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Dias Masterclass, Foden Brilliance as Pep’s men Reach final

 

Even on the one occasion Ruben Dias went to ground a little early, it did not matter. John Stones and Oleksandr Zinchenko were there to back him up, hurling their bodies in the way of Neymar’s shot then embracing as if they were celebrating a goal.

It was a moment to sum up Manchester City’s performance on the night they finally claimed their place in a Champions League final. Bravery. Steeliness. Defiance. It was all there as Pep Guardiola’s side put themselves on the brink of history.

So too was the attacking brilliance, of course. The two goals, both converted by Riyad Mahrez, were superbly constructed and ruthlessly dispatched. A 4-1 aggregate scoreline against a side that reached last season’s final and knocked out Bayern Munich and Barcelona this year shows the extent of City’s threat.

But what makes this iteration of Guardiola’s City so special is that they can do it all. The combination of attacking excellence and defensive resolve has taken them to the brink of Premier League glory and it could now land them the prize they covet most.

Defensive masterclass

City players celebrate the victory at the Etihad Stadium
Image:City players celebrate the victory at the Etihad Stadium

There were only five minutes on the clock at the Etihad Stadium when Stones pulled off City’s first block of the night, getting his body behind an early Neymar effort. By the end of it, they had made nine – nearly twice as many as in any other game all season.

Time and again, just as it seemed the net might be about to bulge, a blue-shirted defender would appear seemingly out of nowhere. Paris Saint-Germain had 14 shots over the course of the 90 minutes but Ederson didn’t have to make a single save.

Five of City’s nine blocks were made by Dias or Stones and that was not all they did right. In fact, they hardly put a foot wrong between them. There was no Kylian Mbappe, but their performance is no less impressive for that. It is now 16 clean sheets in 24 games the centre-backs have started together.

Stones’ resurgence has been remarkable but it’s Dias who has transformed City and his leadership was evident throughout on Tuesday night. Even when Ander Herrera’s drilled cross struck him in the head from a distance of only a few yards, he was immediately back on his feet cajoling those around him.

Dias and Stones were not the only ones who made Neymar’s evening a miserable one. At right-back, Kyle Walker was outstanding, hounding the Brazilian whenever he popped up in his zone and sometimes chasing him further than that too.

Nobody made more tackles than he did and the 30-year-old also ranked top for interceptions and ball recoveries. There were towering headers in his own box and lung-busting runs up field.

There was plenty of that from the man on the opposite side too. Zinchenko was preferred to Joao Cancelo by Guardiola and his faith was rewarded. The Ukrainian played a crucial role in the opening goal, running onto Ederson’s stunning pass then picking out Kevin de Bruyne, and defended with discipline and devotion throughout.

Zinchenko was not the only personnel change from the first leg. In midfield, Guardiola opted for Fernandinho over Rodri and again the decision proved the right one.

The midfielder showed his experience by maintaining his composure and keeping his team-mates calm as PSG tried to provoke them. He also showed his knack for fouling without getting booked. It may be cynical but it’s what City needed against Neymar and the rest.

Foden comes of age

Phil Foden celebrates with Riyad Mahrez
Image:Phil Foden celebrates with Riyad Mahrez

Mahrez was Manchester City’s match-winner, scoring for the third consecutive Champions League game, but Phil Foden was arguably even more impressive. This may well go down as a coming-of-age performance from the brilliant 20-year-old.

Foden is enjoying his best season yet in terms of appearances, goals and assists and there was plenty more evidence in this latest showing of a player who is well and truly at home on the biggest stages.

The assist for Mahrez’s second goal was his most notable contribution, making him the first Manchester City player to reach double figures for goals and assists in all competitions this season, but it was a moment in the first half which best summed him up.

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