Pep Guardiola’s seen Lionel Messi do a thing or two in his day, many of those up close and personal when the former managed the latter at Barcelona.
Now at Man City and PSG — that last part still feels weird — the teacher and his megastar pupil squared off in the UEFA Champions League group stage on Tuesday with PSG coming away 2-0 winners.
That’s a bit of a surprise if you saw the performance but missed the goals, as City was very very good but victim to two near-perfect shots.
One was from Messi, the other from Idrissa Gana Gueye.
And Guardiola knows his team was in the ascendancy.
“They can run in space of course,” Guardiola said of Messi, Neymar Jr, and Kylian Mbappe. “They are similar to Messi, Suarez, and Neymar at Barcelona, or my period with Eto’o, Henry, and Messi. We knew it already, we spoke about that, we cannot control them for 90 minutes. The only options I know are to defend 90 minutes deep and pray, or have the ball and try to do it.”
Having the ball and trying to do it was difficult because of PSG’s midfield, specifically Marco Verratti.
And Pep did not hold back his feelings on the Italian metronome.
“I’m in love,” Guardiola said. “He’s an exceptional player, because he’s under pressure and he has the calm to have one extra touch and in that moment create extra passes behind our midfield player. He looks not tall, but when you see how he moves, he plays, he’s not a player for long distance passes but you can count on him to make a build-up.”
All that said, Guardiola got a strong performance out of Rodri and City was unfortunate not to come away with at least a point in Paris. But City’s learned about fine margins in big games, and Guardiola will drill that into his team.
And you know that of this three-match gauntlet that started with a win over Chelsea before heading to France and now to Anfield, this is the result Guardiola would’ve sacrificed if it meant wins in the other two.