MANCHESTER, England – There’s no hiding place in the Champions League. Unless you are reckless and determined at key moments, the only guarantee is that you will pay a heavy price. It gets worse when you add naivety to the mix, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United got their money’s worth with a 3-1 home loss to Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.
United have seen promising results at times in the Champions League this season by winning in Paris and beating RB Leipzig 5-0. However, they have also shown inexperience and incompetence – the Shambolic defense in the defeat to Istanbul Basaksehir was a particularly low point. and the shortcomings of their players and managers came to the fore again against PSG.
Solskjaer’s team went into this Group H duel and knew that a draw would secure qualification for the round of 16 before traveling to Leipzig next week. But missed opportunities from United’s strikers and an inexplicable decision by Solskjaer not to replace midfielder Fred when he went headlong into an inevitable red card allowed PSG to claim the win that resurrected their own qualifying hopes and United lost in Tuesday Germany has to save in order to make it to the knockout phase.
They may also be without Marcus Rashford as the striker was sent off late in the second half with a shoulder injury.
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“We want to win,” said Solskjaer after the game. “The games against PSG and Leipzig show how much we’ve developed in these types of games. It was all about getting through today.”
Solskjaer’s United team have proven so spectacularly unpredictable that it would be foolish to bet against a result if they face Julian Nagelsmann in six days, but they really shouldn’t be traveling to that game to qualify.
Last month’s defeat in Istanbul hurts United’s hopes a lot. The Turkish team loses every second game in the group. That defeat left United susceptible to yet another setback and PSG ensured they suffered as a result at Old Trafford. Two goals from Neymar and one from Marquinhos gave the French champions a flattering lead.
But United are now in a mess of their own that began in Turkey and culminated in Solskjaer’s failure to replace Fred at halftime in that game while the result was 1-1 thanks to Rashford’s deflected equalizer.
Everyone at Old Trafford could see that once Fred escaped a red card by holding his head in Leandro Paredes’ face after 20 minutes, Fred was walking a tightrope. Referee Daniele Orsato checked the incident on the pitchside monitor before deciding to only issue the United midfielder a yellow card. It was an incredibly lucky escape for Fred, but at halftime he had avoided a second yellow again after reckless challenges against Marco Verratti and Paredes.
Any manager, not even a seasoned one, would normally retire Fred on a regular basis to avoid the risk of being sent off.
United has been shown to hit expensive red cards in the Champions League games at Old Trafford. Rafael da Silva (against Bayern Munich 2010), Nani (Real Madrid 2013) and Paul Pogba (PSG 2019) were sent off in games that ended in either defeat or elimination for United.
Solskjaer should know that red cards in the Champions League are often punished by ruthless opponents. So he should have replaced Fred with Pogba or Nemanja Matic and protected his team. His later admission that he was considering retiring Fred at halftime before deciding against it doesn’t do Solskjaer much.
“Fred shouldn’t keep his head on him [in the first half]”Said Solskjaer when asked about the obvious headbutt on Paredes.” I don’t think he touched it. He was a little lucky to keep going. “
Have you thought about taking it off?
“Yeah … Fred played really well,” said Solskjaer. “We talked about staying calm and on our feet. The second yellow card was nowhere near a foul. Ander [Herrera] know, that.”
It is true that when Fred was sacked after 70 minutes for a careless challenge against Herrera, United had missed two clear chances to take the lead. Anthony Martial missed those two golden chances and reiterated his lack of the cold-headed ability of a true elite striker to hit the mark. Had Martial scored one of those chances in the second half, United would have taken the lead 2-1 and could have ended the game. But reality was different: Marquinhos restored PSG’s lead after United failed again and properly defended a corner.
“If Marquinhos had bigger cleats, he would have been sidelined,” said Solskjaer before not adding convincingly. “You can’t really get the determining factors under control.”
The goal was a minute before Fred was sent off, so United’s hopes were literally gone in 60 seconds.
But here the guilty finger points back to Solskjaer because Fred should have been picked up at that point. The consequence of staying on the field to be sent off meant United had to play with 10 men against one of the best attacking teams in Europe for the final 20 minutes, but it was a self-inflicted wound because Solskjaer would have that option need to eliminate the equation. The only surprise was that it took PSG another 20 minutes to score again. Neymar’s stoppage-time goal ensured that the Paris club now has a direct advantage over United.
This is not the first time United has suffered poor results and bad management decisions in Europe. They also cast a shadow over Sir Alex Ferguson’s Champions League failures. But there is nothing worse than a defeat influenced by your own choices and Solskjaer has once again proven to be flawed at the highest level.