Manchester United kicked off their Champions League campaign with a 2-1 win away at last year’s runners-up Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday. It was an impressive performance from Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side, who played to their counter-attacking strengths and won courtesy of goals from Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, either side of an unfortunate Anthony Martial own goal.
In spite of the calibre of the opposition, this looked like a game United might fancy. Ever since Solskjær took over — now almost a hundred games ago — the Reds have looked at their best against the biggest sides, whose high defensive lines are often vulnerable to the pace of Rashford and Martial on the break. United set up to soak up pressure, with Axel Tuanzebe joining Victor Lindelöf and Luke Shaw in a central defensive trio; Alex Telles was handed his debut at left wing-back.
The first few minutes established exactly the pattern of play we might have expected, with PSG dominating possession and United packing men behind the ball. The best early efforts fell to the Parisians. David de Gea was forced into a diving save by an Ángel di María attempt destined for the top corner; the subsequent corner fell for Layvin Kurzawa in the six-yard box, but United’s keeper was again on hand to make a crucial block. For the most part, however, United’s defence held up well, and Tuanzebe was particularly impressive in keeping Kylian Mbappé quiet.
United’s patience paid off midway through the opening half, when Martial swivelled too quickly for PSG defender Abdou Diallo. The young centre-back sent his compatriot tumbling in the box, and the referee pointed to the spot. Initially, it looked as if United captain Bruno Fernandes had missed his second penalty in the space of three days, but his blushes were spared: the referee spotted an encroachment by Keylor Navas and ordered a retake. Fernandes held his nerve, and buried the penalty at the second time of asking.
By halftime, United might’ve been two up. A low swerving shot shortly before the break required a tip around the post by Navas, and a header by Scott McTominay on the following corner was deflected just wide. If they needed a reminder of PSG’s attacking threat, United were given one within two minutes of the restart. A brilliant, jinking run from Mbappé saw him weave past McTominay and Aaron Wan-Bissaka before curling a shot towards the far post. Fortunately, De Gea was again on hand to make a world-class save.
Alas, all of the visitors’ hard work was undone by a big slice of bad luck just a few minutes later. Defending a PSG corner, Martial inadvertently flicked Neymar’s in-swinging cross over De Gea and inside the far post: it was an own goal, and parity was restored.
Soon, PSG were piling on the pressure, but the real chances were starting to flow at the other end of the pitch. Danilo had to scramble back to snuff out a dangerous Rashford chance, and Martial almost made amends for his own goal with a powerful header that cleared the crossbar. With 20 minutes left, Rashford worked the space to drive a low shot to the bottom-left, but Navas was again on hand to make a fine stop.
United were on top, but their failure to take their chances looked as if it might come at a heavy cost. Bruno Fernandes went close to sending Martial through one-on-one; at the other end, a quiet Neymar sprung to life on the edge of the area, and forced another solid save from De Gea. It seemed inevitable that a third goal was in the offing, but it was difficult to tell who score it.
Inside the final five minutes, we had an answer. United were leisurely stroking the ball around in the PSG half when substitute Paul Pogba found Marcus Rashford lurking in an apparently innocuous position. With lightning speed, the United forward spun away from Pablo Sarabia, and drove a low shot inside Navas’ far post from the edge of the box. It was a brilliant late winner, and nothing less than United deserved.