MANCHESTER, England ● Manchester City harnessed the star power of Paris Saint-Germain forwards Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Angel Di Maria in a late bid to fill the stadium for Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final.
On the eve of the second leg, adverts aired on Manchester radio stations calling the match “unmissable” and highlighting the chance to see Ibrahimovic and Di Maria in action.
The day started with more than 1,500 seats available but the advertising blitz and late appeal by City manager Manuel Pellegrini succeeded in eventually selling out the Etihad Stadium for the hosts’ biggest-ever Champions League fixture.
City will be hoping Ibrahimovic and Di Maria don’t provide too many “unmissable” moments in the game.
Ibrahimovic scored in the first leg in Paris last week when City grabbed important away goals to draw 2-2.
“He is someone very demanding of himself … he wants to be more clinical in front of goal tomorrow,” PSG coach Laurent Blanc said Monday through a translator. “I think his conversion rate will be higher.”
Both teams are trying to win the Champions League for the first time – a key objective for City’s big-spending Abu Dhabi owner and PSG’s Qatari investor.
PSG has already wrapped up the title in the French league it completely dominates.
But winning the European Cup could be the only route back into the competition next season when Pep Guardiola succeeds Pellegrini, with City’s place in the top four of the Premier League not yet secured.
The inability to sell out the stadium long ago was the latest sign of an uneasy relationship with the Champions League and competition organizer UEFA, which sanctioned City – and PSG – because the owners spent too much to strengthen their squads.
Throughout the season, City has booed the Champions League anthem when it is played before games. But it has coincided with City’s best run in Europe’s elite competition.
“If you are superstitious, we continue winning when they boo the anthem,” Pellegrini said.
Here are some other things to know about Tuesday’s match:
Blanc appears unlikely to risk starting central midfielder Marco Verratti against City, with the Italian still recovering from a groin injury that has kept him sidelined since Feb. 20.
PSG is desperate to have him back given how cheaply the team gave the ball away in midfield in the first leg, with both of City’s goals stemming from sloppy mistakes near the halfway line.
“The goals do irritate me somewhat and the players were fed up,” Blanc said. “We need to ensure if we do take that risk that we are successful with them. Sometimes you do lose the ball in the midfield, which we did last week.
“But we need to be a little bit more careful. If we lose possession we need to get it back as quick as possible so we don’t allow City players the space we allowed them last week.”
With midfielder Blaise Matuidi suspended for the game, Blanc has an even greater need for Verratti. One solution could be to bring Verratti on in the second half.
With centre half David Luiz suspended, the versatile Marquinhos is expected to line up in central defence for PSG.
Marquinhos was left out of the side in the first leg to make way for the return of Serge Aurier after a club suspension for an expletive-laced rant on social media where the right back insulted Blanc and teammates.
Marquinhos was a regular in Aurier’s absence and felt he should have started at right back instead of him. Blanc’s decision to select Aurier instead — given the circumstances and Aurier’s lack of match fitness — faced criticism in France.
“I’m not concerned about Marquinhos at all,” Blanc said. “He’s not guaranteed a starting position in the team.”
Aurier was at fault for City’s second goal, losing the ball as he pushed up into midfield and then getting involved in a mix-up with centre half Thiago Silva in the penalty area.
City will be without captain Vincent Kompany after the veteran defender failed to recover from a right knee injury after a month on the sidelines.
“We have to have a lot of trust in the squad,” Pellegrini said.