiev side held them to a forgettable 0-0 (the Citizens’ first shutout in the competition this season) but the attacking calibre of their quarter-final opposition promised more goals against a suspect defence.
No one foresaw a 1-0 after the first leg shenanigans
The evidence was there in the 2-2 first leg draw against Paris St-Germain and as the scoreline suggests, it wasn’t only City who showed their defensive fragility.
The Ligue 1 champions were gifted their goals in the Parc des Princes, should have scored from the spot and could so easily have added to their tally after exposing the English club’s rearguard on several other occasions.
However, rather than the open, and at times calamitous, defensive performance from Manuel Pellegrini’s team that contributed to the entertaining draw in France, PSG were ultimately confounded by an uncharacteristically resolute City as they went down 1-0 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate.
Better defensive shape as a team
How did Pellegrini achieve such a turnaround? Particularly while still bereft of his captain and the only truly reliable centre-half on the books in Vincent Kompany.
As a team, City stuck to their defensive task admirably it must be said (David Silva aside of course). Former Arsenal full-backs Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna tucked in and covered PSG runners diligently which was a significant factor to a much better defensive shape.
Mangala and Otamendi perform starring roles at last
Even so, the lion’s share of the credit belongs to a pair of Man City men who’ve become far more used to scorn than praise; Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi.
A combined transfer fee touching the £70m mark has understandably left heads itching at the Etihad this season as neither the Frenchman or his Argentine counterpart have lived up to their billing as towering centre-halves.
Moreover, both seem predisposed to positional mistakes and at their worst have even made catastrophic errors leading to goals since joining the blue half of Manchester.
Well, these heavily criticised defenders finally stood up to the task in unison on Tuesday night, on the stage their price tags hinted they would relish.
Both were fiercely competitive and made countless aerial interceptions and vital headed clearances.
Their sizeable bodies were thrown in the line of fire and Mangala’s shackling of Zlatan Ibrahimovic – who had notched in his prior quintet of Champions League outings – was exemplary considering the half-chances the Swede was limited to.
Food for thought when Guardiola arrives
Given Kompany remains incapable of sustaining fitness, incoming manager Pep Guardiola (and the City faithful dreaming of European glory) can finally take some encouragement that Mangala and Otamendi are a partnership worth cultivating.
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