Champions League – Paris Saint-Germain v Manchester United – Round of 16

Champions League – Paris Saint-Germain v Manchester United – Round of 16

This is part of our continuing Champions League coverage, don’t forget you can see all of it at our UCL Homepage and there’s more on our Soccer page.

PSG v. Manchester United (UEFA Champions League)

This game is only one of many Champions League fixtures, and we’re to the point in the League that it’s win or go home. Manchester United have a long fight back to salvage anything from this match having gone down 0-2 at home to PSG. For advancing into the next round, the UEFA Champions League starts with aggregate, then away goals. For United to make things interesting, they’ll have to come into this match firing at will (but they’ll also need a little more lethality than they brought in the first leg).

PSG

PSG came into this match with something to prove and seemingly made a pretty thorough statement. This side was without Neymar or Edinson Cavani and still made United look like a weak side. PSG is expected to line up at home at Princes Park still missing those two players, and the status of Thomas Meunier is unknown at this time. It will be interesting to see how Thomas Tuchel decides to approach this game knowing that they hold a 2 (really a three-goal lead, because unless Manchester United score three unanswered, they’ll be “losing” on away goals) goal lead. Although many managers might opt to go for a more defensive approach, I fear that PSG fans will want to avoid a repeat of their 2018 Champions League fate. They went up 4-0 over FC Barcelona coming into the second leg, which they lost 6-1 meaning that Barcelona not only walked away with the win at Princes Park but also advanced to the next stage.

The last time we talked about this side (in our Manchester United vs. PSG – Leg 1 Preview) we talked about how PSG was 13 points up with two games still in hand. Although the race has “tightened up” as PSG now “only” holds a 10 point lead, they kept their two games in hand. Also, while I’m overly dramatic about their substantial loss in points, this is also the worst form they’ve had, their one loss has come in their last six games. In spite of their loss, their goal differential had increased to +55 (it was +52 when we covered them last). In the last week they’ve managed a few straight wins and have regained a massive 17 point lead. They’ve also improved on their goal difference, moving it all the way to +64!

In our Manchester United vs. PSG – Leg 1 Preview, we talked about the potential for PSG coming up short in away games. I’m still hesitant to write off this fact, but that’s a discussion for the next round assuming that PSG doesn’t implode again (like they did in 2018). I don’t expect there to be any significant changes to the PSG side if any.

Players to watch:

  • Kylian Mbappe: Mbappe was a huge transfer for PSG last season after being acquired from AS Monaco. Despite the substantial outlay, he’s made a significant return on investment for PSG (18 goals, 17 League games). Normally, he plays with Neymar and Edinson Cavani (both of whom will miss the second leg) but he played very well in the first leg and will the offense running through him I expect no changes. Mbappe (4 goals) is closing in on Neymar’s scoring record (5) in the Champions League and I expect him to at least tie it in the return leg. He’s continued to dominate Ligue 1 adding several more goals to bring him to 24 goals and 6 assists in 21 games.
  • Angel Di Maria: Di Maria spent just under 12 months with Manchester United where he didn’t really meld into the team well. However, since that time Di Maria found a home with PSG where he’s added goals and assists to his tally. He also showed that there’s no love lost between the teams anymore with very physical challenges by and against him from old Manchester United teammates. He set up both of PSG’s goals in the first leg and rightly won man of the match and I imagine he’ll be aiming to put up a performance of similar quality. Di Maria has also continued to play well having contributed 6 goals and 8 assists.
  • Presnel Kimpembe: Kimpembe “helped” Manchester United make yet another statement to their board about the quality of the backline (or at least the lack of quality in this one) by not only being solid defensively but getting his name on the scoresheet. Although, I don’t expect Kimpembe to knock more into the net but I do exepct him to have an important role in the second leg. He may get the tasking of man-marking opposing player to watch, Marcus Rashford.

Manchester United

Manchester United United and Coach Solksjaer were brought violently back to reality this week after a 2-0 loss to PSG. It’s not the number of concessions that was the problem, more so United’s inability to showcase any attacking prowess. Their second leg chances took a huge hit with a poor decision from Pogba leading to a send-off. And, it’s also important to point out that this game didn’t feature Neymar. United will need to improve markedly in the away leg. They weren’t the only English clubs to face difficulties this week as Arsenal and Chelsea also lost in the respective rounds of the Europa League.

Despite their less than impressive performance in the UEFA Champions League, they’ve still been firing on all cylinders in the Premier League. Their last ten games have them going 8-1-1. They have the best overall form in the previous six matches taking 16 of the 18 points on offer. Manchester City is next with 15 out of 18, and Liverpool is further off with 11 of 18. During this same timespan, United have the fewest concessions over the last six, which only three allowed and they are 2nd in terms of goal scoring with 11 (only City has more in this span, with 18). United continued this Premier League Form despite a myriad of injuries with a 3-1 performance over Crystal Palace. This game same Ashley Young score a rare goal along with a double from an unexpected source this year, Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku doubled his goal scoring tally adding two more against Southampton.

