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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 February 2019

PSG 'very happy' Paul Pogba not playing in second leg of Uefa Champions League clash

Julian Draxler pleased also for his team's show of strength despite Neymar and Edinson Cavani missing from away leg win

It is the lesser-known Paris Saint-Germain players, such as French defender Presnel Kimpembe, who stepped up for their club. Franck Fife / AFP
It is the lesser-known Paris Saint-Germain players, such as French defender Presnel Kimpembe, who stepped up for their club. Franck Fife / AFP

Julian Draxler was reflecting on the difficulties Manchester United face in Paris on March 6. The loss of the sent-off and suspended Paul Pogba threatens to be a big disadvantage.

“I think so because for me Paul is the best player of Manchester United,” the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder said. “He is very important for the team and even [on Tuesday] you could see he is fantastic.

"That is why we are very happy he will not play the second leg.”

Lacking their native Parisian, United could look to PSG for inspiration as they seek to overhaul a 2-0 deficit. The French champions were the supposed three-man team without two of those men at Old Trafford and if the one remnant of their feared front three, Kylian Mbappe, was evisceratingly brilliant, victory showed an adaptability.

“For sure, we are better if [Edinson] Cavani and Neymar are playing, but we have an excellent team even without them,” Draxler said.

So they proved. “It is not easy to come to Old Trafford and win and that is why we are very happy and proud,” the German added.

Deprived of an injured pair who have scored 42 times this season, PSG inflicted United’s heaviest European defeat at Old Trafford. If it was a perception-shifting night, the stardust of the first-choice front three can blind observers to the talents behind them.

PSG’s supporting cast are sufficiently distinguished that they include the man of the match in the 2014 Uefa Champions League final, in Angel di Maria. If the outstanding Di Maria and Draxler felt liberated by more attacking briefs, PSG looked something they do not always seem: a team.

They can feel a star vehicle, patched up with cheaper components because of the frontloaded approach to recruitment. The choice of a manager, in Thomas Tuchel, with collectivist principles seemed to jar with a sense of indulging individualism.

Instead, they shaped the commensurate European away performance, showing defensive and positional discipline and counter-attacking pace. They weathered an onslaught and flourished after United lost the injured Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial.

“We are happy about the result but also the way we were playing,” Draxler added. “In the second half, we were more confident and the pressure of Manchester United was a little bit less so that helped us to improve our game.

"We found some space on the pitch and we used that very well.”

Julian Draxler, in white, said Paris Saint-Germain did not just beat Manchester United but also played well. Phil Noble / Reuters
Julian Draxler, in white, said Paris Saint-Germain did not just beat Manchester United but also played well. Phil Noble / Reuters

It brought a minor milestone for a side with seemingly limitless firepower. For the first time since October 2017, they kept a Champions League clean sheet.

The old mantra is that defence wins championships and while PSG’s forward line has secured French titles, it has been a different story in Europe for the great underachievers in continental competition.

This was a night to indicate there has been an improvement: Tuchel’s surprise choice of a back three was vindicated as PSG kept more men behind the ball and, without Neymar, had a shared commitment to their defensive duties.

The bare facts are that none of the previous 34 teams to lose a Champions League home knockout tie by at least two goals have progressed. PSG may be scarred by making unwanted history in the past.

That defence was unlocked when they lost 5-2 on aggregate to Real Madrid at this stage last season; 12 months earlier, they suffered the humiliation of a 6-1 second-leg loss to a Neymar-inspired Barcelona, becoming the first team to lose a Champions League tie after taking a 4-0 first-leg lead.

Now the lead is narrower, but the opponents weaker and the resolve seemingly stiffer.

Draxler added: “We know we have to finish it in the second leg in Paris.”

Updated: February 14, 2019 08:07 AM

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