As European elite beckon, PSG and Man City fail to take their chances
PARIS -- Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain will both look back at their breathless 2-2 draw in the Champions League quarterfinals as a wasted opportunity.
Manuel Pellegrini's side needlessly let an early advantage slip with a moment of ridiculous carelessness as they gifted PSG an equaliser just as the nerves looked to be getting the better of the French Champions. And having earned their own advantage, the Ligue 1 side then pushed forward to kill the tie on the night, only for Fernandinho to snatch an equaliser to leave the tie wide open.
But while the game was fabulously entertaining, it highlighted once again that both sides are still short of joining the very elite in Europe.
While the talent in both lineups on Wednesday can compare to any of the best clubs on the continent, the tactics and organisation don't measure up to the flair of Barcelona or the strategic quality of Bayern Munich -- which remain the standout sides in Europe.
PSG manager Laurent Blanc admitted ahead of the tie that he was happy to avoid the "two ogres of European football," and it's not surprising after watching his defence offer so much opportunity to the Premier League side. City were not much better, and Fernando's horrific error for PSG's opener was unbefitting of a children's kick around, let alone a Champions League quarterfinal between two of the wealthiest clubs on the planet.
There was close to £600 million worth of talent on the pitch at the Parc des Princes, and while the entertainment was priceless, it was more due to individual errors than attacking prowess.
PSG should be the more assured. They have the French title wrapped up for the fourth successive season, having scored 81 goals in 32 games, and were playing in their fourth quarterfinal in four years. But they looked nervous at the thought of reaching the semifinals for the first time in the club's history, even though so many had cast them as overwhelming favourites.
Without Marco Verratti and Javier Pastore, they lacked some quality in the centre of midfield and turned to Zlatan Ibrahimovic to spark them into life. Unfortunately, the Swedish striker was off the mark, having a penalty saved by Joe Hart and then hacking a shot over the bar with just the keeper to beat.
What is worrying for the French side is that they are so reliant on a player whose Champions League pedigree is questioned, having scored just seven goals in the knockout stages in a career spanning 15 years. Not only that, he is 34, out of contract in the summer and expected to head straight to the Premier League.
At the other end of the pitch, PSG's defence looks panicky against the quality of a striker such as Sergio Aguero -- as compared to the average forwards they are used to in Ligue 1.
Many were baffled by the £50m spent on David Luiz in 2014, and the Brazilian defender looks no less error prone than during his three years at Chelsea. He was booked inside 10 seconds for a foul on Aguero -- ruling him out of the second leg at the Etihad -- and failed to cut out Fernandinho's pass for Kevin De Bruyne's opener. Full-back Serge Aurier had a mixed game -- and a mixed reaction from the crowd in his first appearance since his public criticism of manager Blanc and his PSG teammates.
For City, the Champions League has been a welcome relief from their miserable Premier League form that has seen them slumped to fourth, 15 points behind leaders Leicester City. The best performances of Manuel Pellegrini's side this season have come in the Champions League, with victories at Sevilla, Borussia Monchengladbach and Dynamo Kiev on the way to their first ever quarterfinal place.
But there was a worrying echo of the errors that have blighted an otherwise-miserable domestic season as they rode their luck to secure a draw. Pellegrini is always prepared to back his side to get a positive result. And he said ahead of the game that he wasn't interested in playing for a 0-0 result.
But City so often look open and vulnerable, particularly without influential skipper Vincent Kompany missing at the heart of their defence. City's midfield struggled to cope with PSG, even without Verratti and Pastore, as Thiago Motta revelled in a quarterback role and Pellegrini refused to change his setup as the Parisians threatened to run away with the tie in the second half.
The Blues have already taken action to improve their European performances with Pep Guardiola set to take over next summer. Not only that, the Spaniard will be able to attract the players he wants to implement a clear strategy to reel in those "two ogres."
The irony is that both PSG and City have a real opportunity of success in this season's Champions League. Barcelona and Bayern Munich still have plenty to do to secure their places in the final four, having picked up narrow victories from their first legs, while third favourites Real Madrid are in trouble after their 2-0 defeat to Wolfsburg.
Both PSG and City are no longer competing for their domestic titles, so they can still achieve that Champions League success they crave.
Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.