Mahrez double takes Manchester City to first Champions League final
MANCHESTER, May 5: Pep Guardiola said Manchester City’s first ever Champions League final had been five years in the making after Riyad Mahrez’s double saw off Paris Saint-Germain 2-0 on Tuesday to seal a 4-1 semifinal aggregate win.
City will look to set the seal on a third Premier League title in the past four seasons in the coming days as they remain on course for a treble, having already lifted the League Cup.
But their previous four Champions League campaigns under Guardiola ended in anguish before the semi-final stage.
Guardiola has won the competition twice before as a coach during his time at Barcelona.
However, the Catalan has also endured a decade of disappointment in Europe’s premier club competition.
“It is for all of us and the club. I’m incredibly proud,” said Guardiola. “Getting to the final now makes sense of what we have done in the past four or five years. Every day these guys have been consistent and this is remarkable.”
Mahrez’s goal also decided the first leg and the Algerian, who grew up in the Parisian suburbs, haunted his home town team again with two clinical finishes early in each half.
The final in Istanbul on May 29 against Real Madrid or Chelsea is the culmination of City’s rise since an Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008 transformed the club’s fortunes.
Meanwhile, four years on from making Neymar and Kylian Mbappe the world’s two most expensive players, PSG’s wait for a first Champions League title goes on.
Mbappe could only watch on from the stands due to a calf injury as, just like in last week’s first leg, his side imploded after an excellent first-half performance.
The visitors were left to rue huge missed chances by Marquinhos and Angel Di Maria in between Mahrez’s strikes before Di Maria lashed out at Fernandinho to leave PSG down to 10 men for the final 20 minutes.
“We started really well, creating chances and dominating Manchester City,” said PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino. “That’s not easy. Not many teams can dominate a team like Manchester City.”
However, the Argentine, who had to come onto the pitch to calm his players after Di Maria saw red, admitted his side’s indiscipline had cost them.
Idrissa Gueye was also sent off late in the first leg for a shocking challenge on Ilkay Gundogan.
“Over the 180 minutes, for 40 or 45 minutes we played with 10 men,” added Pochettino. “That’s a massive advantage.”
The French champions thought they had an early penalty to get back in the tie when Oleksandr Zinchenko was penalised for handball.
However, Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers rightly reversed his initial decision on seeing a replay of the ball bouncing off the Ukrainian’s shoulder.
Zinchenko was heavily involved again when the opening goal arrived at the other end.
He raced onto City goalkeeper Ederson’s thunderous long pass into the PSG area. Zinchenko’s cut-back found Kevin De Bruyne and after the Belgian’s shot was blocked, Mahrez pounced to slot home on his weaker right foot.
The tie was still far from over as PSG penned City back and should have been at least level on the night before half-time.
Marquinhos has made a habit of scoring big Champions League goals and the Brazilian was inches away from another when his looping header came back off the crossbar.
Ederson then nearly undid his good work as Di Maria intercepted his hurried throw to Bernardo Silva and flashed a shot inches wide with the Brazilian ‘keeper stranded outside his goal.
Pochettino will wonder what could have been had Mbappe been fit with his replacement Icardi ineffective.
Neymar only ever showed flashes of his brilliance with City’s impressive defence led by Ruben Dias able to focus on stopping the Brazilian without Mbappe to worry about.
Guardiola’s men have always shown enough quality going forward and a clinical counter-attack killed off the tie on 63 minutes.
De Bruyne freed Phil Foden down the left and his inch-perfect cross was blasted high past Keylor Navas by Mahrez.
In a repeat of the first leg, PSG’s discipline went with their hopes of reaching the final.
Di Maria needlessly stamped on Fernandinho to be shown a straight red card before Marco Verratti was lucky to escape seeing a second yellow.
“They lost their nerve and started to kick us,” said Mahrez, rubbing salt in PSG wounds. “After the red card it was good for us.” (AFP)