Champions League: Manchester United feast on PSG gaffes
Manchester United advanced to the last eight of the Uefa Champions League on Wednesday night following a 3-1 win at a dominant but error riddled Paris Saint-Germain. The two match tie ended 3-3 on aggregate but United progress on the away goals rule.
Marcus Rashford scored United’s winner from the penalty spot in the kind of stoppage time drama that wove his boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer into United legend.
The Norwegian stabbed home the second of two injury time goals in the 1999 Champions League final to deprive Bayern Munich of the trophy.
Nearly 20 years later, a man who was barely walking when Solskjaer unleashed his heroics, maintained his sang froid to thrash the ball high to the right of the PSG goalkeeper Gigi Buffon.
The kick came several minutes after referee Damir Skomina had consulted the video assistant referee to verify whether Diogo Dalot’s shot had hit Presnel Kimpembe’s arm in the penalty area.
With the Parc des Princes faithful withering in trepidation, the Slovenian pointed to the spot.
Following further scuffles and delays at the penalty spot, Rashford added United’s third goal. The 21-year-old ran to the ecstatic away supporters to celebrate his strike.
It was fitting symmetry.
Midway through the first half, Buffon spilled Rashford’s speculative shot into the path of the onrushing Romelu Lukaku who tapped in the rebound.
It was the Belgian’s second goal of the game and reestablished United’s lead on the night after Juan Bernat had cancelled out the Belgian's second minute opener for the visitors.
On the eve of the clash, Solskjaer said an early goal for United might rattle the hosts. Thilo Kehrer’s lamentable back pass paved the way for that perfect start but far from disconcerting PSG, it appeared to inspire them.
Midfielder Marco Verratti prompted the assaults and tempered the pace of the game. Gallantly they responded to the setback and imposed their slick passing game.
“Conceding the early goal was not the best way to start the match but the reaction was excellent,” said PSG boss Thomas Tuchel.
“We gained our confidence and we were playing fluidly. We had complete domination of the ball and complete domination of the pitch. We had a lot of chances but we did not score a second goal to free us up.
“But even at 1-1, I felt confident. But we conceded a second goal out of nothing.”
PSG, though could not do the same. Their grid game seems to reject the element of chance or fluke.
Seven minutes from time, they sliced through the United defence but as Kylian Mbappé bore down on goal, bad luck upended him. The France international lost his footing on the rain lashed surface before he could strike the ball past the United goalkeeper David de Gea.
After the reprieve came Rashford's riposte.
“The plan was to get the first goal and be in the game with five minutes to go,” said Solskjaer. “We did that and we were.”
United’s comeback emulated that of Ajax against Real Madrid on Tuesday night at the Santiago Bernabeu.
With the players galvanized and gunning for games à la Ferguson, the clamour will grow for Solskjaer to be handed the manager’s post on a permanent basis.
Refusing to be intoxicated by the hype, Solskjaer says he will perform as required. “I’m going to enjoy it as long as I’ve got it,” he beamed.
“If it is another month or two months … I’m going to enjoy it. I am going to smile.”
Tuchel's tenure is also likely to come under scrutiny. The German was drafted in at the start of the season to improve on Unai Emery's limp exits in the last 16 of the competition.
PSG have not reached the last eight since Laurent Blanc was at the helm in 2016. The club's Qatari bosses dispensed with him for underachieving in tournament. Three years on and his replacements have failed to emulate let alone eclipse him.
“We didn’t deserve to go out over 180 minutes, lamented Tuchel. "Not at all. It is a big disappointment.”