What did Manchester United learn from loss against PSG?

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Manchester United headed into the first leg of the Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain with full confidence, given their fine form in recent weeks and the fact that Edinson Cavani and Neymar would be missing both legs of the Champions League tie. Though, all did not end well, as the visitors gave the host a football lesson and showed that they are levels ahead of the Red Devils.

Despite the questionable refereeing and the fact that the side lost Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard by the half-time break, Thomas Tuchel had his side setup in the most perfect way whist Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is now showing that he is beginning to lack a Plan B. With how the first leg had come to an end, United’s chances of qualifying for the next round are very slim as PSG take two away goals and a win back to France.

Here are three valuable lessons that can be taken from the Champions League defeat…

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs to desperately find a Plan B

For sure, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is enjoying the dream of managing Manchester United and has got the fans of Old Trafford bouncing again. However, he needs to come up with a backup idea or a different system for when things don’t go according to plan, especially with how Tuchel made some clever choices with his starting line-up and made sure to make tactical tweaks during the game.

It’s more or less obvious that the injuries to Lingard and Martial badly affected to how the side normally attempt to break on the counter through pure pace and movement, which led the full-backs and the midfielders to then take part in a more direct approach. Given the injury issues and the lack of midfield options, it may be ideal for Solskjaer to consider using the back-three/five setup, to restore balance from defence to attack.

In regards to a back-three/five formation, it would allow both Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot to push high up the pitch as the wing-backs whilst Paul Pogba potentially playing in an attacking role with freedom will do the side real good. As long as United’s main players in Ander Herrera, Marcus Rashford and Victor Lindelof are in high confidence and spirits, they should be able to play effectively and smartly within this style.

The midfield battle is where the match was won and lost

Without a doubt, Marco Verratti and Marquinhos stole the headlines at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, as the midfield duo controlled and dictated the game like it was a walk in the park. From keeping it simple with the short passes and the through balls into the wide players, to silencing each attack United could offer, they truly gave Gianluigi Buffon and Thiago Silva a quiet night at the back.

Meanwhile, for the hosts, it had seemed like only Pogba was attempting to guide the midfield and attack whilst the rest were waiting in the opposition’s half for something to happen. Herrera and Nemanja Matic provided assistance defensively and were able to support the backline when required, though, they struggled a lot when it came down to helping them push forward and to create constant chances.

The midfield department is an area that the hierarchy should look to aggressively strengthen, especially when the only options are Andreas Pereira, Fred and the young Scott McTominay from the bench. If one of the current midfield trio were to be injured or suspended for a number of games, then it can easily be stated that the backup choices would not be able to come up with the needed displays without any issues.

United’s board need to have a good look at the strength and quality between both squads

Majority of football supporters would have thought that the absence of Cavani and Neymar would make the fixture more balanced and would make the hosts the favourites, on the other hand, the visitors still had the likes of Angel Di Maria, Kylian Mbappe and surprisingly Dani Alves utilised as the front three. Straightaway, one can gain the understanding that PSG’s squad depth is no joke at all.

Though, when United’s two main attackers were forced off a half-time, Solskjaer could only bring on Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata, two players that are clearly past their best and are not able to take the side’s attack to the next level. On top of that, PSG’s quality in the starting line-up was incredibly outstanding, leaving Tuchel with no reasons for them to complete their third and final substitution.

Overall, PSG have the perfect squad to allow them to convincingly challenge in every competition they take place in, whilst United’s current team is just about enough to challenge for the top four spots as well as the Carabao Cup or FA Cup. If the board want to improve instantly, they will need to bring in a director of football, someone who can help when it comes to recruiting and scouting.

Manchester United: Who should start against Paris Saint-Germain at Old Trafford?

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With the Premier League fixtures of the weekend now coming to an end, the main focus now turns to the exciting and thrilling Champions League matches, where Manchester United will be taking on Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the knockout stages. Potentially, if all the build-up and hype meets its true expectations, the tie could go on to be one of the best ties of the whole competition.

