Manchester United got dismissed by PSG in the Champions League last night.
Despite their superb form under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, The Red Devils got taken apart by the Parisians at Old Trafford, and this was a PSG side that didn’t have Neymar or Edinson Cavani.
The result was brutal and, with Paul Pogba getting sent off, almost all hope of a comeback in the French capital appears to have vanished.
The result is a body blow to Solskjaer’s reign. His first defeat, sure, but it was done so comprehensively and, also, easily. PSG were by far the better side yet they never really extended themselves with a dramatic performance or a tactical switch or anything like that. They just sort of turned up, played professionally and got the win.
That insulting ease is what will have riled Manchester United fans up the most, because it confirmed that no matter their form right now this was not a squad capable of mixing it with the very best Europe has to offer.
No, United are a side with serious issues in their first XI, issues that needed solving as much now under Solskjaer as they did under José Mourinho. What are those issues? Those problem positions? Well…
This is the obvious one. Mourinho spent all summer going on about it (the club even moved Marcos Rojo so that the no. 5 shirt would be free for whoever arrived) and whilst that did seem a bit churlish given he spent about £60m on Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, when you look at the situation as a whole it’s hard to argue he was wrong.
Bailly and Lindelof are both quality defenders but neither is a defensive organiser, one to lead a back-line. Moreover, if those two are the starters that means Chris Smalling or Phil Jones are third-choice, and that’s a frightening prospect.
PSG exposed Bailly for their second goal, when Angel Di Maria sent a cross in behind him and he totally misjudged the direction, slowing down before lunging after a ball that had already passed him. A better defender, even Lindelof, would not have made that error.
Squawka Suggests: Kalidou Koulibaly
Napoli’s Senegalese centre-back is easily the best choice here. Not only is he world-class, but at 27 he’s the perfect age to be United’s defensive leader. He’d also allow Lindelof to play on the right side of defence as he prefers and would be the organisational leader United have been crying out for.
This, in turn, would make Bailly a back-up and mean that the club could keep Smalling on the fringes and offload the inconsistent Jones.
This one may seem less urgent as Nemanja Matic has drastically improved under Solskjaer. But when you consider that he was improving from being basically as useful as a traffic cone then you realise that he still is miles off what United need.
Matic is slow, he can’t track runners very well, he leaves space in behind him and takes two to three touches before making a pass when just one would do. PSG knew this and specifically targeted the Serbian’s inability to offer himself as a passing option out from defence.
United couldn’t build from the back (as Arsene Wenger astutely observed) because with Pogba blocked off by Marquinhos, there was no one else able to truly receive the ball and turn away from PSG’s press.
Matic also just straight-up gave up marking Presnel Kimpembe for PSG’s first goal, but that was more an individual failing than a tactical one, though it does ram home just how sub par the Serb is.
— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTS) February 12, 2019
Squawka Suggests: Ivan Rakitic
With Fred able to provide a dynamic upgrade on Ander Herrera as United’s No. 8, what United need most at the base of midfield is a player who remains calm under pressure and is able to spread the ball wide and push it forward quickly. To that end, Ivan Rakitic is almost insultingly perfect.
He’s significantly older than everyone else here, but United need that immediate hit of quality. Rakitic has won it all so would bring an impeccable level of professionalism to the squad and would dovetail well with the more dynamic approaches of Fred and Pogba.
The Croatian kills counter-attacks for fun and protects his defence as well as he launches devastating passes forward through the lines. Finally, he’ll actually be buyable as the Blaugrana look to shed salaries to fund their own squad regeneration.
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Manchester United fans will insist that Diogo Dalot has everything needed to be their next star right-back, but thus far his primary skill appears to be “not being a 33-year-old winger” which, alright, that’s something – but it’s not enough.
Ashley Young was hopeless against PSG. Bar a couple of nice crosses he offered nothing in attack and defensively he was as shambolic as ever – nowhere to be found as Di Maria crossed easily for Kylian Mbappé to make it 0-2 (one dreads to think what Neymar could have done to him). It’s clear that United need a new right-back.
Squawka Suggests: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
This is the obvious choice. The 21-year-old Englishman is a phenomenal player capable of being a defensive force as well as an offensive presence too.
Wan-Bissaka is a duel expert, winning tackles with frightening regularity and showing skill when carrying the ball forward too. That dribbling would be a game-changer for the United attack as he could provide constant width if Jesse Lingard were to cut infield.
Everyone likes Luke Shaw and it’s true Mourinho was horribly cruel to him. But even though he’s now playing regularly and appears happy, he still looks like he’s good, rather than great. There’s clearly a great player in there, he just needs something to bring it out of him.
Last night against PSG, Shaw added literally nothing to United in attack or defence, yet he was constantly getting involved because of how play was being built.
To that end, United need a left-back. And not a back-up option, but a player genuinely talented enough to push Shaw for that starting spot. This way, they either get a new player good enough to be a starter or they force Shaw to hit his peak performance and get the very best version of the left-back they signed back in 2014.
Squawka Suggests: Lucas Digne
Whilst Shaw represents possible quality, Lucas Digne has proven himself to be quality. He was an effective back-up for Jordi Alba at Barcelona, and has been a sensational performer on the left side of Everton’s defence, finally benching Leighton Baines.
Digne doesn’t have the athletic prowess of Shaw but he moves the ball with greater intelligence and creativity, moreover he is genuinely something special in the final third with his ability to cross the ball.
He’s French, so would link well with the Francophonic group at United (and, of course, would be able to converse with Koulibaly should he sign too).
Despite all their defensive woes in the game against PSG, United still carried enough attacking threat to keep the visitors at bay in the first half.
The game was basically even, with no side really breaking through. Then injuries to Anthony Martial and Lingard saw them replaced by Alexis Sánchez and Juan Mata at half-time and this, well, this changed the game.
Suddenly PSG had no fear of United’s pace in behind as it was all contained in one man: Marcus Rashford. This allowed them to push higher up and send more men into attack to press United into a state of disrepair.
Whatever Alexis and Mata’s qualities are, pace is not among them. United need pace to be functional so United need to sign another winger so that can actually rest and rotate Martial or Lingard without having to totally rob the side of its pace and creativity.
Squawka Suggests: Hirving Lozano
Hirving Lozano is a special talent that is almost perfect for Manchester United’s needs; a winger capable of playing on either side of the pitch who has incredible pace, great skill and an eye for goal.
The Mexican would also be a commercial superstar in Latin America, which is something that would make the United board very happy indeed.
But on the field he would shine and mean that United could always have one of Martial, Lingard or himself on the bench, ready to come on – meaning they’d never be found wanting for pace like against PSG.