Amidst all the (justified) concerns about the financial state of modern football, the clear layering of the game remains a redeeming thing. It may not last long and once it’s gone it may never come back. But perhaps football’s greatest strength is that it remains deeply contrarian. It is a whimsical sport that seems to like nothing more than piercing the expectations and desires of those who try to control it.
Sheikh Mansour took over Manchester City in 2008 and the club has spent just over $ 1.75 billion net on players since then. Qatar Sports Investment took over Paris Saint-Germain in 2011 and the club has spent just over $ 1.1 billion net on players since then. Yet neither of the two has won the prize most dear to its owners: the Champions League title.
They are getting closer. PSG lost the 2020 final. Manchester City lost in last season’s final. Yet even last season, when the financial impact of the pandemic had begun to exacerbate the problems traditional elites were already having to catch up with state and oligarchic clubs, it was another petroclub, Chelsea, who came out of the crowd to win. the Champions. Chelsea, now with a reliable striker in Romelu Lukaku to complete an extremely well structured midfield, will be a big threat to repeat, but PSG and City are the favorites at the start of the group stage, despite Wednesday’s results perhaps expose some flaws. in their respective Death Star.
Manchester City’s outings in the Champions League followed a clear pattern. There were chaotic away defeats to Monaco in 2017 and Tottenham in 2019, when City were repeatedly defeated on the break. And there were defeats to Liverpool in 2018, Lyon in 2020 and Chelsea in 2021, when Pep Guardiola’s tactical changes seemingly aimed at averting the threat of the opposition’s counterattack upset his team and led to defeat. He had to, to use the popular phrase, think again.
Yet the oddity of what happened last season is that, after an uncertain start, City have been very effective in blocking their opponents’ counters. He had become slightly more cautious, usually managing to hold five men behind the ball and usually playing with a double pivot, until the final when playing without pivot. In this sense, what happens in the group stage says little about City’s overall chances. The danger is not so much an RB Leipzig in transition after the departure of his coach and three major senior players as Guardiola complicates a highly effective system against a high-class opponent.
In this regard, the opening of the match on Wednesday will be a concern. A 6-3 win over Leipzig that scored some stellar goals was comfortable enough, but looked as troubling as the first leg of that defeat to Monaco four years ago – a match that was thrilling, but offered no sense of the kind of control that is probably necessary to win the Champions League.
That PSG are such favorites seems largely rooted in the belief that Lionel Messi is good enough to take that extra step that has been missing in the last two seasons. Maybe it is, but the problem for PSG is not so much the frontline, which has been star-studded for years, but the midfield and the defense. In this sense, the inclusion of Sergio Ramos (who has yet to play for the club due to the injury) and Achraf Hakimi, also Georginio Wijnaldum, could be more significant than Messi’s signing.
Barcelona have suffered a series of heavy defeats in recent years, against PSG twice, Juventus, Rome, Liverpool and Bayern, as their attacking line fails to protect their midfield. Messi had become not only a panacea, but also a problem. He often saved Barça, but his reluctance or inability to press exposed an aged midfield. With Neymar and Kylian Mbappé also unenthusiastic pressers, there are serious dangers for PSG’s midfield.
Once again, PSG opponents Club Brugge on Wednesday shouldn’t have been a real test. But as it turned out, PSG were poor in Belgium, lacking cohesion in the last third, playing generally slow and being beaten for long periods. PSG shouldn’t take any risk of elimination in the group stage due to Leipzig’s troubles, but this was not the performance of a team on the verge of winning the Champions League. There is plenty of time, of course, to make up for it, and this was the first time forward Neymar-Messi-Mbappé played together – Mbappé who limped out with injury after 51 minutes didn’t help matters – but there will be a great deal of improvement and a full acclimatization period if PSG is to be a threat.
The City, perhaps, can think of tightening with a couple of tweaks; PSG, at the moment, seems much further away from a viable challenger, although it will need time to consolidate. When the two financial giants meet in two weeks at the Parc des Princes, perhaps we will have a better idea of what the chance is to play in the final in St. Petersburg on May 28 with the chance to realize his title – the dream of obsessed owners. .
More football coverage: