Now that Manchester United have extinguished the pain of the Tottenham Hotspur defeat with a 4-1 win over Newcastle United, the European journey begins.
Having passed their St James’ Park assignment, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men are bracing themselves for an intense two weeks which includes four huge games.
It begins with a return to Champions League action with a daunting trip to France face Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday evening.
After the clash with PSG, a home triple-header against Chelsea, RB Leipzig and Arsenal awaits.
United, of course, are no strangers to the French champions with Solskjaer’s side having prevailed against the odds in their last-16 meeting in 2019.
The Reds ran out surprise 3-1 winners in the second leg at the Parc des Princes having lost the first game 2-0 at Old Trafford before bowing out to Barcelona in the last eight.
Now, 18 months on, PSG are much the same. They’re still French champions, still awaiting a first Champions League triumph – having missed out in last season’s final – and still boast a formidable attack featuring Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and former United winger Angel Di Maria.
As Solskjaer prepares his side for a blockbuster European evening, M.E.N Sport has taken a closer look at what United can expect from a typically star-studded PSG outfit.
Led by former Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel, PSG typically line up in a 4-3-3 formation, the system Tuchel used most during their run to last season’s Champions League final.
It is a formation that works well for the French champions with Marquinhos often deployed as the midfield anchor. The Brazilian, however, has been ruled out of Tuesday’s clash so United can expect to come up against either Idrissa Gueye or Leandro Paredes.
The slightly more advanced midfielders may well be Rafinha, a summer signing from Barcelona, and Ander Herrera, who joined PSG after leaving United in 2019. Marco Verratti, so often an influential deep-lying playmaker for the Parisians, is a major doubt after sustaining a thigh problem on international duty with Italy.
The front three, who will be expected to cause United’s defence a multitude of problems with their pace and interchangeability, could be Neymar, Mbappe and Di Maria, who has missed the last two Ligue 1 games through suspension after spitting on Marseille defender Alvaro Gonzalez in September.
When PSG dominate possession, their front three tends to become a front five with two midfielders supporting the attack. In this scenario, they are adept at occupying their opponents’ central defenders, allowing Neymar and Di Maria to drift infield and find space.
Neymar, in particular, has been in outstanding form recently, scoring five goals and adding three assists in his last three games for PSG and Brazil.
You can see how Neymar can influence the game from deeper positions below. For his assist in PSG’s 6-1 Ligue 1 win over Angers – he also scored twice – the former Barcelona star occupies four Angers players after dropping back into midfield, leaving Gueye and left-back Mitchel Bakker with plenty of space on the left.
The lack of attention afforded to Gueye proves costly as the midfielder scores after being teed up by Neymar.
Stopping Neymar is one of the most daunting prospects imaginable for a defensively-minded player, although it wouldn’t be surprising to see Solskjaer asking Fred to fulfil that role come Tuesday night.
The Brazilian, who returned to Solskjaer’s starting line-up for the win at Newcastle, is often most effective in games in which United concede the majority of possession, being able to use his tenacity and mobility to hassle opponents.
Indeed, Fred worked tirelessly alongside Scott McTominay in United’s win at the Parc des Princes in 2019, making four interceptions and winning eight of his 12 defensive duels as per Wyscout.
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Following the game, Solskjaer described it as Fred’s ‘breakthrough performance’.
Of course, when United do have the ball on Tuesday, they can expect to be met with a structured, aggressive press from their hosts, which has been a key feature under Tuchel’s leadership.
It can be a nightmare to work around, as RB Leipzig discovered during their Champions League semi-final loss to Les Parisiens in August.
As seen below, Neymar, Mbappe and Di Maria are all blocking off three passing options for Leipzig keeper Peter Gulacsi. While there is space behind PSG’s front three, Paredes anticipates the goalkeeper’s attempt at beating the press, intercepting the ball before playing in Di Maria, who finishes.
United can expect a similar brand of high-pressing from PSG on Tuesday, and while Newcastle failed to sufficiently trouble them on Saturday, Solskjaer’s side have looked uncomfortable at times while playing out from the back this season, notably during the defeat by Spurs.
Composure from the likes of David De Gea, Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof will be key if United are to beat the PSG press and find their match-winners higher up the pitch.
It should be a fascinating tactical battle between United and PSG on Tuesday. Solskjaer got the better of Tuchel last time out. Repeat the feat and it will go down as one of the biggest accomplishments of the Norwegian’s near two-year reign.