After several so-nearlys and what-ifs Manchester City have finally made it to the Champions League quarter final stage where they have managed to avoid tournament favourites Barcelona and Bayern – teams that have dashed their European dreams in recent campaigns – and been drawn against French champions Paris St-Germain.
Laurent Blanc’s side can hardly be deemed an easy task however having secured their fourth consecutive title last week with two months of their season still to play. Their straightforward dismantling of Chelsea in the last 16 meanwhile proved once again what a formidable and balanced side has emerged from their Qatari-based takeover in 2011. Extremely comfortable on the ball, capable of devastating bursts of inventive attacking play, and studded with intelligent big-game players they will be an onerous challenge for the two times Premier League champions.
It has the potential to be a thrilling, engrossing encounter but as with any two-legged European clash it is the side that subdues the crowd in the away tie and perhaps sneaks an away goal who will hold the significant advantage. These three one-on-one battles will go a long way to deciding who gains that advantage and who ultimately triumphs.
Fernandinho v Motta
PSG may candidly admit they fear the marauding Yaya Toure but it’s the high-energy endeavour of Fernandinho that City will rely on the most to control the crucial central areas.
Les Parisians may be spearheaded by the inspirational Ibrahimovic and bolstered at the back by the commanding leadership of Thiago Silva but it is their midfield that is so often responsible for dominating proceedings both in performance and result. Whatever trio is employed all have an innate understand of each other’s movement and a drilled discipline in their own duties. The fact that each are so comfortable in possession adds up to a fearsome package.
At the heart of it all lies Thiago Motta and it will fall to Fernandinho to press higher than he’d like – and to entrust his improved partner Fernando to retain a deep position – in an attempt to break up the triangles and variables this splendid trio are capable of.
The Brazilian has arguably been Manchester City’s best performer in 2015/16. He will need to be nothing short of outstanding in both fixtures.
Ibrahimovic v Otamendi
The absence of their influential leader Vincent Kompany is a huge loss for the Blues and especially so when facing the incomparable Swede who has directly had a hand in 17 more Champions League goals for PSG since 2012 than any other player.
The intimidating requirement of keeping Ibra quiet now falls upon City’s hit-and-miss Argentine who has shown in recent months he has the ability to put in imperious displays on his day but who evidently struggles for consistency.
Otamendi has built up a cult following since his summer switch from Valencia with many loving his full-throttled front-foot defending. Others however wince as he commits himself to all-or-nothing challenges that would leave City horribly exposed should he fail. For what its worth we say fortune favours the brave and if you agree have some fun with this great offer.
Positional discipline is essential here because PSG’s talisman has nous to spare when it comes to creating space and chances for others. Does the defender have such self-control? The doubts remain.
Thiago Silva v Aguero
These pair know each other well from numerous full-blooded South American affairs and with City placing so much stock in Aguero’s firepower their private battle could well decide who progresses to the semi-finals.
Now fully fit after a period of injury followed by weeks spent in recovery mode that saw the lethal hitman not quite hit his familiar peaks the hope is that the goal-hungry Argentinian is finally finding a semblance of the sensational streak that puts him above all others of his ilk.
In Thiago Silva however he comes up against a stopper with the wiles and 58 cap pedigree to frustrate Aguero and shepherd him into safe areas. There are few better in world football at anticipating danger and Silva’s know-how clashing with Aguero’s electric movement promises to be the most intriguing aspect of a mouth-watering couple of games.