From Manchester United perspective, the mood was buoyant before their first leg round of 16 Champions League game against Paris Saint-Germain. And why wouldn’t be; the Red Devils were flying under interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
They had gone 11 games unbeaten while playing some robust football that looked like it had gone under Jose Mourinho. Victories away at Tottenham and Arsenal proved the form was for real.
Marcus Rashford was scoring for fun, Paul Pogba’s swagger was back while Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf were solid at the back.
But against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday night, everything turned sour again for Manchester United.
It was reality checks for the high-flying Red Devils whose wings have been clipped.
Rashford and Mbappe
Since his electric debut in just about every competition both for Manchester United and England, Rashford has often times been compared to another young whiz Kylian Mbappe. The comparison that however started to sound absurd returned with his new form.
But the Rashford, Mbappe debate will surely be put to rest now as their contrasting performances offered a glimpse of what the gulf in class that still exists between them. While Rashford endured a frustrating performance not helped by the lack of service from the wings or midfield, Mbappe was in full steam.
Rashford struggled and failed to trouble Paris Saint-Germain defence while Mbappe’s pace and quick feet dazed the Manchester United defence all through the night.
Pogba fails to spark
Free from the defensive requirement of Mourinho, Pogba has been the force that drove Manchester United forward during their bounce under Solskjær but his performance on Tuesday night is a reminder that the French midfielder is still far away from the European elite.
Despite being half-fit, Marco Verratti bossed the midfield in Old Trafford leaving Pogba to feed on scraps. It was an underwhelming evening for Pogba who was sent off late in the game.
Solskjær had settled for the Lindelof and Bailey central defensive pairing which has been solid enough during their 11-match unbeaten run. But on Tuesday night, the Manchester United defence was cut apart, to remind them that they are still short of at least a world class defender to properly compete.
While Lindelof caused no real moment of concern, Bailey was caught out most times, especially for Mbappe’s goal.
Solskjær’s game management
Manchester United were reportedly considering Solskjær for the permanent job in the sum but the way he managed the game on Tuesday night might have brought some doubts to Manchester United’s scribe.
He was outthought by his Thomas Tuchel on the night and failed to respond with like for like changes which made no impact. More questions will surely be asked of Solskjær as the novelty of his short reign seems to have now come to an end and it is his ability to manage tough situations that will decide his fate at Manchester United.