Manchester City’s previous high-profile Champions League defeats have often been followed by forensic inquests into manager Pep Guardiola’s over-thinking and how he sometimes defeats himself.
City’s loss to Chelsea in last season’s final was Exhibit A in this argument, a classic example of Guardiola attempting to fix something that was not broken as he went in without a holding midfielder – with expensive consequences.
In Paris on Tuesday, there was no need for any talk of over-complication, and there were no fingers pointed accusingly – this was a simple case of Guardiola and City falling victim to a little genius with an impeccable sense of timing.
Lionel Messi had made, by his own stellar standards, a low-key start since joining Paris St-Germain from Barcelona, but someone was always going to pay the price for that.
The Champions League is the stage Messi was acquired for. So it was with a sense of inevitability that he saved up his first goal for his biggest game so far, an encounter with his old Barcelona coach Guardiola.
And what a special goal it was.
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City were right in this Group A game, playing with poise and chasing an equaliser as they held possession in and around the PSG area, until the 74th minute – and the moment Paris had been waiting for.
Messi made one of those typical darting runs towards the area, actually starting from the halfway line, before playing in Kylian Mbappe, who delivered the deftest of touches back into his new team-mate’s path.
With a sweep of his left foot and in a style that has characterised his quite brilliant career, the Argentine picked out a perfect finish high past the helpless, motionless Ederson.
He had been somewhat on the margins until he effectively decided the game – but how many times have we seen that? It is what the all-time greats do.
It felt like the moment when Messi truly announced his arrival as a PSG player. He now has 121 Champions League goals. Barcelona 120. PSG one.
And with Messi’s classic intervention, an enthralling game was done. PSG’s defensive blanket, typified by the magnificent Idrissa Gueye, who scored their first goal, continued to do its job and City were out of time.
‘When Messi can run and get close to the ball, he is unstoppable’ – Guardiola
There will be a constant narrative about City’s lack of a recognised striker every time they draw a blank and there is no doubt they could have done with a ruthless edge here to capitalise on so much fine approach play.
Crosses fizzed around the area, Marquinhos got his head on almost everything as PSG defended with resilience while they waited for their megastars to strike, which Messi duly did.
City were not, however, out of chances. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva both hit the bar in a matter of seconds in the first half while PSG keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was busy throughout.In the end, Messi made the defining contribution and showed exactly why there is such excitement about his arrival in Paris.
“We’re going to eat good tonight, drink a glass of wine, recover and prepare for the Liverpool game [on Sunday],” was Guardiola’s sanguine assessment.
City beat PSG convincingly in last season’s Champions League semi-final and there was enough on show here to suggest Guardiola’s team can have another serious crack at the competition that has consistently proved a curse for them even as they have collected domestic silverware at will.
In the absence of that striker, Guardiola trusted Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne to create through the middle but, through no lack of effort, it is not quite happening for the England star at club level currently.
City will regroup and will still surely qualify but there was a warning from PSG in that magical Messi moment.
PSG’s owners believe their new and not-so-secret weapon can bring them the Champions League trophy they think, rather like their opponents here, will truly announce them among Europe’s elite.
They have signed a world-class keeper in Donnarumma, have the veteran serial Champions League winner Sergio Ramos to come into defence and have Gueye, Ander Herrera and Marco Verratti establishing solid foundations in midfield. Liverpool’s former Champions League winner Gini Wijnaldum only appeared as a late substitute.
Throw in the suspended Angel di Maria alongside the big three of Mbappe, Neymar and the X-factor Messi has added – namely the gift to be unstoppable – and PSG will feel they are ready to move further up the Champions League pecking order.
City’s campaign will gather momentum and Guardiola will only be disappointed they did not make the most of their moments of supremacy but they were just the latest Champions League victims of the great Messi.
And, as this was one of the specific purposes of their vast outlay to prise him away from his beloved Barcelona, PSG expect they will not be the last.