When Manchester United and PSG were pitted against each other in the champions league draw held in Nyon, Switzerland, this tie seemed like a mismatch of sorts with PSG the outright favourites. Two months down the line, circumstances have changed, along with predictions for this match.
Ever since Jose Mourinho was axed and replaced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United have become a new team altogether. They are now playing attractive attacking football with one touch moves, fast transitions, and sleek inter-play. More importantly, they are consistently winning games and their defense is solidifying.
This tie couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Parisians. Neymar has been ruled out courtesy of a metatarsal injury he sustained in the coup de France victory over Racing Strasbourg. Edinson Cavani and Marco Verratti (who just returned from injury) are also doubts. Ever since his arrival from Pescarra in 2012, Marco has been a mainstay in their midfield. His tenacity, passing prowess and ability to dictate proceedings from deep would help PSG to contain the likes of Pogba and keep United on the back foot.
Though PSG has the likes of Angel Dimaria, Edinson Cavani and teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe, none of them can adequately fill the Neymar’s boots. The Brazillian is the sort of player who can unlock stubborn defenses with his mesmeric dribbles and marauding runs. His battle with Ashley young would only have ended in disaster for the English club.
Midfield Players for the Manchester United and PSG Teams
These two teams boast of impressive attacking players with their defenses slightly unpredictable. The battle in midfield over both legs will certainly determine who advances to the last sixteen.
Even before Marco Verratti’s injury PSG have had issues in midfield this season. Adrien Rabiot has been frozen out of first team action because of his refusal to sign a new contract. They also lack a natural defensive midfielder, with the position currently being filled by Marquinhos and more recently Dani Alves. Both of whom are out and out defenders. They failed in their attempt to sign Napoli midfielder Allan over the winter transfer window. They have however signed 24-year-old Argentine midfielder Leandro Paredes from Russian side Zenit St Petersburg.
In the midfield area, United seem to have the advantage. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has his preferred midfield three of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herera, and Paul Pogba. The three have been in scintillating form and enjoy their current roles under the new manager. The French man assumes an advanced role behind the front three with Matic and Herrera providing cover for the attacking fullbacks.
Paris Saint Germain is very strong at the Parc des Princes. If Manchester United is to make it to the quarterfinals, they have to make their first leg home advantage count. They need to be tactically disciplined and very clinical in front of goal. A home victory by a margin of two goals would put them firmly on the driving seat. Taking a two-goal cushion to Paris would force PSG to commit bodies forward leaving spaces for United to counter-attack. A style that has seen them score many goals recently.
Manchester United Performance
In the eleven games after Jose Mourinho’s departure, Manchester United have won ten games. Their only slump came against Burnley. In a game that they were trailing by two goals well into the second half, they salvaged a point with an injury-time equalizer. Their most impressive results were however against Tottenham and Arsenal. They managed to grind out a one-nil league win at Wembley and also secure a fifth-round FA cup tie against Chelsea by beating Arsenal 3-1 at the Emirates.
Paris Saint Germain Performance
Despite having a scare in the group stage of the champions league, PSG managed to top the group of death which had the likes of Liverpool and Napoli. Their domestic campaign has been stellar and record-breaking. They set a new record for the longest winning start to a season in Europe’s top 5 leagues with fourteen straight victories. They went on to record the highest points tally for the first half of the season in Ligue 1 with 47 pts. They have only suffered one defeat in the league against Lyon which came recently.
Only Manchester United fans would have thought their team had a chance in this tie two months ago. In that period, United have grown into worthy opponents and actually appear as the favorites to reach the next round. However, if they do not capitalize on their opponent’s injuries and first leg home advantage, winning away to PSG will be a tall order.