Manchester City, already the winner of one trophy and on the cusp of another this spring, took a major step toward a place in the UEFA Champions League final Wednesday with a 2-1 comeback victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the French capital.
The Blues regrouped after a dodgy first half, performing with the resilience and excellence that have defined a brilliant 2020-21 campaign.The soon-to-be Premier League champions put aside PSG’s early goal and dominated the last 45 minutes of the semifinal’s first leg. Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez scored seven minutes apart, giving Manchester City a pronounced advantage heading into the return leg at home Tuesday.
The result improved the likelihood of an all-England final May 29 in Istanbul and the possibility of Americans facing one another, a first for the U.S. program.
Zack Steffen, a former University of Maryland standout from Downingtown, Pa., is Manchester City’s backup goalkeeper and Christian Pulisic (Hershey, Pa.) stars for Chelsea, a Premier League rival that will enter its second leg next Wednesday against Real Madrid tied 1-1 on aggregate.
Playing away from home, against any opponent, does not faze Manchester City, which extended its winning streak in all competitions to an unfathomable 18 matches.
Without a roaring crowd at Parc des Princes, the setting was ripe for the visitors to continue their road plunder or to at least claim a valuable draw.
But PSG’s front three of Brazil’s Neymar, France’s Kylian Mbappe and Argentina’s Angel Di Maria sends shivers through any opponent, and here they were bearing down on a City squad coming off an airtight performance against Tottenham Hotspur in the English League Cup final Sunday at Wembley Stadium.
PSG set the agenda, finding its rhythm and attacking with pace and confidence.
The breakthrough came in the 15th minute when Di Maria served a corner kick to Marquinhos for a near-post header that beat Ederson to the far post.
U.S. star Christian Pulisic’s goal gives Chelsea a big boost in the Champions League semifinals
PSG kept coming and, on a corner kick from the other side, Leandro Paredes’s near-post bid buzzed past the top near corner.
Mbappe prowled in the box and Neymar’s heavy touch spoiled Di Maria’s setup.
The opportunities were one-sided, but with the scoring margin stuck at one, Manchester City was one stroke from flipping the script. It looked as if the moment had come just before halftime when Bernardo Silva squared the ball to Phil Foden in the box.
Foden, a 20-year-old Englishman enjoying a terrific season, could have shot low to either side and leveled the score. His finishing touch, however, lacked precision, and Kaylor Navas, PSG’s Costa Rican goalkeeper, reached up to make a routine save.
After intermission, City showed marked improvement in the attack. Aside from Mbappe’s dance in the box, PSG lacked cohesion in possession and focus in defense. It was an invitation to the visitors to pull level.
They were getting closer. Kevin De Bruyne’s volley from distance streaked over the crossbar and Kyle Walker’s overlapping run caused havoc.
The equalizer came in the 64th minute, not off an elegant set of passes or set piece but by accident.
De Bruyne, the Belgian star, surveyed his options from some 30 yards and decided to float a cross to the back post. The target was John Stones. The delivery was beyond Stones’s reach but dangerous enough that Navas held his ground in anticipation of a touch.
The keeper was frozen. Stones did not get near the ball, which took one bounce and spun into the corner.
The goal not only tied the match, but swung the momentum fully in City’s favor. PSG was in huge trouble.
In the 71st minute, the English side went ahead on Mahrez’s free kick from 26 yards. The right side of PSG’s wall — Paredes and Presnel Kimpembe — parted just enough for the belly-high bid to fly by and crash into the left side of the net.
Navas had no chance. This goal fell on his teammates. When the ball bounced back to him, Navas punched it into the turf.
City hunted for more. PSG’s collapse continued in the 77th minute when Idrissa Gueye received a red card for a late and reckless challenge on Ilkay Gundogan.
PSG was lost, allowing the visitors to press for another goal. And when the final whistle sounded, City had a clearer path to next month’s final.