It was bound to happen, the only question was a matter of when it would actually occur. After an unbeaten streak of 11 eleven matches, Manchester United lost their first game under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. It was a bit of a reality check for the Red Devils, who have experienced enjoyable success under José Mourinho’s replacement. Alas, all good things must come to an end, and United’s unfortunately ended Tuesday evening.
A hopeful performance in the first half was absolutely canceled by a disaster showing in the second. United look cursory, clumsy and inconsistent against Paris Saint-Germain. Thanks to goals from Presnel Kimpembe and Kylian Mbappé, United surrendered their first match in the Solskjaer regime in embarrassing fashion, and have plenty of catching up to do when the teams meet again for a rematch on March 6.
In a major statement of diligence from PSG, this win makes them the first French side to defeat United away from home in European competition. Unfortunately, this statistic is not the most upsetting part of Tuesday night’s performance. There left much more to be desired from this alleged new and improved squad.
Here are three things we learned from Manchester United’s 2-0 loss against PSG.
For the first time under OGS, Pogba was ineffective
Prior to the match, arguments of PSG lacking depth without Neymar were valid. However, Les Parisiens managed to perform quite well without their Brazilian frontman. United, on the other hand, struggled to adhere to the plan scripted by the Norwegian boss. Flashes of brilliance from Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford in the first half were masked by incomplete passes from the middle and inconsistent coverage in the back.
In the middle, it was a vastly different United than what supporters were treated to for the last couple months. Pogba’s been credited as one of several catalysts for United’s renaissance under Solskjaer. However, his performance was disappointing under the bright lights of Old Trafford. His evening would ultimately end with a late red card, consequently banning him from suiting up in next month’s second leg.
Since Solskjaer’s arrival, Pogba was the leading scorer for his side with eight goals to his account. Now, it’s possible he could have played his final Champions League match for the 2018/2019 campaign. Given his star midfielder’s booking, Solskjaer now has to restructure his strategy to reflect the Frenchman’s absence.
Injuries destroyed the team’s fluidity
As soon as Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial picked up their individual sprains, United were bound for a disastrous evening. Juan Mata and Alexis Sánchez provided relief for both first-team starters during the final 45, but their efforts weren’t enough to re-energize an already sluggish United.
Both injuries halted a game plan that even though prosperous over the last several matches suddenly became in desperate need of change. It appears more evident that squad depth is needed at all positions. Furthermore, this unexpected change to United’s lineup becomes a new endeavor for Solskjaer to justify he is deserving of this permanent role.
United must bounce back from first setback
United and Chelsea enter Monday’s FA Cup fifth round matchup with considerable stress. Both are eager to show fans there’s still hardware to be won this season, and the side who emerges victorious will reassure doubters this year can be salvaged. Given Chelsea’s misfortune in the Premier League, the Blues carry the bigger task in proving they are still worthy of Champions League contention again. The Red Devils on the other hand are looking at perhaps their only chance to salvage a successful season in the post-Mourinho regime.
After Chelsea, United also carry the anxiety of hosting an in-form Liverpool the following week. Relentless in chasing their first domestic championship in the Premier League era, the Red pretenders will savor the chance to add to United’s misery this month.
With an eviscerated Chelsea next on the docket, United must absolutely capitalize on the Blues’ vulnerability before Maurizio Sarri’s men have a chance to strike first. Onward to Stamford Bridge.