IAN HERBERT: Manchester United’s comeback victory is still a long way from Paris Saint-Germain’s triumph
It’s approaching 600 days since the Paris evening that suggested Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Manchester United return to the heights of football that Sir Alex Ferguson’s players once descended on.
That breathtaking Champions League victory over Paris Saint Germain in March last year was about youth, courage, ambition and bold hope.
The club will come full circle this Tuesday, when they return to Parc des Princes in the same match, and while still staring at a mountain on their way to the top, here was a reminder that those qualities still reside indoors.
Manchester United prepared for their PSG midweek challenge with a 4-1 win over Newcastle
United returns to Paris 600 days after beating PSG in the Champions League last 16
Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Aaron wan Bissaka played with the kind of instinct and intrepidity the youngsters know best. Juan Mata was magisterial – the best player in the game and United’s cognitive core. Bruno Fernandes worked with Mata in midfield in a way that could somewhat extinguish the horrors of what happened at Old Trafford two weeks ago.
It helped that Solskjaer initially renounced a player whose brutality to the club confirms all of Ferguson’s suspicions about him and his agent.
With Paul Pogba safely brought back to the bench, there was room for Scott McTominay to showcase the presence and prestige at the back of midfield, making United a better team when in it.
People like Juan Mata and Bruno Fernandes (above) show that United does have talent
United rested Paul Pogba on Saturday, allowing Scott McTominay (left) to impress in the north
You imagined Ferguson nodding appreciatively, while his young countryman Daniel James localized in the channels with penetrating passes in the first half.
A healthy dose of perspective is needed about the course of the night. As Arsene Wenger points out in the new autobiography, the watching world always wants to support managers – and teams “brilliant or nonsense.” Harry Maguire was proof that the truth lies somewhere in between.
The 27-year-old was faced with stubborn scrutiny and the expression of sadness on his face as Manchester United fell behind within two minutes made you wonder how much more anyone could take of this.
Harry Maguire (above) also impressed when he scored an important equalizing goal in Saturday’s win
But by the end of the evening, he had deconstructed the story – bringing calm to his own environment, escaping Jamaal Lascelles’ attention to equalize, and then spoke eloquently and humbly in front of the cameras.
He would have scored again had Jonjo Shelvey not taken his header off the line in the second half.
But there were some tough moments for Maguire that would likely have led to further investigation had Sky Sports delivered the same quality of analysis to its £ 14.95 Box Office customers as it did to its Main Event channel.
The cross raised by Allan Saint-Maximim at about the hour of the byline for Callum Wilson was beyond the means of Maguire. He watched helplessly as he sailed over his head to give the young striker a chance to expand a shoe and send Newcastle to the lead. It took the best of David de Gea to keep the shot out.
Maguire (left) impressed the Red Devils, but has yet to play for the PSG game
Maguire cut some of the balls on the right that Wilson would have walked on, but he and Victor Lindelof are a pale imitation of the impenetrable rearguard Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic who have taken care of for so long.
What wouldn’t Maguire or Solskjaer give for a Vidic? Instead, they have Victor Lindelof, whose role in those catastrophic early minutes was grimly significant.
The deflection of Luke Shaw’s knee sending United forward was a shame, but the real story of the opening goal was still in the early stages – Callum Wilson spun around Lindelof and found Allan Saint-Maximim, putting the ball through Fred’s legs and Jonjo Shelvey racing. in wide open spaces that United had left.
The look on Lindelof’s face was one of blind panic as Saint-Maximim threatened. He is entering his fourth season with United and would be long gone if Ferguson were still at the helm.
Maguire’s center-back Victor Lindelof (left) struggled heavily in the match against Newcastle
The Swedish central half fouled Luke Shaw’s own goal in the second minute (right)
When Fernandes missed a penalty, it seemed like another inconclusive evening was in the offing, although the recovery revealed a psychological force and, when United’s second goal fell, sublime football.
Not only Fernandes’ finish was breathtaking, but also the 50 meters of turf he cleared.
He navigated the ball from Danny van der Beek to Mata with his heel from just in front of his penalty area, raced those yards to take it back from Marcus Rashford’s own heel, then drove to the winner. Wan Bissaka’s goal reflected his own ambition high in the field.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka also impressed, scoring a crucial third for Manchester United in Newcastle
The coming week will be a reflection of how far United has traveled since that fateful last trip to Paris. Not far enough for a club of their immense wealth and expenditure.
There will be more bumps as Chelsea and Arsenal, both more structured sides, are down the road.
But at least this night showed potential and a direction of travel. After everything has brought the last month, they take that.