Where did it go wrong for Manchester United?

Early hope

Heading into their clash against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday night, there was a real sense of optimism surrounding Manchester United, who were backed by plenty to get a positive result.

Winning 10 of their previous 11 games under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and going unbeaten under the Norwegian since he took over, United had been playing with the shackles off following the departure of Jose Mourinho.

Yet the performance United produced on the night didn’t resemble the qualities the team have shown over the last two months or so.

For whatever reason things just never clicked for them at Old Trafford. Whether it be the occasion of a Champions League night or simply the quality of their opponents, United were unable to find any sort of rhythm throughout the contest.

The movement in attack was not as slick as in previous weeks, Paul Pogba was nullified by a brilliant man-marking job from Marquinhos, while Marcus Rashford was an isolated figure, particularly in the second half.

Cagey start

The first half of the game began how most first legs in the Champions League tend to unfold, being a nervous, cagey affair. Neither side was willing to overcommit in the first half, with PSG rarely allowing any of their midfield three to venture forward, leading to few chances.

Angel di Maria was having an absolute stinker, while United were able to restrict Kylian Mbappe to one offside effort on goal that was saved by David De Gea.

Solskjaer had clearly encouraged his team to press high in the first half, though they were unable to really make the most of any of the opportunities they got from winning the ball back in their opponents’ half.

Going forward United themselves offered little, often playing safe instead of seizing the initiative in the home leg and will certainly feel it was a missed opportunity given both Neymar and Edinson Cavani were missing.

Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera were tidy in possession, but neither are players you would look towards to really play a killer pass. Anthony Martial was pretty anonymous on the left flank as United struggled to get him and Rashford running in behind the PSG defence.

In many ways it was a perfect European away performance from Thomas Tuchel’s team, who had identified that United’s greatest threat would come on the counter-attack though Lingard, Martial and Rashford. The German was clearly aware of the threat, leaving both full-backs sitting deep and all three midfielders conservative in their attacking approach.

United never really forced the issue in the first half, but credit must also go to their opponents for getting their tactics spot on to deny them the opportunity to do so.

Jesse Lingard

Momentum changer

Heading into the break both managers would’ve been content, but the game ultimately swung on two injuries to key players in United’s attack. Both Lingard and Martial went off at the break and it had a huge effect on their performance in the second half.

No longer were United even offering the threat of a counter-attack and Rashford rarely had any level of quality service to work with. He and Lingard had looked sharp in stages of the first half, but that link was snatched away from him after the break.

Substitutes Juan Mata and Alexis Sanchez had no real impact in the game, with both slowing down the United frontline and offering little when they were able to get into the final third. Sanchez in particular was alarmingly quiet and it again highlighted the steep decline the Chilean has experienced since his move to Old Trafford.

Meanwhile, Pogba was still being excellently marshalled by Marquinhos in midfield, who did not let the World Cup winner out of his sight for the 89 minutes in which he was on the pitch. The frustration ultimately got to him late on when he was sent off for a second yellow card, also leaving him suspended for the second leg.

Of all the ways to concede to PSG, a free volley for a centre-back from a set-piece is hardly how Solskjaer would’ve imagined it when Presnel Kimpembe wandered free to cushion the ball home from close range.

The second was more what you’d expect when Mbappe rushed in front of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof to tap in di Maria’s low ball into the box.

Paul Pogba

Second leg hopes

The fact United are now 125/1 to win the Champions League from 18/1 last night tells you all you need to know about their chances in the second leg.

Despite the fact both Neymar and Cavani look set to miss the return leg in Paris, the Ligue 1 champions remain overwhelming favourites to progress and with good reason. PSG have lost just once at home in the Champions League since the start of the 2015/16 season, with that defeat coming to eventual winners Real Madrid in last year’s Round of 16.

Barcelona are the only side to have scored three goals at the Parc Des Princes in the Champions League since PSG got back in the Champions League in 2012, with that coming in a 3-1 victory. Luis Suarez was then in his pomp and made a mockery of David Luiz on that evening, scoring twice after nutmegging the Brazilian for both goals.

Barca lined up with a front three of Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi in that tie and eventually went on to win the competition that season.

If Lingard and Martial are both ruled out of the second United will now likely be forced to go with a front three of Mata, Sanchez and Rashford in Paris for the return fixture. Not only that, but they won’t have Pogba there to feed them the ball.

Solskjaer has a mammoth task on his hands for the second leg and, in the unlikely event that he can pull it off, would be one of the greatest shocks in the club’s history.

Kylian Mbappe
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