13 wins. 2 Draws. 1 loss.
The results of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first 16 games in charge of Manchester United have been stupendous. One stands out, one is different to the rest. The 0-2 loss at home to Paris Saint-Germain is the only loss the Norwegian has suffered so far through his impressive run.
I don’t subscribe to the same opinion on that game as a lot of other people, waxing lyrical on PSG’s quality and supposedly being a step too far for this current Manchester United side. Yes, Veratti was excellent all night, shifting the play effortlessly and conducting play. Yes, Marquinhos was making tackles all over the Old Trafford pitch and keeping United quiet, but other than an uncharacteristic lack of judgement by De Gea not coming to collect Di Maria’s deep corner to the back post, allowing Kimpembe to score his first PSG goal and a moment of brilliance from Kylian Mbappe – the apparent heir to Messi and Ronaldo – PSG threatened very little and looked stifled in any attempt to play flowing football.
United started the game the better side despite not causing any real harm, but it was at the end of the first half that they suffered through the loss of Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial to injury at almost the same time. This knocked their rhythm and they were never really able to recover.
So, to Wednesday night at the Parc de Princes where only Napoli and Ligue 1 punching-bag Guingamp have taken anything from the French champions, United must score at least twice with a squad missing Martial, Lingard, Matic, Herrera, Sanchez and the suspended Paul Pogba.
No chance right? Wrong.
Arguably the best work done by United in Solskjaer’s 16 games has come in the last 2 games. A 3-1 away win at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace and Saturday’s very old-school Manchester United 3-2 comeback win over Southampton.
Ole has shrugged off the doom and gloom and taken injury issues in his stride. He’s used the so-called crisis as a chance to give some less used squad players and youth team players a chance. McTominay has brilliantly stepped in for Matic as well as Fred and Perreira getting valuable game time, with the latter scoring a beautiful curled effort on Saturday and securing an assist. James Garner earned his first senior appearance and Tahith Chong added another first team opportunity to his C.V., but it could be the form of Romelu Lukaku in the past few games that’s been the real highlight. The Belgian has been in and out of form this season and caught the brunt of United fans’ anger for below-par performances, but under the Guidance of Solskjaer, Lukaku has been rejuvenated, showing confidence and proving his quality. Lukaku has scored 4 goals in the last 2 games, could he be springing to life at just the right time?
Solskjaer is proving he has more than just the ability to motivate, showing his tactical qualities by getting United winning in different ways when the time calls for it.
So is it impossible? No, will it be extremely hard work? Of course. Needing 2 goals against a team of PSG’s quality away from home with a depleted squad is obviously an uphill struggle but Ole’s never-say-die attitude guarantees United will give it a real go.
It’s Arsenal next up in the Premier League on Sunday, a vital game if United are to cement themselves in the Champions League places. You could forgive Solskjaer for playing an under strength side to save legs for the weekend but it’s just not in his nature. If United could grab an early goal then it’s very much game on, but ultimately if PSG score first then it’s more than likely going to be a long evening for the Red Devils.
It’s a fascinating tie and could be another triumph in an already heroic run by United’s Champions League hero, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Wayne Edge @oasis1711