In the first leg of the PSG/United matchup, United had problems pretty much across the board. The midfield was invisible, the defense that Jose Mourinho lamented for over a year was cut apart with restively little resistance. Under Solksjaer, one of the trademarks has been the appearance of goal scoring again — but they blanked with minute service from the midfield and an inability to keep shots on target (10 shots, one on target). The only clear bright spot for me would have been Matic, and maybe a distant Ander Herrera.

Manchester United will be without a bunch of players for the away match at Princes Park. Paul Pogba will miss the second leg after his red card (given for yellow card accumulation). There are rumors from the United camp that Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard may be out along with Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian.

Players to watch:

Injured players likely mean that a few reserves or first team players are going to have to carry this team:

  • Romelu Lukaku (F/AM): Lukaku has been absolutely invisible in the Champions League (and recently in the League too), he’s managed to score zero goals in 371′. To his credit, he’s only played sparingly in the latter half of the competition, but his only assist came in a 26′ minute substitute appearance against Young Boys. Since Solksjaer came into the picture for United playing time has been hard to find for the Belgian, with only 240′ in 7 Premier League games. He added 2 goals in that span, but will likely be forced into a much larger role with the absences mentioned and Red Devil fans will be hoping his Champions League drought will come to an end. Lukaku played in the midweek clash against Crystal Palace where he scored two goals to break his goalless streak for the team. He followed up his midweek success with 2 more scored, totaling 4 goals in 180′. Could Lukaku be warming up just in time for the final push in the Champions League, FA Cup and the Premier League?
  • Marcus Rashford (F): If you haven’t heard this name yet, you probably should have. Rashford has been one of the magic men for United this season. His scoring prowess and his ability to set his teammates up is only a touch behind Paul Pogba this season. With Pogba suspended for the next game, Rashford will not only be leading the line but he will be the guy in this match. The circumstances of this game might demand that he go even further to set up his teammates, as I think PSG will key in on him and may even man-mark him for the entire game. Thomas Tuchel is going to want to make someone not-named Rashford beat them, but I anticipate Rashford will still have to make a big contribution.
  • I tried to give Sanchez an opportunity, but alas, he’s gone and gotten himself injured again…. The team announced yesterday that he’ll be out four to six weeks. So, he’ll probably not be making an impact in this game, so scroll down to the guys that will be in selection for the start. Alexis Sanchez (AM): Alexis Sanchez has struggled mightily since his move from Arsenal. He hasn’t been able to find any rhythm whatsoever in the side and when ends up with playing time he seems disengaged and unable to focus on the game for more than 45′ minute at a time. Sanchez is under contract until 2022 and unless he wants to spend a ton of time on the bench or sort out his own transfer (unlikely due to his salary) he needs to improve dramatically. Even his workrate has been sub-par for the Red Devils, this is a chance for him to make a huge statement that he deserves to be at least in contention for a starting role every week, it will all depend on if he brings his game. Sanchez did not play well in the midweek fixture before being replaced by Marcus Rashford. This has led to the social media universe questioning if Sanchez’s time is coming to a close, I’m not ready to write him off yet — but time (and salary) are against him. He hasn’t been able to make any substantial impacts in his recent appearances but he’s looked far more engaged in the game. He’s made some good runs and put himself in some good places, it should just be a matter of time before he can bury one in the back of the net.

Also, there’s a reasonable likelihood we see some academy products thrust into a much more significant role due to the aforementioned injuries/suspensions. With that in mind, watch for:

  • Diogo Dalot (RB): Dalot has made some great appearances for Manchester United, and some rather lacking ones. Now, Dalot is only 19 (he turns 20 at the end of march) but he will need to work on his consistency. This game will mean a ton for the Manchester faithful and Dalot will be asked to step up to replace Valencia, and it might be a great opportunity to showcase his abilities to fight for the first team role. Valencia looks like he could be on his way out at the end of the season at 33 years of age and Young is the heir-presumptive, but he too is 33.
  • Angel Gomes (M): Gomes has been a member of the traveling entourage for a while now, despite only making a short, late-game cameo. However, many Reds are remembering the last time a situation like this happened (under van Gaal) in which Marcus Rashford was brought up and started, wherein he provided some serious punctuation to follow his name. Gomes and Solksjaer have both made mention of the managers intention to dig deeper into the academy and to give them a chance to earn their roles.
  • Tahith Chong (F): Chong is a Dutch underage national who has appeared regularly all the way up to the U23 side for the Dutch National team. He’s another promising youngster, that Chris Smalling has been talking up. Like Gomes (and Greenwood), Chong has been a regular traveler with the team and is expected to get on to the teamsheet at a minimum for this match.
  • Mason Greenwood (F): Greenwood was expected to get his first first-team start of his career in the FA Cup game against Chelsea February 19th, before coming down with an injury. Greenwood is already getting comparisons to Juventus’ Paulo Dybala and has been more lethal in the U23/U19 (22 goals, 19 games) than Marcus Rashford. The extent of his injury has not been revealed, with other media outlets only discussing an “undisclosed injury“, so it’s possible that he could line up for this game.

What to Expect:

I’ve got to be honest; I was super disappointed with the showing that United brought to the first leg. They’ll be dying to try and get some revenge — surely they also would love to play spoiler to the PSG season like Barcelona did last season. However, my projection was way off last time and I still really feel like United let down their fans and didn’t show up to the game.

Last Updated: March 1, 2019

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