Manchester United’s 11 game unbeaten run came to an end against Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League Round of 16. It has been a run that has boosted the confidence, morale, and form of many players. The fans are also enjoying what they see on the pitch too.
The gloom that engulfed the team from pre-season has given way to sunshine, matched by the pleasant disposition of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and staff. However, it would be truly remarkable if United went through the rest of the season unbeaten. Somewhere along the line, United would lose.
Credit to Paris Saint Germain (PSG) and their manager Thomas Tuchel for getting their tactics spot on. Paul Pogba was man-marked by Marquinhos and couldn’t have much of an influence on the game in an attacking sense. Defensively, they were solid with their captain Thiago Silva a colossal figure at the back.
In midfield, they were very tidy in possession through Marco Verratti, Marquinhos, Julian Draxler and Angel Di Maria. As tidy as they were, they surrendered possession too much in the first half when attacking. They did create the best chances in the first half, one might have been offside while the other was flagged for offside.
The referee was particularly card-happy. He was quick to show the yellow card rather than speaking to the players. Largely, I have no issues with any other cards brandished even with Paul Pogba’s sending off. However, I felt it was very odd that Presnel Kimpembe’s pull back on Marcus Rashford early in the second half was unpunished. It was not even given as a foul, let alone a yellow card.
The way the referee was happily brandishing yellow cards, I thought he would have called that foul and given him a second yellow card. It was an incident that warranted a yellow card. It was not to be and the same player opened the scoring a few moments later. That first goal gave PSG the boost to further exert their control on the match.
A counter attack, 7 minutes after their first goal saw Kylian Mbappe convert their 2nd of the night. Mbappe had the opportunity to scored PSG’s third on another counter-attack but was thwarted by David De Gea in goal. United regained some form of control in the game and tried hard to get back into the game but they couldn’t really threaten the PSG goal.
The difference between the quality and experience of both teams was evident. Pre-game, I did not feel the absences of Neymar and Edinson Cavani would greatly impact the PSG side. They were built to win the Champions League and had enough quality in their side to cope with the loss of two key players. They had the experience to go with it as well.
This is the second time this season in the Champions League that United’s lack of quality and experience at this level was exposed. The better team did win and probably this is as good as it gets for United in the Champions League this season.
I will not be overly worried about the performances of Marcus Rashford who was isolated and Anthony Martial who I felt was overawed. Jesse Lingard was a positive outlet until he, unfortunately, had to leave due to injury in injury time of the first half.
There was a time when Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney was exposed at this level of the Champions League before finally coming good. Kylian Mbappe might be of about the same age as Rashford but he is an exceptional player for his age. He has also got more experience than Rashford has at this level.
On the evidence of some defining performances this season, United need to invest in the squad to add some quality if they are to have ambitions of challenging for the title or the big teams in the Champions League.
Everything has been going well so far for Solksjaer and staff. He will miss a couple of key players from injury. Solksjaer would need to get the team to bounce back from a defeat. I have always wanted to see how he reacts to a defeat and adversity. I would love to see him get the job full-time but he will now need to prove himself by getting the team to bounce back immediately from this defeat.
He will need to show some tactical creativity as well to cope with the loss of Martial and Lingard. The players that will be coming in to replaced their injured team-mates need to step up to the mark. I am thinking of Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku specifically.
On a separate note, I felt the crowd at Old Trafford was disappointing. It was a big European night and enthusiasm was high. Yet they couldn’t maintain vociferous support throughout the game. They were noisy at the start and then got out-sang by the traveling PSG fans. I hate to say this but Anfield’s Kop really rises to the occasion to make it a special atmosphere at Anfield. Something needs to be done to fix this. Whenever United travel, the support they get is always fantastic and loud.