United line up in Paris.

Why United's display deserves closer scrutiny

Wednesday 21 October 2020 10:39

I remember Sir Alex Ferguson saying he could count on one hand the number of times all 11 players in his starting line-up were on top of their game.

His philosophy was if you had maybe eight players performing to their maximum, they could carry the other three who may have been a shade off their best, and it is difficult to argue that this is usually the case.

It formed part of his inspirational speech about Canadian geese flying in formation when migrating and shifting positions to share the workload. Many a former United player will tell you they have heard this analogy!

Highlights: PSG 1 United 2 Video

Highlights: PSG 1 United 2

In October 2020, we once again beat PSG in France, thanks to goals from Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford...

Well, it seemed to me, having watched an awful lot of United matches over the years, that Tuesday's 2-1 win at Paris Saint-Germain could arguably fit into this rare category as, to a man, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Reds were superb.

To produce a display like that so soon after the morale-shattering loss to Tottenham Hotspur speaks volumes about Ole and the coaching staff's ability to lift the troops and this should not be under-estimated. The difference was stark and testament to all concerned, including the manager for some pretty brave decisions in his selection.

Opting to go with three central defenders always appeared a strong option after Alex Telles's arrival but the injuries to skipper Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly allowed Axel Tuanzebe the chance to play, after being sidelined since last December's Carabao Cup win over Colchester United.

Ole got his tactics spot-on at Newcastle United last weekend, dropping Bruno Fernandes and Juan Mata into pockets of space and exploiting the pace of Marcus Rashford and Daniel James. If confidence was restored following the 4-1 triumph, it must be positively soaring now after this display at the Parc des Princes.

David De Gea was voted Man of the Match by the fans taking part in the poll on our Official App and he made some stunning stops, the pick of which was probably a spectacular save to thwart Kylian Mbappe. Spain's no.1 is looking in top form but I think it is a little misleading to rate our keeper as the star performer on the night, presenting a false impression that the Reds were under the cosh against last season's Champions League finalists.

The truth is, though, I find it hard to single anybody out as the Man of the Match. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was sensational on the right, tackling with his usual tenacity and perfect timing to stop Mbappe in particular in his tracks. There was a goal-saving block to thwart the France forward as well and 'the Spider' played with the sort of intensity and determination all fans love to see. In short, these sort of games are simply perfect for him.

Perfect in Paris!


The players were rightly buzzing on social media after a masterclass against PSG. Recap their best posts...

The three defenders in the middle were virtually flawless. Tuanzebe has been gaining a great deal of praise considering the length of his absence and some of his recovery work illustrated his pace, strength and intelligence in equal measure. There was more than one occasion where PSG were appealing for a potential penalty but the reality was the homegrown centre-back had come out on top in his individual duel. 

If anybody deserves some luck with injuries, it is the 22-year-old because we all know he is capable of becoming a first-team regular. Alongside Axel, Victor Lindelof was excellent and produced, in my view, one of his best performances at the club. The Swede was also firing clever passes forward to feet as the game wore on and looked assured and in control. It is no real surprise L'Equipe felt he was the best player on the pitch.

Luke Shaw has shown in the past that he is ideal for the left-sided third central defender and still bursts forward to link the attack. It shows his tactical flexibility and Tuesday's tie provided more evidence that it is a role he can fully embrace. One thing that was noticeable was his calmness and ability to buy himself time in difficult situations and he was able to link well with new boy Telles.

Our Brazilian capture may have been handed a baptism of fire for his debut but he handled it exceptionally well. His delivery, from the flank and set-pieces, was touted as one of his strengths and the early signs are he can provide the sort of crosses that will yield great reward. One of his corners almost led to a goal from Scott McTominay and he put in a real shift getting up and down the wing before being withdrawn for Paul Pogba.

Telles's fellow countryman Fred and McTominay did all the dirty work in midfield, covering lots of ground and breaking up Parisian attacks. Both stuck to their tasks diligently and earned special praise from Solskjaer afterwards. McTominay even lost a contact lens during the first half but remained focused, with even a deserved yellow card failing to curb his aggression and ability to shackle his much-vaunted opponents. The pair's endeavour helped provide the platform for success and enabled Bruno Fernandes to enjoy some freedom in dangerous areas.

The Portugal playmaker kept his nerve to convert his retaken penalty and showed great shooting prowess on a couple of occasions, testing Keylor Navas with one drive in particular. He looked capable of making something happen in the final third and was inches away from teeing up his colleagues at times. Taking on the armband certainly didn't place any extra stress on him and he was even able to afford a smile at the referee when stopped from breaking into a promising position by the half-time whistle. 

Solskjaer: My boys can really play Video

Solskjaer: My boys can really play

"The team spirit has been fantastic since they've come back from the international break," explains Ole...

Up front, Anthony Martial will know his mistimed headed clearance will be a blot on his copybook as the own-goal handed PSG a route back into the game. Yet it was his swift turn that earned our penalty and he was another who grew in stature as the game panned out, highlighting his quick feet and dribbling ability, allied to an ability to twist away from his markers. Constantly looking to work an opening, he kept the home defence on its toes and it is just a shame he still has two games of his domestic ban to see out.

Last, but certainly not least, Marcus Rashford is maturing into a footballer who can shine on the big stage. The Wythenshawe wonder stretched the PSG backline with his speed and was able to run and dribble with the ball on numerous occasions. Navas had repelled a couple of his shots but the Costa Rican had no chance when the England international took advantage of a moment's hesitation at the back to find an angle and arrow the finish in off the far post.

It was a wonderful moment - he clearly likes playing at the Parc des Princes - and the fact he ended the game with the captain's armband shows the esteem in which he is held. By then, the substitutes had come on to play their part, and the first of these, Pogba, was very impressive, doing far more than registering an assist for the winner. However, if we are focusing on the 11 starters, to a man, they were all in peak form. 

As Sir Alex would testify, it is not very often you are lucky enough to say that.

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.

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