A cross that crept in at the far post. A free-kick that found its way past a Paris Saint-Germain wall that inexplicably broke. A wild foul from Idrissa Gueye that left PSG down to 10 men. None of that begins to tell the story of how impressive this was from Manchester City.
The Premier League leaders were up against it in the Parc des Princes. A goal down from a set piece and in the tricky situation of having to force it against perhaps the most dangerous counter-attacking team on the planet. A Champions League semi-final in the balance.
The pace of Kylian Mbappe, the genius of Neymar, and the knowhow of Angel Di Maria. Danger everywhere but Pep Guardiola and his players kept calm and carried on. They held their nerve and the reward is a 2-1 away win that leaves them favourites to reach the final.
Guardiola did not turn to his big names on the bench, preferring only the sensible substitution, swapping his left-backs with Joao Cancelo on a booking. His choice was to pass, pass and pass some more. The result was that the contest started to turn their way.
The aforementioned errors were induced. Keylor Navas might have done more to keep out the first but it was the extraordinary run of Kyle Walker that won the corner from which it was scored, providing the overlapping run for the equally impressive Riyad Mahrez.
It was a woeful wall for the winner but the free-kick that City won owed little to luck. It was the result of having starved PSG of possession for almost a full minute – 22 passes before Gueye hacked down Phil Foden and Leandro Paredes booted the ball away in impotent rage.
Once behind, there was only more of the same. Neymar received a yellow card for a petulant kick on Ruben Dias before Gueye’s desperate challenge on Ilkay Gundogan resulted in a card of a different colour. PSG were rattled and uncomfortable with the sensation.
They had been the ones applying the pressure in the first half, but City’s calmness was justified. It became a different game as they strangled opponents who were clearly frustrated at feeling like passengers rather than protagonists in the biggest game of their season.
In the history of the European Cup and Champions League, there have been 47 instances before tonight of an English side winning the first leg of a two-legged knockout tie away from home, and on all 47 occasions the English side has progressed
That is what City can do to you. Sixty-six per cent of possession in the second half. Neymar, such an influence in the first half, became a stranger to the ball, making acquaintance instead with referee Felix Brych. Mbappe was robbed of the service he required.
The French superstar was on the periphery throughout but his mere presence shaped the game in that opening 45 minutes. City’s full-backs felt compelled to be cautious, providing the protection on the counter-attack. It had the effect of changing City’s approach.
On the face of it, this was Guardiola’s strongest starting line-up, the one that he had named in the home legs of their previous knockout ties in the Champions League this season – the victories over Borussia Monchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund at the Etihad
Except this was a City more wary of the opposition threat, adjusting for Mbappe in the knowledge of what he had done to Bayern Munich in the previous round. Indeed, what he had done to Guardiola’s City themselves as a young Monaco player back in 2017.
The threat of his pace was obvious and never really went away. In the early stages of the second half, there was a worrying moment when Neymar’s flick broke the press and Marco Verratti had only to get his foot to Mbappe’s whipped cross to double PSG’s lead.
For Mauricio Pochettino, even without that second goal, at that stage of the game there would have been echoes of the 2019 meeting between Tottenham and Manchester City. The 1-0 defeat in the first leg left City without an away goal and proved so costly.
But there was to be no repeat. That changed with the equaliser and City might even have added more. Foden’s header, shots flashed wide by the scorers Mahrez and Kevin De Bruyne. If Foden had finished after a remarkable run it would have capped the night.
Pep back in the final?
Pep Guardiola has not taken a team to the final of the Champions League since his Barcelona team beat Manchester United in the 2011 final at Wembley
Instead, the game is still live and PSG will sense the potential for a comeback once wounds are licked and errors analysed. They will feel they can score. What they will be less certain of after this chastening experience is whether they can cope without the ball for 90 minutes.
This was a night that Manchester City showed their class in the end, a night on which that they took a huge step towards their first Champions League final. Guardiola, a decade on from perhaps his finest hour-and-a-half in football, is on the cusp of greatness again.