Last night’s Champions League quarter final had the hallmarks of a classic before it started. ‘El Cashico’ as one paper coined it; two Gulf-funded superpowers at the height of their promise yet still glaringly lacking in silverware on the European stage. PSG, who sewed up the French league sometime around 1876, should have been favourites for any half-competent bookmaker scanning Manchester City’s team sheet and finding the name of Eliaquim Mangala a short way down.
But that’s reckoning without David Luiz and his white-knuckle predilection for doing things even more daft than a Martin Demichelis-penned off-Broadway farce. It may not have officially been a direct contest between Luiz and Mangala to see who could make us laugh first, but there was no telling Sideshow Bob that. Within twenty seconds he had seen fit, upon being beaten all ends up by Sergio Aguero, to grasp at the Argentine’s collarbone and drag him to the floor. He’ll now miss the next leg, or rather, the leg will miss him. It was so beautifully Luiz, his own take on stamping authority in the game but with the authority being his copyrighted brand of spider-legged buffoonery rather than a powerful header or ball-winning reducer.
There was more to come of course. Kevin De Bruyne, who exuded an almost contemptuous brilliance throughout, had his opener aided by Luiz attempting to imitate Fred Flintstone in rewind and sprint backwards in mid-air. In fairness to Mangala, his was a decent performance in the end, with one defensive header in particular almost certainly saving City from taking a defeat back to the Etihad.
As for Zlatan Ibrahimovic – whom prior to the game Mangala said he respected, but did not fear – his was an odd performance. The Swede found himself on the score sheet not through his standard enigmatic, bullying brilliance, but through anticipation and bouncy shin pads. Fernando was his victim, the Brazilian dithering over a pass from Joe Hart, clearing the ball straight into the Ibrahimovic’s long legs and watching it roll into the net (to Fernando’s credit he reacted as one should in that situation, sinking to his knees with his head his hands. It was beautifully theatrical). Sadly for Ibrahimovic, his other two highlights were a skied finish after taking advantage of a gaping hole in City’s back line and having an early penalty saved by Joe Hart.
And there was an imperiously Zlatan moment in the second half: the Swede lost the ball cheaply in City’s half and made absolutely no effort to retrieve it as his team mates back-pedalled furiously to halt a pacey counter-attack from the visitors. ‘Meh. Your job. You deal with it’, the unapologetic body language seemed to say, an attitude his no doubt accustomed teammates might have forgiven more had the striker put away his chances.
The advantage is firmly Manchester City’s. 79% of sides who draw 2-2 in the away leg first progress to the next, but Aguero isn’t listening to those boffins. “You can’t pay too much attention to statistics,” said the Argentine this morning. “We just have to play our best and try to win. They have good players which makes for a complicated defence, but we were also able to score two goals against a defence that is very strong.”
‘Complicated’ is one way of putting it. It is shame that we won’t get to see Luiz’s cartoon shtick in the return leg, but Manuel Pelligrini had better hope Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi don’t pick up any injuries before then, otherwise he’ll have to pick a Demichelis. And if Pellegrini described the 35-year-old as ‘nervous’ when attempting to explain his 50s screwball act against Manchester United other week, there’s no telling what kind of state he might be in when faced with the Zlatan.