PARIS: Manchester City are stealing ever closer to that elusive Champions League crown as they hit back to defeat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in their semi-final first leg in the Parc des Princes.
PSG, runners-up last season to Bayern Munich, were decisively sharper in the first half and held a deserved halftime lead through a 15th-minute glancing header from captain Marquinhos.
However City, who have never reached the final, raised their game immediately after the interval. A climactic trip to Istanbul was brought into view by a strike from Kevin de Bruyne which deceived Keylor Navas and then a free kick through the defensive wall from Riyad Mahrez.
PSG, under pressure, began to lose their nerve and Idrissa Gueye was shown a straight red card in the 78th minute for raking the back of Ilkay Gundogan’s achilles.
The measure of City’s eventual superiority was the second-half anonymity of Neylar and Kylian Mbappe who were starved of service by City’s mastery of midfield.
** CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, semi-finals, 1st legs: Paris S-G 1 (Marquinhos 15), Manchester City 2 (De Bruyne 64, Mahrez 71). TUE: Real Madrid 1 (Benzema 29), Chelsea 1 (Pulisic 14) . Final: May 29 (Istanbul) **
City manager Guardiola, already buoyed by Sunday’s fourth successive League Cup triumph, said: “Sometimes you need to be more relaxed and be ourselves. The first half is normal – you don’t want to lose the ball [so] you don’t play free.
“We changed a little in the way we press. We were passive [earlier on]. Then we were more aggressive. It’s not easy against Mbappe, Neymar, Di Maria.
“Afterwards we found goals and could have scored another. I’m so satisfied with the performance but we’re only halfway. There are 90 more minutes. Anything can happen.
“We didn’t have good possession in the right positions. This club don’t have much experience in the semi-finals of this tournament. This will help us. In the second half we were aggressive and played really good.
“Against Dortmund, we conceded and came back. Today the same. [We were] ourselves in the second half. We are good playing in a certain way – we can’t do a different way.”
PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino conceded “there were two different halves – we did well in the first half but it is difficult to eliminate a team like City.”
He added: “We deserved to be ahead but they were better than us and dominated the second half. The two goals were accidents, but they created more than us. It was one half for each team.
“The two goals are very disappointing. It is difficult to accept but that can happen, and it has happened in a semi-final. It is very painful.
“It is difficult to explain why they were better but we were better in the first half. It was difficult to cope, their physical condition, they were more aggressive. We didn’t show the energy you need. The red card could be yellow, could be red.
“The second leg – in football you need to believe. They have the advantage.”