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Why the defeat to Paris Saint-Germain isn’t the end of the world

Football Heritage’

If you recognise those two words then you’ll know exactly where they come from, former manager Jose Mourinho’s ridiculous press conference after the Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla in the 2017/18 season, a team many had Manchester United as beating rather comfortably, and they would have done so had it not been for the poor choice of tactics from Mourinho over both legs.

Jose Mourinho wanted to let fans know that Manchester United losing in the knockout stages of the Champions League was something that happens regularly and is part of the DNA of the club, and to an extent he wasn’t wrong due to the poor performances in the knockout stages since Sir Alex Ferguson left, but he was also wrong on so many levels because it is also in their history to win and make it far in the competition.

This leads us to today where we are a few days removed from the United loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the knockout stages, a 2-0 loss and a Paul Pogba suspension leading many fans to lose confidence in the team’s progression in the tournament, due to the second leg being at Le Parc des Princes and being a tougher away fixture than the first leg should have been.

But alas, all is not lost and I am here to tell you why losing is not such a bad thing. Hell, even if United lose the second leg it’s not the end of the world, and for the second article in a row you must surely have the pitchforks ready, and I understand if you do as why would someone dare say that being knocked out of such a prestigious competition is not a bad thing, trust me, if someone said the same to me I’d feel the same. But trust me on this one ok?

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Too optimistic

The first thing worth saying is that absolutely nobody expected Manchester United to progress after being drawn PSG when the round of 16 draw was held back in mid-December. At the time the club was floundering in sixth and 11 points off Chelsea, who were fourth. The draw was also made the day after the 3-1 defeat to Liverpool in the league, which was the final straw for many fans in Mourinho’s time.

Not only that, but up to that point in the league, United had lost five times, three against top-six opposition and twice against relegation fodder as well as losing to Derby in the League Cup and Juventus and Valencia in the group stages of the Champions League. Life was looking rather grim for fans of the Red Devils and there was no light at the end of the tunnel, as all of the lights had been switched off and there was a madman shouting about how he has three more light bulbs than everybody else and he should be respected for it, even though he wasn’t doing anything about the darkness.

The one and only reason fans had hope and were optimistic was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the rejuvenation of the team his time in charge had brought. Winning 10 out of 11 games, with the other being a draw, up until that point everyone was in a jovial mood and expecting big things, maybe even a Champions League trophy.

As master of shouting his own name in songs DJ Khaled once said, ‘Congratulations, you played yourself!’

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Injuries

On to my second point, PSG had injuries, Thomas Meunier, Neymar (his sister’s birthday was coming up remember) and Edinson Cavani. Oh boy, the fans were rubbing their hands together quicker than a fly plotting to take over the world. ‘Three of their best players are injured, there’s no chance we lose now.’ Unfortunately, the reality is much grimmer as even without three of their best players they are still a hugely formidable side.

You only have to look at the players who played and you’ll see it. Kylian Mbappe, clearly the worlds best young player right now who has such blistering speed he could run around the pitch twice before Alexis Sanchez can make his way from the bench to the touchline. Angel Di Maria, who some United fans would have you believe is a terrible player due to his poor time in England, but he has pace of his own and an uncanny ability to pick out a pass and as much as you’d like to think he’s rubbish he really isn’t, he just didn’t want to be at the club. Gianluigi Buffon, who despite his advanced age and inability to let things go is still a fantastic goalkeeper, although his distribution on Tuesday was worse than David De Gea’s somehow. Dani Alves, the man who can walk flawlessly in high heels who can still put in a good cross or two. None of these players are B team, to think PSG were severely weakened without the injured three was a big mistake to make.

All of this was shown true on Tuesday night, and despite the booing Di Maria stepped up the plate massively and gave the kind of performance that United fans were hoping he would give, even resulting in a man of the match award.

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Squad depth

Regardless of the above point, PSG showed they had what United did not, squad depth.

In the first half, the teams were pretty evenly matched and it was like a 45 minute game of tug of war where neither team was close to pulling the other over the middle line. A lot of this was in part thanks to the energetic and fast attacking of both Pogba when he wasn’t being man marked by Marquinhos, and Lingard.

The problems for United really began when Lingard and Martial were both taken off with injury, although the former is the one who had the most impact due to Martial having a bit of a poor game up to that point. The biggest problem lied in who the team brought on as replacements, Mata and Sanchez.

I’ve spoken about both before and about how slow they are, and in a game against PSG, the team needed speed and precision, not slow and steady because whilst they do say slow and steady wins the race that is simply not true in most cases. It was a football match, what wins is good attacking, something of which neither is very good at any more especially when you need quick attacking to get around the already fast defenders of PSG. It doesn’t help when one of the players, who should have been fresh and raring to go, put in an absolutely dire performance. I’ll leave it to you to decide which one.

Manchester United simply doesn’t have the squad depth required of a fast attacking team if those fast attackers are taken off injured and this is a fact. It’s nothing that could have been helped on the night but something that should have been sorted out over the past few years but wasn’t due to the slow defending pace the team has played at for years not requiring pacy attackers.

There are three ways to be in life: Pessimistic, Optimistic and Realistic. When it comes to football the best way to be is Realistic and to look at your team without the red-tinted glasses that stop you seeing the truth. Yes, Manchester United can be challenging for trophies, but it requires investment and time. If they keep going the way they are and don’t invest in the right areas then fans need to be realists and understand that beating teams such as PSG simply isn’t going to happen, unless their whole team is injured of course because surely their squad depth isn’t that deep, right?

Simply put, losing to PSG isn’t the end of the world and at the very least it should be a wake up call to those in charge as to what areas need strengthening, although that wake up call should have happened seasons ago, and if Ole does get the job full-time then he will also now know which positions need players bought for.

Just remember, the future of Manchester United is bright, just don’t look into the sun for too long or it will blind you to the problems at the club that will prevent it winning their fourth Champions League trophy.

Written by Craig Holland-Greenfield

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