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If Manchester United do not qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, it will signal two deep aberrations in an otherwise positive group stage.
First, the 2-1 loss to Istanbul Basaksehir, when Demba Ba was able to score a goal after receiving the ball in his own court without a United player coming between him and Dean Henderson’s goal, all from a United’s corner kick.
Second, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s unfathomable decision not to replace Fred in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Paris Saint-Germain.
No one who was watching could understand why Fred was not expelled when he pushed his head against Leandro Paredes. The PSG man’s reaction was embarrassing, but Fred’s offense was clear to everyone, including the VAR officials. However, referee Daniele Orsato only saw fit to hire him.
Perhaps Orsato had been replaying the scene in his mind when, less than a minute after Marquinhos had put PSG up 2-1 in the second half, he showed Fred a second yellow card for a challenge on Ander Herrera. Fred got the ball cleared first, but the decision was not reversed, leaving the United man walking disconsolate down the touchline.
4 – The visiting team has won all four Champions League games between Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain; excluding matches played at neutral venues, it is the first match in the competition’s history to see the first four matches won by the visiting team. Invasion. pic.twitter.com/K4oXNuLJK8
– OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 2, 2020
The consensus seemed to be that Fred would retire at halftime. He could have won possession eight times in his period on the field, but United only needed one point here and had Scott McTominay to provide the combative midfield presence.
There was nothing essential about Fred’s place on the team, no fundamental game plan that could not have been carried out by Donny van de Beek, Paul Pogba or Nemanja Matic. Yet he came out for the second half: emboldened, determined, disastrous.
This was another match between United and PSG in which VAR proved critical to the outcome by enforcing questionable decisions, much like the famous 3-1 victory of the Red Devils in Paris two seasons ago, but also by key decisions at key moments of men. in charge.
Solskjaer’s side, having equalized via Marcus Rashford’s deflected shot after Neymar’s first goal, were tearing through the visitors at half-time. Anthony Martial missed two glorious chances for 2-1, one of which came after Edinson Cavani’s impressive chip hit the crossbar.
Thomas Tuchel saw the danger and acted. Moise Kean and Paredes went for Herrera and Mitchel Bakker, adding cover to PSG’s left flank and closing the United threat. The three new defenders allowed Marquinhos to venture forward with more abandon on set pieces and it was the captain’s close-range shot from a half-cleared corner that put them in front. Neymar made it 3-1 in added time after Fred’s red shot killed United’s spirit.
4 – Manchester United have lost more of their eight home games in all competitions this season (4) than in 28 matches at Old Trafford last season (3). Wheel. pic.twitter.com/XJv9VZ4caZ
– OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 2, 2020
On the opposite bench, Solskjaer was passive. The system and personnel were unchanged to combat PSG’s tactical adjustment, and were reduced to 10 men before Pogba, Van de Beek, Mason Greenwood and Odion Ighalo were summoned from the bench. The second yellow was tough, but Fred expected it. The game as a whole was like those seconds in Istanbul on Matchday 3, when assistant Mike Phelan pointed and yelled at Ba to no avail: United and Solskjaer saw the threat and did nothing to stop it.
“Fred shouldn’t bow his head towards him,” Solskjaer later told BT Sport. “I don’t think he touched it, but he shouldn’t, so he’s a bit lucky, it’s either nothing or it’s a red card. I thought maybe he was a little lucky to stay.
“Yes [I thought about taking him off]. But Fred played very well. We are talking about staying calm, staying on your feet and the second yellow card is not by far a foul. Ander knows it too, he definitely knows it. ”
Herrera also knew that Fred was one wrong step from a lonely walk through the tunnel. So did Solskjaer. And only one of them acted.
So, we go to a match on matchday six, United, PSG and Leipzig, all with nine points and all capable of qualifying. One point will still be enough for the Red Devils, but there is no margin for error against a Leipzig team that must win. PSG, despite all the pressure on their coach and their stars, are now one victory away from leading the group.
United have played excellent football in this competition and only three other teams have scored more than their 13 goals. They have beaten all three sides in this ‘group of death’, also convincingly. And yet they head into next week with their European destiny in balance, when a simple defender covering from a corner and a substitution at halftime could have changed everything.