Football is a simple game. If a team is missing its best players, then it’s likely they won’t play to the best of their ability. Well, that’s the case with most clubs anyway.
Manchester City secured a memorable 2-1 Champions League win against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday, a result that qualified them for the last 16 as group winners for the fifth consecutive season.
City dominated their equally well-resourced opponents, creating the better chances and controlling large swathes of the game in typical Pep Guardiola total-football fashion.
For those who didn’t watch the game, it will come as a surprise to learn that City pulled off such an accomplished performance without the help of Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden or Jack Grealish.
City’s best player over the past two seasons, the future Ballon d’Or winner and the £100 million summer signing would likely all have started had they been fit and available for selection, yet their absence was hardly noticeable.
To beat a team containing the likes of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar without their own star trio was a serious flex from City, a message to all their challengers that it will take a lot more than a minor injury crisis to halt their quest for silverware.
But then again, we should expect nothing less. The current incarnation of Guardiola’s City is arguably the most complete and well-balanced unit the Catalan has constructed during his five-and-a-half years in Manchester.
Sterling and Jesus were both on target in the second half as City downed PSG
(Image: Photo by Jan Kruger – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)
There has always been a sense with past City teams that an ill-timed injury to a key player could derail an entire season, or at least cause a spell of poor results.
Before Pep’s time, City’s defence tended to crumble in the absence of Vincent Kompany. In more recent years, fans would despair at the news of an injury to Sergio Aguero, David Silva or De Bruyne.
Yet none of that matters now. City are such a well-drilled, organised and technically superb collective that any player in any given match can be replaced by someone equally as capable.
Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint-Germain celebrates scoring against Manchester City
(Image: Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images)
No Foden? Raheem Sterling can play on the wing no problem. Need Bernardo to leave midfield and play as a false nine? Chuck Oleksandr Zinchenko in as an eight. The impact of key absentees is reduced when everyone works tirelessly in a system that creates an end product better than an individual could manage on their own.
That was the key difference between City and PSG on Wednesday. When accommodating Messi, Mbappe and Neymar in the starting XI, PSG will never be able to put in a great team performance against other top European sides.
That’s not to say that they didn’t cause City issues; they looked dangerous every time they countered City, and Mbappe really should have scored two on the night rather than one. But they could never hope to match the control that City exacted over proceedings.
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The frustration of Mauricio Pochettino’s defenders, shouting at their superstar attackers to at least track back and press City a little, was telling. They knew that they would not be able to keep City’s collective onslaught at bay if they continued to play as individuals.
City’s win said a lot about their silverware credentials, but it can also be interpreted as a general footballing lesson. In a battle between collective effort and individual talent, the former usually wins. Perhaps the age of galactico lineups is over.
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