Football Features

Grealish and Maddison drool over Neymar while England’s own version might keep them out of Euro 2020

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:30, 28 April 2021 | Updated: 20:39, 24 November 2022

Manchester City made history as they came from behind to beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in their Champions League semi-final first leg.

After Real Madrid and Chelsea played out a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their semi-final the day before, it was PSG and Man City’s turn to try and stake their claim for a place in the final.

In the build up to the game, a lot of the focus was on the likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden, and in the first half it looked as through the Brazilian would take the headlines.

There have been moments in his PSG career where some have doubted Neymar’s influence in the bigger games, often because he has not be available for them in the Champions League, absent around the last-16. And when he did play in last season’s Champions League final, he was unable to inspire PSG against a determined Bayern Munich side driven by destiny and their quest for the Treble.

Against Man City Neymar looked possessed, determined to take this PSG side one step closer to achieving their ultimate goal of winning the Champions League, tormenting Kyle Walker. But that determination didn’t stop Neymar from wanting to have fun while playing, which is what makes the Brazilian so great. At times Neymar looked as if he was playing street football, or futsal, taking on every Man City player he could with the ball at his feet, bringing in the skills wherever he could.


It was a quintessential Neymar display in the first half, as he created one chance with an excellent corner headed just wide by Leandro Paredes, had two shots on target of his own, won two fouls, had four passes into the final third and four touches in the Man City box. His performance had all those watching drooling, including two England stars.

Sitting down to enjoy the mammoth Champions League clash, James Maddison and Jack Grealish both tweeted in awe of Neymar, with the Leicester man making a big claim.

He questioned: “Is there a more enjoyable player to watch in the world than Neymar? Not for me…” To which Grealish replied, “Scary how good he is”

He was joined in running the first half by Angel Di Maria who continues to be arguably one of the more underrated players in European football right now.

Since joining PSG just under six years ago, Di Maria has had to fight against a negative reputation put on him for his year at Manchester United in which he still managed to record 10 assists in the Premier League – bettered only by Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla during the 2014/15 campaign.

But he has thrived as PSG and in setting up Marquinhos’ opener, the goal that looked to have put the home side in control of the tie, Di Maria recorded his 103rd assist for the club. That’s 103 assists in 258 games across all competitions, and no other player has recorded more assists for PSG than Di Maria, as he levelled Safet Sušić atop the rankings.

However, PSG capitulated in the second half allowing Man City to turn things around and put in one of the best performances of an English side away from home in Europe, according to Gary Lineker.

“That was one of the best performances, in an away leg, by an English side in the history of European football,” he tweeted.

“Absolutely outstanding from.”

It required a touch of fortune for Man City to draw level as De Bruyne’s cross into the box missed everyone, leaving Keylor Navas rooted to the spot as it sailed past him, though it was deserved. And the winner on the night was equally as good, with Riyad Mahrez firing a free-kick past Navas through a very poor PSG wall.

Man City had the chance to extend their lead too, with Foden weaving through the PSG defence with relative ease before sending his shot straight at Navas. The Englishman didn’t have the greatest of first halves alongside his teammates but he grew into the game and showed glimpses of why he is rated so highly.

It led to a tongue-in-cheek tweet (since deleted) from Peter Crouch asking a simple question: “Foden or Neymar as it stands now?

“Asking for a friend.”

Foden ended the game having hit the target with all three of his shots, completed all three of his attempted take-ons, won five duels, created one chance and recovered the ball six times, showing he can work both sides of the game. From being one of those on the long list for England’s Euro 2020 squad earlier in the season, it’s now hard to see past Foden starting for Gareth Southgate, possibly at the expense of the likes of Maddison and Grealish.

The come-from-behind win extended Man City’s excellent record in the Champions League this season, winning 10 of their 11 games so far. They’re the first Premier League side to hit at least 10 wins in a single Champions League campaign since the current format was introduced in 2003/04.

Man City remain favourites to win the Champions League this season, with Sky Bet offering odds of 4/6 for Pep Guardiola to bring European Glory to the Etihad, ahead of Chelsea (7/2). PSG have now seen their odds of winning their first Champions League stretch to 11/1.