The clearest illustration of Manchester United’s upturn in form over the last two months is their price ‘To Qualify‘ from their last-16 Champions League tie with PSG.
United, at that point still struggling under José Mourinho, were 11/4 to qualify when they were drawn against the French champions. That price has plummeted to 11/8 at the time of writing.
10 wins from 11 games, with a goal difference of +21 has certainly steadied the ship.
With this first-leg encounter, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign has now reached its much talked about acid test. In their next eight games, United will face PSG twice, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester City.
An indifferent European campaign under Mourinho saw them finish runner-up in their group to Juventus. Recent evidence suggests everything that happened in the first half of the season can be questioned if not disregarded.
The signs are that Old Trafford is witnessing a genuine revival. The form will be franked if they find a way into the Champions League quarter-finals at the expense of PSG.
Thomas Tuchel’s Paris Saint-Germain side are a hard team to read.
They have a squad brimming with world class talent, including an accomplished and well-regarded manager. Throw in to the mix a total and utter domination of their domestic league, there’s very little not to like.
They lead Ligue 1 by ten points, with two games in hand, and that despite enduring their first league loss of the season just two weeks ago.
Subsequently, Tuchel’s men bounced back with wins over Villefranche and Bordeaux. They did however need extra-time to dispatch third-tier Villefranche in the Coupe de France.
Despite their riches, their firepower, and their imperious domestic form, PSG lost at Anfield, and drew with Napoli home and away in the group stages.
The first thing to say is that this game should produce goals. United’s recent scoring form has been highlighted already.
PSG have scored 16 more goals than anyone else in the French top-flight. They’re also the top scorers from the Champions League group stages with 17 goals from just six games.
Kylian Mbappé, Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Paul Pogba can all produce match-changing moments. It’s likely we’ll see a few.
Defensively PSG have the best rearguard in France, however they shipped nine in those six European games. As mentioned, they’re hard to read.
United’s defensive form has improved under Solskjaer. There remains however, a strong suspicion that elements of that unit are not fit for the purpose of winning silverware.
The prospect of Mbappé running at Phil Jones surely gives most United fans pause for thought.
PSG have been shorn of their talisman Neymar as well as Edison Cavani. Any side would miss both players and Paris Saint-Germain are no exception.
Their absence will be of great relief to United.
PSG failed to travel well on their last trip to England. Liverpool were superior throughout their meeting earlier this season. The cautionary tale is that PSG were far superior in Paris the next time out.
I do sense this being a tale of two legs, and I feel United will need more than the odd goal to survive that trip to the Parc des Princes.
Solskjaer’s deck of cards is relatively full, although club captain Antonio Valencia is unavailable along with Matteo Darmian and Marcus Rojo.
As mentioned, PSG will certainly be without Neymar and Edinson Cavani. The Uruguayan (19 goals this season) seemed to injure his hip scoring a penalty against Bordeaux at the weekend and is now a major doubt.
Regular full-back Thomas Meunier is expected to miss out as well.
Edinson Cavani looks set to miss Paris Saint-Germain's #UCL round of 16 opener against Manchester United with a hip injury.
With Neymar already out, how will Paris get on at Old Trafford? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/1LxmFrAutg
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) February 10, 2019
This is a very different verdict than what would have been written when the draw was made.
Manchester United have all the advantages heading into this first leg. PSG will be another entity entirely when the tie moves to Paris.
PSG to stay in the tie at Old Trafford, and to stretch their legs at home is my take.
For the first leg, I like the draw with PSG starting with +1 at 16/5.
The 2/1 about Paul Pogba as an anytime goalscorer for the first leg looks value for a player who has scored eight goals in nine appearances under Solskjaer.
Over the course of two legs, the French side will likely have too much for United.
To qualify, PSG at 4/7