Magical Mahrez ends long wait for Pep Guardiola and Man City

Guardiola had lost five of his previous seven semis in the competition — a rare black spot in an outstanding managerial copybook
Magical Mahrez ends long wait for Pep Guardiola and Man City

NET BUSTER: Riyad Mahrez scores Manchester City’s second goal in last night’s Champions League semi-final second-leg win over PSG at the Etihad Stadium. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA

Ten years of hurt were finally laid to rest by Pep Guardiola at a frigid Etihad last night, a superbly-disciplined and composed Manchester City performance carrying them through to their first ever Champions League final and their manager’s first in a decade.

Guardiola had lost five of his previous seven semis in the competition — a rare black spot in an outstanding managerial copybook — and if he enjoyed a slice of luck when PSG superstar Kylian Mbappe was ruled out with a calf injury last night, then it was probably no more than he deserved.

Riyad Mahrez scored the goals that opened up a 4-1 aggregate lead and killed off Mauricio Pochettino’s hopes of making the final in Istanbul at the end of the month against Chelsea or Real Madrid.

To add insult to injury for Poch, Angel Di Maria was shown a straight red for an off-the-ball attack on Fernandinho which left PSG facing the final 21 minutes with 10 men, a miserable end to a miserable two legs.

But, given the defensive masterclass Guardiola and his players put on last night, few will bet against Guardiola winning the Champions League for the third time as a manager.

A pre-match hail storm left the Etihad pitch looking like it was mid-December but that still did not prevent the two sides from starting with a breathtaking attacking intent.

It resulted in PSG winning a penalty — which was quickly overturned — and City storming into an 11th minute lead that owed everything to the stunning vision and passing precision of goalkeeper Ederson.

The surface was treacherous and slow but the City keeper so adept that he floated a pass from his own area into the PSG half for Oleksandr Zinchenko to chase, advance and square for Kevin De Bruyne.

The Belgian’s shot was blocked but, as the ball span to the far post, Mahrez reacted before Presnel Kimpembe and slotted the ball in emphatically.

It was a stunning start for Guardiola’s team although the visitors were still a threat, even without Mbappe and after six minutes, Abdou Diallo’s left-wing cross struck Zinchenko on the shoulder and resulted in a penalty, which VAR quickly overturned.

But the French were undaunted.

Neymar’s free-kick was deflected over before Marquinhos headed against the bar from a Di Maria cross, the same combination that led to a goal in the first leg.

Then Di Maria capitalised on sloppy City play just outside the home area and should have done better than curl his shot wide of an open goal.

“Calm” was the word Guardiola had used in his pre-match press conference, a call for his players to hold their nerve in a semi-final second leg, a challenge he rates harder than the final itself.

And calm they were. Phil Foden lost his composure momentarily in a minor squaring up wit Ander Herrera but it was the Paris star who lost his cool — not easy on such a freezing night — when he became the first booking for a similar confrontation with Bernardo Silva and Gundogan.

Herrera showed more poise before the break, shooting narrowly over and, as PSG tried to build the pressure on the home goal, the final moments of the first half looked like the dying embers of a cup tie with City defenders throwing their bodies in the way of everything.

That left City to play on the break, one of their strengths of course, and before the interval Mahrez’s shot was well blocked by Keylor Navas and Silva’s follow-up was deflected behind by Kimpembe.

As gaps continued to appear after the break, Foden’s powerful shot was well saved by Navas and, as City’s defence continued to defend masterfully, the hosts and Mahrez struck again on the break.

The counter-attack ended with Foden speeding down the left over half the length of the field, playing a one-two with Kevin De Bruyne, and crossing intelligently to the far post where Mahrez was unmarked and supremely composed in slotting in the second.

Foden might have claimed a deserved goal of his own before the end, striking the post and drawing another good save from Navas, but that was way more than City needed on a night of utter dominance.

MAN CITY (4-4-2): Ederson 7; Walker 7, Stones 8, Dias 8, Zinchenko 7; Mahrez 9, Fernandinho 8, Gundogan 7, Foden 8 (Aguero 85); De Bruyne 8 (Jesus 81), Silva 7 (Sterling 81).

PSG (4-3-3): Navas 6; Florenzi 6 (Dagba 75, 5), Marquinhos 7, Kimpembe 6, Diallo 7 (Bakker 82); Herrera 6 (Draxler 62, 5), Paredes 7 (Danilo 75, 5), Verratti 8; Di Maria 5, Icardi 4 (Kean 62, 5), Neymar 7.

Referee: B Kuipers (Netherlands) 8.

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