One-hundred-and-six teams led 2-0 going into their second leg at home in European Cup knockout history and all 106 went through. Paris Saint-Germain were the 107th.
Marcus Rashford played the Solskjaer role, via the aid of the Video Assistant Referee. Diogo Dalot’s shot defelcted off Presnel Kimpembe and a corner was signalled. Only replays showed it ricocheted off his outstretched arm. A penalty was signalled. Following an agonising wait, Rashford lashed the ball past Gianluigi Buffon in the 93rd minute. United staff poured onto the pitch. They ran onto it again at full-time. “Ooh aah, VAR,” United fans sang.
United pulled off a couple of escapologist acts under the beleaguered Jose Mourinho back in the autumn and their resilience has been extraordinarily reinforced by Solskjaer, fresh from the weekend revival against Southampton. United, deprived of 10 players through injury and suspension, defied all expectations against renowned chokers PSG in one of the most unbelievable nights in the European Cup.
It was also a potentially defining night for Romelu Lukaku. The “flat-track bully” flattened and bullied Thiago Silva and Buffon by tallying another brace to prolong his prolific run and provide his manager with a genuine dilemma when Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial regain fitness. Lukaku looked leaner and meaner; his play outside the area was more polished. Lukaku has just the one goal against the Premier League top six but that glass ceiling he has hit might have cracked. Solskjaer has enhanced him, too.
Angel di Maria was numb and stood alone long after the final shrill. PSG staff in the press box protested the referee’s decisions. PSG are incomparable chokers at this level but that should not diminish how unique a coup this was for Solskjaer, a ninth successive away victory. His list of scalps rivals the established European managers. If they have not started drafting the statement announcing his permanent appointment they need to start doing so. United have reached the quarter-finals for just the second time since their Wembley final appearance in 2011.
The first 45 minutes could be used as a standalone module to study the surreal at universities. PSG created three goals, recorded 82 per cent of possession and trailed. United, inexplicably ahead, could still have scored more. The mayhem began when Thilo Kehrer underhit a second-minute back-pass Lukaku intercepted with the obligatory heavy first touch, only he motored past Silva, then Buffon and slid the ball in from an acute angle.
As euphoric as it was, Solskjaer will still regard these ties as invaluable learning curves. Naivety was rife at Old Trafford last month and recurred through the initial 4-4-2 formation and use of Eric Bailly at right-back, where he has never performed and is never going to. For the second time this campaign, he was substituted in the first-half. The 36th minute withdrawal was enforced by a Marco Verratti foul, only there may have been some tactical thinking involved. That United led in spite of their walking disaster was testament to PSG’s nervousness.
Solskjaer was doubtless holding Diogo Dalot back, mindful of his game-changing impact as a substitute against Southampton on Saturday, as well as how callow the bench was with four academy graduates who had six substitute appearances between them. It still defied logic to have two right-backs and neither of them were selected at right-back. Dalot replaced Bailly and almost procured a third goal before the pause.
The dilapidated Parc des Princes had an aroma of French cheese, be it the cringing We Will Rock You entrance for PSG’s warm up or the Uptown Funk goal music. In a plasticised atmosphere, the 2,200 United supporters that occupied two tiers in the north-east corner made a louder din than the ultras and their drum. The tackiness will not have diluted the experience for Brandon Williams, omitted from the matchday squad but permitted to warm up amid the cacophony of boos. Mancunian Williams, 18, was playing in front of a few hundred spectators at Leigh Sports Village on Friday night.
It was a classic counter-attacking United away day for all of 12 minutes. Solskjaer cautioned on the eve of the tie the margin for error at Champions League level is slimmer than in the Premier League and United played on regardless. PSG were playing an alarming amount inside and around their area and an unmarked Juan Bernat converted Kylian Mbappe’s drilled cross to equalise.
Just as Tottenham might be ‘Spursy’, PSG are bottle jobs at Champions League level and they started choking again, with 82 per cent of the possession. Rashford shot when he should have perhaps played in Shaw on 30 minutes, Buffon fumbled clumsily and the lethal Lukaku pounced for his sixth goal in three games. That is more than Alexis Sanchez has managed in over a year.
The chaos paved way for the calm after the pause. Angel di Maria dinked the ball over David de Gea in the 56th minute but the linesman raised his flag and the Video Assistant Referee was not needed. Solskjaer sent teenagers Angel Gomes, James Garner, Mason Greenwood and Tahith Chong to limber up. Solskjaer cautiously delayed it until the 81st minute to choose Chong. “We’ve only got one Chong,” the United fans bragged.
Mbappe could have sealed the tie in the 84th minute but was foiled by De Gea and then the superb Smalling en route to goal and Bernat struck the loose ball against the upright. Solskjaer responded by introducing the 17-year-old Mason Greenwood for his debut. Solskjaer and Carrick waved United forward. Dalot won a corner. “United!” their fans cried. Only there would be no corner.
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