As it turned out, no Neymar, no Edinson Cavani, no problem. Thomas Tuchel masterminded a classic away win, as PSG now hold a 2-0 lead heading into the home leg of their round of 16 tie thanks to goals from Pascal Kimpembe and Kylian Mbappe.
The German manager will no doubt be delighted at seeing his plans come to fruition at Old Trafford. Here’s a look at how he pulled off the win.
PSG KEY STATS
Goals – 2
Shots – 12
Shots on target – 5
Possession – 56%
Passing Accuracy – 87%
Key Passes – 8
Dribbles – 9
PSG were slightly lucky with the way the game turned out, as Kimpembe could easily have been sent off before he scored the all-important opening goal in this game. That being said, Tuchel’s side looked the far better team on Tuesday.
The defence was resilient, the attacks were swift and decisive, and the finishes were clinical. PSG now have a two-goal lead to take home, and they’ve left Manchester United, one of Europe’s form sides, reeling.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Tuchel has been operating with an unorthodox 4-2-2-2 of late, but on Tuesday he reverted to type with a 3-4-2-1 formation that set up his team to play perfectly on the counterattack.
The formation freed Julian Draxler from his defensive responsibilities, as Tuchel trusted Marquinhos to play as a defensive midfielder.
As it turned out, Marquinhos played his role to perfection, with Draxler, Angel di Maria, and Kylian Mbappe free to wreak havoc on the counter.
At a club where recent managers have been judged on their effectiveness in Europe, Tuchel gave a good demonstration of why he should survive past his first season at PSG.
Reverting to the 3-4-2-1 formation that he has spent the better part of this season relying on was a masterstroke, as the counter-attacking skills of Mbappe, Di Maria, and Draxler came to the fore. The end result is that PSG hold a 2-0 lead going into the second leg, at home. A quarter-final place beckons.
RATING – 8/10
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer slumped to his first defeat as Manchester United as his side were unable to cope with Paris Saint-Germain’s superior tactics in a 2-0 home loss.
The result leaves United’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League quarter-finals hanging by a thread, as Solskjaer’s side put in a surprisingly listless display, conceding twice in seven minutes, with Pascal Kimpembe and Kylian Mbappe getting the goals.
Solskjaer’s tactics go under the scanner as we put the United manager in focus after the disappointing performance.
Goals – 0
Shots – 10
Shots on target – 1
Possession – 44%
Passing Accuracy – 84%
Key Passes – 8
Dribbles – 9
Solskjaer opted for the 4-3-3 that has become his first choice, with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Jesse Lingard forming the front three.
The United manager no doubt expected a game similar to January’s win over Tottenham, where Lingard’s pressing and Paul Pogba’s midfield brilliance overcame a possession-heavy opponent. Instead, it was United who were picked off on the counter – twice – and Pogba’s late sending off has left Solskjaer’s side with a mountain the size of Everest to climb.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Lingard and Martial needing to be replaced at halftime threw a spanner in the works for Solskjaer, but his substitutions weren’t exactly inspiring, as he opted to replace the duo with Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata.
Sanchez doesn’t have the discipline to play Lingard’s role and disrupt the opponents’ attacks, and Mata, brilliant though he can be, doesn’t offer the pace or trickery of Martial. United visibly dropped off in the second half after the duo’s introduction. Was that Solskjaer’s fatal mistake?
1 - Manchester United managed just one shot on target against PSG tonight, their lowest in a Champions League match at Old Trafford since February 2005 in the Last 16 against eventual finalists Milan (also 1). Lacklustre. #MUNPSG pic.twitter.com/yJZUrLHAoD— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 12, 2019
The unbeaten start was bound to end at some point. But like this? With a 2-0 loss that seems to be terminal for United’s Champions League hopes? That will hurt Solskjaer.
He, of course, will stress belief in his team, but no one will expect United to pull off a 3-0 or even a 3-1 win in Paris. More importantly, for the first time, his tactical plans failed, and dealing with that fact will be a new experience for the United manager.
RATING – 6/10
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s 11-match unbeaten run came to an abrupt end at Old Trafford as two second-half goals earned Paris Saint-Germain a 2-0 win in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 clash on Tuesday night.
The hosts ended the match with 10 men as Paul Pogba picked up a second booking in the final moments of the encounter, ruling him out of the return fixture in Paris in three weeks’ time.
It was his compatriots instead who stole the headlines and got the job done for the Ligue 1 champions. Former United man Angel Di Maria whipped in a corner eight minutes into the second period for an unmarked Presnel Kimpembe – lucky to still be on the pitch after a series of questionable challenges – to score from point-blank range.
The Red Devils were then hit on the counter-attack seven minutes later with Di Maria again sliding a ball across goal for the pacey Kylian Mbappe to slot away, ensuring that absences of illustrious team-mates Neymar and Edinson Cavani were not felt.
Here, we grade the performances of both sides in our report card.
PSG – Slowing it down
Old Trafford has been an intimidating arena to visit of late. Solskjaer’s reign had lifted United, the team’s confidence was soaring and it showed early on as the hosts pressed high the pitch and tried to get at PSG. To the away side’s credit though, they held their nerve remarkably well and Marquinhos was essential to that.
He sat deep without the ball, picking up Pogba’s runs and keeping the Frenchman relatively quiet, even dropping in alongside the centre-backs when United got the ball wide. In possession, he was composed and patient. The Parisians had a game plan and executed it with precision. They did well to take the sting out of the game and subdue an expectant home support.
United – Marking
PSG didn’t often stretch United before the second goal but when they did on a couple of occasions in the first half, the alarm bells were certainly ringing. There was a suspicion of offside when Mbappe was sent clean through but the Frenchman fired wide as the linesman remained unmoved. Di Maria then got in behind but the flag was raised that time.
In both scenarios, United’s defence were lackadaisical with their tracking of forward runners. Nemanja Matic – who was actually one of the better players for the hosts – then lost his bearings from a corner early in the second half, allowing Kimpembe to stab home unmarked from close range. Eric Bailly was then guilty of not picking up Mbappe’s run for the second.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Thomas Tuchel set his side up largely how many predicted. Three central defenders were flanked by wing-backs while Marquinhos shielded the back-line. Mbappe led the line, supported by Di Maria and Julian Draxler who operated in the half spaces. However, Dani Alves and Juan Bernat were nowhere near as advanced as Tuchel’s wing-backs at PSG normally are. That’s also why their trademark switch of play this season wasn’t as effective as they sacrificed genuine width for solidarity.
The wing-backs held back to offer more passing options for the back three and thwarted the advances of Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard in the first half. With both going off injured for the second period, replacements Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata never posed the same threat in behind which made things rather comfortable for the French outfit. Tuchel sacrificed his best tools of stretching opposition defences and creating space for his attack. In doing so, he nullified United.
For United: C-
Strangely, this wasn’t a woeful performance from United. Granted, their defending was erroneous but that aspect has never been convincing this season. Their lack of guile in attack was telling though as their decision-making let them down early on. That said, they enjoyed good passages of play and were never really dominated. Fine margins make all the difference at this level though.
For PSG: B+
It was an excellent away performance by – despite the absentees – what is a well-equipped, quality side. Tuchel was spot on with his tactics and the first goal, from a set-piece, put them in the driving seat. They endured a slightly nervous start, mind, but the second strike may well have killed off the tie.