Manuel Pellegrini has backed Eliaquim Mangala to rise to the occasion when Manchester City face an in-form Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Paris Saint-Germain.
France defender Mangala has faced criticism from some quarters over his form since moving to Etihad Stadium for a reported fee of £42million from Porto in August 2014.
But with captain Vincent Kompany (calf) leading a damaging injury list that also includes goalkeeper Joe Hart (calf), Raheem Sterling (groin) and possibly Yaya Toure (knee), Mangala is set to continue deputising against the Ligue 1 champions.
Mangala’s performances may have been indifferent, but Pellegrini is confident the 25-year-old can keep a brilliant PSG attack – led by the evergreen Ibrahimovic – quiet at the Parc des Princes.
“If you have the statistics then you will see every time Mangala plays then we win,” Pellegrini said.
“In a few games this season he has made mistakes, which is very awful to concede, but if you review his overall performances, he is a very good player.
“I don’t think the price made a difference for him. He is a very young player, he is adapting to a difficult league in the Premier League.
“He has all the conditions to be a very important player here and I’m sure he will improve in every season he plays in the Premier League.”
The tie marks City’s first foray in the quarter-finals of the Champions League after being knocked out in the last 16 by Barcelona in the previous two seasons, as they seek to finally translate their domestic form into Europe.
There is equal importance to the game for PSG as they bid to reach the semi-finals for the first time since big-spending owners Qatar Sports Investments completed their buyout in 2011.
PSG have dominated domestically and wrapped up the Ligue 1 title last month with a 9-0 battering of Troyes.
There has been little let-up from Laurent Blanc’s men and they routed Nice 4-1 on Saturday, Ibrahimovic at his brilliant best with an inspired hat-trick – leaving the Sweden international needing just one goal to beat Pauleta’s record of 78 goals in all competitions at the Parc des Princes.
For PSG, knocked out by Barca in the quarters last season, the main aim is now on competing with Europe’s elite and many consider them favourites to beat City.
But Thiago Motta was keen to stress the quality at City’s disposal – the influential Kevin De Bruyne and Samir Nasri returning from long lay-offs in Saturday’s 4-0 win over AFC Bournemouth – ahead of a crucial first leg.
“They have great players,” he told reporters.
“They have [David] Silva, [Sergio] Aguero – if we give them the ball, we will suffer. The key will be to defend well and, when we have the ball, to control the game like we did against Chelsea [in the last-16 against].”
Key Opta stats:
– Only once (in six games) has an English club beaten Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes in European competition. It was Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in September 2004 (3-0).
– The last three Champions League knockout encounters between Ligue 1 and Premier League clubs have all seen the French team eliminate their English counterpart.
– PSG have been eliminated in the quarter-finals in each of the last three campaigns. Their last (and only) Champions League semi-final appearance to date was in 1994-1995.
– Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored in each of his last four Champions League games. Only twice before has he gone five in a row in the competition.
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