They are the two teams in Europe attracting the most attention this season: Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain are playing some beautiful football, winning, and leaving their rivals trailing. But which is the more exciting to watch? We asked our correspondents, Jonathan Smith (City) and Jonathan Johnson (PSG) to decide.
Jonathan Smith: It’s been an absolute pleasure watching Pep Guardiola’s side this season — an exciting style of football, plenty of goals and title rivals Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal already comfortably beaten. But PSG’s performances against their big rivals haven’t matched up, have they? They drew 2-2 away to Marseille thanks to a last-minute equaliser and needed two late own goals to beat Lyon. Are they just flat-track bullies?
Jonathan Johnson: Well, you cannot win every single match by five or six goals… Flat-track bullies do not beat the likes of Bayern Munich 3-0 and dominate their Champions League group though! Besides, despite all the back-slapping at the Etihad, didn’t City did come close to losing at home to Everton in the league and need penalties to beat Wolves in the League Cup? Anyway, I thought the real test of any top Premier League side is how they fare on a cold night in Stoke (not Manchester) — so we will have to revisit this in March.
True, City have beaten Chelsea but can you really call Liverpool and especially Arsenal “title rivals?” Marseille and Lyon, who beat Everton home and away in the Europa League by the way, would give both the Reds and the Gunners a run for their money right now. City and PSG have not yet faced their closest competitors — United and Monaco — but while Pep’s men have already raised their game for the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, PSG have not needed to truly get out of third gear in Ligue 1 or the Champions League.
There is so much more to come from Unai Emery’s side and if Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar (MCN) are already wreaking havoc domestically and in Europe, imagine what PSG in fourth of fifth gear will look like! Can the same be said of City currently, or is this as good as it gets?
JS: It is an important question to ask if City have already peaked and it’s one that I’m not sure even Guardiola knows the answer to.
City made a fantastic start to last season — winning all of their first 10 games — but once they had that first blip, confidence drained away, the basics of Pep’s footballing philosophy were lost and the wheels fell off their Premier League and Champions League challenges. While it feels a lot difference this time, particularly after the quality that was added to the squad in the summer, City are still to taste defeat and Pep has said that he wants to know himself how his team will react when they are beaten. We’ll certainly have a clearer picture after that freezing trip to Stoke (which I’d personally happily swap for PSG’s to Nice a week later!)
That PSG victory over Bayern was certainly one that made everyone sit up and take notice. But that spat between Neymar and Cavani over penalty-taking duties made more headlines. Have those two put those differences behind them and has it had any effect the way they play together? With Mbappe too, that MCN frontline is a truly frightening prospect, but how has it been working out?
JJ: Really well so far — 56 goals scored, eight conceded across Ligue 1 and the Champions League to City’s 50 and 10 in the Premier League and Europe, respectively.
You could argue that although Mbappe, Cavani and Neymar are already a good blend up top, that there is realistically only room for two — the Frenchman and the Brazilian — moving forward. Either Emery moves away from the possession-based 4-3-3 or Neymar, Mbappe, or both, take up more central roles at Cavani’s expense.
I think that City win this “great entertainers” tag for the moment but PSG have the potential to be the better of the two over time. Perhaps we will only know for sure if they are paired up in the Champions League again — though depending on this season’s campaign it might not even be Emery in charge soon. How is Pep’s job security at the Etihad?
JS: Pep isn’t going anywhere — he’s quite happy where he is. He’s building something very special and, not to overstate it, revolutionising the way football is being played in England.
There were suggestions, particularly after last season, that his style wouldn’t work in the Premier League, but that always seemed strange considering his Barcelona and Bayern Munich teams used to take apart the best sides in England in the Champions League every year. The confidence and belief now is amazing.
It’s interesting that you talk about the potential of PSG because I think this City team are a long way from reaching their peak too. Leroy Sane is just 21, Gabriel Jesus only 20, and Raheem Sterling, who has improved spectacularly under Pep, is just 22. Kevin De Bruyne is 26, and is maturing into a majestic No. 10, and the ex-Monaco boys Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy will have key roles in the future.
The team are just phenomenal to watch and so much better than the side that knocked PSG out of the Champions League in 2016. A rematch would be fascinating and potentially a game between the two most entertaining sides around at the moment but I still think it’s way too early to say the best two in Europe.
Do you worry that the Champions League is becoming a problem for PSG, particularly after the way they went out at Barca last season? Jose Mourinho is such a huge name that I can see that he would be an attraction, but his football is so dull and unimaginative at the moment and you worry that all that attacking talent wouldn’t be used in the big matches. Would it not be better to stick with Emery?
JJ: You are right to question that, especially considering the start the team has made. However, the Qatari owners will always be on the lookout for anybody — player or coach — who might be able to guarantee Champions League success and that explains the Mourinho rumours.
It may be an obsession but it’s understandable when you bear in mind the frustration at losing to a (United Arab Emirates-owned) City side they really should have beaten a few years ago and then the humiliation of last season’s capitulation in Barcelona after one of the greatest performances in the club’s history.
Yes, PSG would lose a lot aesthetically if the Portuguese swaps Manchester for Paris in the future but you look at his European record, the squad he would have at Parc des Princes and the fact that many of the players speak Portuguese and it makes sense.
If they can get him, Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino would be better though, plus he is more in line with the youthful and ambitious parts of PSG’s vision since the Qataris arrived. Emery likes offensive football but the players quickly overruled him when he tried to change formation from the possession-based 4-3-3 to a more attack-minded 4-2-3-1.
PSG playing 4-3-3 means they regularly dominate possession and are often content to keep the ball away from their opponents and then score at will. But it does not flow as nicely as City’s does at present and it is only when they get going in the Champions League that their football really starts to look sexy.
Right now, City are the better side to watch but there is so much potential for PSG, they can overtake them in the future. Hopefully our paths will cross this term (in Kiev?) and we will get to see which style ultimately comes out on top!