Solskjaer’s boldness pays off as Manchester United triumph over PSG again

Eighteen months on from the dizzying 3-1 win which propelled them into the Champions League quarter-finals, they returned to the Parc des Princes with a victory which was arguably even more impressive.

This was no smash-and-grab. United were the better side.

There was no first-leg deficit to overcome on this occasion, of course. The stakes were not as high. But PSG came into the game as Champions League runners-up. Neymar, absent from their last meeting due to injury, this time joined Kylian Mbappe in attack.

It felt like a daunting prospect for a Manchester United side whose 6-1 thrashing by Tottenham was still fresh in the memory. But if there was any apprehension, they did a good job of hiding it.

Even Axel Tuanzebe, making his first senior appearance for the club since a Carabao Cup tie against Colchester United 10 months ago, was able to rise to the occasion.

The 22-year-old was superb and he was not the only one.

Marcus Rashford bounced back from earlier misses to score the sensational winner, making him United’s hero again. Then there was Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who kept Mbappe in his back pocket, Scott McTominay, who dominated the midfield, and David de Gea, who looked like his old, commanding self in goal.

United deserved their lead when Bruno Fernandes scored from the penalty spot in the first half, and it was only due to freakish misfortune that they lost it, Anthony Martial inadvertently diverting Neymar’s corner into his own net soon after half-time.

It would have been easy to crumble at that point but United rallied.

They had been tearing into PSG for much of the encounter and they continued to exploit their vulnerabilities from then on. The hosts could not handle their quick, direct passes into the channels and over the top.

Rashford’s winner, three minutes from time, was their 14th effort on goal and sixth on target. No mean feat against a side who only conceded six times on their run to last season’s final.

It felt like another big night for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose last victory in the French capital convinced the Manchester United hierarchy to make his caretaker spell in charge permanent. This one should serve to ease the pressure that had been building during United’s stormy start to the season.

He got his tactics right and the players executed his wishes perfectly.

Solskjaer, knowing the formidable attacking threat posed by PSG, switched from a back four to a back three, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka and debutant Alex Telles at wing-back either side of Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelof and Tuanzebe. His options were depleted by injury, but those selected did not perform like a makeshift backline.

On the contrary, they were brilliant. Wan-Bissaka and Telles dropped in to create a back five when PSG came forward, but they had freedom to attack too. Telles, in particular, provided considerable offensive threat, his wicked deliveries, both from open play and dead balls, showing he will give this United side a new dimension.

At 1-1, Solskjaer might have been tempted to consolidate. To sit back, soak up the pressure, and try to hold on for a draw.

Instead, he sacrificed a defender, Telles, for a midfielder, in Paul Pogba, and reverted to a back four. It sent out a clear message that United sensed victory.

His boldness was rewarded. Within two minutes of that change, Rashford was forcing a superb save from the outstretched Keylor Navas. The PSG goalkeeper denied the same man again soon after that and there was also a chance for Fernandes in between. United were fearless, pouring forward in numbers and forcing the hosts backwards.

Solskjaer’s vindication was complete when Rashford’s winner hit the back of the net, the strike set up by Pogba, the very man sent on to make the difference. As the rest of the players sprinted towards Rashford in celebration, Solskjaer pumped his fists in delight in his technical area.

His challenge now is to build on this victory in Paris in a way he was unable to last time. Manchester United only won two of their next 12 games back then. On this occasion, they need to carry the momentum forward.

The fixture list demands it. United’s next three Premier League games pit them against Chelsea, Arsenal and high-flying Everton and in between those fixtures they continue their Champions League campaign against RB Leipzig and Istanbul Basaksehir.

It is a challenging run, but thanks to another famous night in Paris, they have started it in the best way imaginable.

A season which was threatening to descend into disaster only two weeks ago is suddenly brimming with possibility again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button