Just How Unprecedented Is United's Task?
Exremely. Like the most amount of 'unprecedented' that's logically possible.
Whilst overcoming a two-goal first leg defeat has happened 11 times ever since European football was invented, back in 1992, those ties all saw the second leg played at home, however. No one has ever done it having bogged the home tie so spectacularly.
Straws to clutch at? How about 2013/14 when they survived a scare after going down 2-0 at Olympiakos only for David Moyes’ side to pluck up the courage to reverse it 3-0 back in Blighty.
Sadly for United fans, PSG are a smidge sharper than the old red and white meze fiends.
In the past few games, United’s injury list has swelled to a level that even manager of the month nominee Solskjaer is struggling to manage. His side are in the throes of a potentially season-defining crisis. Add to this Pogba’s first-leg brain fade and they will go into tonight’s daunting challenge missing no fewer than ten first-team players.
The absence of Martial, Sanchez and Lingard up top will pile the goal-scoring burden onto Lukaku’s shoulders. Ok, sorry. The absence of Martial and Lingard up top will pile the goal-scoring burden onto Lukaku’s shoulders. Lucky then that he’s been finding the target of late. The big man has bagged a brace in his last two outings just as Rashford has eased off. Third time lucky and he may just drag his team back into this tie.
Continuing on the crocks, United's midfield looks about as healthy as your average TalkSport presenter, with Mata, Herrera and Matic all forced to watch from the stands. This leaves a gap to be filled by three players who, as 5th, 6th and 7th choice picks, probably thought their seasons were over a fortnight ago.
Since signing last summer, Fred has never felt like he really belongs in this team. United’s £52m elephant in the room has enjoyed just one start in 2019, the chance to play a key role in such a big game is a bolt from the blue. With OGS showing his ruthless side in axing club captain Antonio Valencia this week, you feel Fred’s future hangs on a massive showing here.
McTominay inexplicably became Jose’s teacher’s pet last year, in a hugely transparent bid to fool fans he ‘gets’ the United way. Despite such elaborate smoke and mirrors his persistently underwhelming displays convinced few those outside of the Lowry Hotel that he justified the hastily conjured Manager’s Player Of The Year award in any way at all. Proof that even football is not safe in the era of fake news.
Still 22 years old, the Scot has been given a hefty break here, starting three games on the spin, quietly impressing in the damage limitation job against Liverpool, and handed a platform to take on some of the world’s best in Paris.
Is this the night he finally dispels the rumours that he’s actually Nemanja Matic’s equally pallid and gormless nephew who simply never went home after a brief work experience stint at the club 18 months ago? We shall see.
Finally, Andreas Perreira is another youngster who will feel this is his time to shine. There’s a feeling of now or never for the enigmatic midfield engine who impressed at Valencia last year but has seen his progress stutter whenever in touching distance of the first team in the North West.
After the game he had at the weekend, the 23-year-old ought to leave his well-oiled engine running. His first ever United goal against Southampton – a dreamy 25-yard dipper – was the first concrete sign he finally looks ready to cement his place at the club.
Considering United’s inferiority with a full squad in the home leg, anything bar an utter thrashing should see all three come out of this game with some credit in the bank.
No Homecoming Party For Pogba
The Frenchman’s frustrations came to the fore in the reverse fixture when he received a second yellow card in the 89th minute for a wild challenge on Dani Alves. The incident drew a thick line of chalk through his chances of captaining the Red Devils to a memorable second-leg comeback in his home-town.
Although Pogba talks passionately about his birthplace, there is some bitterness. Despite growing up just 20 miles from Parc des Princes, Pogba was overlooked by PSG’s scouts who often failed to properly trawl the areas surrounding the capital. It’s a mistake they repeated with Kyllian M’Bappe; one that cost them €145 million to put right last summer.
Pogba ended up joining Le Havre in Northern France which is actually closer to Brighton than Paris. By his very gutsy nature, being determined to prove people wrong and come through adversity on top, this fixture would have lit the fire in his belly to do something truly incredible. United fans should be gutted he doesn’t have the chance to make amends here.
Mbappe’s Time To Shine
Even with so many superstars on the roster and the mighty big bucks on the table at PSG, the local lad, Mbappe, hasn’t been perturbed. He’s outshone his far more experienced colleagues Neymar and Cavani as the club’s top scorer by some distance with 28 in total this season.
A policy of no surrender from the boy from the banlieue has got him to where he is and the unfathomable part is that he’s only just 20. Since showing that blistering pace to terrorise Eric Bailly and reach Di Maria’s through ball before guiding past De Gea, the speedster can’t stop netting. The baby-faced goal-gannet has found the target in each of his last five appearances including a brace in each of his last two.
There is simply no end to this kid’s baffling brilliance and here is the proof. With 14 goals so far in the competition, he has more goals than both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi did at his age, and not fractionally either. Considering Ronnie had zero and Leo only two, who knows what heights he could scale in the next decade.
The Form Books
There probably isn’t ever a particularly good time to play PSG especially when you’re missing ten players, but this looks an exceptionally bad time to face them. The Tuchel touch has worked a treat – they’re now 17 points clear atop Ligue 1, have lost just once at home all year and won all five games since their visit to Old Trafford, scoring 14 and conceding just twice.
The gangly goalie is putting together a portfolio of world-class performances time and time again. To date, only one goalkeeper has ever won the Ballon d’Or, Lev Yashin of Dynamo Moscow in 1963 as you asked.
If it was to ever happen again, you’d put your back garden on it being awarded to De Gea. A clean sheet in Paris and safe passage through to the quarter-finals and his case is made even stronger.
There was more dirt in the first-leg than in some World War 1 trenches. PSG received four yellow cards to United’s five before Pogba’s eventual red resulted in an early bath.
Di Maria was welcomed back to Old Trafford in kindly style: shoved into the advertising hoardings by Ashley Young, whilst Presnal Kimpembe was mighty lucky to stay on the pitch. There are a few players already on thin ice who will be suspended with one more yellow including Young, Draxler, Kherer, Veratti and Bernat.
It’s not gone unnoticed that Tuchel has added a dash of rugged skulduggery to this hareem of megastars. With the cautions totting up it will be interesting to see if they can play fair too. With a PSG red card the only thing likely to make this interesting they'd be wise to muzzle the bite they showed in Manchester.
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