Manchester United are through into the quarterfinals of the Champions League after one of the most dramatic nights in the club’s recent history. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit to Paris Saint-Germain with a heroic 3-1 win away at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday, eventually progressing on away goals.
United’s faint hopes of an unlikely comeback were boosted within five minutes of the first whistle, as Romelu Lukaku intercepted a terrible Thilo Kehrer pass before rounding Gianluigi Buffon and slotting home. The opening goal, however, triggered a fierce response from the hosts, who were soon in total control.
PSG had squandered a couple of good chances to equalise by the time they finally restored their two-goal aggregate lead. Juan Bernat did the honours, slipping free of Eric Bailly to tap a Kylian Mbappé cross home. United looked rattled, and with good reason. Bernat, Mbappé and Ángel di María were running riot, wreaking havoc among a defence in disarray. Solskjær’s decision to mirror PSG’s back three appeared to have backfired.
With half-an-hour on the clock, a humiliating defeat looked more likely than a United win, until suddenly Marcus Rashford sent a vicious low shot skidding across the Parc des Princes turf. It would surely have been innocuous if not for the wet Parisian weather, and Gianluigi Buffon duly spilled the ball right into the path of a grateful Lukaku. PSG defenders sent their arms into the air, but the flag stayed down, and the Belgian’s rebound stood.
United carried their lead into the break, but still trailed 3-2 on aggregate. They needed another goal to progress. Yet Solskjær’s patched-up, rag-tag team, with a midfield comprising two recent academy graduates and Fred, were still in the tie. Their efforts hadn’t come without a cost: shortly before the interval a grimacing Bailly limped off to be replaced by Diogo Dalot, but such had been the Ivorian’s struggles against Bernat that one would have been forgiven for thinking it was his pride hurting the most.
The second half got off to a slow start, inflamed only by a disallowed di María goal shortly before the hour. A blistering first half had given way to a pedestrian second. PSG looked more likely to score, but an improved second-half defensive display frustrated their star-studded attack. The hosts should’ve killed the game off when Mbappé was sent clean through in the final 10 minutes, though a slip bought David de Gea the time to push the ball away. It rolled into the path of Bernat, whose low shot bounced back off the base of the post. It was a lucky escape for United, and, as it turned out, a decisive one.
With just minutes left on the clock, the game took the most dramatic turn imaginable. A hopeful Dalot drive bounced off defender Presnel Kimpembe and behind for a corner — or so it had seemed. With the ball lined up by the flag, the referee suddenly blew his whistle and headed for the pitchside VAR monitor, apparently having heard word that Dalot’s shot had bounced off the defender’s arm. After an agonising few minutes, the referee pointed to the penalty spot, and Rashford stepped up to smash the ball beyond Buffon to win the tie. It was a harsh call, but one that United have every right to feel they’d earned.