PSG vs Manchester United: Five things we learned from the Champions League encounter

PSG 1-2 Manchester United

Lawrence Ostlere
Tuesday 20 October 2020 22:10 BST
Axel Tuanzebe shields the ball from Kylian Mbappe
Axel Tuanzebe shields the ball from Kylian Mbappe (EPA)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Solskjaer gets tactics right

There are plenty of valid reasons to question Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s capabilities in a job as big as the one he occupies. Quite simply, he doesn’t have the CV to be there, and results like the thrashing by Tottenham before the international break only raise further doubts about his suitability in the long term.

But when it comes to the biggest occasions, more often than not Solskjaer seems to get his tactics spot on. Here he deployed five at the back, just as he did 18 months ago in the same stadium as United registered one of their most famous Europe wins. The back five successfully marshalled Kylian Mbappe and Neymar for much of the match, and there were standout performances by Luke Shaw, Axel Tuanzebe (more on him later) and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Here Solskjaer showed not for the first time that he can prepare a team for a night when it really matters.

Might Bruno sustain these levels?

There was plenty of talk before the season’s start that Bruno Fernandes’ phenomenal volume of goals and assists last season was unsustainable this term. The big factor was supposedly that United won a ludicrous amount of penalties – 10 in the Premier League alone – which fluffed Bruno’s numbers.

But after another spot-kick here, which Bruno converted at the second attempt after Keylor Navas was adjudged to have come off his line saving the first, might it just be that United are particularly effective at drawing fouls in the box? This time it was Anthony Martial rolling his man and taking a clobbering in the process, but when United are in full flow there are plenty of dangers for defences to misjudge. So far this season there is no sign that Fernandes’ output will slow.

Mbappe outshines NeymarNeymar has been PSG’s talisman ever since arriving from Barcelona and typically he remains the brightest among their shining stars, but this night saw Kylian Mbappe far more threatening than his Brazilian teammate. Mbappe has started the season well with six league goals as PSG have recovered from their shock opening two defeats, and here he showed some of that form in fleeting glimpses. His standout moment was a mesmeric dribble in from the left side, shaking off two defenders before firing at goal only to see an equally brilliant save from David de Gea. It wasn’t to be his night, but he came an awful lot closer to making an impact than Neymar, who has now not scored in any of his last six Champions League games. 

Is Pogba’s time running out?

It might seem a little contradictory that in the same few days that Paul Pogba has twice found himself starting on the bench, United chose to trigger a one-year extension in his contract. The reality is that the two things go hand in hand. United are happy to sell Pogba but they want to make their money back on the £90m signing from Juventus four years ago, and extending his deal protects his price.

Whether Pogba is one of those carrying the can for that disastrous afternoon against Tottenham before the international break or whether there has been a fresh fallout with the manager is unclear, but clearly he has been pushed to the periphery and is not being relied upon from the start. It might just be the beginning of the end for Pogba’s eventful Manchester United journey.  

Tuanzebe comes of age

Most young talents have a big game in their early career when they really announce themselves on the highest stage, and perhaps this was Axel Tuanzebe’s moment. The defender was outstanding all night against the world-class front line of PSG, regularly snuffing out Kylian Mbappe, and more than matching him for pace and strength on two or three occasions. After positive loan spells at Aston Villa mixed with injury struggles,  might this finally be Tuanzebe’s time to test himself more regularly for United? At 22 he looks physically and mentally ready for the challenge, and United’s defensive troubles in recent weeks suggest they could do with the fresh impetus.

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