Champions League

Solskjaer still upbeat but odds stacked against depleted Man Utd in PSG return

2019-03-05 22:30
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (AP)

Paris - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has raised morale at Manchester United and overseen a remarkable improvement in results as interim manager, so it is no surprise he is remaining optimistic going into Wednesday's Champions League last 16, second leg against Paris Saint-Germain.

United travelled to Paris with 10 first-team players missing either due to injury or suspension, including French duo Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial, and five academy players helping make up their squad.

They must therefore attempt to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit with a depleted side against the runaway French league leaders, who are without Neymar but have Kylian Mbappe in rampant form.

Solskjaer insisted on Tuesday that they had "done it so many times" in the past, but the reality is that the three-time European Cup winners have never won a tie in continental competition after losing the first leg at home.

United had never lost a home European game by more than one goal, but that result remains their only defeat in 16 matches since Solskjaer replaced the sacked Jose Mourinho in December. They have won all eight away matches in that time.

"It's never mission impossible," insisted the Norwegian.

"Of course it is more difficult, but we have to get the first goal and then anything can happen.

"Football is a technical and tactical game but it is also a mental game -- goals always change games, and if we get the first one, we will be believing even more, and they might start doubting themselves."

PSG could be forgiven for having doubts, given the importance of Champions League progress to them and their failure to get to the quarter-finals since 2016, when they lost to Manchester City.

They fell to Real Madrid at this hurdle a year ago, while in 2017 they were humiliated by Barcelona, winning the first leg 4-0 but losing 6-1 in the return, although that was away from home.

It seems improbable that Thomas Tuchel's side -- themselves fresh from eight straight wins in all competitions -- could be eliminated here, even with Neymar missing.

The world's most expensive player is still recovering from a metatarsal injury and on Monday night was pictured at the Rio Sambadrome enjoying carnival celebrations. He is expected in Paris for Wednesday's game, however.

"Everything can happen, it is always possible that a team like Manchester in a last-16 tie can score the first goal and we must be ready for that and ready to show a reaction," warned Tuchel.

He urged his team to forget about the first-leg result and to forget talk of them being among the favourites for the competition.

"It's like in tennis -- if you've never won Roland Garros or been to the semi-finals, you can't be the favourites. You must show that you are capable of it," added the German.

"These guys will be ready for everything. They will believe because it's a strong club with a strong history, with a very strong record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, so we must prepare for the best Manchester United."

He will make a last-minute call on the fitness of Edinson Cavani, the club's all-time record goal-scorer who has not played since before the first leg.

Mbappe -- described as "lightning" by Solskjaer -- has been the main man for PSG in recent weeks, scoring six times in four appearances since netting at Old Trafford.

As well as Martial and the banned Pogba, United are missing Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Alexis Sanchez.

The latter is out for up to six weeks with a knee injury, and so a less experienced team will try to somehow take the visitors to a first quarter-final since 2014.

"We'll never approach any game as a lost cause," Solskjaer insisted.

"I think our pride was hurt last time we played them, so we are going to see players that are going to give their all, and if we get nine or 10 at least playing up to the top standard we have a good chance. We can carry one or two, maybe."


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