Manchester United have a incredibly difficult task on their hands when they attempt to reverse their first-leg deficit away to Paris Saint-Germain in the return leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie in Paris on Wednesday (20:00 GMT, live on BT Sport).
PSG were comfortable 2-0 victors at Old Trafford three weeks back. After a controlled first half performance, they pushed forward and scored two quick-fire goals through Presnel Kimpembe and Kylian Mbappe in the lead up to the hour mark to take full charge of the tie.
It was Man Utd’s largest ever home defeat in European competition and a result that left them needing to score at least twice in Paris if they are to have any chance of progressing, and three times or more if they want to make it through without relying on penalties.
History is not in their favour. United have been eliminated in each of their three previous European ties in which they have carried a deficit from the home leg into the return encounter – most recently against Athletic Club in the 2011-12 Europa League. Their away record in the last 16 of the Champions League reads: two wins, five draws and three defeats. They have failed to win any of their last four.
Neither will their chances be helped by the absence of the suspended Paul Pogba, sent off for a second bookable offence during the closing stages of the first leg. The French midfielder has been revitalised since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge in mid-December, providing nine goals and seven assists in all competitions and Man Utd lack a direct replacement. They may also be missing as many as three or four other potential starters due to various niggles.
Solskjaer’s side are certainly in good form. Saturday’s 3-2 win at home to Southampton, secured thanks to a single goal from Andreas Pereira and two from Romelu Lukaku, was United’s 13th win in his 16 matches at the helm. They have also been relatively free-scoring in that time, averaging 2.25 goals per match. Their underlying statistics, while improved compared to those under Jose Mourinho, have been a bit less convincing.
Man Utd certainly provided little during the first leg of this tie to believe that PSG will be unduly troubled in getting the job done on Wednesday. After falling at this stage in each of the last two seasons, PSG are strongly placed to make it through to the last eight and perhaps go on from there and finally make it through to the final four for the first time since their takeover by Qatar Sports Investments in 2012.
It is, though, unlikely that anyone at PSG will be counting their chickens just yet. This is the same side who gave up a four-goal first-leg advantage to lose 6-5 to Barcelona on aggregate at this stage a couple of seasons back. It is necessary to go back to February of last year to find the last time they lost by a score that would see them eliminated if repeated on Wednesday, and way back to 2015 to find the last time they did so on home soil.
With Edinson Cavani and Neymar both likely to miss out again through injury, Mbappe will once more lead the PSG attack. He increased his total to 29 goals in all competitions this season with a double in his side’s 2-1 win away to Caen on Saturday. His pace on the counter will be a powerful weapon once United start to push forward. He will be ably supported by former United winger Angel Di Maria, provider of both assists in the first leg.
United will be sure to give it their best shot and compete as gamely as they can, but it is very hard to see them getting the result they need to progress. There may be stretches of the match in which it looks possible, but PSG should eventually be fancied to come through and utilise their attacking potency to triumph on the night as well as on aggregate.