Manchester City's devastating win over PSG a glorious reward for Pep Guardiola

Manager has built a second side, and this one could be the best after their impressive win in the Champions League semi-final first leg in Paris

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“Be ourselves.” Pep Guardiola used the same two words to discuss Manchester City’s task for the second leg as he had in preparing for the first.

The 2-1 Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain, one of the great results in City’s history, felt a triumph of identity, a team with two false nines and a battalion of creators who are No 10s by trade overwhelming last season’s finalists. This was a very Guardiola-esque way of winning.

And yet it also the opposite of their past. The Champions League knockout stages have been the graveyard of their ambitions, a places where dreams died quickly.

Guardiola’s team had a damaging habit of conceding goals in quick succession: three in 19 minutes to Liverpool, two in four to Tottenham, two in eight to Lyon. This time, PSG were breached twice in seven minutes. City assumed the momentum in swift, devastating fashion.

Rewind to Manuel Pellegrini’s reign and City received a series of red cards against elite opponents. Instead, Paris Saint-Germain’s Idrissa Gueye departed early, for a reprehensible lunge at Ilkay Gundogan, and it denies the French champions of their most destructive midfielder next week.

There are times when City have felt luckless. Most notably, against Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham when, even before Raheem Sterling had what seemed an injury-time decider disallowed by VAR, the crucial goal when in via Fernando Llorente’s arm and hip.

Against Pochettino’s PSG, City’s strikes were a Kevin de Bruyne cross that missed everyone and a Riyad Mahrez free kick that found a hole in the wall; “I wanted to go around the wall,” admitted the honest scorer but if there was fortune in the manner of the goals, the performance merited them.

At the other end, City could savour the statistic that this was the first time Kylian Mbappe had never registered a shot in a Champions League tie.

Four years ago, as a teenager, he was partly responsible for inflicting Guardiola’s only last-16 exit, scoring in each leg for Monaco. Mbappe is a superior player now, but Ruben Dias defended wonderfully against him. Neymar sparkled initially on Wednesday but it felt symbolic that his evening ended amid desperate attempts to get De Bruyne sent off. For City, what threatened to be a chastening first half made way for a glorious second.

There was symbolism amid the Belgian’s brilliance. Five years ago, against PSG, he became the first player to score for City in a Champions League quarter-final; now he was the first to find the net in a semi-final.

He had rebuffed PSG’s advances in 2015, preferring to join City, and they had further reasons to regret his decision. De Bruyne’s second-half display, as a marauding driving force, illustrated why he is the closest thing to Steven Gerrard in the Premier League today. Each had the skills to operate almost anywhere and Guardiola, like Rafa Benitez before him, increasingly unleashes a talisman in the final third. Perhaps it would have been more fitting if his goal had come with his audacious overhead kick.

PSG could regret another who escaped their grasp. Paris represents the greatest talent factory in the European game.

Last season’s Champions League final was decided by a Parisian, Kingsley Coman, for Bayern Munich. City’s winner came from another boy from the banlieues, Riyad Mahrez. The Algeria international was outstanding; one potentially goal-saving challenge on Neymar came in his own six-yard box.

After a man-of-the-match display in the League Cup final, this has been the finest week of Mahrez's City career.

An underwhelming maiden season in Manchester has given way to an excellent second and third. He underlines how they have evolved and how Guardiola has built a second side.

There is a temptation to think that the side of 2017-18 represented the classic City Guardiola midfield and forward line, with Sterling and Leroy Sane flanking Sergio Aguero in attack, supported by De Bruyne, David Silva and Fernandinho. Now only the Belgian of those six starts, and in a very different role.

This could be officially a better side.

PSG scored three goals away at Bayern Munich and four away at Barcelona. “There is still hard work to do,” warned Guardiola.

But much of it has already been done.