Paris: Paris St-Germain fans were no doubt brimming with confidence about facing Manchester United when the Champions League draw was made nearly two months ago.
Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe were scoring with ease, Marco Verratti was pulling the strings in midfield, and the club had secured impressive back-to-back wins against Liverpool and Red Star Belgrade to qualify for the last 16 at Napoli’s expense.
United was struggling under then-coach Jose Mourinho, and creative players like Paul Pogba were not suited to his gritty and tactically stifling approach.
We’ve got to rediscover the Manchester United way of playing, and I don’t think many teams enjoy their nights at Old Trafford when we’re on song.
Now the tables have been turned, and injury-hit PSG’s trip to Old Trafford has taken on a daunting dimension. United are unbeaten since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge and Pogba, so unhappy under Mourinho, can’t stop smiling. Or scoring.
Despite this turnaround in fortunes, Solskjaer has insisted is players must not take the foot off the gas.
United have won 10 and drawn one since the Norwegian took over and their improvement is down to his insistence on an attacking style of play, as opposed to the defensive fare served up by his Portuguese predecessor.
“We’ve got to rediscover the Manchester United way of playing, and I don’t think many teams enjoy their nights at Old Trafford when we’re on song,” Solskjaer said. “It’s about taking the game to the opposition, always believing in yourself. If you asked other managers who played against Sir Alex (Ferguson)’s teams, the pace and the tempo going forward was key.
“I have three good forwards myself. As well as (Marcus) Rashford, (Anthony) Martial, (Romelu) Lukaku, we have (Alexis) Sanchez and (Jesse) Lingard. They can challenge PSG’s defence.”
Tuesday’s match will be Solskjaer’s first test against elite European competition.
Progress for United in the Champions League would reinforce the case for Solskjaer to be named United’s permanent manager and the 45-year-old has fond memories of the tournament.
“The biggest nights of my career have been Champions League nights,” said Solskjaer, who scored the winner for United in the 1999 final which helped the club complete a treble, including the Premier League and FA Cup titles.
“When you get to this stage of the tournament, with the floodlights on, these are the games that you really look forward to.”
Pogba, who starred for France’s World Cup triumph in Russia during last summer has rediscovered his form, having fallen out of favour under Mourinho. He netted twice in Saturday’s 3-0 win at Fulham and has 11 league goals so far.
While Saturday afternoon was good for United, Saturday evening proved to be awful for PSG.
In a matter of hours, the complexion of Tuesday’s game changed even further.
Already missing Neymar because of a right foot injury, the French champions lost two more players.
Cavani, PSG’s all-time leading scorer, damaged a tendon in his right hip in the 1-0 win against Bordeaux, and goalscoring right-back Thomas Meunier sustained a mild concussion. These injuries follow on from midfielder Marco Verratti’s sprained ankle three weeks ago.
Facing a pumped-up and revitalised United line-up at Old Trafford would have been difficult enough with everyone fit, but PSG coach Thomas Tuchel has problems in every position except goalkeeper. There, at least, he has the reassuring presence of Italy great Gianluigi Buffon.
But Tuchel is missing two of his best three forwards, and he isn’t even sure if Verratti will be ready for a game of such intensity having played only 58 minutes against Bordeaux on his return from injury.