PSG went into Old Trafford without Neymar and Edinson Cavani and had its way with Manchester United, while Roma relied on a 19-year-old to provide the spark in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suffered his first defeat as manager of Manchester United, as a shorthanded Paris Saint-Germain took control of their Champions League last-16 tie with a 2-0 win at Old Trafford in the first leg.
Man United struggled for tempo and fluidity, as PSG produced a classic away European performance, winning thanks to goals from Presnel Kimpembe and Kylian Mbappe despite not having the services of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Thomas Meunier. A bad night for United got worse as Paul Pogba was sent off after collecting a second yellow card in the final minute, making chances of a comeback all the more difficult.
In the day's other last-16 first leg, two goals from 19-year-old Nicolo Zaniolo gave Roma a 2-1 home win over Porto, which will bring an away goal from Adrian Lopez back home for their second leg.
Here are three thoughts with the Champions League knockout stage now underway:
Shorthanded PSG impresses mightily
Thomas Tuchel’s brief when he was appointed manager of Paris Saint-Germain was to win the Champions League, and for the first time, perhaps, it looks like a genuine contender. In recent seasons, PSG has been soft at this level, a spoiled and entitled side used to winning too easily in its domestic league to have the nous to win in Europe. The difference between this performance and the shambles vs. Liverpool at Anfield at the beginning of the group stage was remarkable.
Would PSG have played in that way had Neymar been available? It’s impossible to be sure, but it’s hard to see how it could have. There had been indications in the group stage that Tuchel was beginning to have an impact on PSG’s approach, making it a more disciplined and tactically varied side, but with Neymar in the side there will always be a restriction on just how cautious and defensively minded a side can be. Here, with Mbappe operating centrally and looking like a threat every time PSG broke, the away side was content to sit deep and frustrate United.
The plan worked, in as much as the game felt like an old-school Champions League game. There was a lot of anxiety, a lot of misplaced passes, a few wild challenges–Pogba, Ashley Young and Kimpembe could all have collected second yellow cards before halftime–and precious little in the way of quality.
But that suited PSG. It had the better chances in the first half–albeit both probably would have been called back for offside had they been converted–and it won the game with its first flickerings of creative class. A Dani Alves cross found Mbappe, his header forcing David De Gea into a low save to his left. Angel Di Maria’s corner was excellent, as Nemanja Matic and De Gea seemed to leave it to each other while Kimpembe raced in and powered home his first goal for the club.
Seven minutes later, Di Maria, the former Man United winger who was booed throughout and at one point was pelted with projectiles that including a bottle, laid on the second as well, with Mbappe deftly touching in his low cross on the break.
First questions for Solskjaer
In Solskjaer's 12th game on the bench there was, for the first time since he replaced Jose Mourinho, the sense of things going against the Man United caretaker. The pace and movement of the front three have been a feature of his reign so far, but by the start of the second half both Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard had been forced off with injuries. With Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata on in their place, United lacked the pace and threat it usually does, allowing PSG to play higher up the field.
Up to a point that could be put down to misfortune, and a more manipulative manager than Solskjaer might have been tempted to point out that Kimpembe had probably committed three yellow-card fouls before being scoring the opener. But United also looked naive, giving away cheap free kicks, allowing itself to be wound up by the antics of certain PSG players. Nobody was more guilty of that than Pogba. Booked in the first half for a late challenge on Marco Verratti, he was sent off a minute from time after a dangerous challenge on Dani Alves–one that recalled his foul on Dele Alli last month.
Having gone two goals down, United looked just as shambolic defensively as it had at any point under Mourinho, with De Gea being forced into two excellent saves to keep the deficit just about manageable.
After the win at Fulham on Saturday, United’s 10th in 11 games sunder Solskjaer, the feeling was that the manager’s job was his on a permanent basis unless he was exposed in the series of key games United has coming up over the next five weeks. Defeat to PSG does not in itself wipe out all the credit Solksjaer has built up, but it does mean there will be more scrutiny of next Monday’s FA Cup tie at Chelsea and of the upcoming league games at home vs. Liverpool and Manchester City.
Teen Zaniolo comes to Roma's rescue
Mbappe wasn’t the only young talent to enjoy himself on Tuesday.
At 19, Zaniolo is six months younger than the Frenchman. He joined Roma in the summer as part of the deal that took Radja Nainggolan to Inter Milan, and as the season has gone on, that transfer has begun to look like a better and better deal for Roma. Two neat finishes from close range, one with his right foot and one with his left, in the space of six minutes gave Roma a two-goal advantage in its first leg against Porto.
The tie was tipped back into the balance as Adrian Lopez jabbed in after being set clear by a long ball over the top, but the teenager supplied a much-needed spark for last season's suprise semifinalist.