Paris Saint-Germain’s players were losing their heads and Manchester City were rising to it.
Riyad Mahrez had just put City two goals up on the night, 4-1 ahead on aggregate, and the final was within touching distance. Paris Saint-Germain knew this and they were not happy.
Like the entitled and petulant children they often act like when things go against them, they started to lash out. Angel Di Maria saw red after needlessly planting his studs into Fernandinho’s ankle on the sidelines. Presnel Kimpembe could have followed him late on after a scything challenge on Gabriel Jesus, but escaped with a yellow.
With the tension and animosity rising, some City players were growing visibly frustrated with their opponents’ lack of sportsmanship. A bad injury here from a nasty late tackle could cause an injury that would see them miss out on the final – their anger was more than justified.
But it was also dangerous. One bad reaction to a tackle, one raised hand, and that could lead to a red card and the same result.
Aleks Zinchenko came the closest to falling off the tight rope after he reacted angrily when Leandro Paredes kicked the ball at Phil Foden when he was on the ground after being pushed over by Marco Verratti.
Zinchenko stormed over to aid his teammate and incited some handbags between the two sets of players but the shenanigans was quickly put to an end by Fernandinho.
With City in such a commanding position the captain would be damned if he was going to allow anything to compromise their spot in Europe’s biggest game, he shoved Zinchenko away from the altercation and gave him a stern talking to.
Situation defused. Disaster averted. That’s captaincy for you.
City cruised to victory and into their first-ever Champions League final. It was a match that Fernandinho rates as his favourite moment from the European campaign and he explained how he led City through the match during the tensest moments.
“It’s a matter of reading the game and understanding what’s going on in that moment,” the Brazilian said.
“There’s no doubt that as I’m a captain and the most senior of the club’s players, this is the point when you need to step up and try to organise things for the good of the team, because sometimes it’s easy for a person to lose their head when under a lot of stress or pressure, so I tried to stop players from falling into this trap so to not harm the team’s performance, because playing in a game at this level with a player like this makes a big difference.”
The Brazilian may be 36, he may no longer be as fast as he once was or be able to play three times a week but it’s unquestionable how important he has been to City this season.
Sign up to get even more from our Man City coverage
We want your views, Blues. You can become even more involved with our Man City coverage by signing up. This will unlock a whole host of things – including joining the comments and taking part in our special Q&As, where you can speak directly to our reporters about what’s happening at the Etihad Stadium this week and beyond.
In semi-finals and finals – the truly important, high-stake games – Pep Guardiola has consistently called on his veteran general to lead his side on the pitch, to steer them through choppy waters and into safe harbour.
Of the 22 games Fernandinho has started this season, City have lost only three.
The victory over PSG is not the first time Fernandinho’s captaincy has led to triumph this season, either. It was the skipper’s well-publicised intervention at the turn of the year that got City out of their slump and set them on course to their fifth Premier League title. He is an exceptional leader and he will be needed in Porto.
What would your starting XI be for the Champions League final? Let us know in the comments below!
With one game to go in this laborious campaign, the biggest of them all, Guardiola must call upon the old warhorse once again.
The nerves among City’s younger stars are bound to be frayed, most, if not all, of them will never have played in a match of such importance before. Things may go wrong. Tempers may rise when the pressure is so high their ears start to ring.
Just like there was in Paris, there may be a flashpoint on which the whole game could change.
In that moment City will need their leader, their experienced head. They will need Fernandinho.