The Champions League draw has pitted Manchester United with Paris Saint-Germain, setting up a daunting prospect for United’s struggling defence
The Champions League round of 16 draw on Monday pitted United against a free-scoring, free-wheeling Paris Saint-Germain side who will surely relish the prospect of taking on Jose Mourinho’s underwhelming side in February and March.
Mbappe, Edinson and Neymar have been coined in some circles as the ‘MEN’ forward line, but about the best United can put in front of them by way of response is the ‘JLS’ of Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling. It seems like an unfair fight.
United’s best hope is that the two-month gap between now and the first leg at Old Trafford brings about a change in fortunes for both sides. While the Reds have struggled all season long and are 19 points off the Premier League pace, PSG’s campaign has been almost the exact opposite so far.
Having won their first 14 league matches the Parisians remain 10 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 with two games in hand, and the multi-angled approach to attacking which has been evident in previous seasons has now been added to with a greater solidity and better attitude than has been on display in recent times.
In Neymar and Mbappe in particular, PSG also have two of the most fearsome attackers in the game who could turn the tie in a split second, leaving United with plenty to consider.
Assuming Mourinho is still United’s manager by the time the tie is played, we can expect little more than two backs-to-the-wall performances. That has been the Portuguese’s instinct in big games since taking the job at Old Trafford and there is little to suggest he will find another way to approach this one.
But quite what that will allow PSG to do to United’s struggling back-line is anyone’s guess. United have already conceded more league goals in 2018-19 than they did in the entirety of last season, while they have shipped 35 in 24 games in all competitions. Compare those numbers to PSG’s scary scoring statistics – 49 league goals in 16 games, as well as 17 goals in a tough Champions League group – and things could get very ugly.
Whatever defensive shape Mourinho has chosen this season hasn’t worked. Having even reverted to redeploying Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic and Matteo Darmian as centre-backs, the manager has failed to find a settled routine at the back. Moreover, their inability to compete in midfield has only made things tougher for those of a naturally defensive make-up.
United could do with a Marco Verratti, but instead he could spend 180 minutes in February and March showing them exactly what they are lacking. The man who sets the tone and pulls so many strings for the deadly PSG front-line is just another player to fear.
There is simply no good news for Manchester United right now given the state of their Premier League campaign, and their slim hopes of progressing in the Champions League just got a whole lot slimmer.