MANCHESTER – Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel admitted his side could not be meeting a rampant Manchester United in the Champions League last-16 at a worse time, with the French champions shorn of star forwards Neymar and Edison Cavani.
United have been transformed since the sides were drawn together in December by caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s run of 10 wins and one draw in 11 matches in charge following the sacking of Jose Mourinho.
French World Cup winner Paul Pogba and striker Marcus Rashford have led the way, and Tuchel believes the handicap facing PSG at Old Trafford for Tuesday night’s first leg is the equivalent of United losing both players.
“Would Man United miss Pogba if he is not there? Would they miss Rashford? Of course they would,” said Tuchel.
“Neymar is one of the key, key players in Europe. We cannot replace him, and now we miss another key player in Edi.”
Tuchel’s men already have experience of facing English opposition in the Champions League this season, as they topped an extremely tough group ahead of Liverpool, with Napoli missing out on the knockout stages despite losing just one game.
And the former Borussia Dortmund coach believes his side have again drawn the short straw by facing United in current form, compared to the final days of Mourinho’s troublesome tenure.
“It is completely different. You can see Manchester United play with a lot of confidence – they score a lot of goals, get a lot of early leads, it’s an impressive run,” added Tuchel.
“To play in this moment in Old Trafford against this Manchester United is again, like our group stage, one of the toughest challenges you can have.”
PSG will also be without Thomas Meunier due to concussion, with the match sharpness of Marco Verratti and new signing Leandro Paredes in doubt.
Despite spending hundreds of millions of transfer fees backed by the club’s Qatari owners, PSG’s form away from home in the Champions League against elite sides has been poor.
And midfielder Julian Draxler called on his side to ensure they at the very least remain in the tie for the second leg in the French capital on March 6.
“We cannot forget we have a second leg in Paris, so it is not all in or nothing tomorrow,” said the German international.
The mood around United has been transformed in the past two months on and off the field, with Solskjaer expecting a cauldron of an atmosphere for the first blockbuster name to visit Old Trafford since his appointment.
“It’s both the players and supporters who have been looking forward to some of these nights, because they are special.”
Solskjaer claimed even beating the French champions would not guarantee him the job on a permanent basis.
However, another landmark victory would make the Norwegian’s case hard for the club’s hierarchy to ignore.
“We’ve given ourselves the best possible opportunity with the way we’ve gone into this game, because we are confident,” added Solskjaer.
Anthony Martial is just one of a number of United players transformed since the change in management.
The Frenchman scored a brilliant solo goal in Saturday’s 3-0 win at Fulham, and believes the attacking freedom given to the players under Solskjaer is more conducive to getting the best from them than Mourinho’s more conservative approach.
"We've given ourselves the best possible opportunity because of the way we've come into this game," Ole adds. "We're confident and we're looking like a team. If there was ever a time to go into big games, it's now." #MUFC pic.twitter.com/D4BIyrFrCZ— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 11, 2019
“We’ve got a coach with a different approach, and we are trying to do what he’s asking us,” said Martial.
“Perhaps it is easier for us to play this style of football compared to the previous style of football we were asked to play.”AFP