MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Feb 13 – Paris Saint-Germain took a huge step towards the Champions League quarter-finals with a 2-0 last 16, first-leg win at Manchester United on Tuesday.
Here are three things we learned from the Old Trafford clash:
Pogba goes missing
After providing the inspiration for United’s resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Paul Pogba was missing in action as a limp display from the France star was capped by his late red card.
Pogba had led the United revival with eight goals and five assists since Solskjaer was hired as interim manager.
Having feuded with Jose Mourinho for months prior to his sacking, Pogba has been playing with a smile on his face and United have been beneficiaries.
The stage was set for Pogba to reaffirm his place among the world’s top players, but instead the midfielder produced an oddly diffident performance that recalled the dark days of the Mourinho era.
In a fittingly downbeat coda, Pogba was sent off in stoppage time, catching Dani Alves for a second booking that rules him out of the return leg on March 6.
Reality bites for Solskjaer
Solskjaer’s midas touch finally wore off a little as the flaws that plagued United under his predecessor Mourinho returned to bite the interim boss.
Since arriving to replace the divisive Mourinho in December, Solskjaer had masterminded such a remarkable revival that United headed into Tuesday’s game on the back of 10 wins in 11 unbeaten matches in all competitions.
Solskjaer’s greatest achievement had been to put a smile back on the faces of United players who grew to loath Mourinho’s volatile personality.
But Mourinho was not the only author of United’s downfall at the start of the season — a host of defensive mistakes and a lack of creativity in midfield showed the team missed top quality in crucial areas.
Those issues surfaced for the first time in Solskjaer’s reign as PSG exploited sloppy defending and United’s flat attacking play to seize control.
It didn’t help that injuries to Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial robbed United of a chunk of their forward line.
Solskjaer gave United one of their greatest European nights when he scored the last-gasp winner in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich.
Twenty years after that era-defining goal, Solskjaer’s first Champions League match as United manager was far less enjoyable.
United have won only one of their last 10 knockout games in the Champions League, a painful statistic Solskjaer must change in Paris next month if his return to the tournament is not to prove a damp squib.
Speed kills as Mbappe shines
No Neymar? No Edinson Cavani? No problem for PSG as Kylian Mbappe rose to the occasion with a blistering display of his electric pace and predatory finishing.
Brazil forward Neymar is out for 10 weeks with a broken metatarsal sustained in January and will also miss the return leg against United.
Uruguay striker Cavani was sidelined after suffering a hip problem against Bordeaux at the weekend.
That left Mbappe as the only fit member of Thomas Tuchel’s first-choice front three.
Fortunately for Tuchel, World Cup-winning France forward Mbappe, who has 23 goals in 27 games this season, was simply unstoppable.
He threatened early in the second half with a header that David De Gea saved and, after Presnel Kimpembe’s 53rd-minute opener, it was Mbappe who delivered the killer blow in the 60th minute.
United defenders Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof were brutally exposed by Mbappe’s searing pace as he raced clear to meet Angel Di Maria’s cross with a clinical finish.
Only a smart stop from De Gea denied Mbappe making it three when he left Lindelof for dead and tried a dinked effort that was not quite powerful enough.
In a major statement of intent from PSG, they became the first French team to beat United away from home in European competition.
Paris have lost at this stage in each of the last two seasons but, on the evidence of this eye-catching display, they are ready to return to the latter stages.