Mahrez strikes twice as Man City oust PSG en route to Champions League 1st final
By the time Riyad Mahrez finished the counterattack that sealed Manchester City’s place in a Champions League debut final, it seemed so easy to overcome a Paris Saint-Germain side who lost their temper and his cool.
Mahrez scored twice before PSG sent off Angel Di Maria as City won 2-0 to knock out last season’s finalists 4-1 in aggregate on Tuesday.
“Then they lost their temper and started kicking us and that was good,” Mahrez said. “They had the red card and then it was more comfortable for us.”
It was anything but comfortable for City to win the top prize in European football for the first time despite 13 years of lavish investment. Even reaching that semi-final required a court brawl to overturn a ban from this season’s Champions League for violating UEFA’s financial rules.
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And it’s only been two weeks since the Abu Dhabi-owned side faced further sanctions for joining a brief and unfortunate attempt to split up to form a breakaway European Super League.
Now City could win the competition they were trying to leave in what could be an all-English final on May 29 in Istanbul if Chelsea beat Real Madrid on Wednesday after drawing 1-1.
“This club needed the final, these players needed the final,” said city defender Kyle Walker. “For these players not being in the Champions League final is a disappointment every year.”
PSG missed a second chance to win a first European Cup after losing last season’s final to Bayern Munich, and Mauricio Pochettino’s side are even struggling to defend the French title.
Guardiola returns to Champions League final
It wasn’t just City who endured the frustration in their quest for the biggest prize in European football. Pep Guardiola, Champions League winner as Barcelona coach in 2009 and 2011, has been waiting a decade to return to the final. He failed three times with Bayern Munich and took until his fifth season at City to even reach the semi-finals.
“We are in the Champions League final – those are fine words,” Guardiola said. “People believed that what happened in the past meant that I would have to make the final every year.”
City are now used to the glory – sitting on the brink of their third Premier League title in four seasons having already won the League Cup last month. But his only continental title came with the now defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970 – even before Guardiola was born.
Mauro Icardi proved ineffective in a PSG attack cleared of Kylian Mbappe, who was not fit enough to start and was never entrusted with being deployed from the bench.
There were headers from Marquinhos and Neymar, but PSG couldn’t find any way past a defense that had made Ruben Dias such a tough barrier.
The back line of PSG was easier to cross, which happened again in the 63rd minute. There was a sweeping descent down Phil Foden’s left flank before a combination with De Bruyne and a delivered cross for Mahrez to sweep into the net.
PSG’s frustrations were clear even without any crowds to create an intimidating atmosphere. The visitors ended the game with 10 men as in the first leg after Di Maria was sent off with 20 minutes left for Fernandinho.
“We fought to the end,” said PSG midfielder Marco Verratti. “When you play against big teams, it’s impossible to attack for 90 minutes without suffering. We have to accept that.”