In one of the most incredible nights in recent memory, an injury-hit Manchester United beat PSG 1-3!
The win sends United through to the Champions League quarter-final. The first side in the competition’s history to lose the first leg 0-2 and then go on to progress. What did we learn?
1. Ole does it the United way
Football, bloody hell!
That was quite remarkable from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. With 10 players out injured and Paul Pogba suspended, there should have been no chance for Manchester United. Solskjaer even got his XI wrong, opening up Eric Bailly to getting obliterated by PSG. He corrected this by taking Bailly off, and after that United really dug in.
In terms of style, United played very Mourinho-esque in terms of packing bodies in defence and looking to hit on the break. But the sensation of it was different. United played that way because it suited them, not because it stifled PSG. The idea was always to try and attack, to try and score. Sure, defending was seat of the pants and relied on excellence from Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw – sure the midfield snapped into tackles and shunted the ball on quickly (Scott McTominay has rendered Nemanja Matic vestigial) but it was clearly all with the aim of scoring the goals needed to beat PSG.
Then, with the game on the line, with United chasing that winning goal – what does Solskjaer do? He turns to Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood. Two teenagers fresh out of the United academy (Greenwood was making his United debut).
Solskjaer believed that the infectious energy and confidence of youth would lead United forward – and it did! Chong played his part in the attack which led to the winning penalty, as did Greenwood whose run opened up the space for Diogo Dalot to take his shot.
And then when they inexplicably got the penalty, when they had the chance against all-odds to secure an impossible victory, who stepped up? Another youth graduate, Manchester United’s very own wonderkid Marcus Rashford. Showing nerves of steel he stood up, facing Gianluigi Buffon – a man who made his Champions League debut one month before Rashford was born – and hammered it home.
Manchester United came from behind to beat PSG in Paris (where only Barcelona and Real Madrid have won in the last 50 European games) by turning to their young academy players and getting the win in the last minute against all odds. Like Solskjaer said after the first leg: “mountains are there to be climbed.” With Ole at the wheel, Manchester United are well on their way up the Champions League.
2. Buffon is finished
It’s hard to accept, but Gianluigi Buffon is finished as an elite-level goalkeeper. Maybe even as a great goalkeeper. That’s not to say he’s useless now; as a veteran back-up to have in the squad there can be few greater than he. But as a starter? As the go-to guy? No.
To be honest this has been evident for at least a year now, with the Italian looking so fragile since the 2017 UEFA Champions League final defeat in Cardiff. But tonight his weaknesses reared their head once again as first he rushed out to meet Lukaku but had no conviction and was easily bypassed by the Belgian who opened the scoring.
Then later in the half Buffon spilled a Marcus Rashford shot straight back into the danger zone, allowing Romelu Lukaku to tap home United’s second and give The Red Devils an impossible lead. If PSG have serious intentions to win the Champions League next season, they will need a better goalkeeper than Gianluigi Buffon. Like fetch, it’s just not going to happen.
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3. Fifty Million Fred
Manchester United signed Fred for a massive £50m in the summer and many people saw it as a brilliant signing. Not only had they denied Manchester City a player they desperately wanted, but they had signed a superb Brazilian midfielder who could be an excellent partner for Paul Pogba in midfield. But that’s not how it turned out. Fred looked abysmal.
No matter the opponent, Fred simply couldn’t get it going.
But tonight in Paris? With United down to the bare bones? Fred stepped up in a big bad way. This was a calm and composed display from the Brazilian, showing the scale of his talent. His touch was sharp, his movement was focused and he passed the ball with supreme intelligence. Pushing it forward when necessary and slowing it down when he had to. As much as others took the limelight, Fred’s tireless display at the heart of United’s XI will bode very, very well for his future at Old Trafford.
4. PSG are shambolic
What exactly is wrong with PSG? They have all the money in the world and have a squad dripping with talent yet they seem about as mentally resilient as a packet of crisps. Sure, they can outclass most teams, hell they did it to United in the first leg – but when the chips are down and pressure ramps up why do they seem to fold?
Angel Di Maria, Kylian Mbappé, Dani Alves… these are mentally tough players who have won a whole load of trophies. Even without Edinson Cavani and Neymar, PSG had enough experience to see this through with ease after their 0-2 win in the first leg. But when United squeezed them, when they battled hard and never gave up, PSG didn’t have the grit to kill them off.
Sure they controlled the game but it was all so sterile. They didn’t go for the kill and seemed happy to lose 1-2 at home if it meant progressing, so unsurprisingly for the third year running they absolutely bottled their way out of the Champions League in the round of 16.
5. Don’t Doubt Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku looked finished at Manchester United. Not that he had lost his talent, but he clearly didn’t fit into the side as Marcus Rashford did. But an injury crisis thrust Lukaku back to the head of the side and the Belgian has responded with a sensational run.
Two goals against Crystal Palace to win United the game. Two goals against Southampton to help win United the game. And tonight he did it again. The first United player since Cristiano Ronaldo to score two goals or more in three consecutive games, and he did it under enormous pressure. He even threw in a couple of immense clearances as he played centre-back for the last couple minutes!
His goals tonight were predatory striking at its finest. His first goal controlling a lazy backpass and skipping by Gianluigi Buffon to slap it home. And the second goal, popping up to stab home Marcus Rashford’s rasping shot after Buffon spilled it. He’s played better, and he’s scored better, but Lukaku has never played or scored as big as he did tonight.
Don’t ever doubt Romelu Lukaku again, not after this.