The Old Trafford is preparing itself for what could be Manchester United’s biggest game of the season. Paris Saint-Germain will be looking to put their Champions League disappointments from the last two seasons away as they prepare to qualify for the quarterfinals after three years.
Injuries to Neymar and Marco Verratti come as a big blow to the French giants and what looked like a straightforward win a month ago has been blown into an open contest. The midfield crisis that PSG are enduring has only helped tilt the tie in United's favour. Lassana Diarra is also out for the French team.
Adrien Rabiot and Verratti, arguably PSG’s best pairing in the centre of midfield could miss the first leg. With all due respect, Marquinos and Dani Alves are a serious downgrade and will be second best to the double pivot of Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera on current form.
Rabiot’s scuff with the board has nearly eliminated his chances of playing for the club again as he waits for his contract to expire in the summer. While Verratti has made his comeback from injury, his match fitness could be an issue. PSG have also brought in Leandro Paredes in the winter transfer widnow.
Dani Alves has done a good job as a make-shift midfielder on the right, but Marquinos is far from being the midfielder who could drop a dominating performance in a key Champions League clash.
Thomas Meunier, Christopher Nkunku, Moussa Diaby and Juan Bernat have all been tried in the defensive role but none of them could stake a claim for a permanent spot in the line-up.
On the other hand, Matic and Herrera have been playing at a level above usual under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for Manchester United. Whether they feature in a three-man midfield or as a double-pivot in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the pair have been crucial to United’s sensational run under the Norwegian.
The Red Devils are now able to control the game from the midfield, dictate the tempo and put on a convincing show. The rejuvenated midfield has been one of the key upgrades from the first half of the season, although the team-sheet reads the same names.
In the department of attacking midfield, PSG have fielded the likes of Julian Draxler and Angel di Maria. These players are more accustomed to playing a wide role. As interiors, they might not be as effective as they can be on the wings. Also, both the players aren’t as equipped to carry out the creative burden in Neymar’s absence.
Whereas, Paul Pogba – without the shackles of defensive responsibility – has displayed flashes of his Juventus days and World Cup form. On his day, the Frenchman can play like he’s the best number eight in the world and Solskjaer is slowly bringing out that side of him.
While it seems like United could emerge victorious in the midfield battle, one also needs to consider the scheduling complications. The Red Devils will be facing PSG, Chelsea and Liverpool in a span of 12 days and the latter two games are extremely crucial in their bid to secure a top-four spot in the Premier League.
On the other hand, the French giants have a 10-point lead at the top of the table, with three games in hand. Thomas Tuchel can afford to drop a few points and rest his midfield as United look to tend to the tired legs.