Underdogs: Both Romelu Lukaku and Thiago Silva seem to suggest that both Manchester United and PSG are underdogs

Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku has suggested that his club will go into the UEFA Champions League round of 16 matches against Paris Saint-Germain as the underdogs. Whilst not actually stating this, verbatim, the Belgian praised the squad of the French champions, the coach, the fans and the owners, who have big plans for the club. He did state that it would be a tough game for United. Speaking to Canal+’s Canal Football Club, Lukaku said:

“We’ll come well prepared and we’ll see what happens on the pitch. We know we’re going to play against a team that is, for me, one of the favourites for the competition.

“You just need to look at their squad. There are players with a lot of talent and a good coach, good fans and owners that have big plans for their club. It’s going to be a tough game.”

United have turned a corner since sacking Jose Mourinho back in December and bringing in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the club caretaker manager for the remainder of the season. The Norwegian has managed ten matches for the club, winning nine and drawing just one. Whilst it is inevitable that Solskjaer’s United will not go undefeated all of the time, there are some positive signs that the club is now being run to the strengths, despite some ‘has-beens’ suggesting that they could have done something similar.

Solskjaer led United to a 1-0 victory over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Sunday, which saw Marcus Rashford score the only goal of the game, assisted by Paul Pogba. After the victory, Solskjaer and first team coach, Mike Phelan headed to France to watch Lyon beat PSG 2-1, coming back from 1-0 down, showing the United caretaker manager how to beat the French champions, who will be missing the most expensive player in the world, Neymar, for both legs against United.

PSG defender, Thiago Silva spoke to L’Equipe after the defeat to Lyon talking about the clash with United at Old Trafford in eight days time, suggesting that the French champions could be the underdogs, if you read things with an open mind, like me. Silva stated that his club would need to be at 110% to beat United, so how can both Silva and Lukaku suggest their respective teams are both underdogs? Silva said:

“It’s going to be a great clash against Manchester. To beat them we will have to be at 110 percent. Solskjaer possibly walked away from here happy because we did not play really well.”

Lukaku has not really been a trusted figure at United this season. Something seems to have gone amiss with him. Last season, despite missing many chances, he scored 28 goals in all competitions for United. This season, spending a lot of time on the bench, especially under Solskjaer, Lukaku has scored just nine goals in all competitions. Lukaku came off the bench against Leicester on Sunday and was more problematic for the Red Devils that he was productive.

Lukaku is likely to remain on the bench against Fulham, Chelsea and PSG, which are United’s next three matches. Despite the fact he helped United beat Arsenal just over a week ago, assisting twice for Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard, that form he had shown in that game was not prevalent in the 2-2 draw with Burnley or the 1-0 victory over Leicester, meaning that Marcus Rashford would most likely lead the attack in these matches.

Obviously, it is difficult for Lukaku to be more positive about United’s chances against PSG as he is finding it difficult to secure a starting position in the squad, both under Mourinho and Solskjaer this season. The Belgian has not helped himself lately and seems to struggle in matches, looking incompetent in attack and slowing play down when he eventually is given an opportunity on the pitch. Lukaku, speaking about positivity and players looking to perform, which he may or may not be trying to do, said:

“It’s different, it’s much more positive. People are smiling a lot more. Right now, things are going well. We have to keep going like that, we have to take advantage of that. The competitive spirit is starting to come back out in each player.

It’s like that in training already when we have little matches, six-a-side, eight-a-side, you can see the players want to prove themselves to the manager and take their opportunity. When it comes to matchday each player wants to show themselves, but the most important thing is that the team has to win. That’s what’s going to help get us back to where we should be.”

It is hard to suggest how United are going to do against the French champions. Suggesting that United are the underdogs is pointless though, especially if PSG players say something similar about their own team. United have pedigree in the European Cup, winning it three times and reaching two more finals. PSG, despite spending millions in the transfer market, have never won this competition, reaching the round of 16 stage twice and the quarter-final stage four times in the last six years.

United has become a sleeping giant in the Champions League recently though, last winning it in the 2007/08 season the reaching the final in the 2008/09 and 2010/11 season. United were knocked out of the competition at the round of 16 stage last season, the same as PSG. Their participation in the elite European competition has not been as solid as PSG’s, missing the 2014/15 and the 2016/17 season in the competition, winning the UEFA Europa League in the latter season to reach the Champions League.

The fact that PSG has never won this competition will give United an advantage, albeit a slight advantage. Signing Neymar did not automatically ensure PSG prevail in this competition, despite the clubs owners thinking that it would propel them to glory. I guess when you are playing in a league that is won easily and sees no real competition, that is where you end up falling short in competitions such as this one. Underdogs though, neither team is the underdog they are both capable of winning.

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