The narrative surrounding the Champions League quarterfinal between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City could not be more simple. After lavish oil-fueled investment from the Middle East and several years of domestic success, one of them will become the first members of Europe’s nouveau-riche to make their long-craved entry into the continent’s true elite.
Paris Saint-Germain, who will host the first leg at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday, have already long-since wrapped up a fourth-straight Ligue Un title. This season more than any other their huge financial advantage among French clubs has manifested itself in the league table, where PSG enjoy a mammoth 25-point lead.
But after three consecutive quarterfinal exits, there is not doubt that advancing to at least the semifinals for the first time in 21 years is the primary goal for the club and its Qatari owners.
“We want to confirm what the owners all had in mind when they bought PSG,” head coach Laurent Blanc said in his pre-match press conference. “We have nothing to demonstrate to Manchester City. This is not a challenge against [the owners of] Manchester City. They managed to win their domestic league which is not easy and some titles but maybe in Europe they’re a bit behind us.
“Maybe this shows [doing well in Europe] is not as easy as it looks. Whichever teams qualifies for the semi-finals will give a signal to the other teams.”
PSG have certainly been the more consistent of the two clubs in Europe. Since Manchester City were taken over by a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family in 2008 they have won two English Premier League titles. However, to an even greater degree than PSG, success in Europe has been harder to come by.
After two group-stage exits, City were then eliminated at the Round-of-16 stage by Barcelona for the last two seasons. They have already made it further than ever before in the Champions League, having eliminated Dynamo Kiev in the first knockout round. And manager Manuel Pellegrini is well aware of the significance of their first quarterfinal.
“It is important for all—for the club, for the manager for the players,” he said on Tuesday. “The last two seasons we couldn't continue further in this competition because we play against a very strong team in Barcelona. Now we improve this season. We know it is a very diff game that we must play tomorrow, but i think that we have chance to continue and that will be very important for all of us.”
For Pellegrini, victory would also make it a more celebratory farewell. The Chilean will be replaced by Pep Guardiola next season, the announcement of which coincided with a major downturn in Manchester City’s Premier League performances over the past two months. City had lost four and won just two of their last seven Premier League matches prior to this past weekend, causing them to drop to fourth place and put their participation in next season’s Champions League in real jeopardy.
But the team perked up at just the right time on Saturday, boosted by the return from injury of attacking midfielder Kevin de Bruyne. The Belgian is likely to start again in Paris, as is goalkeeper Joe Hart after he regained fitness following a calf injury. City, however, will continue to be without Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany and Raheem Sterling.
PSG, meanwhile, will be missing Italy midfielder Marco Verratti and Argentine playmaker Javier Pastore.
Prediction: The absence of Verratti is likely to be a bigger blow for PSG than the loss of Toure is for Manchester City, given the Ivorian can often be a liability against high-quality opposition. City should be more solid as a result, although their defense still has major question marks without the inspirational Kompany. Going forward, De Bruyne’s return is a major boost and could well help City grab an away goal in Paris with his pace and incisiveness on the counter-attack. Yet PSG are a more rounded unit at this stage of the two teams’ development and should get a lead to take to the Etihad Stadium next week.
Predicted score: Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Manchester City
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1