MICAH RICHARDS: Manchester City’s win over United in the 2011 FA Cup semi-finals was huge… but beating PSG in the last four of the Champions League can change the course of the club’s history
- Man City beat PSG this week to put one foot in the Champions League final
- Pep Guardiola’s side face PSG in the return leg next week at the Etihad
- That match is one of City’s biggest games since 1999 third tier play-off final win
- City can also win the Premier League title this weekend if results go their way
I should be full of excitement this weekend. This has been an incredible week for Manchester City and, if the cards fall right, they will celebrate another Premier League title on Sunday evening.
My nerves, however, are fraying. I’ve felt jumpy since Wednesday night, following the 2-1 win against Paris Saint-Germain, and I won’t relax until the final whistle of the second leg. I’ll be honest: I haven’t been this nervous around a football match since the FA Cup semi-final in April 2011.
What a glorious chance City have of reaching their first Champions League final. Things could not have worked out better in Paris and a reproduction of that second-half performance on Tuesday will send my old club to Istanbul.
Man City can win the league this weekend and have one foot in the Champions League final
Pep Guardiola will win the Premier League if City beat Crystal Palace and Liverpool overcome rivals Man United
But — there has to be a but — this is Manchester City and history tells you never to take anything for granted. In many ways, you condition yourself to prepare for the unexpected to occur, like falling behind to a relegation-threatened team in the final game of the season when the Premier League is on the line.
PSG are not out of this contest by any means. I watched Neymar on Wednesday and he was Lionel Messi-esque for 45 minutes. He was absolutely sensational, the best I’ve seen him play without scoring. He was so good it seemed City’s players were in awe of him.
Do you think he will come to Manchester resigned to losing? No chance. He’ll use every trick in the book to try to turn the situation around. Then there is Kylian Mbappe. He was quieter than I’d ever seen him this week but remember this: Mbappe doesn’t have consecutive quiet games.
City beat Paris-Saint Germain 2-1 in midweek even though PSG’s Neymar (left) was on fire
This tie is still in the balance. The emotions around it are intense and, from a personal point of view, it is similar to when we played United in the FA Cup semi-final 10 years ago. Every so often you play a fixture that demands you capitalise on the moment. That was one. This is another.
I think back to that day at Wembley. We hadn’t won a major trophy for 35 years as a club. We’d been paired against the team we were trying to overhaul and knew that if we could get past them, Stoke or Bolton were waiting for us in the final.
With the greatest respect to those teams, we knew United was the game we had to win. We’d lost a League Cup semi-final against them a year earlier and had to bury the hoodoo to make a giant step forward as a club. This was more than just a game in so many ways.
City’s win over PSG felt similar to the 2011 FA Cup semi-final victory over Manchester United
Richards (far right) was in the City side that won the cup that year, their first trophy in 35 years
The reason I was so nervous that day was because I had to rule myself out of the action in the morning. I had a hamstring issue and was desperate to be involved, but I told Roberto Mancini and David Platt to pick Pablo Zabaleta instead as I didn’t want to run the risk of breaking down early on.
Telling them that broke my heart but it was the only thing I could do. When you are on the pitch, you are in control of your own destiny. On the sidelines, you are gripped with tension, the worry leaves you feeling sick. You are helpless, consumed by the agony of not being able to have an influence.
United had one of their greatest teams, and later that spring they contested the Champions League final; we were sick of being in their shadow and wanted to break out, so Yaya Toure’s goal in a 1-0 win was critical in changing the destiny of our future.
City have certainly ended their hoodoo against rivals United – now they are taking on the world
The relief of getting past United was enormous and there are parallels with this match against PSG. The Champions League has been a crusade for City — and Pep Guardiola — for the last five years and there has always been frustration and disappointment.
It has reached the stage now where City have got to break past this barrier. I don’t for one minute think getting past PSG would mean my old club has one hand on the trophy — how could I with Real Madrid or Chelsea waiting in the wings? — but to finally be in the biggest club final of all would be a statement.
So often in football, it’s about capitalising on circumstances. Bayern Munich were the team I expected to win the Champions League and had Robert Lewandowski been fit to play against PSG in the quarter-finals, the Germans would have been City’s last-four opponents.
City know that a similar display to the first-leg win over PSG in the return fixture will be enough
Next week’s game is one of City’s biggest matches since the 1999 third tier play-off final
But fate determined he was absent and Bayern went out. City can now see the place where they want to be and it is all there for them. If Riyad Mahrez continues his blistering form and Kevin De Bruyne shines as he did in the Parc des Princes, the outcome should be how I want it to be.
I won’t go as far as saying this is the most important game in City’s recent past — that title will forever belong to the 1999 play-off final against Gillingham. Who knows what way the club would have gone had they been forced to spend another year in the third tier?
City capitalised dramatically that day 22 years ago, winning on penalties after scoring two goals in injury time to force extra time.
That changed the course of history, as did our semi-final win over United in 2011. It’s now up to the current generation to do the same.
MICAH’S MAN OF THE WEEK
We have spent a lot of time this season talking about what Pep Guardiola has done with Manchester City’s full-backs. Joao Cancelo has been one of the footballers of the year but this column cannot pass without highlighting Kyle Walker’s performance in Paris.
Whether Kylian Mbappe was 100 per cent fit or not, the discipline Walker showed to ensure one of Paris St Germain’s main threats was nullified was outstanding.
Defenders get credit in the bank with how they play in the biggest games – Walker didn’t put a foot out of place in the Parc des Princes.
Kyle Walker did not put a foot wrong against Kylian Mbappe in the French capital
KEEP TAKING THE KNEE TO EDUCATE KIDS
It was interesting to read Nuno Espirito Santo’s comments about what happens in the future about taking the knee.
If you didn’t read the story, the Wolves manager believes players must do it for longer than five seconds next season – when, hopefully, supporters are back in stadiums – to hammer home the message. I can see where he is coming from on the matter.
I will reinforce my own position: we need to keep taking the knee to educate the younger generation. It’s not about adults, it’s about children now and if they are inquisitive to ask why we are doing such things, we can think about having a better future.
Nuno Espirito Santo says players should take the knee for more than five seconds next season
But I also want to make this clear, too. I do not believe we should force players into doing something that they don’t want do. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable, we cannot just demand they do it because everyone else is. Wilfried Zaha doesn’t intend to do it any longer. There should be no issue.
Life, unfortunately, has become too much about one side or the other: you are either this or that; you have to do what the crowd does and if you don’t you’re in the wrong. Nobody seems prepared to have deep conversations or think about other views.
Sports are multi-cultural and you won’t find a more diverse or tolerant place than a football team’s dressing room. If someone doesn’t want to continue taking the knee, we have to listen to their views. That’s how we will progress.
The Wolves boss (right) wants to ramp up the message on racism when fans are in stadiums
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