The main news at this moment of time is that Neymar will be missing both legs of the tie, as he suffered an ankle ligament injury a few weeks ago and is not expected to return to training until the middle of April. Not only that, the Ligue 1 leaders have had to release more injury issues today, stating that both Edinson Cavani and Thomas Meunier are unavailable for the match on Tuesday.

Focusing back on the Red Devils, it’s time to look at who has become really reliable under Solskajer and are expected to start in what is the side’s most important fixture of the season. The selections for the midfield and forward department would seem straightforward and very easy to complete, whilst the defence would be a questionable one as they can become inconsistent here and there.

It’s time we look at United’s best XI that should start against Paris Saint-Germain…

David De Gea and the backline

Starting with the main individual between the goalposts, it is a no brainer that David De Gea will be starting a huge match like this rather than the back-up options in Lee Grant or Sergio Romero. At the heart of defence, it should be a partnership of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, who are simply he best centre-backs within the squad and are the only ones capable of helping the team out on and off the ball.

Meanwhile, the full-back position can be covered by Ashley Young, Diogo Dalot or even Luke Shaw, three players that are capable of defending at a decent level whilst attacking when required. Given that the opposition will have the likes of Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler and Kylian Mbappe starting, it will be more than important to have the experienced ones in Shaw and Young as the full-backs.

David De Gea, Luke Shaw, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Ashley Young.

The consistent and dominant midfield

In the middle of the pitch, the usual midfield trio of Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba will be expected to carry out their duties on both sides of the pitch. This will have become clear and plain obvious over the last couple of weeks, especially with Marouane Fellaini leaving for China, whilst both Andreas Pereira and Fred have not been able to take their chances when provided.

Not long ago, Herrera and Matic were seen as two average and unconvincing midfielders under the managerial of Jose Mourinho, but are now regarded as the key pair in midfield that helps the side to defend in numbers and to retain possession of the ball effectively. On top of that, Pogba continues to control and dictate the side’s attack as well as produce the much needed goods in the final third of the pitch.

Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba.  

Pure movement and pace of the attacking trio

When Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford were rested on the bench ahead of the Fulham game, it was a clear indication that Solskjaer were giving the duo a well deserved break going into the Paris Saint-Germain fixture. The third and final player that should be completing the front three is none other than Anthony Martial, because he can amazingly produce something out of nothing and is really clinical in front of goal.

All three individuals have shown what they can do in attack, whether it’s through their intelligent movement off the ball or the way how they can dribble past two to three players within the matter of a few seconds. If they can start off the game at a quick pace and at a high tempo, then there should not be a problem at all of expecting two to three goals in the first leg at Old Trafford.

Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford.

Neymar could be back for PSG sooner than expected after injury blow

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Just like this time last season Neymar PSG’s Brazilian forward has been ruled out for a chunk of the season when all of the competitions are reaching their business end and reports have suggested that the player will miss the next 10 weeks with a return date pencilled in for the beginning of April.

Neymar has injured his fifth metatarsal and received the injury in PSG’s French Cup win over Strasbourg. This latest injury just highlighted the unfair treatment that Neymar has had to put up with his supposed diving antics and fooling around. Truth is most of the time he is getting chopped down. This time it was because he was showboating, and it feels quite sad that Neymar has been cut down like this especially at a time when his club really need him.

Neymar’s injury shouldn’t affect the team in the league given that they are 13 points clear at the top and have games in hand. Ligue 1 in theory has been wrapped up since before Christmas and it seems that it is just a matter of when and not if PSG win the league title for the 2nd time in a row.

But the focus will be more on the Champions League, a trophy that PSG desperately want to win and keep failing at against the more elite and historic teams when it really matters, it was the major reason that the club brought in coach Thomas Tuchel.

But Neymar will certainly miss the teams first leg against Manchester United at Old Trafford, which is a massive bonus for the Premier League side. The second leg in Paris is on March 6th and that might be the game that PSG are secretly targeting Neymar’s return.

