While Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men showed heart in defeat, Manchester United’s 2-0 loss to Thomas Tuchel’s PSG highlighted just how far behind Europe’s elite the Red Devils have fallen.
Coming into the game on the back of a one-and-a-half month unbeaten streak, the spirits in and around Old Trafford were understandably high. Add to that the injuries to two of PSG’s biggest stalwarts – Neymar and Edinson Cavani.
In fact, such was the optimism in England’s north-west that United were even the bookmakers’ favourites to claim a win on the opening night of the Champions League’s knockout rounds.
Instead, in a humiliatingly straightforward manner, PSG and Thomas Tuchel handed out a reality check to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Mancunian troops. While the match began as everyone expected it to – both sides giving each other respect, United’s shortcomings were soon there for all to see.
The Red Devils showed too little of the attacking flair that has characterized them for the past months and instead were content to see the game through as passengers. The Parisians, meanwhile, started finding gaps in United’s defensive set-up – beginning just after the first quarter of the game.
Twice they found themselves through on goal, only for narrow offside calls to deny them both times.
It wasn’t so much so that PSG had the greater attacking talent on display. United, in fact, looked more threatening on paper with Pogba, Martial, Rashford and Lingard all in top form coming into the match. The malice, for United however, runs much deeper than that.
Having struggled for six long years since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure to find their feet, the reality for the Manchester club is that they are simply no longer among Europe’s elite.
Indeed, Solskjaer was the first to admit before the match that Old Trafford had long been starved of nights like these – the last one coming against Real Madrid back in Sir Alex’s final year in charge.
Bereft of experience in big European nights like these, United simply lacked the know-how to win a big game like this one. It was no surprise that out of the starting eleven, except Ashley Young and David de Gea, not a single player has played a Champions League quarter-final in a Manchester United shirt.
PSG on the other hand, have a squad filled with players for the big occasion. Gigi Buffon, Mbappe, Dani Alves, Thiago Silva et al are all seasoned professionals in Europe’s premier competition, playing in the Champions League year-in, year-out. In exposing Manchester United’s naivety at the highest level, they simply did what they do best.
Such was their experience that even after going two goals up, the Parisians did not let their foot off the gas, not letting United the slightest of sniffs at goal – with Paul Pogba’s late red card seemingly sealing the deal for them even before the second leg in Paris.
As for Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the only good news is that this was a learning curve they had to have. Even in the most ideal of scenarios, it was difficult to envision a Manchester United side with so little European pedigree emerging out as winners against a seasoned force like PSG.
Although it’s not really an embarrassment by any stretch, the only way United can hope to reach the next level in continental showpieces like these is if they keep coming in amongst Europe’s best every year by securing Champions League qualification and competing at the highest level – bridging the gulf slowly but steadily.
As far as the tie being dead and buried is concerned, however, you just never know with Manchester United.