Ole Gunnar Solskjaer heaped praise on his Manchester United players after beating Paris St Germain with a performance that was even better than last year’s jaw-dropping Champions League triumph at the Parc des Princes.
The Red Devils had been on course for a morale-boosting start to Group H rather than a victorious one after Anthony Martial’s second-half own goal cancelled out stand-in skipper Bruno Fernandes’ spot-kick.
But 19 months on from securing their historic last-16 comeback triumph in the French capital, Marcus Rashford struck late to secure another stunning victory at PSG as United ran out 2-1 winners in their Champions League opener.
“I think the performance was good, I thought we deserved to win,” United boss Solskjaer said. “We created chances.
“Of course we lost Eric (Bailly), we lost Harry (Maguire), Mason (Greenwood) isn’t ready yet. We made a little change. We’ve got players that can play split strikers and thought they could do some damage.
“Axel (Tuanzebe) in his first game in 10 months, Alex (Telles) on his debut, so we don’t really want to play a back four so we played a back three, or back five – call it whatever you like – and I thought it worked well.
“It’s a better performance this time than last, even though we won 3-1. The performance this time, we showed we have developed. Scott (McTominay) and Fred were outstanding.
“We know when we go here against players and a team like this with players like Neymar and (Kylian) Mbappe we have to defend well and (goalkeeper) David (De Gea) will have to make a few good saves.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) October 20, 2020
De Gea made a pair of fine stops before Martial won the penalty converted by Fernandes at the second time of asking, with the Video Assistant Referee ordering a retake after Keylor Navas strayed off his line when saving the initial effort.
Martial’s inadvertent leveller early in the second half looked to have denied United a winning return to Champions League action, only for Rashford to seal another late win in Paris.
“He’s a good footballer and he’s got quality and took his goal very, very well,” Solskjaer said. “A great turn, good finish, down in the corner, he likes that side.”
The United boss lauded his depleted group for their display at the perennial Ligue 1 champions – from debutant Telles and captain Fernandes to Scott McTominay after playing the first half partially sighted.
“Scotty played the first half with one eye as well,” Solskjaer said. “That was the most impressive thing because he lost his contact lens.”
🔴 Debut for Manchester United ✅
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) October 20, 2020
But it was defender Tuanzebe that impressed most, having shone up against the likes of Neymar and Mbappe on his first appearance since December 2019.
“Axel did fantastic,” Solskjaer said of Tuanzebe, who could be in for more appearances after the United boss revealed Bailly faces up to four weeks out with a muscle injury.
“He’s been out since the game against Colchester, 10 months or something? To put up a performance like this against Neymar and Mbappe, I have to say he almost surprised us as well.
“We know he’s a good player but on a night like this, he was fantastic. We might see this system again, of course, we have had some good games in it.”
🎙 @kimpembe_3 : « On n’a tout simplement pas été bons ce soir, on ne peut s’en prendre qu’à nous-mêmes. Il va falloir relever la tête et continuer avec les mêmes objectifs dans la tête. » pic.twitter.com/eZMvJOrYZf
— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_inside) October 20, 2020
While Solskjaer returns to the north west with a smile on his face, PSG head coach Thomas Tuchel was left perplexed by his side’s performance.
“We played well before this, with five straight wins,” he said.
“It was a performance without intensity, without aggression, without getting the ball back, without counter-pressing. It was a bit bizarre. I don’t know why.
“It’s clear we can improve and we must. We’re not happy with the performance but now is not the moment to be too critical in public. We’ll do that behind closed doors.”