UEFA Champions League Returns !!!
After a brief pause, European football is back again to illuminate our days as football fanatics all across the world. The Round of 16, which will start at 9pm today sees AS Roma host FC Porto at the Stadio Olimpico, while French mavericks Paris Saint Germain travel to the iconic Old Trafford to play English Giants Manchester United.
Let us focus on the action in the latter game, and take a look at how things may pan out between PSG and Man United in the first leg of the competition. For the readers' information, this is also going to be the first time ever, that PSG will play Man United in a competitive fixture.
Both teams have been facing contrasting situations in their respective leagues so far this season. While PSG is easily outpacing any of their opponents on their way to their sixth title in seven years, United faces tough competition from the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal to even stay in the top-4. Despite that, it needs to be mentioned as to how their fortunes have turned well since former United star player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge after former coach Jose Mourinho's sacking.
Solskjaer has already led United to more Premier League wins than Mourinho in the ongoing season, and the side currently enjoys an 11-game unbeaten streak since his first game as manager, a 5-1 thrashing of Cardiff City on 22nd December 2018. PSG meanwhile, stay on top of the Ligue 1 charts, with 19 wins, 2 draws, and a solitary loss, and with 59 points, 10 points more than second-placed LOSC Lille.
As mentioned earlier, neither side has a head-to-head record against each other, as this will be the first time when both teams face off in any competition. Hence let us take into account, the overall balance between English and French sides in the UCL.
Four out of the last five such situations in Europe's prime event have seen the French team advance and the English team getting knocked out. But the team on this side this time is Manchester United who is yet to be defeated by any travelling French side in any European competition (Wins 10, Draws 4). In the UCL, only twice have French teams avoided defeat at Old Trafford, Monaco in March 1998 (a 1-1 draw) and LOSC Lille in October 2005 (a goalless draw).
PSG meanwhile, have won only one of their last 10 encounters against English oppositions in all competitions (Draws 4, Losses 5). Their last win came in March 2016, a 2-1 win against Chelsea that saw them advance through in the 2015-16 UCL.
United have only won one of its latest nine UCL knockout games, their solitary win coming way back in a 3-0 rout of Olympiacos in March 2014. PSG will be playing in their seventh successive year of UCL round-of-16 games, the fourth-best streak in the whole of the event's history, after Real Madrid (22), Barcelona (15) and Bayern Munich (11).
At the time when the draw was initially announced, the eventual result looked like a no-brainer with the French giants easily expected to complete a thorough work off their opponents. A full-strength PSG side that features Gianluigi Buffon, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Dani Alves, Layvin Kurzava, Marco Verratti, Angel di Maria, Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar, with an equally efficient bench-strength in Julian Draxler, Adrien Rabiot, Thomas Meunier, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting among others was surely bound to give United a very stiff competition.
But fortunes have slightly changed, with Neymar's foot injury, Cavani's hip problem and Meunier's concussion keeping three of PSG's best players away from the action. Verratti's poor record of discipline, along with a chance of getting suspended makes matters tenser. Neymar is expected to make a return only in April, and so he will miss the return fixture as well.
As far as United are concerned, Ole and co. can believe that there could have been no better time for them to face PSG, given their golden run of form . They will be able to field their best side as well, as only Antonio Valencia and Matteo Damian remain potential absentees. Last time around, Jose Mourinho was overly obsessed with defence even at home and they eventually got knocked out after a embarassing loss to Sevilla at home, but with Solskjaer in charge, it is expected that defence won't be given any more importance than attack.
United have broken into the top-four in the Premier League, but their chances remain unfancied in the bigger stage in Europe. Nevertheless, it is definitely bound to be a cracker of a contest, given the fort that is Old Trafford, due to the colossal figures United still have at home and given how hungry PSG is to win that illusive European title.