Fortunes on the line as Manchester United host PSG
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“I’d rather have lucky generals than good ones,” Napoleon is reputed to have said as he rampaged through Europe. More than 200 years on, the jury is still out on whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is fortunate or fantastic as his Manchester United side prepare to stop Paris Saint-Germain’s march to glory.
PSG’s Qatari owners have, since buying the club outright in 2012, pumped hundreds of millions of euros into making the French outfit the dominant domestic force. They also want them to be considered part of football’s aristocracy.
For that rise from Eurotrash, the Uefa Champions League trophy is a prerequisite. United have won the crown three times. But PSG have never progressed past the last eight in the competition since 2012.
Laurent Blanc, the man who took them to three quarter-final eliminations, was deemed inadequate and packed off with a handsome cheque.
His replacement, Unai Emery, fresh from Europa League titles with Sevilla, could only reach the last 16 twice in the Champions League before he was dispatched.
And Emery’s successor, Thomas Tuchel, appears, as PSG meet United at Old Trafford on Tuesday night for the first leg, to be good. He has led his team into a 10 point lead in Ligue 1.
However he does seem cursed.
Key defender Thomas Meunier and two star strikers, Neymar and Edinson Cavani, are out injured. More than 300 million euros worth of talent has been sidelined precisely at the moment when the 45-year-old German needs their verve.
True, PSG still have wunderkind Kylian Mbappé and Angel di Maria to call on. But Tuchel’s side are far less intimidating when not spearheaded by their fearsome foursome.
"It's not really Kylian’s job to replace Cavani and Neymar,” said Tuchel on the eve of the clash.
“He can't be himself and the other two at the same time. He has to be free to play his game and play with confidence. We have to help him with the right support and good service,” he added.
Since taking over from Jose Mourinho in December, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has inspired the United squad to 10 victories and a draw in the Premier League and the FA Cup.
It is a run that has propelled United from sixth to fourth in the Premier League and into the last 16 of the FA Cup where they will play an increasingly bedraggled Chelsea side.
Solskjaer appears to be luck incarnate.
In December when the draw was made for the Champions League last 16, Solskjaer was managing Norwegian club Molde and following events on TV at home with his son.
"I was watching with Noah and we said: 'Wow, that's a tough challenge,'" he recalled.
Days later, the 45-year-old was installed as caretaker manager of an underperforming side. A few months on, the man once nicknamed "the baby faced assassin", has another victim in his sights.
"We've given ourselves the best possible opportunity with the way we've gone into this game because we are confident," Solskjaer said.
“I've found out what kind of team we have and we are playing like a team. If there was ever a time to go into big games like this it is now."
He sounds good too.