THE Uefa Cup group stage is, as Harry Redknapp acknowledged, both tedious and, since three teams from five go through, relatively hard not to qualify from. However, it comes with a neat twist – the team that finishes second draws a dropout from the Champions League.
After a night that numbed the fingers and sometimes the mind, this is a fate that Manchester City will face if Steve McClaren’s Twente Enschede win in Paris and City fail to beat Racing Santander in El Sardinero.
On the surface, a goalless draw with one of European football’s most recognisable names is no disgrace but it failed to wash out the aftertaste of defeat in the Manchester derby here on Sunday. It was a point that City clung on to and, with a quarter of an hour remaining, their manager, Mark Hughes, was forced to bring on Dietmar Hamann to restore order to a midfield in danger of being overrun.
Hughes left with more to ponder than where Manchester City finish in Group A. Jo, who has not scored since the 6-0 rout of Redknapp’s Portsmouth in September, produced another 65 ineffectual minutes. His fellow Brazilian, Elano, who after his time at Shakhtar Donetsk would think the conditions mild, limped off with a groin strain that will keep him out for a couple of weeks. The combination of Claude Makelele and Jeremy Clement effectively carried out their instructions to neutralise Stephen Ireland.
In contrast, Hughes acknowledged that City had been sometimes naïve. “We didn’t create a great deal,” he said. “PSG made it difficult and got a lot of men behind the ball. We weren’t able to create anything to unlock the door.”
The PSG manager, Paul Le Guen, who will return to Britain on Sunday to attend the celebrations for Sir David Murray’s 20 years at Ibrox, should frankly have had a victory to discuss with the Rangers owner. And but for Joe Hart’s coolness as Peguy Luyindula advanced on goal and a scuffed close-range shot from Guillaume Hoarou that went the wrong side of the post, he would have done.
From their base at the city’s elegant Lowry Hotel, the Paris St-Germain team had spent the morning of the match walking the snow-crusted streets of Manchester and it might have been better had they kept on going to Eastlands. Next week Manchester votes on a congestion charge and this was a night the “Yes” campaign had waited for. The closure of the M62 had reduced the city to gridlock and an hour before kick-off the only thing that had arrived was Paris St-Germain’s kit.
The players themselves turned up with 50 minutes to spare and in the opening exchanges they looked in danger of being sliced apart by a City side who began far more sharply than they finished.
Gradually, however, PSG calmed down and so did their supporters, who whether enraged by the city’s transport network or just to keep warm, spent the opening quarter of an hour surging towards the City fans.
They would have done better had Sébastien Chabal, in the middle of probably his final season for Sale, been among them. The icon of French rugby sat motionless alongside Nicolas Anelka, watching two of his former clubs through dark glasses, although you would hesitate to add the words “in action”.
Manchester City (4-1-3-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Ben-Haim, Dunne, Garrido; Kompany; Ireland, Elano (Benjani, 48), Sturridge; Vassell (Hamann, 75), Jo (Evans, 65). Substitutes not used: Schmeichel (gk), Logan, Glauber, Caicedo, Evans.
Paris St-Germain (4-4-2): Landreau; Traoré, Bourillon, Camara, Mamadou; Pancrate (Giuly, 69), Makelele (Armand, 59), Clement, Rothen; Luyindula, Kezman (Hoarau, 69). Substitutes not used: Edel (gk), Ceara, Mabila, Ngoyi.
Referee: B Paixao (Portugal).Reuse content