MICAH RICHARDS: Man City to beat PSG in the Champions League could change the course of club history
I should be thrilled this weekend. This has been an incredible week for Manchester City and if the cards go well they will celebrate another Premier League title on Sunday evening.
However, my nerves are fraying. I have been feeling nervous since Wednesday evening after the 2-1 win against Paris Saint-Germain and I will not relax until the final whistle of the second leg. I’ll be honest: I haven’t been this nervous about a football game since the FA Cup semi-final in April 2011.
What a great opportunity City has to reach their first Champions League final. Things couldn’t have gone better in Paris and a reproduction of that second half of Tuesday will send my old club to Istanbul.
Man City can win the competition this weekend and stand with one foot in the Champions League final
Pep Guardiola wins the Premier League as City beats Crystal Palace to beat Liverpool rivals Man United
But – there must be one – this is Manchester City and history never teaches you to take anything for granted. In many ways, you condition yourself to prepare for the unexpected, such as falling behind a relegation-threatened team in the final game of the season when the Premier League is at stake.
PSG is in no way outside of this game. 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 that it seemed that City players were in awe of him.
Do you think he will come to Manchester resigned to losing? No chance. He will use every trick in the book to try to change the situation. Then there is Kylian Mbappé. He was quieter this week than I’d ever seen him, but remember this: Mbappé doesn’t have consecutive quiet games.
City beat Paris-Saint Germain 2-1 during the week, even though PSG’s Neymar (left) was on fire
This tie is still balanced. The emotions surrounding it are intense and, from a personal point of view, it is similar to when we played United in the FA Cup semi-finals 10 years ago. Every so often you play a fixture that requires you to take advantage of the moment. That was one. This is another one.
I think back to that day at Wembley. We had not won a major trophy as a club in 35 years. We were linked to the team we were trying to overhaul and knew Stoke or Bolton were waiting for us in the final if we could get past it.
With the utmost respect for those teams, we knew United was the game we had to win. We had lost a League Cup semi-final against them a year earlier and had to bury the hoodoo to take a giant step forward as a club. This was more than just a game in so many ways.
City’s win over PSG looked like the 2011 FA Cup win 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 exclude myself from the action in the morning. I had a hamstring problem and was desperate to get involved, but I told Roberto Mancini and David Platt to choose Pablo Zabaleta instead, as I didn’t want to risk breaking in early.
They say my heart broke, but it was the only thing I could do. When you are on the field, you are in control of your own destiny. On the sidelines you are gripped by tension, the worries make you nauseous. You are helpless, consumed by the pain of not being able to influence it.
United had one of their best teams, and they entered the Champions League final later that spring; we were tired of being in their shadow and wanted to break out, so Yaya Toure’s goal in a 1-0 win was crucial to change the fate of our future.
City have certainly put an end to their hoodoo against rivals United – now they are taking over the world
The relief to get past United was enormous and there are parallels to this match against PSG. The Champions League has been a crusade for City – and Pep Guardiola – for the past five years and there has always been frustration and disappointment.
The time has now come for City to break through this barrier. I don’t think for a minute that getting past PSG would mean my old club has one hand on the trophy – how can I wait with Real Madrid or Chelsea in the wings? – but to finally be in the biggest club final of them all would be a statement.
In football it is so often about responding to circumstances. Bayern Munich was the team I expected to win the Champions League and if Robert Lewandowski had been fit to play against PSG in the quarter-finals, the Germans would have been City’s last four opponents.
City knows that a similar appearance to the victory in the first leg against PSG in the return leg will be enough
Next week’s game is one of City’s biggest games since the 1999 third-tier play-off final
But fate determined that he was absent and Bayern left. City can now see where they want to be and it’s all there for them. If Riyad Mahrez continues his blistering form and Kevin De Bruyne shines like he did at the Parc des Princes, the result should be the way I want it to be.
I’m not going to 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-of-final against Gillingham. Who knows how the club would have fared had they been forced to spend another year in the third tier?
City took advantage of that day 22 years ago dramatically by 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 victory over United in 2011. It is 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 the Manchester City fullbacks. Joao Cancelo was one of the footballers of the year, but this column cannot pass without highlighting Kyle Walker’s performance in Paris.
Whether Kylian Mbappé was 100 percent fit or not, the discipline Walker displayed in ensuring that one of Paris St Germain’s major threats was overturned was excellent.
Defenders get credit in the bank for how they play in the biggest games – Walker hasn’t misplaced a foot in the Parc des Princes.
Kyle Walker did not set foot wrong against Kylian Mbappé in the French capital
KEEP TAKING THE KNEE TO RAISE CHILDREN
It was interesting to read Nuno Espirito Santo’s comments about what happens in the future with taking the knee.
If you haven’t read the story, the Wolves manager believes players will need to take more than five seconds next season – when the supporters are back in stadiums, hopefully – to get the message across. I can see on the matter where he comes from.
I will strengthen my own position: we must continue to master to educate the younger generation. It’s not about adults, it’s about kids now, and if they’re curious to ask why we do such things, we can think about a brighter future.
Nuno Espirito Santo says players will have to take more than five seconds to the knee next season
But I also want to make this clear. I don’t think we should force players to do something they don’t want. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable, we can’t just demand that they do it, because everyone is. Wilfried Zaha has no plans to do it any longer. There shouldn’t be a problem.
Life has unfortunately become too much on one side or the other: you are this or that; you have to do what the crowd does and if you don’t, you are wrong. No one seems willing to have in-depth conversations or to think about different views.
Sport is multicultural and you won’t find a more diverse or tolerant place than a football team’s locker room. If someone doesn’t want to keep getting the hang of it, we have to listen to their opinion. That’s how we’ll progress.
The Wolves boss (right) wants to amplify the message about racism when fans are in stadiums