At this point, the combined XI concept needs no introduction. Manchester City’s preposterous depth made this difficult, but PSG’s best players (mostly Kylian Mbappe) are arguably better than anyone else’s, which helped us avoid choosing only City players.
Now, let’s get to the XI!
MANAGER: MAURICIO POCHETTINO (PSG)
PSG has had its issues in Ligue 1 this year, but any manager that can reach the semis after drawing Barcelona in the round of 16 and Bayern Munich in the quarters is going to get my vote. Pochettino also has the edge over Pep Guardiola based on track record in European play. Yes, Guardiola’s recent penchant for awful Champions League losses with City counts against him in a big way.
The collective quality of the remaining four managers – Pochettino, Guardiola, Thomas Tuchel and Zinedine Zidane – shouldn’t come as a shock. We are, after all, talking about the final four of the Champions League, not the Carabao Cup. Still, holy shit what a group!
As the list below shows (I may or may not have had to look up a few of these to jog my memory), there’s usually a manager or two in the semis who’s not considered one of the world’s best:
’17-18: Liverpool (Jurgen Klopp), AS Roma (Eusebio Di Francesco), Bayern Munich (Jupp Heynckes), Real Madrid (Zinedine Zidane)
’18-19: Ajax (Erik ten Hag), Tottenham (Poch), Liverpool (Jurgen Klopp), Barcelona (Ernesto Valverde)
’19-20: Bayern Munich (Hansi Flick), PSG (Thomas Tuchel), Lyon (Rudi Garcia), RB Leipzig (Julian Nagelsmann)
The formation is a 4-3-3.
Keeper: Keylor Navas (PSG)
If I wanted to keep it short, I could just say, “go watch the highlights of Leg 2 of the round of 16 vs. Barcelona.”
Speaking of which, look no further:
Navas has also posted a solid 13 clean sheets in 25 starts in Ligue 1 this year. While he’s had just two clean sheets in 10 UCL starts this year, the fact he’s only given up 11 goals is impressive given some of his team’s defensive issues (again, see the highlights above).
I should note here that statistically, Ederson has been better (17 clean sheets in 32 starts in the EPL; 6 clean sheets in 9 UCL starts). Navas, however, was simply too good against Barcelona and PSG for me to go against him.
Back line: right back João Cancelo (City), centerbacks Ruben Dias (City) and John Stones (City), left back Marquinhos (PSG).
No, this is not perfect, position-wise. Yes, it would require someone (probably Marquinhos) to play away from their preferred spot. I think these four could figure it out, though.
Man City’s defense has been so stout this year (24 goals allowed in 33 EPL games) that against a lot of teams, I’d choose their entire back line. Rúben Dias is the biggest no-brainer of the three City players in this group, but Cancelo* and Stones have also helped this team pull away from the pack in the EPL.
Marquinhos holds down the back line for PSG, which wouldn’t have made it this far without him.
*I may or may not have flipped a coin to pick between Cancelo and Kyle Walker, who have both played well all season.
MIDFIELD: Kevin de Bruyne (City), Rodrigo (City), Phil Foden (City)
Kevin de Bruyne needs no explanation. With two players in this midfield as offensive-minded as de Bruyne and Foden, it seemed necessary to make the third member of the group a solid player like Rodrigo.
I thought about Angel di María here, but feel OK with the all-Manchester City midfield.
Forwards: Kylian Mbappe (PSG), Neymar (PSG), Raheem Sterling (City)
Kylian Mbappe has shown over his team’s last few Champions League appearances that no player in the world is harder to contain than the young Frenchman.
I understand why Neymar has his detractors, but that doesn’t mean I agree with the haters. He’ll face a stiff test against Manchester City, but I expect a big performance from the Brazilian — and much better finishing than what we saw against Bayern Munich, especially in Leg 2.
City has a ton of options, from Ferran Torres to Ilkay Gundogan to Gabriel Jesus to Riyad Mahrez to Sterling. Despite what I saw from Sterling like last year against Lyon, I go with the Englishman, though Gundogan, Jesus and Mahrez all have strong cases to make.
Just moments before the Lyon dagger…
Raheem Sterling will not soon forget this miss… pic.twitter.com/A6lRUOOxRd
— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) August 15, 2020
SUMMARY (AND PREDICTION TIME!)
I don’t know how many people outside PSG diehards would have chosen a XI (or XII, including the coach) that didn’t feature more representation from the favorites than the underdogs (PSG is +150 to advance, while City is clearly favored at -182).
Sure enough, 7 of the 12 men on this list – including 7 of the 10 outfield players – play for the favorites.
I hate to just refuse to pick the deeper, more talented team simply because of its history in the Champions League but … who am I kidding, I’m picking against City until Guardiola and Co. prove me wrong.
PSG completes an incredibly impressive trip to the UCL finals, adding an upset over Man City (4-3 on aggregate) to the memorable wins it has already notched at the expense of Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
WHERE TO BET THE 2020-21 UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE IN THE US
In the US, you can legally bet on soccer in New Jersey, Indiana and Pennsylvania.