Wednesday 20 March 2019

Solskjaer draws inspiration from PSG’s Barca collapse

Makeshift Reds face tough Paris task but not 'mission impossible'

Manchester United caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester United caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

James Ducker

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has told his makeshift Manchester United team that it is "never mission impossible" as he urged them to draw inspiration from Barcelona's extraordinary Champions League comeback against Paris Saint-Germain.

United's task at the Parc des Princes tonight would be daunting enough even if Solskjaer had a full squad to choose from.

No team in European Cup history have overturned a 2-0 first-leg home deficit in 106 attempts and United must try to break new ground without 10 players, including their entire first-choice midfield and two-thirds of their preferred attack.

But despite having to draft five teenagers from the academy into his injury-ravaged squad, Solskjaer has challenged his players to get into PSG's heads by scoring first and trying to revive memories of the French champions' dramatic collapse against Barcelona two seasons ago, when they surrendered a 4-0 first-leg advantage by losing 6-1 in the return game.

Mental

"It's never mission impossible, it's more difficult, but we have got to get the first goal and then anything can happen," United's caretaker manager said. "Football is a tactical and technical game, but it's also mental.

"Goals change games. If we score, they might start doubting themselves, but we need to get the first one."

Although not like-for-like situations - Barcelona were at home in the second leg of that spectacular fightback against PSG - the Catalans scored after just three minutes and Solskjaer is hoping United are also quick out of the blocks and believes all the pressure is on opponents, who are expected to progress.

"You can say that [it's a free hit] because we're 2-0 down, but we'll never approach any game as a lost cause," Solskjaer said. "We put that pressure on ourselves. Everyone expects us to go out and easily, but that doesn't happen with Man United. Our pride was hurt last time we played them, so we're going to see players who give their all. If we get nine or 10 playing to the top standards we've got a chance.

"Results in the Champions League in the last few years, I don't want to call it strange, but last year Juventus lost 3-0 at home against Real Madrid and suddenly they were 3-0 up after 90 minutes against Madrid away.

"The year before that, PSG against Barcelona, we remember those results. So there are so many examples of teams who can change results like this.

"Also, as a club we've done it so many times, the players have been fantastic away from home, beaten Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, which has given us the belief we can do this as well."

United have won all eight of their away matches under Solskjaer, but the club have won just one of nine Champions League knockout matches since reaching the final of the competition under Alex Ferguson in 2011 and a spate of absentees does not inspire confidence either.

Paul Pogba was spotted training with his team-mates at the Parc des Princes last night, but the France midfielder is suspended owing to his red card in the first leg and Solskjaer is also without his other two first-choice midfielders, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera, as well as forwards Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata.

With Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian missing, too, Solskjaer has brought academy graduates Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes, Mason Greenwood, James Garner and Brandon Williams. Forwards Chong, Gomes and Greenwood and midfielder Garner have all been involved in the first team before, but this is a first call-up for 17-year-old Williams, a left-back born in Manchester, who has been on the club's books since he was seven. At least three are expected to be among the substitutes.

It is three years since Marcus Rashford was parachuted into the first team and scored twice on his debut against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League, and then twice more in his first Premier League appearance against Arsenal - United's opponents on Sunday - and Solskjaer hopes others now seize their opportunity.

Dreaming

"Every young player who plays at this club is dreaming of coming on and having an impact like Rashy," he said. "They must have the belief to make it and [tonight] might be a chance for some of the young guns.

"It's just one of those situations - we've lost a few players - but we'll cope. We'll have a good team."

Solskjaer is expected to name a midfield featuring Scott McTominay, Andreas Pereira, Diogo Dalot and Fred, who, between them, have made just 52 starts for United. McTominay, Pereira and Dalot have played a total of just 518 minutes of Champions League football, but Solskjaer warned there could be no repeat of their first-leg mistakes if they are to pull off a huge upset.

"At this level, small mistakes are punished," he said. "You get away with it in the Premier League, but not in the Champions League at the latter stages." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

PSG v Manchester Utd, live, Virgin Media Sport/BT Sport 2, 8.0

Telegraph.co.uk

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