A night to cherish, A night to remember, A night specially scripted for a United fan. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continues to give jaw-dropping results as the Red Devils knock PSG out of the Champions League on the back of a 3-1 drubbing at Paris.
Even in their wildest dreams, No one backed Manchester United to go through to the Champions League quarterfinal after going down to PSG 0-2 in the first leg at the Old Trafford. But such is the tactical masterpiece Solskjaer, he made it look so simple even with his 10 first-team players out.
It was a fragile situation for United as their star Paul Pogba was ruled out from the PSG fixture following a red card during the first leg clash. Martial, Lingard, Herrera, Sanchez, Matic, and the list of crucial injuries went a long way.
Solskjaer tinkered with the formation slightly playing Ashley young in the midfield and played a 4-3-3 formation. Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku, the star of the last few games took up the attacking duties with Andreas Pereira to their aid.
Fred, Scott McTominay and Ashley Young combined to form a slightly iffy midfield on paper. Eric Bailly and Luke Shaw fulfilled the fullback duties while Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof guarded the central defence.
But as soon as he sensed the inexperienced midfield needs a bit more calibre, he employed a 4-4-2 formation with Andreas Pereira joining them on the left.
When the players went out for the anthems, the commentator on air said: “It looks like Mission Impossible for Manchester United”. Well, there was the calm of Solskjaer who believed that if they trouble the scorers early, maybe they can play with the opponent’s mind. Such a trivial thought but with immense effect.
The manager asked and the players delivered. That’s what an ideal team is like. Romelu Lukaku found the net before 2 minutes into the first half following a blunder by Thilo Kehrer at the back. Although PSG didn’t bog down for long and gave a furious reply with a 12th-minute equalizer by Juan Bernat.
The drama didn’t end as Lukaku made the most of another error, this time by the veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon who spilt a fearsome Rashford shot. Under the half an hour mark, United were leading 2-1 against PSG and it remained so till the 90th minute when Presnel Kimpembe made a fumble inside the box.
Kimpembe elbowed a ball from Diogo Dalot and a penalty was awarded to United after consultation with the VAR. Rashford took the mark against Buffon. All he needed to do was go past Buffon and gee, he did that beautifully. The players, the staff all went crazy as they ran towards the supporters. It was their moment and Solskjaer ensured that he remained on the sidelines smiling and restructuring what seemed lost since the departure of Sir Alex.
This was the perfect fairytale script unfolding itself for United as they become the first side in the history of Champions League to go through after losing 2-0 at home. Emotions went soaring high with Lukaku also mentioning that he doesn’t think Solskjaer has to do anything else to earn himself a ticket to the helm at United permanently. He was quoted as saying,
“I know he’s going to stay, there’s no doubt about that,” he told Viasport.
“He wants to stay, the players want him to stay. We’re doing really well, we’re playing like Manchester United should play.
“He’s a young coach, he has young players as well so it’s the perfect environment to develop and hopefully win trophies in the future.”
This is not the first time Solskjaer has been praised for his extraordinary self-belief and maintaining a family-like culture in the team. He was quoted as saying,
“It was fantastic. The belief in the boys was what we hope for. It was a great start, we set out a plan to get the first goal but didn’t expect it after two minutes. That made it more open for us. We wanted many goals in the game.”
“I was in the Champions League with Molde and we got a penalty in the last minute against Basel, but my player missed and we went out. So this time … normally Paul takes the penalties, but this time Rashford took it, he’s only 21 and nerveless. Him and Rom were fantastic tonight.” Solskjaer added.
“Real Madrid and Ajax was our team-talk. We always know it’s possible, and this club, it’s what we do, that’s Man United! I haven’t seen the penalty, the referee had a big call to make. My staff say he made himself bigger and it was a clear penalty.” He added.
Solskjaer certainly seems a man for the future for Manchester United. He was quite ecstatic after the historic performance under him. When asked about his thoughts on his stakes for the permanent role, he said
“No no no no. Wait until the summer, we’ll see what happens.”
In his fruitful stint at the United, pipped to be the only rough spot was the Champions League loss against PSG. Solskjaer has managed to overturn that in his favour as well. Well into the deciding phase for the Devils, Solskjaer has continued to impress the connoisseurs with his ability to discover opportunities when the going seems bleak for everyone else.
This makes him the best contender for the managerial spot this summer. The announcement though seems pretty close from now.