Dreams of a maiden Champions League crown will be extinguished for one of Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City on Wednesday, as the two continental giants lock horns in the first leg of their semi-final at the Parc des Princes.
Les Parisiens prevailed on away goals against reigning champions Bayern Munich to march to the final four, while Man City secured a 4-2 aggregate victory over Borussia Dortmund to end their recent quarter-final hoodoo.
Both sides enjoyed successful domestic results at the weekend, although City’s was far more noteworthy, as they beat Tottenham Hotspur in the EFL Cup final while PSG enjoyed a 3-1 Ligue 1 win over Metz.
In spite of one of the most dazzling but fruitless performances from Neymar, PSG were unable to replicate their goal-laden display from the Allianz Arena in their second-leg meeting with Bayern, as the Brazilian and his fellow attacker Kylian Mbappe could not find a way through an inspired Lucas Hernandez and co.
An unlikely source in Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting – standing in for the injured talisman Robert Lewandowski – did manage to make the net ripple at the Parc des Princes as his first-half goal set up a nail-biting second 45, but scenes of delirium followed for PSG come the final whistle as they avenged last season’s final defeat to Bayern by sending them packing in the quarters.
Mauricio Pochettino opened up on his “boiling” internal feeling as his jubilant crop marched to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the second year running, but the Argentine and PSG both share one thing in common when it comes to Europe’s elite competition – heartbreak in the final.
One year before PSG fell at the final hurdle to Bayern, Pochettino navigated Tottenham Hotspur to the unlikeliest of meetings with Liverpool in the showpiece event, but the 49-year-old was left to rue what could have been as Liverpool claimed their sixth Champions League crown to extend the Lilywhites’ barren trophyless spell.
Having witnessed his former team see another opportunity at a trophy pass them by against City, Pochettino may be out for a measure of personal revenge against the Citizens as he aims to make the Spurs fans proud, and his side enter the first leg on a three-game domestic winning streak after beating Saint-Etienne, Angers and Metz in league and cup action.
Before limping off injured in a gut-wrenching sight for Parisiens supporters, Mbappe struck his 24th and 25th goals of the Ligue 1 season before Mauro Icardi’s cheeky Panenka made sure of a 3-1 success over Metz, but PSG’s chances of a fourth consecutive Ligue 1 crown are hanging by a thread.
With the second-placed champions still one point adrift of Lille, Pochettino has big fish to fry on the domestic and continental stage in the coming weeks, as any PSG manager would fear for their future in the hotseat if all they have to show for their efforts is a Coupe de France success, and even that trophy has not been wrapped up just yet.
PSG’s attacking prowess has been evident in recent weeks, as Pochettino’s men have scored at least three goals in seven of their last nine games in all competitions, and they also appear to have ended their home rut at just the right moment before City make the short trip across the channel.
A success over two legs against City would see PSG become just the ninth team in history to reach the final in two consecutive campaigns, but with only three wins to boast from their last eight in all competitions at the Parc des Princes, Guardiola’s serial winners will endeavour to make their journey to Paris a memorable one.
Perhaps the only surprising aspect of Man City’s EFL Cup win over Spurs was the scoreline itself, as Pep Guardiola’s men huffed and puffed but were kept at bay in the first half against the Lilywhites, as 8,000 supporters were welcomed back to Wembley with open arms.
With Guardiola – out to win his fourth EFL Cup in a row – up against Ryan Mason in his second-ever game as a manager, City ultimately had to rely on a set-piece as Aymeric Laporte headed home from Kevin De Bruyne’s corner in the 82nd minute, as Guardiola’s perennial dominance of the EFL Cup scene continued as expected.
While that triumph means that City have technically achieved a quadruple this season with their fourth-straight EFL Cup crown, the unprecedented haul of four trophies in the 2020-21 campaign was not to be, as Guardiola’s side bowed out of the FA Cup semi-finals to Chelsea, whom they could still face in the European showpiece event.
For all of their domestic dominance, however, City and their impassioned supporters are still pining for that first Champions League crown which they so crave, and one of their own in Phil Foden was the hero of the hour in both legs against Dortmund with two late goals in a pair of 2-1 successes.
The Premier League champions-elect just could not break the quarter-final curse in seasons gone by, but by dumping Dortmund and Erling Braut Haaland out of the tournament, City will make an appearance in the final four for the first time since the 2015-16 tournament, where then-manager Manuel Pellegrini could not mastermind a victory over eventual winners Real Madrid.
The Citizens have only ever prevailed in one of their three European semi-final ventures so far, though, with Joe Mercer’s side managing to go all the way in the 1969-70 European Cup Winners’ Cup, but the club have come a long way on and off the pitch since that inaugural continental triumph in Vienna.
A goalless stalemate with Porto represents the only minor blip in City’s Champions League campaign so far, as they have come out on the correct end of the scoreline in their other nine matches and could now become the first English side to secure 10 victories in the current tournament format during a single season.
Incredibly, City’s admirably-marshalled rearguard have only shipped three goals in their 10 continental games this term, although two of them came in their quarter-final meetings with Dortmund, and they have also scored at least two goals in their last five – an impressive statistic considering that Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are often tasked with keeping the bench warm.
However, with the likes of Foden, Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez providing attacking quality in abundance, Guardiola hardly needs a recognised number nine on the field to steer his side to success, although a shot at glory in the Champions League final would be a fitting way for Aguero to bow out before his 10-year association with the club ends in the summer.
Paris Saint-Germain Champions League form:
Paris Saint-Germain form (all competitions):
Manchester City Champions League form:
Manchester City form (all competitions):