For example if the game is still open by then and PSG need that extra piece of magic Neymar would be key to the side’s chances of progression. However the 2nd leg date is only in five weeks time, so will it really be possible?

Players in the past have been able to recover from such injuries in 4-6 weeks at the very least if they have been able to fully rest properly. Also in Neymar’s advantage is that he hasn’t required surgery on the injury. So in theory he could be back much sooner than expected.

Of course the problem is would he be match fit? The answer is no, and Neymar returning so early could be seen as a desperate move and a last roll of the dice for Tuchel. The correct method to take would be for Neymar to return for the quarter finals in PSG were able to make it past United.

In any sense Neymar’s injury and especially the timing of it is hard luck on Tuchel who will most probably be judged more by the owners on how PSG perform in the Champions League compared to the league.

Why Idrissa Gana Gueye to PSG may be a good deal for Everton

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Propose the idea that Everton would be willing to sell Idrissa Gana Gueye to Paris Saint Germain this month and you will be met with derision.

When ranking Everton’s best players in recent years the Senegal player is a regular at the top. He remains one of few success stories from the short reign of former Director of Football Steve Walsh.

Even last season, when the Blues were one of the worst sides in the Premier League, Gueye came out with his head held high. That is a status few of his teammates can claim. This season under Marco Silva he has flourished once again. The Portuguese manager’s progressive, forward-thinking system has afforded Gueye a key role. Continue reading

Can PSG go the whole season in Ligue 1 unbeaten?

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More or less PSG have been absolutely dominant in the French Ligue 1 since 2012 and their massive takeover which has seen the club win 6 out of the last 7 titles in France. Millions have been spent on some of the greatest players to have graced the game in recent years. The likes of Zlatan Ibramhimovic, Neymar, Edinson Cavani and a new starlet in Kylian Mbappe have passed through their doors.

However it is this season that just feels different under new coach Thomas Tuchel. The reason is evident when you glance at the league tables. Yes it is no surprise to see PSG in 1st position, but they have played 14 games so far and won 14. It’s like a PlayStation game that went very wrong in a kind of excellent way. 42 points means that their nearest challengers Lyon are 15 points behind and the league in effect looks over before December.

We should also be reminded that their nearest rival Lyon were soundly beaten 5-0 last month by the Parisians. They are just that good that no team in France seems to be able to touch them. And yet of course in previous seasons it felt the same way until they would lose a surprise game away from home. This past weekend that almost happened. Not so much that the team would lose but even drop their 100% win rate. The team was Toulouse and with an important Champions League game coming up against Liverpool, both Mbappe and Neymar did not play and PSG edged to a 1-0 nervous victory.

PSG certainly have it within them to not only go unbeaten the whole season but to win every game, it would be a massive achievement even if some critics would point and suggest that the French league is not strong. Well tell that to Premier League champions Manchester City who in 2 games against Lyon both home and away failed to beat the team and conceded 4 goals along the way.

Ligue 1 is not the strongest league in Europe of course but it is far from weak, all it is missing is some wealthy owners to give PSG a run for their money (pardon the pun).

PSG’s real tests will come as the season progresses. How will they react if they are knocked out of a cup competition, especially the Champions League? The league is theirs that is basically assured now, but it is a question of how long they can continue their dominance this season which is most fascinating. Europe will be looking on in anticipation that is for sure.

Liverpool or PSG set to be knocked out of Champions League at the group stage

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Liverpool and PSG were amongst the favourites to win this seasons Champions League but it looks more and more like one of them will not even qualify for the knock out rounds after a topsy turvy group stage.

When the two European giants were announced to be in the same group, there was obvious excitement but most pundits believed they would get through in a group also containing Italians Napoli and Red Star. But some surprise results have left that chance really open ended with just 2 games left to play each for the super clubs.

