Why Paris Saint Germain must be wary of Manchester United
Background Photo: Anthony Parkes CC BY-SA 2.0
Jose Mourinho's third year at Manchester United couldn't have gone worse. The third-season syndrome he loves to deny reared its ugly head. His dream to return the Premier League giants to English football's pinnacle collapsed.
Early warnings came during an embarrassing preseason United States tour. Five months later, relationships broke beyond repair. The manager was dismissed. Constant fallouts with key players including Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial left the entire squad walking on eggshells. When Ed Woodward sat in the stands for the dismal performance against Liverpool at Anfield in which Mourinho refused to play Pogba, even off the bench, there was no turning back.
Results condemned rather than justified his methods. The Red Devils lagged 19 points behind the leaders, 11 from the fourth and final Champions League place. Their performances were so poor, most people thought Paris Saint-Germain held the lucky straw to draw United in the Round of 16.
Things can change quickly in football. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's appointment as caretaker manager produced a full 180º turn. In defeating Tottenham, the Norwegian became the first United boss to win his first six games. When he knocked off Brighton, he matched Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola with six straight Premier League victories to debut. A win against Burnley a week from tonight bestows sole ownership of the record on him.
Solksjaer cajoled the team back into shape, introducing a free-flowing attack that brings out the best in his top superstars. Pogba has five goals and four assists in the six league games played under OGS. Marcus Rashford boasts five and one. Romelu Lukaku contributed three goals despite his lone start coming in the FA Cup against Reading. Following Arsenal's victory over Chelsea, United find themselves within three points of fourth place. Manchester United are no longer a team to be written off.
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's men are now a side of whom everyone must beware, including Paris Saint-Germain.
There is the not-so-small matter of Arsenal at the Emirates in the FA Cup this Friday evening but the victory over Tottenham should serve as a warning to PSG.
Solskjaer has world-class players eager to prove they can produce as well in his system as Rashford, Pogba and Lukaku. Anthony Martial bagged a goal and set up another. He's come close on several other occasions. Alexis Sanchez has yet to feature in more than a cameo. The same can be said for Juan Mata.
Spanish international David De Gea's re-emergence is another problem the Ligue 1 champions must face in February. The goalkeeper has returned to his obvious best in recent weeks thanks in large part to a more stalwart defence in front of him. The goal conceded against Brighton was the first in the run of play during Solskjaer's seven-game tenure. Overall, the squad has surrendered just four strikes in that time. Ander Herrera's return to the midfield has restored a buccaneering attitude to United's efforts to recover possession. Even Nemanja Matic is displaying an adventurous spirit. United's rearguard will be tested by Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani but the Parisians will endure their own examination.
PSG manager Thomas Tuchel must know by now he hasn't been so lucky in drawing Manchester United. His road to the Champions League quarterfinals goes through Old Trafford. It won't be a Sunday drive.