Nothing to Lose.
It has been years since Manchester United truly felt like Manchester United. Of course there have been glimpses of the ‘never say die’ spirit and sprinklings of success since Sir Alex Ferguson called time on his reign as manager, but since he left, the feeling of invincibility has slowly ebbed away.
Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, though, that feeling is returning. The results are coming and the club as a whole is starting to get its identity back.
Proof of that is evident in the fans’ outlook on this Champions League double-header against Paris Saint Germain. The belief was suddenly back going into the first leg after many had been dreading a potential embarrassment under Jose Mourinho. That itself was probably slightly unfair on the former manager given the result gained away at Juventus, but the installation of Solskjaer as his replacement really got the positivity flowing.
And so it should have. Up until that game at Old Trafford, United had been undefeated under the Norwegian, and have been since. In fact, things could have been different that night without the double loss of Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial at half-time, but that’s something we’ll never know for sure.
The funny thing is, since that game Solskjaer’s side have been cruelly and potentially debilitatingly hit by a huge spat of injuries to key players, and still there is a good portion of fans and figures in and around the club that believe United could still go over to Paris and pull off a comeback.
That is quite something. Even without the influential Paul Pogba through suspension plus his two main midfield partners and four of United’s six recognised first team forwards, hope still remains. Admittedly, the entire defence and forward line of the expected team that will walk out in Paris on Wednesday night are still established regulars in the first team and hardly makeshift choices. Instead, the main concerns stem from the forced implementation of a second string midfield and a bench littered with inexperienced Academy graduates.
That’s if you can call it a concern. After all, both McTominay and Pereira have performed well in the absence of the regular figures and the bench of youth players will excite most fans that have seen what these youngsters are capable of.
So threadbare is the first team squad, that young right-back Brandon Williams has also travelled over to Paris along with Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and James Garner. With a party of twenty going over to France, including three goalkeepers, at least four of those youngsters will make the matchday squad and could well get to play an important role.
From the start, though, it’s more than likely that the United boss will go with the experienced heads. The question is how will he set them up? One potential solution is reverting to a 3-5-2, using two from Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and Diogo Dalot as wing-backs. The Reds are seriously short of experienced attacking options with only Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku being fit out of the first team regulars. Using the wing-backs could compensate for the lack of options usually required to utilise the preferred 4-3-3 whilst also giving extra cover at the back to fend off the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Julian Draxler.
With Scott McTominay then sitting in front of the back three, both Fred and Andreas Pereira will have a little freedom to help create chances for a front two that really need to be on their game. Any chances must be taken, so it’s a good job that Romelu Lukaku appears to have dug out his shooting boots from wherever they’ve been hiding. Four very well taken goals in the last two games will have done wonders for the Belgian’s confidence and the boost comes at a crucial time given the fact that Alexis Sanchez has now joined Martial, Lingard and Mata on the sidelines.
There is of course the possibility that Solskjaer will stick with the 4-3-3 and use Diogo Dalot on the right again as he has done for periods in the previous two games. We could also be surprised by one of the young lads getting in from the start although that feels less likely given the magnitude of the task and the game.
Whichever way it goes, we can rest assured that this United side, with this manager, won’t be going out simply looking to avoid defeat and humiliation. They’ll be going to win.
Stranger things have happened.
Confirmed Squad: De Gea, Grant, Romero; Smalling, Young, Shaw, Lindelof, Bailly, Rojo, Dalot, Williams; Gomes, Fred, Pereira, McTominay, Garner; Rashford, Lukaku, Greenwood, Chong
Score Prediction: Paris Saint Germain 1-1 Manchester United