06 Apr I’m not afraid of Zlatan
Manchester City defender Eliaquim Mangala claims Zlatan Ibrahimovic does not scare him as he prepares to face up to the formidable Paris St Germain frontman.
Pressure will be on Mangala, who has endured a troubled season, as City tackle the French champions in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday.
With captain Vincent Kompany still out injured, France centre-back Mangala and partner Nicolas Otamendi will need to deal with the threat of the prolific Ibrahimovic.
The Sweden striker has scored 30 goals in 26 appearances in Ligue 1 this season, including a hat-trick against Nice last weekend, and a further four in the Champions League.
But Mangala said: “I respect PSG, I respect Zlatan, (Edinson) Cavani and (Angel) Di Maria, but I am not scared of them.
“Everyone knows Zlatan and the magnificent career and season he has had. Even though he is 34 he is in top condition at the moment.
“He has been criticised a lot because he has not been decisive in the Champions League in the past, but he has been in the last few games. He is reaching the peak of his career now.
“But we are not just focusing on him.”
Parallels have been drawn between City and PSG with both clubs having been propelled towards the European elite by the extraordinary expenditure of investors from Gulf states.
The progress both clubs have made in recent years has been huge although so far PSG, who have established almost total domestic dominance in France and reached four successive Champions League quarter-finals, have the edge.
City, who have won two Premier League titles but are playing in the last eight for the first time, are determined to keep pace and see themselves as equals of the French champions.
Mangala said: “They (the City hierarchy) consider Paris as a very impressive team with a good project, one that is progressing, so this is why this is a very important match tomorrow against a big team.
“They have the experience of being in a quarter-final before and we need to respect their experience but they are not a threat to us. It will be a close game.”
City have faltered in the Barclays Premier League this season and are facing a battle to hold onto a top-four place, rather than fighting for the title as they had hoped.
Mangala is well aware of the pressure now on the team heading into the PSG clash, as well as that on himself after an indifferent – albeit injury-hit – campaign.
The 25-year-old, a £42million signing in 2014, said: “I have been out four and a half months and the injury was difficult for me but I am playing now and it’s up to me to perform.
“Tomorrow as a game is very important for me, and the team.”
City are boosted by the return of goalkeeper Joe Hart, who has made a quicker than expected recovery from the calf injury suffered in the derby loss to Manchester United on March 20.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini said: “Joe has worked without any problems in the last days.
“Of course you always have a risk, especially when you are coming back from an injury, but we made all the medical tests with Joe and he doesn’t have any problems to play.”