By Mark Froggatt
Manchester United against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last 16, beneath a glistening night sky and the floodlights of Old Trafford, with almost 75,000 fans packed into the stands.
I haven’t been this excited about a game in ages.
It is an occasion that stitches seamlessly into the history books of our great club, which has entertained so many with tales of teams proudly testing themselves against Europe’s best.
In the last week, we have remembered those lost as a result of the Munich Air Disaster, and Sir Matt Busby’s ambition – to tackle new frontiers – remains an immovable element of our DNA.
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New chapters have been hard to come by in recent years, but Tuesday night is clearly one of them.
In PSG, we welcome an opponent that we have never met before.
The dominant champions of France are visiting the Theatre of Dreams fuelled by ambition and desire, as they aggressively pursue the biggest prize of all: that elusive Champions League trophy.
Mark Froggatt says
“The Ligue 1 leaders have nailed the domestic game, yet the European Cup remains a cruel mistress and Thomas Tuchel was appointed with a reported target to advance further than before.”Mark Froggatt
The Ligue 1 leaders have nailed the domestic game by winning five of the last six championships, yet the illustrious European Cup remains a cruel mistress and German manager Thomas Tuchel was appointed last summer with a reported target to advance further than before in the competition.
Finishing top of Group C ahead of Liverpool and Napoli was a statement of their quality and intent, and many observers have already tipped them to shine in this season’s anticipated knockout stages.
That assessment is easy to understand when you consider their forward line includes Uruguayan powerhouse Edinson Cavani, French darling Kylian Mbappe and Brazilian superstar Neymar Jr.
The rest of their squad is infiltrated with excellence as well: the likes of Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Julian Draxler, Angel Di Maria and Marco Verratti are all world-class operators.
When the last-16 draw was made, the prospect of facing that star-studded group was admittedly worrying.
As a fan I always believe we can beat any foe, but we weren’t playing well and confidence was low at that time.
All of that has changed now.
The appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as caretaker manager has sparked an 11-match unbeaten run in all competitions and a feelgood factor that continues to engulf the club. The players are buzzing, the supporters are rightly optimistic and, all of a sudden, PSG look beatable.
Interestingly, Tuchel’s side suffered a first Ligue 1 defeat of the season last Sunday when going down 2-1 to Lyon at the Groupama Stadium, where Solskjaer and Mike Phelan were both in attendance.
In midweek, they needed extra time to beat lowly Villefranche in the Coupe de France, before winning 1-0 against Bordeaux on Saturday via a penalty.
Will these mixed results and performances have a negative impact? Probably not. But it can’t have lifted morale.
What is arguably the biggest talking point in French football – the broken metatarsal that has ruled Neymar out of action for 10 weeks – has also improved our chances in the eyes of many pundits.
Personally, I am disappointed the flamboyant Brazilian will not feature against us.
Mark Froggatt says
“Nobody is more eye-catching than Mbappe, the 20-year-old prodigy and recent Time magazine cover star that inspired his nation when France won the World Cup in Russia last summer.”Mark Froggatt
Watching iconic players at Old Trafford is part of the Champions League’s charm.
I have great memories of seeing Gabriel Batistuta with Fiorentina, Ivan Zamorano with Inter, Alessandro Del Piero with Juventus, Ronaldo with Real Madrid and, more recently, Lionel Messi with Barcelona. It was a joy to see them all at Old Trafford.
But there are plenty more from Paris to enjoy and nobody is more eye-catching than Mbappe, the 20-year-old prodigy and recent Time magazine cover star that inspired his nation when France won the World Cup in Russia last summer – with a little help from our very own Paul Pogba, of course.
United players celebrating.
Mark Froggatt says
“We have the world’s best goalkeeper, an increasingly-organised defence, a midfield trio that is performing excellently, plus a forward line that has enough pace and power to concern any opposition.”Mark Froggatt
Alas, as Solskjaer has repeatedly stressed since his arrival, the focus should be on our strengths and the threats we will pose.
We have the world’s best goalkeeper in David De Gea, an increasingly-organised defence that is keeping clean sheets, a midfield trio of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Pogba that is performing excellently, plus a forward line that has enough pace and power to concern any opposition.
Throw a galvanised fanbase that is desperate for a Champions League adventure into the mix and we have all of the ingredients needed for a fantastic European night on Tuesday evening.
It will be a special atmosphere – there always is in the knockout rounds – and I cannot wait for the action to begin.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club and kethmediaonline.com