Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has another addition to his collection of prized scalps and this was his most impressive as Manchester United manager. Just like United’s last city break in Paris, there was assistance from the Video Assistant Referee and a late Marcus Rashford winner. Unlike 19 months ago, this was no fluke.
There were injuries but not in double figures and Paris Saint-Germain supposedly have more mettle about them. Not on this evidence. United were tactically astute and adventurous against PSG, a shadow of the finalists edged out by Bayern Munich two months ago and looking like yesterday’s pretenders.
Solskjaer bested Thomas Tuchel with the pivotal introduction of Paul Pogba that sparked a momentum shift and the Frenchman teed up Rashford to arrow past Keylor Navas. Rashford had spurned two presentable openings on the breakaway yet converted the half-chance to leave the narky Neymar’s head bowed once more.
This, played out in an eerie Parc des Princes, will not be remembered as fondly as Solskjaer’s seminal night as a caretaker and there were no Mancunians to dart towards for Rashford. United have shown maturity, though, and arrested an alarming start to a season by putting upstarts PSG back in their lane.
It was a performance laden with some magnificent performances. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Axel Tuanzebe bossed Kylian Mbappe, the centre-back producing a remarkable performance on his first appearance in 10 months.
Solskjaer has elicited a reaction not just from Pogba but David de Gea. Dean Henderson’s return has jolted De Gea in training and United are now seeing it on matchdays. He was back in world-class form with another entrant into his pantheon of great saves from Kylian Mbappe in a stadium he might have graced regularly had United not convinced him to stay. PSG only breached De Gea through an Anthony Martial own goal.
Scott McTominay and Fred, having as grand a time in Paris as Rick and Ilsa again, were more authoritative than in the remarkable recovery at the knockout stage 19 months ago. Perhaps picked more for that occasion than their Saturday night on the Tyne, they suffocated Mbappe and Neymar and Fred further endeared himself to United supporters with a tone-setting tackle on the despised Di Maria.
The United teamsheet was devoid of Harry Maguire and Pogba and their opposite numbers – Marquinhos and Marco Verratti – were absent from PSG’s. If that suggested they were on equal footing then it was anything but. Even with their Gaullacticos, PSG have lost their fear factor within two months of reaching the Champions League final and that was reinforced by the introduction of Everton outcast Moise Kean at the pause.
Solskjaer paid PSG’s frontline due respect without displaying an inferiority complex. He succeeded in reverting to a back three against the Premier League top four last season and supplemented it with United’s own formidable trio. Martial’s feet were quick enough for the can-can at the Moulin Rouge, though the ever mercurial Martial was not so fleet of foot inside his own area from a corner.
United and Solskjaer have shown teeth in their handling of Pogba, benched again after his contract was extended last week. He was boldly introduced in the final quarter, signalling a formation shift that flummoxed Tuchel. Pogba’s presence brought about a momentum swing that pushed PSG deeper.
From Colchester to the continent: Tuanzebe’s previous appearance was in the Carabao Cup and, a year to the day since he was selected in a defensive trident against Liverpool, only to succumb to a hip injury in the warm-up, Tuanzebe was back in a back three for the ultimate baptism of fire against Neymar, Mbappe and Di Maria.
The United defender must have grown a couple of inches after an early clearance found a teammate and will have felt a foot taller when he left Mbappe on the turf with a challenge that piqued Neymar into getting cautioned. To underline it was no accident, Tuanzebe bulldozed Mbappe off the ball again in the second-half.
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Although De Gea had to parry efforts from Di Maria and Layvin Kurzawa inside the first 15 minutes, United mastered the occasion of a European away and finally have a full-back who resembles a winger in Alex Telles. The wing-back was responsible for springing attacks through his precise passing that alleviated the pressure on McTominay and Fred, free to keep Neymar and Mbappe in check. United also appear to have unearthed a specialist at corners in Telles.
Fernandes was borderline redundant up until his penalties, the second gifted by the straying Keylor Navas, so direct was United’s passing into Rashford and the mercurial Martial. PSG, deprived of their enforcer Marquinhos, seemed to be having flashbacks of March 2019 and Abdou Diallo clumsily upended Martial. Fernandes, captaining United for the first time, had the bottle to step up a second time after Keylor Navas inched off the line to save the first spotkick.
United rued Rashford’s rustiness at 1-0 and 1-1 on the counter but the arrival of Pogba upped their possession and, against porous Parisians, Rashford found the gap.