Manchester United’s unbeaten record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came to an end on Tuesday night as they were beaten by Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 tie.
Progress to the quarter-finals now seems a tall order, particularly given that Paul Pogba was dismissed towards the end of last night’s defeat and will now be suspended for the second leg in three weeks’ time.
United also lost Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial to injuries, the severity of which are still to be determined.
We’ll discuss the potential implications of this loss to Fantasy managers in our Scout Notes below.
Manchester United 0-2 Paris Saint-Germain
Jesse Lingard (£6.7m) and Anthony Martial (£7.2m) picked up muscle strains in the first half of Manchester United’s 2-0 defeat to Thomas Tuchel’s PSG side on Tuesday evening.
The injuries led to both players’ substitutions before the second half had kicked off, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer having this to say about his midfield pair:
Oh, don’t know [how serious they are]. Muscular injuries: hamstring, groin. So we’ll have to have a couple of days to assess them.
The belief that United are a significantly inferior team without Lingard and Martial was further evidenced in a flat second-half showing by Solskjaer’s side, with Juan Mata (£6.1m) and especially Alexis Sanchez (£10.0m) once again failing to exert the same influence that their crocked team-mates have imposed since the Norwegian took charge in December.
Of course, United won’t face a team the calibre of PSG every week and they demonstrated on Saturday that they are more than capable of carving out league victories even without one or more of their first-choice front three on the pitch.
However, the Red Devils next face Liverpool in the league and have matches against Arsenal and – subject to rearrangement – Manchester City looming on the horizon in Gameweeks 30 and 31.
While Martial and Lingard aren’t too widely owned in Fantasy Premier League (6.1% and 4.4% respectively at the time of writing), the effect of their possible absences on the significantly more popular Paul Pogba (£8.8m) and Marcus Rashford (£7.8m) is certainly worthy of consideration.
Before Saturday’s no-show at Craven Cottage, Rashford’s only two blanks under Solskjaer came when Martial wasn’t on the pitch.
In one of those matches, the Gameweek 24 draw with Burnley, Rashford was used on the left flank in Martial’s absence and was noticeably less effective in an attacking sense.
With Alexis in such poor form, the possibility of Rashford being deployed on the left wing in the event of a Martial absence (and this has yet to be confirmed, it must be stressed) is reared again.
Solskjaer added to the discussion on Lingard and Martial:
They’re big parts of our squad and they have played really well. When they went out, in the second half, we didn’t have so much movement and pace to get in behind them.
Then Juan [Mata], I thought he was one who got on the ball for us and created a few bits. So, we need to maybe find a different way to play when Anthony and Jesse are out.
Speaking of Sanchez’s form, the Norwegian added:
I can’t do anything about Alexis Sanchez.
When he plays he needs to find himself because we know there’s a quality player there.
Rashford was largely anonymous at Old Trafford last night, save for one early ambitious effort from an acute angle that forced Gianluigi Buffon into his only save of the match.
The French champions also doubled up on Pogba to limit the former Juventus star’s influence, though the in-form midfielder still drew praise from his manager despite a late dismissal for two bookable offences:
He tries to get his body across and Dani Alves is clever enough to put his foot in there, so he hits him. From the side, I knew that all Paul wanted to do was shield the ball, but he’s unlucky and hits him on the knee.
Disappointed, of course, that we’re not going to have Paul next round because I thought he was our best player. He had three players around him all the time and he was still out on top.
So that’s a big blow because he’s been fantastic for us.
That European suspension is, of course, positive news for Fantasy managers as it would seem to nullify any threat of rotation for Pogba in Gameweeks 29 and/or 30 (those matches against Southampton and Arsenal sandwiching the return leg against PSG).
The possibility remains of Rashford being rested for one of those matches, perhaps the more “winnable” home fixture against Southampton, though any prolonged absence for Lingard and Martial would limit Solskjaer’s alternative options in attack.
The effect of losing the pace and energy of those two injured midfielders also appeared to have a negative effect on United’s backline last night, with the hosts unable to exact the same aggressive press using Mata and Sanchez and subsequently allowing PSG to push further up the pitch.
While United had a couple of close calls with offside decisions before the break, the bulk of PSG’s opportunities came after half-time and United ultimately had to rely on David de Gea (£5.7m) to keep the scoreline down.
Les Parisiens’ undid their hosts with two goals in seven second-half minutes: Presnel Kimpembe volleying in an Angel di Maria corner before Kylian Mbappe finished off a slick break to double his side’s advantage.
De Gea later foiled an attempted Mbappe chip and had to fist away a rising Juan Bernat effort, while Dani Alves had a goalbound shot deflected narrowly wide.
Solskjaer said of his side’s defensive efforts:
We’ve got to look at this game and see where it went wrong. Of course, when you concede a goal from a set-piece, you concede a goal on the counter-attack, you should not concede those goals.
In the first half, there wasn’t really much in it, and then they got the first goal. When they got that one, it was a poor goal to give away. Then they got the momentum. They started to control the game. They had the experience to play it out.
Manchester United (4-3-3): De Gea; Young, Bailly, Lindelof, Shaw; Herrera, Matic, Pogba; Lingard (Sanchez 45′), Martial (Mata 46′), Rashford (Lukaku 84′).