Manchester City’s past high-profile Champions League defeats have often been followed by forensic investigations into manager Pep Guardiola’s overreach and how he sometimes defeats himself.
Byens loss to Chelsea in last season’s final was Appendix A of this argument, a classic example of Guardiola trying to rectify something that was not broken when he went in without a midfielder – with costly consequences.
In Paris on Tuesday, there was no need for any talk of overcomplication, and there were no fingers pointing accusingly – this was a simple case where Guardiola and City fell victim to a little genius with an impeccable sense of timing.
Lionel Messi had, by his own star standards, made a low-key start since joining Paris St-Germain from Barcelona, but someone would always pay the price for it.
The Champions League is the stage Messi was acquired for. So it was with a sense of inevitability that he saved his first goal of his biggest match to date, a meeting with his old Barcelona coach Guardiola.
And what a special goal it was.
City were right in this Group A match, playing with balance and chasing an equalizer 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 the typical dart runs towards the area, actually starting from the halfway line before playing in Kylian Mbappe, who delivered the most skilled hand back on his new teammate’s path.
With a touch of his left foot and in a style that has characterized his quite glorious career, the Argentine chose a perfect finish high past the helpless, motionless Ederson.
He had been somewhat on edge until he effectively settled the game – but how many times have we seen it? That’s what the big ones do.
It felt like the moment when Messi really announced his arrival as a PSG player. He now has 121 Champions League goals. Barcelona 120. PSG en.
And with Messi’s classic intervention, an exciting game was played. PSG’s defensive carpet, characterized by the magnificent Idrissa Gueye scoring their first goal, continued to do its job and City were out of time.
There will be a constant tale of City’s lack of a recognized striker every time they draw a blank, and there is no doubt that they could have done with a ruthless edge here to take advantage of such very fine approach play.
Crosses crossed the area, Marquinhos got his head on almost everything as PSG defended with resilience while waiting for their megastars to strike, which Messi duly did.
City, however, were not out of chances. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva both hit the bar in a matter of seconds in the first half, while PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was busy all the way through.
In the end, Messi made the crucial contribution and showed exactly why there is so much excitement over his arrival in Paris.
“We will eat well tonight, drink a glass of wine, recover and prepare for the Liverpool match [on Sunday], “was Guardiola’s song-judging assessment.
City beat PSG convincingly in last season’s Champions League semi-final, and here was enough to show that Guardiola’s team can have another serious crack in the competition, which has consistently shown a curse for them, even though they have collected domestic silverware at will.
In the absence of this striker, Guardiola relied on Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne to make his way through the middle, but without a lack of effort, it is not quite happening for the English star at club level at the moment.
City will regroup and will still certainly qualify, but there was a warning from PSG in the magical Messi moment.
PSG’s owners believe their new and not so secret weapons could bring them the Champions League trophy, which they think, rather than their opponents here, will really advertise them among Europe’s elite.
They have signed a world-class goalkeeper in Donnarumma, have veteran serial Champions League winner Sergio Ramos to come on the defensive and get Gueye, Ander Herrera and Marco Verratti to establish a solid foundation in midfield. Liverpool’s former Champions League winner Gini Wijnaldum appeared only as a late replacement.
Throw the suspended Angel di Maria along with the big three in Mbappe, Neymar and X -factor Messi has added – namely the gift of being unstoppable – and PSG will feel they are ready to move further up the Champions League pick order.
City’s campaign will gain momentum and Guardiola will only be disappointed that they did not make the best use of their moments of superiority, but they were just the last Champions League victims for the great Messi.
And as this was one of the specific purposes of their huge spending to reward him away from his beloved Barcelona, PSG expect them not to be the last.