Tactical Evaluation: How Manchester Metropolis bought previous Paris Saint-Germain to safe a Champions League closing spot with pragmatism and adaptableness


With a hard-fought 2-1 lead from the first leg, Manchester City hosted Paris Saint-Germain at the Etihad Stadium for the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.

In their second semi-final of the tournament, the home team had the chance to reach the final for the first time in their history. However, their opponents were never interested in just letting them pass after they ended up on the wrong side of Europe’s biggest club soccer game last season against Bayern Munich.

After Idrissa Gueye was suspended and Kylian Mbappé was unable to start due to an injury, PSG had some issues to resolve. They were hard to understand when Manchester City took the lead in the 11th minute and doubled their record in the second half to secure a historic 2-0 win. In this analysis, we will try to delve deeper into the tactical attitudes of both sides, focusing on Manchester City’s achievements:

PSG owned and defended Manchester City

For once, Manchester City were superior in terms of possession as Paris Saint-Germain saw over 55% of the ball.

Visitors had some interesting ideas with the ball when Marco Verratti fell behind in a double cone in front of the central defenders alongside Leandro Paredes, while Ander Herrera often joined the wingers to clog the central area between the lines or to drift far out.

This system meant that the French masters lacked breadth in their attacks, as their passmap proves:

(Photo credit: between posts)

Obviously, both wingers are terribly central in their average positions, while also being too vertical in front of midfield. This meant a moment of individual brilliance would be needed for PSG to unlock the Manchester City defense and unfortunately it never came for them. Otherwise, most of their 55% holdings would be completely useless to the threat of attack.

Now let’s focus on how City tried to defend itself against it.

The city’s urgent structure remained unchanged from its mid-first leg updates. So it was kind of 4-1-3-2 again with İlkay Gündoğan stepping up from midfield to keep an eye on the deep PSG midfielders – Verratti and Paredes. Another important detail was that Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva had moved to the side from the first leg and the Belgian international now moved to the right.

City put very little pressure on, especially in the first half. Instead, they were more than happy to sit in a 4-4-2 center block and allow their opponents to walk around the back, as the visitors’ lack of attack width meant there was little they could do to stretch their defense.

PSG often found their way through midfield with the help of their overload, particularly through Neymar, who (as mentioned) moved to such central positions to receive passes that bypassed Manchester City duo Fernandinho and Gündoğan.

Despite being a left winger on paper, the Brazil international has done a lot of work in zone 11 and zone 14 (the central areas of the attacking half), as evidenced by his average position and the fact that almost a third of his goals were scored were taken in these regions.

As a result, PSG often got into such dangerous areas, but their threat at goal was quite minor. This was partly due to the fact that their last ball was bad (often due to the lack of attacking teammates in dangerous positions), but Manchester City defenders, who were sure to be brilliant in this game, also deserves a lot of credit.

That amount of defensive activity meant PSG didn’t hit the target with a single shot, while nine of their 14 attempts were blocked.

Manchester City owned

Although they only kept 44.1% of the ownership, Manchester City did some fascinating things on ownership.

Before we look at these, however, let’s gloss over Paris Saint-Germain’s defensive form for a moment – a narrow 4-4-2 that saw Neymar up front alongside Icardi.

Obviously, their main motive was to keep the midfield as compact as possible and minimize the space left between the lines.

The Manchester City system had changed significantly from what we’ve seen lately, but there were good reasons for those changes.

With a lead from the first leg (including two away goals), the hosts’ main goal was not to concede. Pep Guardiola is a firm believer in the ideology of defending with the ball and he did so here too, as his 2-4-4 in possession was as immune as possible to counterattacks as the two midfielders and full-backs provided all the protection needed became as they were incredibly careful as they pushed forward. Unsurprisingly, PSG didn’t register a single shot of a counterattack.

This was, of course, a big distraction from the 3-2-5 / 3-2-2-3 that we got used to, but it allowed Manchester City to hold the ball in a very safe way. Passing triangles formed quite easily in this system, the most common of which involved a center-back, a full-back and a central midfielder – in the following case Rúben Dias, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gündoğan.

Such passing triangles not only ensured safe possession of the ball, but also served to pull PSG forward in an attempt to reclaim the ball, which in turn would vertically expand their form of defense.

Manchester City’s direct threat

The opening goal was just that. A pinpoint long ball from Ederson to Zinchenko, found with a simple back pass, attracted PSG and their straight defense couldn’t handle the full-back’s run.

The guests’ midfield was practically non-existent in transition due to their forward movement when the ball was played backwards to Ederson, which is why Ukraine international De Bruyne was able to easily find a cut in space on the edge of the penalty area -back.

Although the ex-Wolfsburg’s shot was blocked, Riyad Mahrez was there to take advantage of the loose ball and bring it home 1-0.

The second was a counter-attack on a textbook that emerged from a standard scenario.

Phil Foden used his pace to push the ball forward against a retreating PSG defense and used De Bruyne’s help to get into a great intersection position.

The young Englishman showed a perfect cross for Mahrez, who simply couldn’t be left out from such a position.


If there had been any doubts about the unstoppable quality of Manchester City, they would surely have been dispelled with this dominant win. Guardiola’s squad showed great pragmatism and adaptability in a changed system that helped them secure a place in the finals fairly comfortably, even if it didn’t match the possessive brand they’d maintained that season. The home team completely broke PSG, who lost their heads late after saying goodbye to Ángel Di María, who ended the match completely.

City is almost complete the Premier League and is only one win away from a historic Champions League triumph that is sure to make this campaign an incredibly successful one. The blue side of Manchester is certainly happy.

In France, however, some are already beginning to question Mauricio Pochettino’s position as manager of Paris Saint-Germain. That is certainly too reactionary, but it is true that the Argentine coach was completely outdated here on a tactical level, while his relative lack of success in Ligue 1 (although part of that must also be attributed to Thomas Tuchel) is also a reason Concern, concern. Therefore, he and his players must definitely come together in order to receive the greatest national prize that is at least offered to them.

Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.

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