Cast your mind back to the 17th December of last year. The draw for the last 16 of the Champions League had been made, and PSG fans – yet to see a quarter-final in Europe, would have been very happy with their lot.
They had been drawn against a Manchester United side that had just suffered a 3-1 defeat against Liverpool, leaving them 19 points off the pace. The statistics were ominous; United had conceded 29 goals in the Premier League at that point during the season, one more than they did in the entirety of the 2017-18 campaign and the most goals they’d conceded at this stage of a top-flight campaign since 1962-63.
Their haul of 26 points after 17 league games was their worst since 1990-91. Paul Pogba was underperforming and taking the brunt of media fire. The rest of the team looked lost and lifeless; It would take a ‘miracle’ for the club to reach the top four, said Jose Mourinho.
PSG meanwhile, had racked up 17 goals during the group stages after a slow start and were already approaching half a century in Ligue 1 having played 16 matches domestically – their big three of Neymar, Cavani and Mbappe were firing along on all cylinders.
How times change. Out went Mourinho and in came Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, throwing away the shackles almost overnight and allowing United’s forwards to flourish. The result? 10 wins in 11 games since he took the mantle.
Thomas Tuchel and PSG might still be cruising towards the Ligue 1 title – they are 10 points clear of Monaco – but the cup with big ears is the only one on their mind and they have found injuries coming at just the wrong time.
Talisman Neymar is out of both Champions League round-of-16 legs with a metatarsal injury whilst Edinson Cavani will miss at least tonight’s game following an injury in a win over Bordeaux. The forced rest, thanks to concussion of right-back Thomas Meunier, has come just at the wrong time.
Meanwhile, Solskjaer was resting six first team players whilst United were beating Fulham 3-0, riding out an early bout of pressure before taking yet another game by the scruff of the neck.
Under Solskjaer, Paul Pogba has seven goals and five assists in the Premier League – whist the Norwegian has also managed to get the best out of Marcus Rashford – who has six goals under new management when given his head and playing with free rein upfront. The aforementioned pairing have used the running of Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard to get into spaces and defences in general haven’t been able to handle it as shown by their tremendous record.
The odds for this have moved seismically since the draw – when the balls were pulled PSG were 1/4 to make it through with United 11/4 to reach the quarter-finals – but since then the Reds have shortened from 3/1 to 29/20 to win the tie and from 5/2 to 13/10 to take a first leg lead.
United actually make some appeal to take a first leg lead, but what looks even more likely is a game with goals. Seven of United’s 12 since Mourinho left have gone over 2.5 goals with the 1-0 win at Tottenham an aberration where David de Gea made a barely believably 11 saves to earn United a precious win.
PSG might have two of their best players missing the game but Kylian Mbappe will still have the support of Julian Draxler and Angel Di Maria going forward and PSG will still aim to target a pair of Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.
Manchester United v PSG
UEFA Champions League Last-16 1st Leg
20:00 BT Sport 2 / BT Sport 4K UHD
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
(Maximum 10 matches, from last 10 years)
First meeting between teams
Only Manchester City have scored more goals than PSG in Europe’s top five divisions and they are entirely capable of scoring at least once regardless of the result, whilst United don’t look likely to ditch their attacking style. Over 2.5 goals is 3/4 and looks the bet.
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