Manchester United came into the first group game of their Champions League campaign under pressure and were not the favourites against a Paris Saint-Germain side, who played the final last season.
But at the end of 90 minutes, very few could argue that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side didn’t deserve the three points at the Parc des Princes. Manchester United showed remarkable defensive resilience to keep an attack comprising of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria at bay and always looked a threat in attack.
The PSG defence was put under pressure time and again, and when Marcus Rashford scored the winner in the 87th minute, it was the culmination of a sustained period of Manchester United dominance over Thomas Tuchel’s side.
In a group comprising of RB Leipzig and Istanbul Basaksehir as well, Manchester United made an early statement with a win over PSG, who are the favourites to reach the Round of 16 as Group H winners.
#1 Axel Tuanzebe shut down a feared attack after missing 10 months of football
With Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly injured, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s hands were forced into playing the 22-year-old Axel Tuanzebe.
The centre-back’s talent is not a surprise for anyone who has been following his time at the club since his days in the academy, but before last night Tuanzebe’s last game was against Rochdale in December last year.
He missed ten months of football due to an injury but didn’t put a foot wrong at the Parc des Princes. Being part of a back-three, the 22-year-old defender produced a class performance and kept the likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe quite.
Very few could actually win a foot race with Mbappe but twice the Frenchman was though on goal and both the times Tuanzebe kept up with him and produced brilliant tackles inside the penalty box to keep him from taking a shot on goal.
Manchester United will hope that this is the season Tuanzebe will remain fit and kick on to cement a place in the starting eleven.
#2 PSG missed the control Marco Verratti provides in midfield
With Marco Verratti injured and Leandro Paredes also out due to a hamstring problem, the French champions were forced to field a workmanlike midfield.
Danilo Pereira made his debut for PSG against Manchester United and was solid but unremarkable. Ander Herrera provided his general hustle and energy in the middle of the park but no one played the role that Verratti assumes when he plays.
Manchester United’s Fred and Scott McTominay dominated the midfield with their physicality and the Parisians missed Verratti who could have held onto the ball and controlled the pace of the game.
At no point, PSG looked in control of proceedings at the Parc des Princes. Everything seemed too rushed and they were in too much of a hurry to give the ball to their forward line.
Verratti has the ability to control the pace of the game and calm things down a bit but without him, no one in the PSG midfield took the responsibility of getting hold of the tempo of the game.
#3 Fred and Scott McTominay shone on the biggest stage
It was assumed that Paul Pogba’s absence from the starting eleven against Newcastle United meant he would star against Paris Saint-Germain but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer surprised everyone with his selection.
Fred and Scott McTominay were played as the midfield two with Bruno Fernandes ahead of them in a 5-3-2 formation. With Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Donny van de Beek on the bench, Solskjaer had a wealth of midfield talent on the bench.
And the performance by the duo proved Solskjaer right in the French capital. They added energy to the Manchester United midfield and more or less dominated the PSG midfielders at the Parc des Princes.
They cut out passing lanes, controlled the pace of the game and provided brilliant cover to the Manchester United defence.
On a big day, Fred and McTominay showed their importance in the Manchester United squad and what role they could play for the rest of the season.
#4 Neymar went missing as the game wore on
Neymar was rested from PSG’s 4-0 win over Nimes on Friday night in order to keep him fresh for the big Champions League game but the Brazilian superstar made very little impact against Manchester United.
Early in the first half, the Brazilian did cause some worries to the Manchester United defence with his running from deep and looked like making a big impression in the game.
But as the game wore on, Neymar became less and less effective and his performance faded in the second half. The Manchester United defenders dealt with him well and kept the Brazilian quite.
The moment of magic that PSG were waiting from him never came and by the end of the game and he was outshone by Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford at the end.
#5 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer showed his tactical chops against a big European team
A poor start to the season, a 6-1 defeat at Tottenham and Manchester United side who looked lack of ideas, there are no doubts ahead of last night that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was under pressure in the Red Devils dugout.
He has done well to take Manchester United to a third-place finish in the league last season and qualifying for the Champions League. But poor opening weeks of the season meant that the question marks over Solskjaer’s ability to manage one of the biggest clubs in the world were back in fashion and the Norwegian provided a resounding answer to his critics.
The Manchester United manager showed the guts required to keep Paul Pogba on the bench and start with Fred and Scott McTominay.
But it was his in-game management that shone in Paris last night. He dropped his defence back a few yards after the opening minutes when Kylian Mbappe and Neymar threatened to run in behind the Manchester United defenders.
However, the key change arrived in the second half when he took Alex Telles off to bring on Paul Pogba to win the game. Manchester United shifted to midfield diamond and more or less dominated PSG before Marcus Rashford scored the winner in the 87th minute.
With games against Chelsea, RB Leipzig, Arsenal and Everton coming up in the next few weeks, Manchester United will take solace from the fact that Solskjaer has shown his tactical chops in winning big games and the PSG win was not a surprise.