Manchester City have hired the world’s most sought-after coach to lead the club to Champions League glory, but after a remarkable night in Paris, Manuel Pellegrini edged closer to beating Pep Guardiola to the club’s Holy Grail after seeing Fernandinho put the club in control of their quarter-final destiny against Paris Saint-Germain.
Having fallen behind after taking the lead following Kevin De Bruyne’s opening goal, City overcame self-inflicted calamity by capitalising on PSG’s own sloppiness to emerge from the Parc des Princes with two crucial away goals in a 2-2 draw.
Fernandinho’s equaliser, after a mix-up between defenders Serge Aurier and Thiago Silva, proved enough to cancel out strkes by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Adrien Rabiot for PSG.
But with City now needing to avoid defeat or a high-scoring at the Etihad next week to progress to the last four, the prospect of progressing all the way to the final in Milan is now not so fanciful, with or without the incoming Guardiola.
City, missing the injured Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure, arrived at the Parc des Princes fully aware that Laurent Blanc’s team had only lost once on home turf since losing to Barcelona in last season’s quarter-final.
So despite avoiding, in Blanc’s words, ‘the ogres’ of European football in Barca and Bayern Munich, City still faced a stern test of their credentials if they were to progress to the semi-finals for the first time.
But Manuel Pellegrini’s players began the game aggressively on the front foot, so much so that David Luiz was booked after just 12 seconds for tugging Sergio Aguero to the ground outside the penalty area.
Aguero’s run highlighted City’s belief and determination not to be cowed by PSG and it was followed two minutes later by a De Bruyne shot which flew narrowly over the crossbar.
PSG were unsettled by City’s approach, which including the incessant targeting of the vulnerable Maxwell at left-back, and the French champions found themselves struggling to adjust to being pressed back in front of their own fans.
But after Serbian referee Milorad Mazic had rejected PSG penalty appeals for a Eliaqium Mangala shove on Blaise Matuidi, the home side were given the chance to score from the spot after Luiz was fouled by Bacary Sagna.
Not for the first time, though, Ibrahimovic was denied by Joe Hart, who dived low to his right to save. Ibrahimovic then spurned two further clear chances to score before De Bruyne put City ahead with a goal on the counter attack on 38 minutes.
The Belgian, arguably City’s best player this season, found space inside the PSG penalty area before being found by Fernandinho’s pass. De Bruyne took one touch to control before firing a right foot strike past the exposed Kevin Trapp.
But City’s good work was horribly undone three minutes later when Ibrahimovic made up for his hat-trick off misses by scoring fortuitously on the back of Fernando’s disastrous lapse of concentration.
The Brazilian midfielder inexplicably dawdled in possession on the edge of the penalty area and, as he turned into Ibrahimovic, the ball bounced off the PSG forward’s shins and past Hart from eighteen yards.
Fernando was not helped by Hart, who should have been alert to the danger of Ibrahimovic as he passed the ball to his team-mate, but nonetheless, the City player was naïve to deal with the situation as he did.
Still, De Bruyne’s away goal gave City a foothold in the tie ahead of next Tuesday’s second-leg at the Etihad Stadium and they should have scored another early in the second-half when David Silva created a shooting chance, only to aim a tame right-foot effort into Trapp’s body.
It was a near miss which stirred PSG back into life and Blanc’s team upped the tempo, with Maxwell’s dangerous cross almost diverted into his own net by Mangala.
Cavani then forced a save from Hart before Rabiot netted PSG’s second by scoring from the rebound after Hart had kept out Cavani’s header from Angel di Maria’s corner on 59 minutes.
PSG now scented blood and they were determined to kill the tie, with wave after wave of attack raining down on Hart’s goal.
Ibrahimovic headed against the crossbar and Cavani fired over from close range, but City withstood the barrage and then hauled themselves level when Fernandinho scored eighteen minutes from full-time.
It was a crucial goal, one which now puts City firmly in the driving seat as they attempt to secure a place in the semi-finals in Manchester next week.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies