Pochettino shown that reviving Man United would be just one half of the job - the other is stopping Man City

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·4-min read
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 (PA)
(PA)

Mauricio Pochettino now knows the challenge that lies ahead if he is to realise his dream of taking over at Manchester United.

It is not just about reviving a sleeping giant. It is about slaying the one across the other side of the city.

Manchester is blue – and has been for too long for those of a red persuasion.

It feels like every action taken at Old Trafford these days is against the backdrop of the dominance of their noisy neighbours.

Could Jose Mourinho prove the antidote to Pep Guardiola? Could snatching Alexis Sanchez or Cristiano Ronaldo from the grasp of Manchester City halt this trophy-winning juggernaut?

The answer on all of those counts and many more has been a resounding no.

So if Pochettino is to become the next man charged with breathing life into United, then the first question that needs to be asked is whether he can stand up to Guardiola.

On this occasion he could not - but there were mitigating factors. Namely his insipid Paris Saint-Germain team.

It would have been too perfect if he had delivered a statement result on this timely trip to Manchester.

A 2-1 defeat will hardly prompt a rethink from United – but victory would have done the Argentine no harm at all.

But, save for 13 second-half minutes when PSG sucker-punched their way into a 1-0 lead, they never looked capable of taking anything from this Champions League tie.

City were better in every department, with Gabriel Jesus’ winner perfectly summing up everything the Premier League champions are – and, crucially, everything PSG are not.

They are a work of precision, with every player knowing their role and operating in unison for the greater good. If only PSG could say the same.

City were at their fluid best for Jesus’ strike after 76 minutes. With PSG trying to plug holes everywhere, Ilkay Gundogan shifted the ball to Riyad Mahrez on the right and the winger looked up before lifting a cross to Bernardo Silva at the far-post.

The Portuguese playmaker had a good enough sight of goal to let fly – but instead opted to cushion a pass on the volley to the incoming Jesus.

His shot was not the cleanest, but was on target and the wrong-footed Keylor Navas could do nothing to prevent it.

PSG could only dream of such harmony in their ranks.

It was the very least City deserved, with their 2-1 advantage hardly reflecting their superiority against a team that, at times, barely warranted that description.

Pochettino stood, hands in pockets, watching a team that bares none of the hallmarks of his Tottenham side on which he built his reputation.

The disconnection between their superstar forward line of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe was painfully laid bare.

That trio barely operated as a three, let alone as part of an XI – acting as spectators as the midfielders and defenders behind them worked overtime to try to repel City’s relentless attacks.

On the rare occasion PSG could get the ball to their A-listers, their apparent reluctance to work together saw what few openings they fashioned invariably come to nothing.

Pochettino, meanwhile, stood on the touchline, with his hands in his pockets, watching a team that bares none of the hallmarks of his Tottenham side on which he built his reputation.

Is he powerless to shape a squad of superstars that feel like little more than a vanity project on nights like this? Is that why he is so keen to take charge of United and build a team in his own image?

Occasions like this will only feed his desire to return to the Premier League.

As helpless as he looked, he did manage something of a response from his players after a first-half in which they lucky to survive with the scoreline still goalless.

 (Action images via Reuters)
(Action images via Reuters)

Five minutes after the break, his forward line did spring into the action, Messi carrying the ball inside the box before his deflected cross fell into the path of Mbappe arriving at the far-post.

The World Cup winner steadied himself and fired low between the legs of Ederson to give the visitors the most unlikely of leads.

But it never looked secure.

Guardiola sent for Jesus and he provided the cutting edge they lacked. They were level in the 63rd minute, with the Brazilian flicking on Kyle Walker’s cross to Raheem Sterling, who poked over the line from three yards out.

PSG had used up all their luck in a first-half in which Rodri and Mahrez had seen goal-bound efforts cleared and Gundogan strike the post.

With their resistance finally broken, it was only a matter of time before City found a winner.

It was a goal of perfect precision. An example of what is possible when a team is totally at one - something that PSG could learn a thing or two about.

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