No stranger to famous European nights in his playing days, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer oversaw a historic Manchester United success as a coach in Paris, benefitting from the most modern slices of luck, while proving there is more to his managerial approach than a warm smile as he edges closer to permanent appointment.
What a night. Rekindling their grandeur of old, and their penchant for a rousing, late comeback, United did the unthinkable, with a squad down to the bare bones, they beat the superstars of Paris Saint-Germain, and in the most dramatic style.
United did not deserve it, sat back, rode their luck, capitalised on poor defensive mistakes, and reaped the rewards of a controversial late VAR penalty decision. However, they never gave up, producing a stunning turnaround from 2-0 down in the tie they looked dead and buried in.
And driving that United juggernaut was a man who has brought the smile back to faces at Old Trafford, and while things could easily have transpired against him in Paris, Solskjaer oversaw a miracle as United became the first team in Champions League history to qualify for the next round having lost the first leg of a knockout match at home by two or more goals, not just with luck, but a perfectly-executed gameplan.
“We need a good plan,” Solskjaer said pre-match, fully aware of the task at hand in the French capital. “And it needs to be put in place.”
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And with his rather depleted hand, Solskjaer went about his business, doing what he could to spring a surprise and catch the over-confident hosts out. “If we get to the last 15 or 20 minutes one goal down, you just never know.”
Such a throwaway comment like will have been easily missed by most, but when Manchester United are concerned, you really do never know.
Nonetheless, the feeling around the Parc des Princes among fans and the local press was that this was a contest very much won. PSG have had their fair share of Champions League knockout woes, but this latest incumbent are made of much sterner stuff under the tutelage of Thomas Tuchel. United were done, and it was a matter of how many PSG would get.
That sense of extravagance, even arrogance around PSG is never too far away. PSG have become as big a brand as Barcelona, Real Madrid, even United in recent times, with Leonardo DiCaprio, Mick Jagger and Beyonce at run-of-the-mill league games, fashion link-ups with Michael Jordan reaching the catwalks and Neymar cladded in all manner of outlandish attire.
At 1-1, after Romelu Lukaku’s early strike had been cancelled out by Bernat’s close-range finish, PSG slowed the pace of the game right down, Marco Verratti was doing kick ups in the middle of the pitch, fans were ‘ole-ing’ at every touch and, with Eric Bailly floundering, it appeared PSG were going to run riot.
Bailly was looking like a rabbit in headlights, with calls from the press box to take him off even in the first half, Jose Mourinho style.
Others were querying his selection from the start. Why was Bailly, a centre back, pushed out to full back when Diogo Dalot, who changed the game when he came off the bench against Southampton at the weekend, was left on the bench?
Yet, Solskjaer has got very little wrong since he took temporary charge, and when you look at his bench, and consider his plan of getting to the last 15 minutes at 2-1 or 1-0 to give his side a fighting chance, the Norwegian got it spot on, again, to punish the antics of PSG and send them crashing out of the Champions League once more.
Dalot has to be kept in reserve, even if it meant Bailly would be exposed, as Dalot was simply the only other non-youth team player available capable of changing the game. In the end, Dalot had to be introduced just before the end of the first half, but his fresh legs helped inject enthusiasm into United.
Solskjaer’s pairing of Fred and Scott McTominay worked liked a dream in midfield, while keeping Rashford, who had previously been Solskjaer’s choice as the central striker, and the in-form Lukaku both deployed as out-and-out forwards paid dividends.
Getting to the latter stages still in it was as far as Solskjaer - who had six players in his match squad not born when Gianluigi Buffon made his Champions League debut - could take United. The rest was left to the laws of fate, and just as they used to in Solskjaer’s playing days, fate was kind to United once again.
Yes there was a huge amount of luck involved. Yes, 99 times out of a 100 PSG would have won that game, but United would not have had the spirit to have got to that point with minutes to go, needing only one goal, without the work Solskjaer and his team have done.
“I keep doing this job as best as I can every single day and we will see where it takes us,” Solskjaer said after the match. “It has been a fantastic time with the players, with the staff I have got. I am just going to enjoy this job as long as I have got it. I am going to smile.”
That smile has been infectious, and the only way that smile could be wiped from the face of those elated United fans after such a historic night in Paris is if Solskjaer did not get the permanent job. After a victory that evoked such memories of former glories, United’s board simply cannot delay much longer – Ole needs to stay at the wheel.News Now - Sport News