Angel Di Maria enjoys Old Trafford return as Manchester United beaten by Paris Saint-Germain in Uefa Champions League
Ligue 1 champions too strong for United as Paul Pogba sent off for second bookable offence
It is true that losing Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard did not help Manchester United one bit, but how much difference would they genuinely have made over a full 90 minutes against a Paris Saint-Germain team who were simply better on the night?
The Ligue 1 leaders beat United 2-0 away in the first leg of the last 16 Uefa Champions League tie on Tuesday, and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made no excuses for his first defeat in charge of United.
“They were a level above us, we have to be fair,” said the Norwegian. “It was a big step up, they have quality from the 'keeper to the strikers.
"That’s why they're one of the favourites for the champions. That’s the level we want to get to.”
In seven second-half minutes, when Presnel Kimpembe and then Kylian Mbappe scored, the French champions punctured the soaring confidence of everyone associated with United since the Norwegian took charge in December.
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It was Solskjaer’s 12th game since he took over as interim manager from Jose Mourinho and his side were out-performed by superior opposition.
It would take a monumental reverse in fortunes if United were to reach the quarter-finals after the second leg in Parc de Princes on March 6.
United did hold their own in the first half of a frenetic match but PSG dealt with what they had to offer.
They soaked up United’s pressure and early high tempo. The balls forward from Nemanja Matic, crosses from Ashley Young and surges from Pogba were all dealt with.
Lingard and Martial both went down with injuries in the first period and they were replaced by Sanchez and Juan Mata respectively.
But ultimately United did not have an answer when PSG raised their game. They did not have a central defensive partnership of the quality of Thiago Silva and Kimpembe, a midfielder of the quality of Marco Verratti or even Marquinhos, or a player with the speed, skill and strength of Mbappe.
PSG were missing strikers Neymar and Edinson Cavani, but the French champions had the squad depth to still find a way through and give United their first defeat in a European tie on home turf by a two-goal margin.
United’s big names ultimately did not perform when it mattered. A frustrated Paul Pogba, who often had three opponents around him when he had the ball, was sent off for a second yellow card with two minutes to go.
It made a bad situation worse for United since he will now miss the second leg due to suspension.
Substitute Sanchez was again anonymous and Solskjaer admitted the Chilean's lack of form was an issue.
“I can’t do anything about Alexis Sanchez,” said the Norwegian. “He needs to find himself when he plays because we know there’s a quality player there.”
There was an irony that Angel Di Maria was one of PSG’s most effective players. The Argentine was the most expensive player to join a British football club when he arrived at United in 2014 for £59.7 million (Dh282.9m) but he was a sulky and surly failure who left after a season and a couple of words of English.
Booed and jeered by a normally magnanimous home crowd, Di Maria’s speed and skill stung as he put his former employers to the sword.
“If you tease him then it does not make him weaker,” said his manager Thomas Tuchel.
Di Maria, who was regularly told off by Tuchel for profligacy in the first half, looked like the player United hoped he would have been in the second half as he had a hand in both of PSG's goals.
United have already been outclassed at home by one of the best teams in Europe this season when Juventus beat them 1-0 in the group stages. United though did bounce back from that by then winning in Turin against the Italian champions 2-1.
Maybe they can do the same in Paris, but few are expecting it after the reality check dished out by a team who have been built to win the Champions League.
“We grew again in this match,” said Tuchel. “To defend like that and not allow chances. It’s a big achievement for us.”
“It’s a difficult mountain to climb but it’s not impossible,” said Solskjaer. “We’re Man United, we always bounce back.”
Updated: February 13, 2019 05:33 PM