Liverpool who got to the final last season have already lost 2 of their 4 games. These defeats both came away from home against Napoli and then this week to Red Star in a 2-0 loss. However for now they are still in 2nd place on 6 points.

As for PSG they started their campaign off with a loss away to Liverpool which ended 3-2 and then they drew two times against Napoli but slaughtered Red Star at home, they are, at this moment going into the Europa League with 5 points so far.

Napoli have been the real surprise and the problem for Liverpool and PSG. But Napoli who are in 1st place are not safe yet as they have drawn 3 of their 4 games but they do remain unbeaten. So the key to qualification will be in the next two matchday fixtures.

Napoli will play Red Star at home and given how poor they have been on the road we would expect a win for the Italians. But then they have to play Liverpool away and what would be a packed out and atmospheric Anfield and that could well end in a loss, so Napoli has the chance to finish with 9 points.

Liverpool have a massive crunch test with PSG in Paris on November 28th and it will in effect feel like a knockout game. All eyes will be on this match, let’s be conservative and say this game ends in a draw. It would mean that even if PSG beat Red Star away from home as long as Liverpool win they would go through. The key game seems to be Napoli’s match against Red Star, win that and one of Liverpool or PSG are going to go out. It would be a massive blow for either club.

Arguably one could say the blow is bigger for PSG given the new coach in Thomas Tuchel and the fact they have Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in order to win the competition. By the end of this month we should know which one of these teams will be playing Europa League football next year.

Emery keen to banish the last vestiges of Wenger’s regime

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After what appeared to be years of moaning, Arsenal’s long-suffering support finally got their wish.

After 22 years of innovation, change and bringing the Gunners kicking and screaming into the modern era, Arsene Wenger was gone.

What, in the end, was a blind belief in a certain way of working, had become stale as a new, younger and more dynamic breed of coach eased their way into the Premier League. Continue reading

Outstanding Lille setting bar high in Ligue 1

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After 10 games Lille are still there. There means 2nd place in Ligue 1 which is de facto for 1st place because no one will be catching PSG this season. The current French champions have 30 points from 10 games, a 100% record that was underlined at the weekend with another devastating win, this time against Amiens in Paris which ended 5-0. Job done.

As for Lille, no one could have expected such a start from a team who have traditionally struggled in recent seasons showing only glimpses of what they can achieve. This season is very different.  It was only in May that Lille pulled off a fantastic escape from the relegation zone, and the club have worked hard all summer in changing the set up of what is now expected.

Coach Christophe Gautier has come into the team last December and had a mountain to climb, but with survival came some new recruits in the summer and also the real emergence of Nicolas Pepe who is growing into one of the better players in Ligue 1. It was his goal- albiet a penalty that helped Lille win their latest game. The club have acquired 22 points from 10 games, continue at that rate and they will come 2nd and could get 80 points.

Clearly the objective at the beginning of the season for Lille was to finish in the top half- this is an objective that is being easily met, but now the team and their coach and fans must be thinking to take things a little further and finish in a European place, if that ends up being for the Champions League then Gautier would have made a miraculous turnaround.

Whilst Lille are 8 points behind PSG, they can marvel at the fact that they are 3 points in front of Marseille and 5 points in front of Lyon. Monaco who are usually a threat can be discounted this season after their nightmare start has led them into 19th position and they are a whopping 16 points behind Lille. It will be fascinating if Lille can keep up their superb start to the season.

The club have lost just 2 games so far and have won 3 games in a row, at home they alongside PSG have a perfect record of played 5 games won 5, and Lille certainly mean serious business.

On November 2nd just how far Lille have come will be put to the ultimate test when they will travel to Paris to face PSG. By that time if both teams continue to win, the gap could be 11 points in PSG’s favour or just 5. For Lille’s Ligue 1 achievements this season, watch this space.

PSG fans will again be banned from Marseille clash in a sad day for football

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Next week Marseille will play PSG in what could arguably be the game of the season so far in Ligue 1. However the atmosphere of the game will be dampened somewhat because all PSG fans will be banned from the Stade Velodrome.

