It would have been nearly impossible to imagine this scenario two months ago, with Manchester United looking like the favorite heading into an UEFA Champions League matchup against Paris Saint-Germain.
And yet, that’s where we are. Since Man United and PSG were drawn together on December 17, Jose Mourinho was fired, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has helped the Red Devils play free and re-discover their talent. At the same time, Neymar hurt his foot again, Edinson Cavani is out with a hip injury, the team’s ownership won’t let Adrien Rabiot play due to a contract spat, the PSG have so many midfield injuries they’ve had to resort to starting Dani Alves in the middle.
[ MORE: UCL: Full lineups, stats, box score ]
It’s been nearly 60 days that has turned this tie on its head, and it’s leading into a first leg that is in Manchester United’s favor.
“It’s a fantastic game to look forward to and the Champions League is a fantastic tournament so it is a test for our whole team,” Solskjaer said at the pre-match press conference. “We’ve given ourselves the best possible opportunity because of the way we’ve come into this game. We’re confident and we’re looking like a team. If there was ever a time to go into big games, it’s now.”
Solskjaer later said that PSG not having Neymar and Cavani for this match made them more, “unpredictable,” but what’s truly unpredictable is Man United’s form the last two months. The Red Devils continue to win at will under Solskjaer, 10 out of their last 11, and though this is one of the hardest tests they face, the confidence levels are high.
One interesting little factor that will be new for Man United is the addition of the video assistant referee, which is being added to the Champions League from this round on. Not used in the Premier League just yet, only the players who experienced it at the World Cup will understand its impact on a game, if used.
Elsewhere, AS Roma, last year’s semifinalists, will be hosting FC Porto in a battle of two teams who have struggled in the last few weeks. Roma has just one win in its last four matches, while Porto has drawn two straight matches in the weaker Portuguese league.
Roma could be without goalkeeper Robin Olsen and midfielders Diego Perotti and Cengiz Under, while Porto’s Mexican international, Jose “Tecatito” Corona misses out due to suspension.