Manchester City managed to escape with a 2-2 draw against PSG at Parc des Princes, and they will go in as the favourites into the second leg of the tie. PSG showed their tactical versatility in attack, while Man City showed they can play without the ball – but it was the individual mistakes which determined the outcome in the end.
How they lined up
With the Ligue 1 title wrapped up already, Laurent Blanc could afford the luxury of resting three of key players in the match against Nice at the weekend. Cavani, Di Maria and Aurier returned to the lineup last night against Man City, as Blanc fielded his strongest team.
Manuel Pellegrini, on the other hand, brought back Sagna and Hart into the team, after resting them against Bournemouth on Saturday. With the EPL title virtually out of their grasp, Champions League is currently the priority for the Chilean manager.
City dropping to 4-4-2 while defending
Manchester City started out with a 4-2-3-1 formation, but they held a different shape when they did not have the possession of the ball – which was for 2/3rd of the game. While defending they reorganized themselves into a 4-4-2 formation with De Bruyne joining Aguero upfront, while Silva and Navas dropped to the wings. This helped Man City in restricting the impact of the PSG fullbacks in the first half.
PSG looking for long balls down the middle
With Di Maria being the only natural winger in the PSG lineup, and Man City manning the wings with their 4-4-2 formation, the French team mostly concentrated on breaking down their opponent's defence down the middle of the pitch. Blaise Matuidi was the most adventurous of PSG's midfield trio, and the Frenchman made surging runs into the attacking third from the midfield throughout the match – at times even beyond their forward line.
It was one of those runs which nearly won them a penalty in the seventh minute, when Cavani put Matuidi through on goal with a delicate pass through the middle. Mangala barged on to the midfielder and brought him down in the box, but City were lucky that the referee did not blow his whistle, despite frantic protests from the home side.
Navas holding width as most of Man City's attacks coming down the right
With City playing on the break, Silva and De Bruyne had the license to roam when they won back possession in the midfield. Jesus Navas was the only attacker in the City lineup who was given a rigid role. With Silva and De Bruyne floating behind Aguero, Navas held his position on the right wing and maintained the width in attack.
De Bruyne, and at times Aguero, drifted to the right to double-up on Maxwell, and the Brazilian received no support from his team-mates. Matuidi's adventurous role on the left side of midfield meant he could not provide defensive cover to Maxwell, which left that flank open for City to exploit – it was no surprise that both of City's goals came from that side of the pitch.
A night of mistakes at Parc des Princes
All the four goals on the night arrived from individual mistakes. Matuidi's poor pass being intercepted from Fernando at the middle of the pitch lead to City's opener. Few moments later, Fernando himself went from hero to villain when he gifted the goal to Ibrahimovic after losing the ball in defence.
It was the linesman's mistake which enabled PSG to score their second goal. He failed to raise his flag when Zlatan, from an offside position, tried to flick Cavani's header, rendering himself active, before Hart made the save and Rabiot turned in the rebound. Man City's equalizer arrived from Aurier's mistake of losing the ball to Silva in the final third, before Fernandinho found the back of the net.
In fact City were lucky that Sagna's mistake in the first half, when he conceded a penalty, was not exploited by Ibrahimovic as Joe Hart pulled out a world-class save.
From center to the wings – PSG changing their focus in attack
PSG changed their approach in the second half with both the fullbacks pushing forward in attack. After concentrating on running through the middle for the whole of the first half, Laurent Blanc looked to exploit the wings in the second. The PSG manager paired Cavani and Ibrahimovic upfront as he changed the formation to a traditional 4-4-2, with Matuidi and Di Maria moving wide.
This change in tactics allowed Maxwell and Aurier a lot of space down the flanks, and they kept crossing the ball into the box with two big targets to aim at. Maxwell, in particular, enjoyed a lot of freedom down the left wing, especially with Sagna being occupied by Matuidi's runs. The fact that Navas did not track back like he did in the first half, made Sagna's job even harder.
The Frenchman faced a different predicament when the ball was crossed in from the other side of the pitch. Ibrahimovic was pulling away from the center to the far post, and responsibility to win the headers against the Swede fell upon Sagna in most of the occasions. It was a mismatch in the air, and Ibrahimovic came close to scoring in the 62nd minute, when he out-muscled Sagna to head the ball, before the crossbar came to Man City's rescue.
Man City will be the happier of the two sides going into the second leg, having scored two goals away from home, especially with Blaise Matuidi and David Luiz being banned from the return leg due to suspensions.