Football Features

“Rashford reigns in Paris again” – Five Things Learned as United stun PSG with Solskjaer’s Big Game Ballista

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:23, 20 October 2020

In a phenomenal night of football, Manchester United beat PSG 1-2 in the Parc des Princes.

The Red Devils took the lead and then dominated the game despite ceding possession to their hosts. PSG’s only goal came from a United error and the Red Devils corrected that with a later winner. What did we learn?

1. Prime Minister Marcus Rashford MBE

Most strikers are selfish. They only think about themselves and their goal totals. If their team wins a game and they don’t score, then the striker isn’t happy. It’s understandable, but a shame because who doesn’t love selfless nice guys?

Well, Marcus Rashford is about as nice as nice gets. His wonderful work off the field to ensure that children around the UK are always fed is a credit to him, and so of course he’s not selfish. He blew two great 1v1’s in the second-half because he was so preoccupied with making the sensible and selfless play and square the ball that he didn’t realise he could have taken it on and shot.

But Marcus Rashford MBE is nothing if not a quick learner. Two times he ran in behind and messed it up trying to pass, so when Paul Pogba fed him the ball late on he took one touch to get the ball out of his feet and slammed it sweetly home. A gorgeous low drive into the bottom corner of the net leaving the (excellent) Keylor Navas with no chance. A stunning strike.

Two appearances in Paris, two match-winning goals in Paris. Emmanuel Macron better watch out, because Prime Minister Marcus Rashford MBE has major designs on his capital city. Rashford reigns in Paris again.

2. PSG need a midfield rethink

PSG always seem to have the same problem: their midfield. Even as they have gotten over their complex of playing Marquinhos in midfield, an injury crisis robbed them of Marco Verratti and Leandro Paredes. So on the one hand you do feel sympathy for Thomas Tuchel.

But on the other hand, Tuchel’s response to these absences was to play three defensive midfielders next to each other. Ander Herrera, Idrissa Gueye and Danilo Pereira. And as a result PSG were so slow and stodgy in midfield and found it very hard to penetrate Manchester United’s defensive rearguard.

When Tuchel did finally make a change, bringing Moise Kean on for Idrissa Gueye, it livened PSG up no end and allowed them to fight their way back into the game. But when he did finally remove Ander Herrera for Rafael, United were too set in their rhythm and PSG had lost control of the game.

Every other problem PSG faced came from their awful midfield. Even in the face of absences, Thomas Tuchel simply has to do better with his team selection if PSG are to move to the next level.

3. Tackle God

Aaron Wan-Bissaka can often look like a man out of time. In an era where the full-back has evolved to be one of the most potent attacking forces in the starting XI, he is a throwback to a bygone era. In fact one could argue Wan-Bissaka takes “full-back” all the way back to its origins where they were the last line of defence.

Tonight Wan-Bissaka was very much the last line of defence against PSG, repeatedly streaking behind his defenders to effect devastating last-second blocks. Or 1v1’ing Kylian Mbappé and shutting him down on all but a couple of occasions (despite being constantly left to solo him). He made a game-high 6 tackles, 2 clearances and 2 interceptions and repeatedly intervened to protect United’s goal.

He’s not much of a passer, but you won’t find a better 1-v-1 defender anywhere on the planet.

4. David de Gea dominates again

The Spanish goalkeeper has been poor of late, genuinely poor. Beyond making saves, he hasn’t done the basics of being a goalkeeper in a while. Leaving his line to confront attackers, collecting crosses, nothing that seems massive but is a genuine absence when it’s not there.

Tonight, however, David de Gea was magnificent. The Spaniard did everything you could want from a modern goalkeeper. He left his line and swept up PSG attacks, he came to claim crosses, and when he had to he made fantastic saves (which you always expect, but some of them were truly outrageous especially his point-blank block from Layvin Kurzawa). This was a statement from De Gea: and it will have been heard loud and clear by everyone.

5. The Big Game Ballista

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer loves big games.

Little games, against teams who park the bus? Solskjaer is afraid of those. Tactical games? Solskjaer doesn’t know how to handle those. But big games? Where United won’t have much of the ball? Solskjaer lives for them, because the tactics are simple.

Solskjaer brings out his Big Game Ballista, that 3-5-2 shape that puts Luke Shaw in the only position he can play well and covers absolutely everyone else superbly. It’s not pretty, involving lots of scrappy clearances and blocking of passing lanes.

Axel Tuanzebe today stood enormously tall at the back despite playing his first game of the season. United didn’t miss Harry Maguire at all as the young Englishman made a game-high 7 clearances to dominate in the middle of defence.

Fred and Scott McTominay are Solskjaer’s most trusted soldiers in the middle. All hustle and bustle. Blocks, tackles, stabbed knocks away. And then a smidgen of composure to pass the ball out and get United rolling.

And once the ball breaks out, we get to see the full force of Manchester United’s counter-attack. With Bruno Fernandes orchestrating then Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial running, the Red Devils repeatedly ripped PSG to bits on the break tonight and could have scored more than just two if they had been more co-ordinated in the final third.

Dread it, run from it, Man Utd’s Big Game Ballista arrives all the same.