A loss of discipline
It would be interesting to know how much thought Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave to taking Fred off at half-time, given how fortunate he had been in the first half.
The general consensus seemed to be that the Manchester United midfielder needed saving from himself, having avoided what should have undoubtedly been a straight red card for a headbutt on Leandro Paredes in the first-half against Paris Saint-Germain.
It was a mystery how Daniele Orsato could watch the footage and not send the Brazilian off, but his tussles with Argentinean midfielder Paredes didn’t end there. They both went in for a fierce tackle later in the half and while it was the PSG midfielder who was booked, it could really have been either.
So the sensible move might have been to replace Fred, but perhaps Solskjaer was showing trust in him not to commit another foul. The challenge that earned him his second yellow card just seconds after Marquinhos had put the visitors ahead wasn’t a foul, but by sliding into the tackle he gave Orsato a decision to make, and it wasn’t a completely clean tackle.
Fred’s poor first touch led to the lunge on Ander Herrera – not the first time his touch has failed him – and as he saw the ball escape he should have had the discipline not to fly into a tackle that could have gone either way. His discipline let him down in the first half with that ludicrous thrust of the head to Paredes and this was another poor decision from the midfielder.
You can only imagine the roar inside Old Trafford when Scott McTominay’s sliding tackle took ball and Neymar late in the first half, before the howls of derision that would have been aimed at the Brazilian for his reaction to McTominay accidentally standing on his foot.
McTominay is no respecter of reputations and his superb tackle was a moment to remember. It clearly irked Neymar as well. He wanted to continue the argument at half-time and when the United academy graduate laughed him off before giving the £198million forward a little shove in the back it only incensed him further.
McTominay never took a step back from the challenge posed by Neymar and his attitude and fight in those contests is something Solskjaer will cherish. He also kept his discipline and picked his battles against the Brazilian, something Fred failed to achieve.
For somebody who hasn’t played a huge amount of football since his last PSG appearance in March, Edinson Cavani is playing with quite the swagger at the moment.
He produced one sumptuous flick to get Marcus Rashford in early in the second half, with the ball being squared to Anthony Martial who should have scored, before Cavani then hit the bar with a chip that had echoes of Eric Cantona.
It was a fine United move but as Cavani broke free from just inside the PSG half it became clear he didn’t have the pace to stay clear, but who needs pace when you have the invention the striker showed, floating a delicate chip over the head of Keylor Navas only for the ball to strike the bar, before Martial again missed the rebound.
Those two goals at Southampton look to have played Cavani into peak form already and in this kind of mood he has to be a part of United’s attack every week at the moment.
That was never likely to be the idea when he was signed – amid much cynicism – at the end of the summer transfer window. Then the 33-year-old looked like a reliable back-up option to Martial and an experienced head to help United’s young attack.
In that window, United’s priority was a right-winger to supplement Martial through the middle and Rashford off the left in a thrilling three-man attack. Instead, Cavani is making the centre forward position his own. That looks like forcing Martial to the left and Rashford to the right, when fit. It’s probably not how Solskjaer saw his attack lining up at the start of this season, but sometimes a player is simply too good to drop.
United had only themselves to blame when a bit of pinball in the area led to Marquinhos putting PSG ahead against the run of play.
Solskjaer’s side had comfortably been the better side in the second half but they were guilty of failing to make the most of opportunities, in terms of chances created and moments where they had men over.
In particular Martial blasting over from eight yards after excellent build-up from Cavani and Rashford was a gilt-edged chance, the kind that simply has to be taken in a game like this.
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The back four
United’s two previous wins against PSG – both achieved in Paris – came with the use of a back three, but perhaps due to a lack of defensive options, or maybe as a result of United’s improved form recently, Solskjaer went with a back four at Old Trafford.
It would be hard to say it was the wrong decision as well, given United were unfortunate to lose the game after a shaky start. PSG were the better side for 15 minutes but after that United looked assured and it will be encouraging to Solskjaer that they defended well.
Axel Tuanzebe was praised for his defensive work in Paris in October and although he was suspended for the rematch, Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof stood firm. Both defended well once PSG’s initial pressure had subsided and Neymar and Kylian Mbappe had little joy against them for the best part of an hour, until the game became stretched after the red card, which will frustrate United even more.