Paris Saint-Germain 1-2 Manchester United
Ahead of this Champions League clash in the Parc des Princes, I read an interesting piece in a Manchester United fanzine which certainly got me thinking.
The gist was how Group H, comprising both these two sides alongside Red Bull Leipzig and Istanbul Basaksehir, was effectively the perfect embodiment of the state of modern football.
One club which helps the image of a country which has a less than complimentary human rights record; another which markets an energy drink brand and which has been described as ‘the most hated side in German football’ and another financed by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The piece went on to add that, even throwing in the accusation that its owners had stripped £1 billion out of the club since taking over in 2005, United were still the traditional, romantic good guys compared to some of the others: said to exist for far more reasons other than football.
That debate has its merits and is for another day but, for now, it was time to assess it from a very different standpoint.
Four sides: one last season’s beaten Champions League finalists, another defeated semi-finalists and the other Turkish champions for the first time in their history, alongside the biggest club in English football.
Champions League highlights were a given, right?
Highlights of the game
Well, it was always a big ask to expect such the same level of drama as when the sides met 19 months ago in what was one of the shocks and most dramatic conclusions in the competition’s history.
The SBOTOP Champions League betting odds were firmly in Paris St Germain’s favour, presumably even more so when it became clear that the visitors would be without their captain Harry Maguire, fellow centre back Eric Bailly and talented young forward Mason Greenwood.
PSG had players missing too, of course, but their strength was evident when they were able to rest nine potential first-choice players during a Lique one win over Nîmes ahead of this encounter and still cruise to a 4-0 success.
They would have been ahead early on too but for a smart save by David De Gea to deny Layvin Kurzawa from close range.
United then attacked and when slipped through by Luke Shaw, Frenchman Anthony Martial was brought down by Abdou Diallo leading to an inevitable penalty.
Bruno Fernandes’ initial spot-kick was saved by Keylor Navas – a three-times Champions League winner with Real Madrid – but the goalkeeper was far off his line and a re-take was something Fernandes, captain for the night in Maguire’s absence, wasn’t going to let pass as he sent the shot-stopper the wrong way.
The goal gave United confidence and they produced an alert, astute showing for the remainder of the half, frustrating the hosts and limiting them to very few opportunities.
That frustration was evident as Neymar took his protests too far and was duly cautioned 10 minutes before the break, while, at the other end, Navas had to smartly save from Fernandes to prevent United doubling their advantage.
It took acrobatics from De Gea to keep out Kylian Mbappe early in the second half and, when the equaliser arrived, the only surprise was the source.
Kurzawa chipped the top of the bar before Mbappe won a corner from which Martial bizarrely diverted into his own net as if attacking the opposing penalty area.
That sparked PSG into action and it took a superb tackle from Aaron Wan-Bissaka to prevent Mbappe from pulling the trigger.
Marcus Rashford and Martial remained dangerous on the counter and Navas kept out the former with a finger-tip save before play went up the other end as Mbappe (imagine those three forwards playing for the same team!) was stopped in the nick of time by Axel Tuanzebe – one of a number of impressive young players in the United ranks.
De Gea parried a Neymar shot as both sides searched for a winner but it was the hero of the hour last time out who repeated the feat with a goal worthy of winning the tie.
Rashford had plenty of work to do when fed by substitute Paul Pogba but the young forward spun around Pablo Sarabia with an arrogant ease and rifled a sweet shot into the bottom corner.
United had done it again: all smiles despite the Parisian heavens opening above them as they brought PSG’s 24-game unbeaten home run in the group stages to an end.
They, and Marcus Rashford in particular, simply adore Paris!
Rashford’s last three Champions League goals have all come away from home, with the last two netted at Parc des Princes.
This was PSG’s first group-stage home defeat since CSKA Moscow beat them in December 2004.
In putting through his own net, Martial became the ninth United player in the Champions League to score an own goal – the most of any club in the competition’s history.
PSG entertain Dijon in Lique 1 on Saturday night and then it’s back to the Champions League next midweek with a trip to Turkey to face Istanbul Basaksehir.
United now have back-to-back home matches and they’re both big ones with Chelsea the visitors to Old Trafford on Saturday teatime before they welcome RB Leipzig next Wednesday.
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