Pep Guardiola leaves Lionel Messi feeding off scraps with Man City’s surprise recipe for success – Dominic Farrell

Pep Guardiola leaves Lionel Messi feeding off scraps with Man City's surprise recipe for success - Dominic Farrell

Maybe it’s the time of day that European matches take place, perhaps it’s because these moments are the millennial Manchester City fan’s equivalent of the moon landings or the Kennedy assassination.

But I remember the news of each of Pep Guardiola’s most outlandish Champions League team sheets so vividly, to the extent I can remember what I had for dinner each time.

It should be confessed that I’m never knowingly underfed, but let’s leave that there.

Liverpool 2018, where an experimental, reinforced midfield with Ilkay Gundogan on the right of a diamond was ransacked and 3-0 down before half-time. That was a truly awful, gristly beef curry in the media room, after a hellacious time on the M62 meant I arrived at Anfield as bedraggled as the City team bus.

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Spurs 2019, the brand spanking new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium put on a cracking spread as you’d expect, including an array of miniature desserts. Guardiola tried to have his cake and eat it by resting Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane on the bench and a 1-0 defeat would haunt the Blues as they bowed out of the quarter-final 4-4 on away goals.

Lyon 2020, the imbalanced and awful 5-3-2 to guard against the Ligue 1 side’s counter-attacking threat in a game where City conceded three times on the break. A surefire way to ruin the end of a week on holiday, which concluded with fish and chips in Morecambe.

Chelsea 2021, where on earth are the holding midfielders? After a splendid lunch of the local delicacy bacalhau and a glass of ice-cold Superbock, I headed off for the Estadio do Dragao. The meal was the highlight of the day.

And so to my present reality of home working with a toddler. Oleksandr ZInchenko’s shock selection in midfield to face Paris Saint-Germain will be forever linked to my 22-month old daughter chucking pasta all over the place because I idiotically decided to put spinach in the sauce.

Lionel Messi of Paris Saint-Germain battles for possession with Raheem Sterling and Oleksandr Zinchenko of Manchester City
(Image: Man City)

That decision certainly looked more questionable than any Guardiola made as City proceed to run roughshod over PSG’s superstars. Zinchenko – a midfielder by trade and for Ukraine but almost always a dependable left-back in sky blue – was leading the press along with Bernardo Silva. A false Zine.

He seemed to be everywhere, and he was not the only City player to fit that description. Riyad Mahrez tore after PSG left-back Nuno Mendes in thrilling fashion, while his combination play with Bernardo had the visiting defence on the waltzers.

Gundogan’s movements in behind were immaculately timed as always and he rattled the post. That was one of 11 City shots in the first half – a staggering five were blocked. Presnel Kimpembe seemed to permanently reside in the last ditch, from where he did some stupendous work,

As the game somehow remained 0-0 at the interval, the tiresome City striker debate was ready to rear its head. Of course, an elite marksman would have dipped their bread as the brilliant Blues made merry, but it always had to be the right striker and the preferred candidate could not be secured.

Pep Guardiola cut a typically animated figure throughout against PSG
(Image: Vincent Mignott/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

The whirling, whirring blend Guardiola has painstakingly assembled would be let down by a rogue ingredient. You don’t just chuck spinach in willy-nilly and tell people to like it.

Of course, if you throw steak and lobster on the same plate and slather it all in caviar, that would probably be quite nice. After spending much of the first half as spectators, Neymar, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe were all involved as the youngest member of PSG’s front three put them in front.

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Gabriel Jesus replaced Zinchenko to give Guardiola’s side a more conventional look. It brought the contest to an irresistible boil, with City more exposed to PSG’s lethal counter-attack but carrying a greater cutting edge themselves.

Raheem Sterling’s shoots of recovery continued to sprout as he smuggled home an equaliser and Jesus showed countryman Neymar how it should be done in front of goal, crowning a gorgeous City move 14 minutes from time.

It meant that teamsheet from three hours earlier probably won’t sit alongside Guardiola’s most perplexing headscratchers it foreshadowed a peerless statement performance.

All of Guardiola’s work in Manchester over the past five years leads us to points of high expression like this, where City respond to adversity and clean up as opposed to ending up confused with their dinner all over the floor.

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