Manchester United was in disarray just a couple of weeks ago, but it was Paris Saint-Germain who were a mess as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side won 2-1 in their Champions League clash in the French capital on Tuesday night.
Solskjaer owed his permanent appointment as United boss to Marcus Rashford’s injury-time penalty which gave them a stunning victory over PSG in the last 16 in March 2019. On Tuesday, the same player scored another late goal to give the Norwegian another boost.
Barely two weeks after a miserable 6-1 home drubbing by Tottenham Hotspur which matched their worst Premier League defeat, things are looking up for the Old Trafford outfit.
They got back on track in a 4-1 victory at Newcastle United last weekend before travelling to France and giving their Champions League campaign the best possible start.
Solskjaer was without skipper Harry Maguire at the Parc des Princes. He once again left Paul Pogba on the bench, just as he had against the Magpies.
Instead, Solskjaer’s back three featured 22-year-old Axel Tuanzebe, starting for the first time in 10 months. There was also a debut at left wing-back for new signing Alex Telles.
The United midfield and attack were full of outstanding displays, from Scott McTominay and Fred protecting the defence to Rashford and Anthony Martial upfront.
Stand-in captain Bruno Fernandes held his nerve to score a retaken penalty after missing the initial effort, having also failed from the spot at Newcastle.
“They really focused on the job, took on board what we wanted and I think we deserved to win,” Solskjaer said of his side.
After a poor start in the Premier League, United have reason to be optimistic heading into a daunting run of fixtures.
They host Chelsea and Arsenal in their next two league outings, either side of a visit by RB Leipzig to Old Trafford in the Champions League.
Trips to Istanbul Basaksehir and high-flying Everton await in early November, but Solskjaer’s team have something to build on.
“The concentration and intensity we showed today, we have to take forward in the next games in the Premier League,” Rashford told BT Sport.
United alsonited also have players to come back, and new faces to integrate, including Edinson Cavani, who missed Tuesday’s meeting with his former side.
The Uruguayan striker was not the only star of PSG’s recent past absent, as last season’s runners-up looked a pale imitation of their old selves.
“Unrecognisable” was the headline on the front of sports daily L’Equipe as PSG struggled, just two months on from their narrow defeat by Bayern Munich in the final.
Cavani has gone and so has captain Thiago Silva, while Marquinhos and Marco Verratti were missed on Tuesday too.
Without those cornerstones of the PSG side over much of the last decade, and without fans at an empty Parc des Princes, Thomas Tuchel’s team got what they deserved.
They were not helped by disappointing displays from Neymar and Kylian Mbappe — the Brazilian was booked for dissent while Mbappe has now scored as many Champions League goals in Paris since the start of 2018/19 as Rashford.
“We were not ourselves. But now is not the time to be angry or lose our heads,” said Tuchel. “It was a very difficult start.”
The coach recently complained that PSG would have no chance of winning the Champions League without strengthening.
Danilo Pereira, Moise Kean and Rafinha were subsequently signed before the transfer deadline, but only Danilo started against United and the Portuguese international was left for dead by Rashford at the winning goal.
Ominously, no team has gone on to win the Champions League after losing their opening match.