COMMENT By Solace Chukwu
There was some initial confusion when it was announced in the summer that Paris Saint-Germain had signed Cameroon international Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
It was not so much that the 29-year-old was lacking in quality...there is quite a bit of that, even if not necessarily the level of consistency that means he can rightly be classed among the very elite.
It just seemed a signing completely out of left-field, and against the grain of the club’s transfer strategy (if that word can be used), which is essentially driven by star power.
Choupo-Moting leaving Stoke for Paris before they change their minds... pic.twitter.com/nYDafipDe7— Goal (@goal) August 30, 2018
As an inexpensive stop-gap acquisition to give any one of their blockbuster front line of Neymar, Edinson Cavani or Kylian Mbappe a rest, it was easier to understand, but it still underwhelmed.
In the intervening period, he has been viewed as something of a mascot figure: happy to be there, getting along with everyone, and a bit of a meme.
So far this term, he has started three games for PSG in the league, and scored once in his combined 377 minutes of play. However, it is in the Champions League, where he has only been afforded four substitute appearances, that he can begin to redeem himself this week.
In Manchester United, he will face opposition with which he is well acquainted, having gone up against them while at Stoke City in the 2017/2018 season. The Red Devils are also well acquainted with him: David De Gea was twice beaten by the former Mainz striker in a 2-2 draw in September 2017.
At the time, United had been perfect in the league, scoring 10 times while conceding none, and looked set for a proper title tilt. There was little to suggest the acrimony that would bubble to the surface later on with Jose Mourinho, or indeed the fact that Stoke would be relegated to the Championship at season’s end.
In a way, that brace, taken in the most predatory fashion possible, was the first puncture to the façade of United as happy campers under Mourinho, ready to deliver customary second season success.
4 - Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has been directly involved in 4 goals in his last 4 PL games at the Britannia (2 goals, 2 assists). Stoked. pic.twitter.com/ZDZo5Q8qnf— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 21, 2017
Who better then to deflate United once more, at a time when they are positively flying under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?
When the draw for the knockout stage was made, it seemed almost inevitable that Manchester United were fitting to be handed a lesson, that they would prove the sort of high-profile European scalp that the French giants needed as a rite of passage in the Champions League.
Since then, however, the fortunes of both teams have gone in entirely contrasting directions: whereas the English side have righted themselves, and now look to be playing to their fullest potential, PSG have suffered a raft of injuries, and are severely depleted for Tuesday’s showdown.
Star forward Neymar broke his foot against Strasbourg in the Coupe de France in January, and is set to miss over two months of action, and to further compound the situation, Cavani went off injured at the weekend against Bordeaux as well.
That, in addition to injuries to Thomas Meunier and Marco Verratti, significantly weakens Thomas Tuchel’s side, and means they can no longer be considered favourites to progress to the quarter-finals.
The stage is set, then, for Choupo-Moting to step into the breach.
He’s the hero that PSG need right now, even if not the one, for all their extravagant investment, that they deserve.
It would be quite ironic: for all of their 'Globetrotters' stylings, it could come down to the functionality of probably their least glamorous, most workmanlike player.
Without the silk and provocative flourishes of Neymar and the rapier-like movement of Cavani, it will almost certainly be an uphill task.
However, perhaps, shorn of that stardust, a more solid, disciplined tactical approach could emerge.
It would serve the French side best; it has, after all, been a lack of proper structure that has proved their undoing through the years...and who better to model that style on, than Choupo-Moting?