The soccer news starts with Manchester United once again in trouble. Since replacing manager Jose Mourinho with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on an interim basis, United looked like a different club. All of a sudden, their problems turned into advantages. What should've worked in September was now producing wins in January.
All of a sudden, Manchester United was in 4th-place, battling Arsenal and Chelsea for that final Champions League spot. The 9-point gap between 4th and 3rd-place Spurs didn't exactly loom for a team that hasn't lost a game since Mourinho's finale on December 16. Eight Premier League wins in nine games, including beating Spurs at Wembley. An almost slip at home to Burnley saw United scoring late and coming up with a stoppage time equalizer. Things had changed almost immediately.
Plenty of people were already arguing for Solskjaer as the permanent hire. Well, as permanent as any Premier League manager is in this high pressure environment. That pressure is now on, with United dropping their Champions League round of 16 opener 2-0 to PSG at home.
As is almost always the case at this level, it wasn't just the loss but how it happened. Without Neymar, PSG shifted to their other world all-star forwards. PSG took over the game and likely the series in the second-half, with Manchester United losing Paul Pogba to a red card in the 89th minute.
“It looked like the game we thought it was going to be," Solskjaer said. "In the first-half, there wasn’t really much in it, and then they got the first goal. When they got that one, it was a poor goal to give away. Then they got the momentum. They started to control the game. They had the experience to play it out. You can see that we’ve not played games at this level for a while and we’ll have to learn from this experience, because it was one of those experiences that can go either way. It’s not going to be a season defining one for us. It has to be one that we’re going to learn from."
Credit him for understanding expectation management. Still, there's been a lingering feeling that eventually a team was going to show up this revived version of Manchester United. As soon as the draw happened, PSG was the likeliest candidate. Amid all of the support for Solskjaer's run in charge, United's schedule certainly helped. Aside from that Spurs win, they haven't played anybody else currently in the top-half of the table. That's a top-half of the table that currently includes Wolves, Watford, and West Ham.
Solskjaer is right. The strength of United's schedule didn't help him here. Spurs away on January 13 and Arsenal away in the FA Cup on the 25, both United wins. Maybe there was a sense of security in their turnaround on the back of those results. This is still a team judging itself and judged by everybody else on how they play against the elite. That's what PSG at home represented, and that's what United lost over 45 minutes.
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