Paris Saint-Germain was left experiencing some unwanted Champions League deja vu, as Marcus Rashford struck a late winner to give Manchester United all three points in the opening match of the group stages Tuesday.
Anthony Martial’s own goal in the second half had canceled out Bruno Fernandes’ early penalty but Rashford, as he did in the round of 16 at this stadium 19 months ago, had the last say with a brilliant strike in the closing minutes.
Defeat for PSG was the first time it had lost at home in the Champions League group stages since a loss to CSKA Moscow in December 2004, ending a remarkable 24-match unbeaten run.
While the coronavirus pandemic means United fans may not have been able to experience another magical Parisian night in the same way, it will certainly go a long way to lifting the mood at a club that has endured a difficult start to the season.
Night to remember
Manchester United’s players certainly had some nice memories of their last trip to the French capital.
An improbable 3-1 win on that famous night in March 2019, with victory secured by a last-minute Rashford penalty, overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit and earned United passage through to the quarterfinals — and more than likely swayed the club hierarchy into giving Ole Gunnar Solskjær, then only interim coach, the manager’s job on a permanent basis.
Many thought it was a knee-jerk decision, one made largely because of that magical result, to give such an inexperienced coach at the top level one of the most demanding jobs in football.
The 19 months since with Solskjær have been up and down — though, arguably, more down than up — but there were signs toward the end of last season that maybe the Norwegian had found a winning formula.
However, the start of this campaign has seen many of United’s problems resurface and the humiliating 6-1 defeat at home to Tottenham left plenty of fans wondering whether Solskjær really was the man to lead this club forward.
But whenever it seems as though the 47-year-old’s position might be in doubt, his team often responds emphatically. After a dominant 4-1 over Newcastle in the Premier League over the weekend, United would soon be on course to getting its Champions League campaign off to the perfect start.
With only one fit central defender in Victor Lindelof, Solskjær was forced to start Axel Tuanzebe in the heart of the defense. The 22-year-old has rarely played since making a promising debut in 2016, spending two spells on loan at Aston Villa, and was tonight faced with the prospect of stopping Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, two of the world’s best attacking players.
Tuanzebe, playing for the first time since December, looked calm and assured in the opening stages and the man who holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest clearing of a Hungry Hungry Hippos board gobbled up the ball every time either of PSG’s star forwards got near him.
It was a bright start from Manchester United and it soon got the reward the early pressure merited.
Anthony Martial’s sharp turn was too quick for Abdou Diallo, who stuck out a clumsy leg and tripped the Manchester United forward in the box.
Up stepped Bruno Fernandes — who missed from the spot over the weekend for the first time since moving to the club — only to have his penalty saved, but was given a reprieve when referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz signaled for it to be retaken as Keylor Navas had moved well off his line.
The Portuguese midfielder, United’s new captain for the night, stepped up and slotted his second effort into the same corner, only this time sending Navas the wrong way.
It was the 27th penalty United had been awarded since the start of last season, more than any other club in Europe’s big five leagues.
For PSG, it remained to be seen whether last season’s defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League final would act as a catalyst to create an even more determined group of players or deflate a squad that has experienced more than its fair share of heartbreak in this competition.
There have also been whispers that coach Thomas Tuchel could find his job in danger if he fails to deliver the Champions League to Paris this season and give the club’s Qatari owners the trophy they crave the most.
The perennial French champion suffered a terrible start to the Ligue 1 season, losing its opening two games, but bounced back well to go on a five-match winning streak.
Tuchel’s men showed good resilience here, too, and immediately went in search of an equalizer. It was telling that United goalkeeper David De Gea was by some distance the best player in the opening 55 minutes, pulling off a number of brilliant saves to keep his side in front.
However, it wouldn’t be long before United’s defense was finally breached.
Martial rose highest inside the box to try to head Neymar’s corner away, but closed his eyes at the crucial moment and glanced the ball into his own net. United, looking solid so far at the back would certainly have felt hard done by given the unfortunate nature of the equalizer, but it was little more than PSG deserved.
The match certainly opened up since the equalizer and both sides felt this match was there for the taking.
Navas pulled off a stunning low save to deny Rashford, while United full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka was having a quite brilliant performance to keep Mbappe at bay.
But as the game wore on, United certainly looked the most likely to snatch a winning goal and while PSG admittedly had injury concerns of its own, the French side was looking like a shadow of the one that reached last season’s final.
Indeed, some sloppy defending was finally punished as Rashford waltzed up to the edge of the area, totally unopposed and with opposite number Neymar casually strolling off in the opposite direction, and drilled an unstoppable effort low into the far corner.
The goal sparked wild celebrations, reminiscent of those in March 2019, but only time will tell whether a win at the Parc des Princes is another false dawn or the start of Manchester United’s return to the top.