- City shows Lionel Messi and Neymar what they’re missing at PSG.
- Every time City attacked they assumed the role of passengers, unwilling to track back or even retreat into their own half of the pitch.
When Pep Guardiola’s team selection was released at 6:45pm local time, there was one inclusion in particular that had Manchester City fans scratching their heads and fearing a classic Pep overthink. They needn’t have worried.
Prior to Wednesday night’s 2-1 Champions League win against PSG, a result that ensured City’s progression to the last-16 as Group A winners, Oleksandr Zinchenko had started only two games in all competitions this season.
In both of them – a 6-3 win against RB Leipzig and a 1-1 draw with West Ham which ended in penalty shootout defeat in the Carabao Cup – he played at left-back, as he always tends to for his club.
Against PSG Guardiola deployed him as the left-sided number eight. In truth, though, that is a gross simplification of the role he played.
When City had possession Zinchenko was everywhere, exchanging passes with Rodri, feeding Raheem Sterling on the left wing and making runs into the box via the left channel.
When City didn’t have the ball, he pushed up to join Bernardo Silva, a two-pronged pressing unit – flanked by Riyad Mahrez and Sterling – that relentlessly harried PSG and allowed them not a single moment of rest.
Manchester City Responds
For a player who had precious few minutes under his belt this campaign, playing in an unfamiliar position against a side packed with some of the best players on the planet, Zinchenko was seriously impressive.
He can count himself extremely unlucky to have been substituted in the 54th minute, sacrificed for Gabriel Jesus with City looking to respond to Kylian Mbappe’s opening goal.
His display also offered an interesting comparison with Mauricio Pochettino’s Parisian superstars.
Being able to call upon a forward line with the quality of Lionel Messi, Mbappe and Neymar is something that coaches across the world dream of, but in truth they were quiet for most of the match.
Every time City attacked they assumed the role of passengers, unwilling to track back or even retreat into their own half of the pitch. That approach is often justified – it’s how they scored their goal – but Zinchenko’s mammoth effort highlighted the importance of not just having a collection of stars, but of having those team guys who will do anything asked of them for the good of the collective.
It’s players like Zinchenko who aid everyone else’s brilliance but who rarely get the credit they deserve. On tonight’s evidence, PSG could do with a few of those.