Amid all the (justified) worries about the financial state of modern football, the game’s high stratification, there remains a saving grace. It may not last long and once it is gone it may never come back. But perhaps football’s greatest strength is that it stays deeply against the grain. It’s a wayward sport that seems to love nothing more than piercing the expectations and desires of those who seek to control it.
Sheikh Mansour took over Manchester City in 2008, and since then the club have spent just over $ 1.75 billion net on players. Qatar Sports Investment took over Paris Saint-Germain in 2011, and since then the club have spent just over $ 1.1 billion net on players. And yet, neither has won the prize its owners cherish the most: the Champions League title.
They are getting closer. PSG lost in the 2020 final. Man City lost in the final last season. And yet, even last season, when the financial impact of the pandemic began to exacerbate the problems traditional elites already had with keeping up with state-run clubs and oligarchs, it’s another petroclub, Chelsea, who came out of the pack to win the Champions League. Chelsea, now with a reliable striker in Romelu Lukaku to complete an extremely well-structured midfielder, will be a major threat to repeat, but it is PSG and City who are the favorites at the start of the group stage, despite the results of Wednesday possibly exposing some flaws in their respective Death Stars.
Man City’s outings in the Champions League have followed a clear pattern. There were the chaotic away goal defeats against Monaco in 2017 and Tottenham in 2019 when City were repeatedly defeated at the break. And there were the losses to Liverpool in 2018, Lyon in 2020 and Chelsea in 2021 when tactical adjustments from Pep Guardiola were apparently aimed at warding off the threat of the opposition counterattack that destabilized his side and led to the defeat. He had, to use the popular expression, thought too much.
Still, the oddity of what happened in last season’s final is that, after an uncertain start, City had been very effective in shutting down their opponents. He had gotten a bit more careful, usually managing to keep five men behind the ball and generally playing with a double pivot – until the final where he played with no pivot at all. In that sense, what happens in the group stage says little about City’s overall chances. The danger is less an RB Leipzig in transition after the departure of his coach and three important senior players than it is Guardiola who overly complicates a very effective system against a high level opponent.
In this regard, the opening of Wednesday’s game will be a concern. A 6-3 win over Leipzig that featured stellar goals was comfortable enough, but it looked ominously like the first leg of that loss to Monaco four years ago: a game that was thrilling, but offered no sense of purpose. kind of control it’s probably necessary to win the Champions League.
The fact that PSG are so favored seems to be largely rooted in the belief that Lionel Messi is good enough to take him that extra step that has been lacking in the past two seasons. It might be, but the problem for PSG is less the front line, which has been star-studded for years, and more the midfielder and defense. In that sense, bringing in Sergio Ramos (who has yet to play for the club as he overcomes injury) and Achraf Hakimi, even Georginio Wijnaldum, may be more important than signing Messi.
Barcelona have suffered a series of heavy defeats in recent years – against PSG twice, Juventus, Roma, Liverpool and Bayern – because their front line fails to protect their midfield. Messi had become not only a panacea but also a problem. He has often saved Barca, but his reluctance or inability to support has revealed an aging midfielder. With Neymar and Kylian Mbappé also reluctant pressers, there are serious dangers for the PSG midfielder.
Once again, Club Brugge, PSG opponents on Wednesday, shouldn’t really have been a test of that. But it turned out that PSG were poor in Belgium, lacking cohesion in the final third, generally playing in slow motion and being dominated for long stretches. PSG should not run any risk of elimination in the group stage thanks to Leipzig’s problems, but that was not the performance of a side close to winning the Champions League. There is of course plenty of time to address this, and this was the first time striker Neymar-Messi-Mbappé has played together – Mbappé limping from injury after 51 minutes didn’t help matters either – but he There will be a major improvement and a period of full acclimatization if PSG is to be a threat.
City, perhaps, may think they can tighten up with a few tweaks; PSG, for the moment, seem much further removed from a viable challenger, although they will need time to freeze. When the two financial behemoths meet in two weeks at the Parc des Princes, we may have a better gauge on which, if necessary, has a chance to play on May 28 in the final in St. Petersburg with the ability to achieve its title. -the dream of obsessed owners.
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