Weblog: The football punter

Injury-hit PSG could settle for share of spoils

BT Sport 2, 8pm Tuesday

Manchester United look a completely different team from the one who scrambled through the Champions League group stage but rising expectations may be dampened by a draw against injury-hit Paris St-Germain at Old Trafford.

When the draw for the last 16 was made United, who were on the brink of sacking Jose Mourinho, were given little hope of progressing.

However, their revival under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has lifted them into the top four of the Premier League and reignited hopes of challenging the cream of Europe.

While United approach the first leg in high spirits, PSG's confidence has been dented by injuries to two of their first choice attacking trio – Edinson Cavani and Neymar.

Neither will feature in Manchester and Neymar, who faces another two months on the sidelines, is unavailable for next month's second leg at the Parc des Princes.

Those injuries are a huge boost for United, who have shortened from 3-1 to 29-20 to win the tie and from 5-2 to 7-5 to secure a first-leg lead.

The Red Devils should sense a great opportunity to take control of the tie but they need to strike the right balance against a side who still boast a lot more quality than the average Premier League opponent.

Kylian Mbappe, arguably the most exciting young talent on the planet, spearheads the PSG attack and the French champions' midfield looks more solid thanks to the recent recovery from injury of Marco Verratti.

There is likely to be a change in emphasis from PSG, who went into most of their group-stage matches with the simple aim of outscoring their opponents.

Without Neymar and Cavani, head coach Thomas Tuchel needs to box clever and perhaps play more of a counter-attacking game.

And a more circumspect PSG side – anchored by Verratti and Marquinhos in midfield – may present a different set of problems for United.

A major feature of United's recent successes has been the pace and incisiveness of their counter-attacks.

Their style of play works a treat when they get their noses in front but is not as effective when they come up against stiffer resistance.

In 11 games under Solskjaer the only time they fell behind was in last month's 2-2 draw against Burnley.

It was comfortably United's worst performance under the new regime and showed that they are far less convincing when having to chase the game.

Given United's strengths and weaknesses it is vitally important that they strike the first blow.

Both teams will be acutely aware of the importance of not falling behind and cautious attitudes may contribute to a low-scoring outcome, increasing the likelihood of a first leg stalemate.


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Match in Focus

15:00 Sa 25May SKY

Newport Co v Tranmere

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Newport are unbeaten in 12 matches.
Expert verdict
Michael Flynn’s Newport headed into the playoffs as the fourth tier’s form side, securing seventh spot by finishing the season ten games unbeaten. Tranmere will know all too well about County’s disciplined defensive, having failed to score in both league meetings with them and, even with James Norwood leading the line, they look vulnerable.