In a humbling night, Manchester United got taken apart by PSG at Old Trafford, losing 0-2.
The French Champions came to Old Trafford and put in a quality display that was so assured. Despite the absences of Neymar and Edinson Cavani, PSG dominated the match and put United in a hole they will struggle to recover from – especially given Paul Pogba’s late red card.
What did we learn?
1. Di Maria’s revenge
Angel Di Maria was, a handful of passes and that delicious chip against Leicester aside, pretty terrible for Manchester United. This was a shame, but the truth and not really his fault. He suffered from a risk-averse manager that did little to help him overcome a tricky settling-in period. He’s since been really good playing for PSG, where he feels more secure and valued. These should not be controversial statements.
Yet Angel Di Maria spent all of his time on the Old Trafford pitch for PSG getting booed by the United faithful as though he was some kind pariah. The kind of player who was a legend for Liverpool or Manchester City, or someone who perhaps voiced serious criticism of the club after leaving. But Di Maria was none of those, and so it seemed oddly preformative from a club that supposedly doesn’t do that.
Angel Di María has won both his games at Old Trafford as an opposition player.
⚪️ Real Madrid
His record in between wasn’t even too bad. 👀 pic.twitter.com/C36SZBh2es
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 12, 2019
Still, Di Maria had the last laugh. After all the boos, it was the Argentine who lifted a gorgeous corner into the box for Presnel Kimpembe to stab home – giving PSG an enormous away goal. Then it was Di Maria whose lasered low cross found Kylian Mbappé to make it 0-2 and all but end the tie. A supreme display, celebrated by what we could call enthusiastic overcelebrations.
2. United poor press
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men started the match against PSG in a furious rhythm. They were flying up the field in a co-ordinated high press, forcing their visitors back and causing them to misplace passes or hoik the ball out of play. It looked like they were going to make life hell for the French champions and make this a memorable night at Old Trafford.
Then they… sort of… didn’t. The co-ordination of the press vanished and United dropped back into a press so gentle it was more like a massage. United still pressed, but only in individual bursts which did nothing but tire out their players by having them make long sprints at defenders only to have PSG comfortably pass the ball around them because the space is there.
This doesn’t seem like a massive issue but the lack of pressure allowed PSG’s experienced pros to ease their way into the match. Even without Neymar and Edinson Cavani, there was so much experience there they managed to find their rhythm with ease so that when they took the lead in the second half, it looked a goal that had “been coming.”
3. Man Marquing
One of the biggest problems for Thomas Tuchel coming into this game was how he was going to keep a lid on Paul Pogba. The Frenchman has been the most explosive and dominant player under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and on the face of it was a force that PSG had no answer to as they never managed to sign a defensive midfielder in January.
Except PSG have been using Marquinhos there all season to varying degrees of success. And tonight they deployed him there with a specific mission to effectively man-mark Paul Pogba. Marquinhos is a tremendous athlete and was thus able to match Pogba physically, meaning that whenever the Frenchman tried to get moving through midfield he found the Brazilian blocking his path – either literally or figuratively.
It was a tremendous performance from Marquinhos, shielding the PSG defence from the wrath of Pogba and frustrating the United no. 6 so much that he ended up getting himself sent off with a reckless tackle.
4. Thiago Silva shows the difference
Whilst Marquinhos blocking off Paul Pogba did wonders for PSG’s defensive solidity, United still found ways to get the ball into the box. And some of those crosses and passes were quality, with enough dip and swerve to cause serious problems for PSG – but one man was always in the way: 34-year-old Thiago Silva. A centre-back of colossal experience and able to recall his world-class peak for big games.
Thiago Silva made more clearances (10) than any other player at Old Trafford this evening.
He did not commit a single foul or even get dribbled past. ⛰ pic.twitter.com/r35bih6p6V
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 12, 2019
Silva isn’t the masterful defender he was when he was younger but he can turn it on when he has to, which he did tonight at Old Trafford. Time and again it was the Brazilian who was in the way, making a block or a clearance. He was the main man in defence, and this contrasted so much to Manchester United where there was a clear lack of a defensive leader like Thiago Silva.
Nemanja Matic, the experienced head at the back for United, was a non-event at defensive midfield. PSG passed the ball around him for fun (and in possession he was so ponderous it killed much of United’s momentum) and he literally just stopped marking Presnel Kimpembe seconds before the Frenchman stabbed the ball into the roof of United’s net. And for PSG’s second goal it was Eric Bailly who failed to cut out Di Maria’s low cross, allowing it to reach Kylian Mbappé who made it 0-2.
Whatever issues Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has solved at Manchester United, and there has been many of those, the burning need for a defensive leader like Thiago Silva isn’t one of them. They still need to sign someone in the summer.
5. No Pace No Party
Late in the first-half, Anthony Martial seemed to pulled up with an injury – though he played on until half-time. Then even later in the first-half Jesse Lingard went down as well and had to leave the pitch immediately. So United’s front three went from Martial, Lingard and Marcus Rashford to Rashford, Juan Mata and Alexis Sánchez.
The lack of pace in the United attack after the break was staggeringly obvious. With the exception of Rashford, United no longer had any capability to threaten their opponents in behind. As a result PSG felt more comfortable squeezing up, playing higher up the field and reducing the space in midfield, allowing them to dominate.
1 – Manchester United managed just one shot on target against PSG tonight, their lowest in a Champions League match at Old Trafford since February 2005 in the Last 16 against eventual finalists Milan (also 1). Lacklustre. #MUNPSG pic.twitter.com/yJZUrLHAoD
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 12, 2019
Worse still, without speed in attack United just fell flat. Alexis Sánchez was absolutely horrible as he has been all season, giving the ball away with impotent regularity, and Juan Mata was absolutely adrift in the game. Some bright touches, some good ideas, but nothing incisive. Nothing of substance. Certainly nothing that could make up for the fact that he has the sprint speed of a snail.
As a result, United produced a lifeless display. The Red Devils managed just one shot on target, their lowest in Europe for over a decade. It was also the first time United had lost by more than a single goal at home in Europe. Two records that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would loathe to have associated with him. He’ll be hoping those injuries aren’t too serious.