Laurent Blanc’s baffling decision to opt for a 3-3-2-2 formation rendered his PSG side impotent going forward, helping Manchester City to secure their debut Champions League semi-final appearance.
Blanc surprised many by dispensing with his usual 4-1-4-1 system in favour of a back three, with Thiago Motta holding just ahead. Under the circumstances, with the French champions needing to score, such a defensive selection was difficult to understand at best. The fact that Manuel Pellegrini played with one striker again – as expected – made it even tougher to fathom.
Fielding three centre backs up against one Sergio Aguero – plus asking Motta to man-mark Kevin De Bruyne – meant that PSG were attacking with six men against two City banks of four. With two defenders in hand at all times, their English hosts could afford to get tight to PSG’s wing-backs and turn them away. Blanc’s charges were constantly forced to recycle the ball back to the outside centre backs, who City were delighted to see in possession.
When Motta’s 44th minute injury-enforced departure finally prompted Blanc to revert to 4-1-4-1, PSG had yet to attempt a shot in anger, never mind test Joe Hart in the City goal. Hart’s save from Zlatan’s 48th free-kick was PSG’s first shot of any description.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the pitch, Serge Aurier was reprising last week’s poor performance in an unfamiliar right-centre back role. The Ivorian repeatedly gave the ball away in his own half, sending Aguero through to win his spurned penalty and setting up Navas for a half-chance later in the half.
City, content to focus on the defence of their slender away-goal advantage, were not much more threatening in the attacking third than their dysfunctional guests. De Bruyne’s sumptuous finish was the English side’s only shot on target of the entire game. The Belgian’s performance was a shaft of light in a dreadfully dull game, completing a game-high four key passes – including the 22nd minute through ball to create City’s only real chance from open play, which Aguero shot wide from an acute angle.
PSG’s attacking impetus improved marginally in the second half upon the reversion to 4-1-4-1, with substitute Lucas Moura to the fore. Motta’s replacement made a significant impact, completing four dribbles and creating three chances for his teammates – including that glorious Cavani chance that Hart advanced quickly to smother.
In the aggregate however, it appeared impossible for Blanc’s players to shake the lethargy that such a defence- and possession-oriented system had engendered in them. Perhaps the former Manchester United defender was auditioning for the hotseat at his former club?