MANCHESTER, England – Undefeated in its last 11 matches, Manchester United was seen as the favorite on Tuesday against injury-depleted Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the Champions League round-of-16 tie, but the visitor prevailed 2-0.
PSG can also look forward to the March 6 second leg in Paris knowing that Paul Pogba will not be in the lineup for United, as the French international was sent off in the dying seconds after picking up a second yellow card.
The French squad faced Tuesday’s contest at Manchester’s Old Trafford stadium without top strikers Neymar and Edinson Cavani, while United has been firing on all cylinders since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho as coach.
The start of play was preceded by a minute of applause for Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala, killed in a plane crash days after a transfer to Premier League club Cardiff City.
Though each side threatened early, with Marcus Rashford’s forcing a save from PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, the first half was dominated by the physical battle and referee Daniele Orsato handed out five yellow cards inside the first 34 minutes.
The most dramatic incident came shortly before the break, when United’s Ashley Young shoved Angel Di Maria as he was running out of bounds, sending the Argentine crashing into a railing.
With Young already on a yellow card, Orsato chose to let it go, only for the football gods to exact their revenge as the first half drew to a close in the form of injuries to Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard, two-thirds of the United forward line.
Lingard left just before the whistle, replaced by Alexis Sanchez. Martial made way for Juan Mata at the start of the second half.
The French side was bolder after the break and United keeper David De Gea had to turn aside a header by Kylian Mbappe, who had been practically invisible in the first half.
It was on the ensuing corner that PSG broke the deadlock, as defender Presnel Kimpembe chipped in from the far post in the 53rd minute for his first professional goal in 96 matches.
The 2-0 came seven minutes later on the counter.
The play started with a long ball from midfielder Marquinhos to Di Maria, who stormed into the area and delivered a cross to the onrushing Mbappe to seal the first leg, if not the tie.
Solskjaer – officially the interim coach – has been hailed by the United faithful as a savior after guiding the squad to 10 victories and a draw in his time at the helm, enough to vault the Red Devils into the Premier League top four.