PARIS : Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola lavished praise on an opposition player after his team lost 2-0 at Paris St Germain in their Champions League clash on Tuesday, with Lionel Messi scoring a superb goal for the hosts.
But Guardiola was not talking about Messi.
He was discussing the performance of PSG's Marco Verratti, who produced a midfield masterclass against City's constant pressing at the Parc des Princes.
"I'm in love", Guardiola joked when asked about the Italy international.
Verratti, back after missing four games with a knee injury, was the player PSG needed to deal with City's pressure and the 'regista' (director) proved instrumental in a monumental first half.
"When he's under pressure he has the calm to give one extra touch and create extra passes behind our midfielders," Guardiola explained.
"I know his character, his personality and I'm happy he's back from injury. Exceptional player. He looks like, not tall but when you see him, how he plays, how he moves... He's not a player for long-distance passes but you can count on him to make a build-up.
"He knows exactly where the space is to create a situation. Especially in the first half."
Placed just in front of the defence, the 28-year-old who joined from Pescara in 2012 was also instrumental in cutting the link between Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva.
"He gives us serenity when he's able to get the ball out when surrounded by two or three players," said fellow midfielder Idrissa Gueye, who opened the scoring with a stunning strike.
PSG's major problem might be that Verratti is prone to injuries, having already missed six of eight Ligue 1 matches this season and featuring in only 21 league games last season.
Whether he maintains his fitness should be key in PSG's campaign, which ended in the semi-finals last season and with a runner-up spot in 2020.
They top Group A with four points, ahead of Club Brugge on goal difference and one point ahead of third-placed City with pointless RB Leipzig in fourth.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge)