Sacré bleu: Ole through to quarters
By James Owen
“And Solskjaer has won it!” The famous words of Clive Tyldesley were echoed at full time on Wednesday night as Manchester United triumphed against all odds to beat Paris-Saint Germain 1 -3 at the Parc des Princes.
Nobody expected United to win, they weren’t supposed to win. Written off by many with the absence of ten first team players. A bench that included four academy graduates. Having to overturn a deficit of two away goals. It all looked to be too much for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, but as he said after the game, “this is what we do”. On an unforgettable night at the Parc des Princes, Manchester United created history in becoming the first side to recover from a two goal first leg home defeat to progress to the quarter-finals of the biggest of all club competitions.
As Manchester United lined up with a midfield of Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira, and Fred you couldn’t help but think this is a midfield that wouldn’t look out of place in the reserve side. But, with United’s favoured midfield all out through either injury or suspension it fell to the youngsters to outplay the likes of Marco Veratti, Angel Di Maria, and Julian Draxler. Solskjaer’s game plan was simple; grab an early goal and remain in the game with 20 minuets to play. And that’s how it went.
With just under two minutes played at the Parc des Princes PSG’s Timo Keher, unaware of his surroundings, played a sluggish back pass to Gianluigi Buffon, with Romelu Lukaku being quickest off the mark to run on to the ball, shrugging of a challenge from Thiago Silva, rounding the keeper and score his first of the night. The plan was set in motion, Manchester United had their early goal and it was now all to play for in Paris.
From here on in PSG began to play with the quality that saw them comfortably slot two goals past Manchester United in the first leg. Juan Bernat and Angel Di Maria left makeshift right back Eric Bailly on the back of his heels as they teamed up to whip in a low cross that was inches away from an Mbappe equaliser. The home fans didn’t have to wait for long, as Mbappe fizzed a ball across the six yard box for Juan Bernat to tap in.
With Manchester United back to square one, and needing two goals to progress, all eyes were on this inexperienced side to see how they would respond. PSG though had other ideas and continued their relentless assault on Eric Bailly. Dani Alves struck a volley over the bar from 12 yards out whilst goal scorer Juan Bernat tested the palms of De Gea. A second goal looked imminent for PSG and would most likely have ended Manchester United’s slim chance of progression.
A rare Manchester United attack on the 30thminute saw Marcus Rashford hit a dipping shot at the hands of Gianluigi Buffon. What looked so simple for Buffon turned into a calamity as the World Cup winner fumbled the ball in to the path of Romelu Lukaku to complete his third brace in as many games. Manchester United led at the break.
After some scintillating football in the second half, PSG looked like they’d found their opening, but a delightful lob by Angel Di Maria was flagged for offside. As the clock ran down Manchester United patiently waited for their opportunity to attack and with 20 minutes remaining Solskjaer had his wish; they were still very much in this tie.
Manchester United began to push up the field chasing the goal that would send them through to the quarter finals, their efforts instead saw them caught out of position and as PSG top scorer Kylian Mbappe ran through on goal it looked as if they would be going home instead. A slip though saw the chance squandered as Chris Smalling topped off an excellent performance block the effort. This dramatic game of twists and turns continued as United continued to push forward, winning a corner from a blocked Diogo Dalot shot.
With Solskjaer in the dugout there was hope of creating a similar ending to his famous winner in the 1999 Champions League final. Instead, a new kind of drama was to unfold as referee Damir Skomina was alerted to a possible handball by PSG defender Kimpembe, as a United free kick deflected on to Kimpembe’s arm with his back turned. Tense moments awaited as VAR reviewed the incident and awarded a contentious penalty in the 94th minute. Up stepped Marcus Rashford for his first ever Manchester United penalty, slotting past Buffon from 12 yards out to send Manchester United through to the quarter-finals and PSG crashing out.
In a game dominated by VAR talk, Manchester United were not the better side, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t deserve to go through. Solskjaer has brought back the fighting mentality that is so often associated with previous United sides. With nine away wins in a row the announcement of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the permanent Manchester United manager is looking inevitable.
In the other dugout, times are more difficult for PSG manager Thomas Tuchel. With PSG expected to cruise to a Ligue 1 title each year, the Champions League offers a chance for them to prove themselves as one of Europe’s elite, but, with seven losses in there previous twelve knockout games the Parisians have again fallen short of European glory, and for most in the French capital that is enough to see the manager lose his job.
Up Next Manchester United will look to continue their impressive run of away wins as they travel to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday to face Arsenal in a highly anticipated fixture as both sides look to put a dent in their oppositions fight for top four.