Football

This win over PSG not as euphoric as the last one: Solskjaer

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, GP H
PARIS ST GERMAIN MANCHESTER UNITED
1 2
(Anthony Martial 55-og) (Bruno Fernandes 23-pen, Marcus Rashford 87)

Manchester United triumphed at Paris St Germain again, but their Champions League victory on Wednesday morning (Oct 21, Singapore time) was not as euphoric as the previous one, according to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United’s previous trip to Paris in 2019 ended with Marcus Rashford scoring an injury-time penalty that secured qualification for the quarter-finals on away goals, while their 2-1 victory in Group H was just an opening win to their 2020/21 campaign.

“It’s a different feeling from the last time we won here, it’s at the start of the group stage but we’ve beaten a fantastic team,” said Solskjaer after Rashford again netted the winner, three minutes from full-time.

“Last time, it was a knockout and it was euphoric, this is sterile without the fans but it’s still excellent and we deserved to win.”

The game was played in an empty stadium amid the Covid-19 crisis.

United had taken a first-half lead behind closed doors in Paris courtesy of a retaken Bruno Fernandes penalty after United’s captain for the night had initially missed.

But it looked as though PSG would escape with a draw despite a poor performance after France striker Anthony Martial headed a Neymar corner into his own net 10 minutes after the restart.

It is another fine result for Solskjaer, who was handed the United manager’s job on a permanent basis on the back of that victory here in March 2019 and has now seen his side bounce back in style from an embarrassing 6-1 home loss to Tottenham Hotspur just before the recent international break.

He had again left Paul Pogba on the bench at kick-off, just like in Saturday’s 4-1 league win at Newcastle United, and the Norwegian’s decision to start with three central defenders also paid off.

Axel Tuanzebe, whose last start had come 10 months ago, came into the backline with Harry Maguire missing, partnering Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw, while there was a debut as a left wing-back for Alex Telles following the Brazilian’s arrival from Porto.

PSG, meanwhile, looked out of sorts, perhaps struggling more than their visitors to adapt to the bizarre experience of playing such a game without fans.

In different times, the Parc des Princes would have been buzzing with anticipation ahead of the first game of another Champions League campaign, under the lights.

Instead it was empty, the 9pm local time start of this match coinciding with the start of the night-time curfew recently introduced in the French capital as part of attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

PSG were hoping to get off to a winning start to their latest bid to win this competition, two months after Thomas Tuchel’s side lost to Bayern Munich in the final.

The French champions were also seeking revenge against United for that defeat in the last 16 in 2019.

However, the visitors went ahead in the 23rd minute from a spot-kick awarded after Martial was fouled as he tried to spin away from Abdou Diallo.

Having missed a penalty in the weekend win at Newcastle, Fernandes – wearing the captain’s armband in the absence of Maguire – this time saw his kick stopped by Keylor Navas.

However, the Costa Rican was off his line when he made the save so referee Mateu Lahoz ordered a retake. Fernandes kept his nerve to score second time around.

PSG had come close to taking an early lead when an Angel di Maria curler was tipped around the post by David de Gea, but they looked off colour and missed Marquinhos and Marco Verratti.

Tuchel therefore changed things around at half-time, sending on Everton loanee Moise Kean and changing formation.

The alterations had the desired effect. After a fantastic de Gea save from Kylian Mbappe and a Layvin Kurzawa cross that landed on the crossbar, Paris equalised in the 55th minute as Neymar’s corner from the left was headed into his own net by Martial.

Pogba was then sent on by Solskjaer, and the action swung from end to end. Yet it was Rashford who had the best chances, twice being denied by Navas before eventually finding the net.

The result sets United up nicely for next week’s home clash with RB Leipzig, who also won their opening game by beating Istanbul Basaksehir 2-0 in Germany.

“We know we need 10 points to get through so next week’s game is very important. There are so many games,” Solskjaer said.

There was a lot on show to enjoy, however, as Rashford again played chief tormentor at the Parc des Princes.

“Of course, it’s a nice feeling. More importantly, we won the game. We’re in a strong position now in the group but it’s the first game. The concentration levels we showed today we have to take forward into the next game,” the striker said.

United also showed steel in defence, with Tuanzebe making light work of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.

“He has been unbelievable today,” goalkeeper David De Gea said. “He played against two of the best players in the world in Neymar and Mbappe so he did really, really well. I am really happy for him.

“He has been in difficult moments with the injuries but now he has shown today that he is capable of playing in big games.”

For Rashford, the key was the concentration and poise shown by the team against last season’s runners-up PSG.

“Every game requires different tactics and a different performance but what has to stay the same is the intensity,” he said.

“The intensity was key for us tonight. We kept going for 90 minutes.” – REUTERS, AFP

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