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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

'The odds were stacked so high, they were swaying'

“We go into this game positive,” shrugged Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, deep within the bowels of the Parcs des Princes, because there was no other way. “We’ve got to look at the positives.”

For most, those positives were obscured, namely by a two-goal deficit, 10 senior players injured or suspended and a high-class opponent beaten just once at home in Europe in the last four seasons.
 
The odds were stacked so high, they were swaying. But, as Ole has reminded anybody and everybody repeatedly over the last 10 weeks, this is Manchester United. 
 
This was not a perfect situation, but it was a situation for embracing imperfection. No aversion to risk, no fear of failure, no mind paid to what could be lost; merely freedom to pursue what unbelievable riches could be gained. Acceptance that you will not enjoy most of the ball, you will not necessarily go without conceding, you will make mistakes, but get over it and carry on regardless.

Highlights: PSG 1 United 3Video

Go out there and enjoy it. Make something happen.
 
Get the first goal, give them something to worry about. 
 
It took less than two minutes for Romelu Lukaku to get it.
 
The response from the hosts was equally positive. 
 
PSG is, of course, a team of champions. A blend of veterans who have won everything in the game, classy operators in their pomp and, in Kylian Mbappe, a burgeoning sensation set to usher in the post-Messi and Ronaldo era of greatness.
 
Ten minutes later, it’s 1-1.
 
The game’s next goal, then, took on immense significance. Armed with this knowledge, and the acceptance of – and indifference to – the setback, United set about making something happen.
A minute after spurning a glorious opening with a skewed cross, Marcus Rashford backs himself to take on a shot from over 30 yards against one of history’s finest goalkeepers. Gianluigi Buffon – underemployed but nervy in the first leg at Old Trafford – spills it, Lukaku pounces. 2-1. If Rashford doesn’t speculate from 30 yards, the goal doesn’t happen.
 
Now, framing this as purely positive thinking instilled by the manager adheres to the oft-posited theory that Ole, being one of the nicest men in existence, has turned United’s fortunes around by smiling, buying presents and reminding everybody where they work. Not so. However amiable a character he is, this is still a man with a predatory eye for detail.
 
A former coach at United reminded me recently of an incident towards the end of Ole’s playing career. A couple of days before a particular game, Ole was discussing the opposing goalkeeper’s technique, and how he tended to spread his legs too wide, making him susceptible to low, central shots. When the game came around, Ole was given just over 10 minutes as a substitute, with the score level. He duly drilled in the winning goal, through the ‘keeper’s legs.
 
Having spent years remorselessly scouring opponents for weaknesses as a player, it’s little surprise that Ole then took a long, hard look at PSG’s mental scars and ripped them wide open.
For all their domestic dominance and teeming ability, PSG have never bettered 1994/95’s run to the semi-finals of the Champions League, with their last six tilts at the competition curtailed at or before the quarter-final stage. Twice in the last five years, a first leg lead of two or more goals had been surrendered, against Chelsea (2013/14) and Barcelona (2016/17).
 
Getting to half-time in front, as Solskjaer had said before the game, was vital. In the second half, the plan was simple: revert to 5-4-1, keep the game in the balance, allow doubt to creep in and fester in PSG minds. While the mood of the game changes and the opponent becomes riddled with doubt, wind up to land one last blow.
 
In the last ten minutes, with the tie so finely balanced, Ole gambled. Push the players forward, throw on two teenage attackers, see what happens. Make something happen.

PSG 1 United 3: Ole's press conferenceVideo

In the last minute of normal time, Luke Shaw bombards forward, Tahith Chong quickly ferries the ball to Rashford, who in turn slips it to the onrushing Diogo Dalot. His shot was clearing Buffon’s bar by a distance, but struck Kimpembe’s arm.
 
If Dalot doesn’t shoot, doesn’t gamble, doesn’t risk, then United don’t score.
 
The VAR decrees a penalty, and then it boils down to positivity and mental strength.
 
From the moment Kimpembe deflected Dalot’s shot over, play was stopped for four minutes and seven seconds. In that time, Rashford had to deal with, in no particular order, seizing muscles, Juan Bernat and his team-mates encroaching into the box, the referee twice re-spotting the ball and, above all, the weight of knowing that this was the one moment, the one chance, that would decide the outcome of the tie. 

Rashford: You live for these moments article

Marcus Rashford's injury-time penalty completes one of the most glorious European nights in club history.

How’s your nerve, Marcus?
 
Strong enough to delay his run-up, maintain eye contact with Buffon, see the Italian shift his weight to his right and prepare to leap to his right. Strong enough to double down and back himself to score, despite seeing that Buffon was going the right way. Strong enough to almost uproot the Italian’s goalposts.
 
A 21-year-old Academy lad – one of four on the pitch – with a 94th minute winner, to overcome world-class opponents, in their own backyard, to make competition history with the first-ever comeback from a two-goal home defeat. 
 
This was a scarcely believable win; a victory achieved with faith, good psychology and self-fulfilling positivity. A victory achieved in the most Manchester United way imaginable.

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