Manchester United became the second Premier League club to qualify for the last eight of the UEFA Champions League after pulling off a remarkable comeback in Paris on Wednesday night.
Trailing 2-0 from the first leg and without the services of ten senior players, United progressed on away goals thanks to a brace from Romelu Lukaku and a controversial injury-time penalty from Marcus Rashford.
The Red Devils’ unexpected qualification to the Champions League quarter-finals means that their schedule for April will be a busy one – even more so than Tottenham Hotspur’s, given that United are still competing in the FA Cup.
Given that their Double Gameweek fixtures have already been announced (and their Blank Gameweeks are confirmed), we now have a pretty comprehensive picture of what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side’s itinerary looks like after the international break:
Saturday 30 March: Double Gameweek 32 – Watford (h)
Tuesday 2 April: Double Gameweek 32 – Wolves (a)
Sat/Sun 6/7 April: Blank Gameweek 33 – (possible FA Cup semi-final)
Tue/Wed 9/10 April: UEFA Champions League quarter-final, first leg
Saturday 13 April: Gameweek 34 – West Ham United (h)
Tue/Wed 16/17 April: UEFA Champions League quarter-final, second leg
Sunday 21 April: Double Gameweek 35 – Everton (a)
Wednesday 24 April: Double Gameweek 35 – Manchester City (h)
Sunday 28 April: Gameweek 36 – Chelsea (h)
While they are guaranteed a Blank Gameweek 33 in Fantasy Premier League regardless of what happens in their FA Cup quarter-final tie against Wolves, progression to the semi-finals of that competition would mean that United would play twice a week throughout the whole of April.
Should they qualify for the semi-finals of the Champions League, that sequence would continue right through to Gameweek 38.
There has to be a degree of concern about pitch-time for United’s key Fantasy assets, then, given what happened at Fulham in Gameweek 26 ahead of the first leg of the PSG tie – Rashford remained an unused substitute, Victor Lindelof was effectively rested under the pretence of an injury, and Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial were substituted midway through the second half to preserve their legs.
Solskjaer’s ability to rotate, of course, will heavily depend on the recovery of the ten United players currently “flagged” in FPL – the latest of whom is Eric Bailly.
We’ve more on United’s injury situation in the Scout Notes below, plus a recap of the main Fantasy talking points from an incredible match at the Parc des Princes.
Paris Saint-Germain 1-3 Manchester United
- Goals: Romelu Lukaku (£10.7m) x2, Marcus Rashford (£7.7m)
- Assists: Marcus Rashford, Diogo Dalot (£5.3m)
Romelu Lukaku (£10.7m) scored his third successive brace for Manchester United on Wednesday night.
The Belgian striker, who so often looked cumbersome under Jose Mourinho, pounced on a weak Thilo Kehrer back-pass to open the scoring and then restored United’s lead at 2-1 when Gianluigi Buffon spilt Marcus Rashford‘s (£7.7m) ambitious shot from distance.
Both of Lukaku’s goals owed a lot to his sharpness of thought and quickness of movement, attributes he hasn’t exactly been renowned for during his time at Old Trafford.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said in his post-match press conference that Lukaku has been working hard on the training ground to get himself into better shape:
Six goals in three games, not bad.
Not just this week, ever since I came and he came back because he was off for a few days, he has worked his absolute socks off to get fitter and get into the team.
I love strikers who want to score goals in training. He practices every day and, of course, he’s had his criticism, but we played him now in a better position that suits him more, more direct towards goal, facing the goal. I’m delighted for him because he’s a great lad.
The fact that Lukaku is, suddenly, flickering on the FPL radar is testimony Solskjaer’s Midas touch.
The Belgian striker is the most-bought United asset of Gameweek 30 (and the fifth-most transferred-in striker) at the time of writing, following his back-to-back 12-point hauls against Crystal Palace and Southampton.
There are reasons to stay clear of Lukaku for now, especially for those “dead-ending” their teams ahead of Gameweek 31: United face Arsenal away in Gameweek 30 and then blank the following week. The Belgian, meanwhile, looked exhausted towards the end of last night’s encounter.
On top of all this, Rashford remains available for a full £3.0m cheaper in FPL.
Still, at a time of the season when differentials are a prized commodity for those Fantasy managers attempting to claw back mini-league deficits or improve their overall rank, Lukaku is one of the more eye-catching names with an FPL ownership of under 5.0%.
United’s Double Gameweek 32 matches against Watford and Wolves will no doubt see numerous Fantasy bosses take a punt on the former Chelsea and Everton striker.
Lukaku lined up alongside Rashford in a 4-4-2 in Paris, with the England forward scoring the decisive stoppage-time penalty (following a contentious handball decision) to send United through.
The Red Devils’ interim boss paid tribute to Rashford’s nerve and provided insight into United’s running order on spot-kicks:
Fearless. He’s got no doubts, no fear.
Rashy and Rom were on penalties today, it was up to them to fight to get it and Rashy slotted it, brilliant.
Solskjaer also seemed to confirm that Paul Pogba (£9.0m), who was suspended for this second leg, remains his first-choice penalty taker:
This time, of course. Normally Paul [Pogba] takes the penalties.
While Rashford occasionally frustrated with a wasteful final ball, there are signs of a fruitful partnership developing between him and Lukaku.
The Belgium international said after full-time:
Me and Marcus knew we could do the business today after playing together against Fulham. It was a pleasure to play with him today like that.
We agreed to step up the press together and I told him every time he shoots I would follow the ball in.
With Alexis Sanchez (£10.0m) ruled out for four to six weeks and uncertainty surrounding the fitness of Anthony Martial (£7.2m) and Juan Mata (£6.1m), it seems likely that the Rashford-Lukaku strike partnership will continue for the foreseeable future.
Solskjaer didn’t get everything right yesterday.
The selection of Eric Bailly (£5.0m) at right-back was a complete misstep, with the Ivorian stopper culpable for Juan Bernat’s equaliser and looking distinctly uncomfortable as PSG targeted the flanks in the opening exchanges.
An apparent injury to Bailly, the severity of which has yet to be determined, turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Diogo Dalot (£5.3m) replaced Bailly after 36 minutes and took up a position on the right of midfield, allowing Ashley Young (£5.7m), who began the match on the wing, to revert to full-back.
United looked much more solid from that point onwards, with Chris Smalling (£5.6m) and Victor Lindelof (£5.1m) again impressing at centre-half.
The visitors had to weather a storm in between Lukaku’s two goals and before Bailly’s substitution, with nine of PSG’s 12 shots coming in the first 35 minutes.
Juan Bernat’s effort that hit the woodwork on 82 minutes was as close as PSG came to scoring after that point, as the pace of the game eased off and United regained composure.
Although likely far from Fantasy managers’ thoughts, Fred (£5.4m) had perhaps his best match in a United shirt in central midfield.
Solskjaer paid tribute to the Brazilian and Scott McTominay (£4.2m) after full-time:
They did a fantastic job, screening in front of their high midfielders and putting pressure on Verratti and Marquinhos, excellent. That was probably Fred’s breakthrough for us.
You can see why we signed him. He’s got the mentality of a Brazilian international, he is a Brazilian international, he gets on the ball, no fear, no doubt whatsoever. And we played a system today he used to play at Shakhtar and that’s why we signed him.
Manchester United XI (4-4-2): De Gea; Shaw, Smalling, Lindelof,
Bailly (Dalot 36′); Pereira (Chong 80′), Fred, McTominay, Young (Greenwood 87′); Lukaku, Rashford.