Football Features

“Sluggish Solskjaer has fallen asleep at the wheel” – Five things learned as Man Utd crash 1-3 to PSG

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:41, 2 December 2020

In an open night of football, Manchester United were beaten 1-3 at home by PSG in the Champions League.

The win puts three sides onto nine points going into matchday six, and although United still top the group and need only a draw to progress, they have a difficult match away to Leipzig while PSG have a home gimmie against Istanbul. What did we learn?

1. Sluggish Solskjaer has fallen asleep at the wheel

Manchester United bossed the middle hour of tonight’s match against PSG, but they only scored once in that whole time. They came close more times than that and Anthony Martial missed two glorious chances to give United the lead, so in some sense they were unlucky.

Post-match Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said “sometimes you can’t really put your finger on what’s the deciding factor,” and that’s very true, just not of this game. Tonight the inaction of Solskjaer on the United bench is ultimately what did for The Red Devils as much as any individual error, albeit David de Gea was incredibly weak on PSG’s opening goal.

Fred was lucky to stay on the pitch after a serious of challenges in the first-half that ranged from yellow to borderline red (a very bright orange, anyway) and many expected he would be removed at half-time, but Solskjaer left him on and to be fair Fred did play well at the start of the second-half. But he was always a ticking time bomb as one mistimed challenge could result in a second yellow.

That is ultimately what happened, but once cannot help but lament the fact that Solskjaer didn’t take him off sooner, making a proactive change to help his side win the game, perhaps introducing Donny van de Beek or even Paul Pogba. In the end both men did come on, but only once Fred had already been sent off, so they couldn’t impact the game in the same way they wanted.

On the whole, a 60 second period of misery turned the game from United to PSG, and it came because Thomas Tuchel was active and made substitutions, changing his formation. This put Mitchell Bakker free down the left, and his shot was saved by De Gea but PSG scored from the resulting corner. It was a lucky goal, but PSG earned that luck through great application and a proactive manager.

Solskjaer made his changes too late, or made the wrong ones. Right at the death he decided to throw Odion Ighalo onto the field, but took off Aaron Wan-Bissaka to do so. Throwing everyone forward looking for an equaliser and he takes off his only defender who can stop transitions? Who does that???

It was nonsensical, especially as it came literally a single second after Wan-Bissaka had just brilliantly defended a PSG counter and forced Kylian Mbappé into a tricky shot rather than an easy pass for a Neymar tap-in. And of course within literally 10 seconds, PSG broke from defence and scorched their way through a wide-open Man Utd defence to score, a Neymar tap-in on the counter!

Had United altered their XI and upped the tempo when they were the dominant side, or had Solskjaer better managed his players and left Wan-Bissaka on to cover the counter-attacks, then perhaps they could have pushed through for a win or draw. But they didn’t, because sluggish Solskjaer has fallen asleep at the wheel.

2. Neymar lifts PSG off their knees

Neymar joined PSG in 2017 for a world record €222m transfer. It changed the entire landscape of the game, except for PSG. Obviously he’s been amazing for PSG, but materially they’ve not won anything they were going to win anyway. Lots of domestic trophies, nothing in Europe whatsoever. Alright they made the final in last season’s truncated Champions League, but even there Neymar (and Mbappé) were poor and blew several easy chances to bury Bayern Munich with wasteful finishing.

But he is so very good that he can lift any game out of the doldrums. PSG were not good against Manchester United, even if Thomas Tuchel won the tactical battle between the two coaches, but they picked up the colossal win that all but guarantees their progression into the round of 16 thanks to their brilliant Brazilian.

First he capitalised on a lucky bounce with a rasping finish to give PSG the lead. Then it was his gorgeously deft pass that led to Bakker’s shot which brought about the corner that PSG scored their second from. Then right at the end as Manchester United were pressing for an equaliser, Neymar went on an absurd run that started with him bamboozling the United defenders inside his own half before bursting forward without the ball and being in place for an easy tap-in to kill the game.

3. Wan-Bissaka’s reputation precedes him

They always talk about “making a reputation” in football, and usually in negative connotation as it pertains to diving, but it is possible to make a good reputation in football: just ask Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

The English right-back was sensational as United won in Paris, making a game-high 6 tackles and repeatedly stopping Kylian Mbappé dead in his tracks. Well Mbappé and Neymar have clearly been watching footage of that game as well as other United games because tonight they wanted absolutely no part of Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Despite both men’s natural position being dribbling from that left-flank 1v1 against the opposing full-back, they rarely if ever attacked from down there. They seemed unwilling to take the Englishman on, and so Wan-Bissaka ended the game with just 2 tackles and 2 interceptions, but his impact on the game in terms of forcing Neymar and Mbappé into areas they were going to be less effective was palpable.

Wan-Bissaka even found time to do other things beyond be a terrifying 1v1 defender, such as pick up an assist for a nice first-time cross to Marcus Rashford, and defend a PSG counter 2-v-1 with supreme confidence, blocking off the easy pass to Neymar and forcing Kylian Mbappé into taking a tough shot (which he missed). That United didn’t finally collapse until he was taken off was telling.

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4. Manchester United player ratings

5. PSG player ratings