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Fortune and Solskjaer's bravery tips mammoth PSG clash in United's favour

Luck has shone on United ahead of tonight’s Champions League last-16 first-leg clash against Paris Saint-Germain.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer speaks to the media ahead of United's European clash with PSG.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer speaks to the media ahead of United's European clash with PSG.
Image: Martin Rickett

AHEAD OF THEIR Champions League last-16 first leg clash with PSG [RTE Two, KO 8pm] the importance of full-throttle European nights to Manchester United’s history should not be underestimated.

They helped to prolong Alex Ferguson’s career. 

“The great thing about European football”, Ferguson wrote in his season diary of the 94/95 season, “is that it seems to extend your life. I always seem to go to bed later after European games because of the adrenaline rush they give me.” 

On reflection, few occasions proved such a stark illustration of just how badly Jose Mourinho misjudged what was expected of him at United than last season’s last-16 tie at home to Sevilla. 

A goalless first-leg away from home was met with a bewildering containment policy in the second-leg, with Paul Pogba left on the bench. United hardly created a chance until they fell 2-0 behind, and were first eliminated and then humiliated by their own manager as he droned on about United supposedly lacking “football heritage.”

 He further sucked the life out of Old Trafford in the group stages of this season’s competition, with a last-minute Marouane Fellaini goal – that should have been ruled out for handball – in the final home game against Young Boys preventing United going the entire phase without scoring a goal at home.

These were poor, dessicated nights, with even the only goal tarnished by association with Fellaini, an honest emblem of much that was wrong with Mourinho’s football. 

It’s all over now, however, and the most significant thing about Manchester United landing PSG in the Champions League last December was that the draw was made on Mourinho’s penultimate day in the job. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has utterly changed the mood around the club since arriving, and his awareness of what a febrile European night has done for United in the past means the soulless events curated by Mourinho will be relegated to the past. 

The ousted boss failed to realise the strength of the crowd in that tie against Sevilla last year, and largely alienated them in setting up so defensively. Solskjaer is unlikely to do the same tonight, so expect United to attack from the outset and bring an already-raucous crowd to a pitch it hasn’t met in quite some time. 

As Solskjaer continues to press for the job full-time – his agent was present alongside Ed Woodward at last Saturday’s win over Fulham – it has been widely acknowledged that this tie, along with the upcoming league game at home to Liverpool, will form his acid test. 

He largely won his first big tactical battle in exploiting Tottenham’s marauding full-backs last-month, although was indebted to David De Gea as United lost the courage of their convictions in the second-half. 

Imago 20190209 Neymar will have to maintain a watching brief at Old Trafford tonight. Source: Imago/PA Images

If there was fortune in that game, it is aligning once again for Solskjaer ahead of tonight’s game with PSG shorn of Neymar, Edison Cavani, Thomas Meunier and Adrien Rabiot. 

Thomas Tuchel has lamented he has been forced to revert from “Plan B to Plan D.”

Expect Solskjaer to stick to the plan that beat Tottenham, given the French champions are without first-choice right-back Meunier meaning they will be forced to field either the ageing Dani Alves or the 22-year-old Thilo Kehrer. 

Juan Bernat, meanwhile, will play at left-back less than a year after Bayern decided to sell him because of, in Uli Hoeness’ words, “his shit play.”

They have problems in midfield, too, although they have eased from the crisis of January which saw them bid frantically for Everton’s Idrissa Gueye while playing Alves in that role. 

Critically, Marco Veratti returns from injury, with his importance accentuated in his absence from the 3-2 defeat at Anfield in September.

Fortune giveth and taketh away, however.

Neymar’s annual metatarsal injury and a hip knock picked up Edison Cavani means Angel Di Maria will push further forward in support of Kylian M’bappé. 

This will likely leave the midfield consisting of New Signing Leandro Paredes and Defender Marquinhos, with South William Street Barista Adrien Rabiot banished for refusing to sign a new contract with PSG. 

The breaking up of Marquinhos’ defensive partnership with Thiago Silva is a blow for the French champions, although Presnel Kimpembe is an able deputy. 

United, meanwhile, have a minor worry about Victor Lindelof. 

While PSG retain the attacking talent to hurt United, the prospect of United’s confidence and vibrancy melding with a raucous Old Trafford hints at a another successful night for Solskjaer. 

Man United (probable, 4-4-2 diamond): De Gea; Young, Lindelof, Jones, Shaw; Matic, Pogba, Herrera, Lingard; Martial, Rashford 

PSG (probable, 4-3-3): Buffon; Alves, Silva, Kimpembe, Bernat; Marquinhos, Paredes, Veratti; Di Maria, Draxler, M’bappé

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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