Local police have confirmed that no PSG fans will be allowed into the stadium because other events in and around the city will have the police force stretched. On the face of it that statement makes sense, but for a few seasons now fans have been banned. Whilst PSG fans cannot visit Marseille, it is the same situation in Paris where Marseille fans are also banned.

Police will know in advance that some violence is very much possible between a minority set of fans, which of course is the real reason that away fans will be banned from next weekend’s fixture. What isn’t being thought out or clarified is a way to change the hooliganism in France.

For a great example could you expect to see Arsenal fans banned from visiting Old Trafford, or Chelsea fans banned from visiting Manchester City? In the 1970s and 80s in England this wouldn’t have been a surprise to see, although even then this rule was rarely put into place, but this is 2018 and France a nation that has won this years World Cup seem decades behind when it comes to the organisation of fans for the big football matches. Hooliganism is almost non existent in the Premier League and in France it is getting better, but sadly and most evidently it is still there.

This will be the 3rd season where PSG fans have been banned from travelling to Marseille for the match. Whilst on a human form something needs to change, the reputation of some fans will also damage TV viewing and marketing. Just look to Serie A for evidence, a league that was light years ahead in the 1990s has fallen greatly due to hooligans, in club fighting, match fixing and ultra fans, it can all be linked and this latest news is no good for Ligue 1.

Something needs to change from the top and fans need to be educated enough not to cross the line. For now it is evident beyond recognition that even if there is a beer festival in Marseille and some other events the real nature of the ban is stop the violence, it seems sadly that the local police had no other choice.

 

 

 

Thomas Tuchel’s version of PSG is set to be the best ever

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When PSG strolled to a 3-0 victory over Nice at the end of September it seemed to go by without much fuss and why should it as everyone expected the champions to win the game. However more fuss and attention should have surrounded this historic result. In beating Patrick Vieira’s team, PSG had just equalled an 82 year old Ligue 1 record by winning their first 8 games of the season.

The record was held by Lille in the 1935/36 season and had stood for that long despite PSG being dominant in France since their takeover from the 2011/12 season onwards. In order to break the record the club from Paris would have to play an old foe in Lyon. Lyon of course dominated French football themselves in the 2000s winning 7 titles in a row and whilst they are a team now playing second fiddle to PSG they still would not have been chosen as the team you had to beat to break an historic record.

A few weeks ago this Lyon side had travelled to Manchester in the Champions League and stunned Manchester City by beating them and they had started to pick up form and points in the domestic league. But the match would be held in Paris where PSG have simply been irresistible.

Ninety minutes later PSG had not only broken the record they had done it in style by beating a genuine league rival 5-0. PSG had just won 9 games in a row thanks to a Neymar goal and a stunning performance by Kylian Mbappe who scored 4 goals in 13 glorious minutes to break another Ligue 1 record.

One has to wonder if, under current coach Thomas Tuchel, PSG have their best team since their takeover and indeed they are proving wholeheartedly to have the best team ever in Ligue 1 history.

The club have 27 points after just 9 games and their nearest challenger is Lille who are 8 points behind on 19. The only team to stop PSG’s title runs have been Monaco who won in 2017 and they are already 21 points behind. PSG are scoring almost 4 goals a game and at home they have scored 19 times from just 5 games and conceded just 2. The team are on fire and have a belief in breaking records and winning the league in record time.

Of course the wider view will be that their season will be judged on how well they do in the Champions League. They were unfairly criticised when they lost to Liverpool 3-2 in their opening game of the competition. Many teams will lose at a packed out and atmospheric Anfield- what will count more for Tuchel will be how his side react when they play Liverpool in Paris. And PSG were clearly not at their best that night and yet came back from 2-0 down and could have drawn the game. The team remains a real danger to any side in Europe.

However they have historically made too many errors and a bad lack of judgement in the competition against the better teams. But if PSG can play like this then they have every chance of going very far in this seasons edition of the competition.