Manchester United began the evening within touching distance of the Champions League last-16. At one stage, as they tore into Paris Saint-Germain on the counterattack early in the second half, they seemed closer to it than ever. Yet by full time, the point they needed had eluded them. They will have another shot at it next Tuesday at RB Leipzig on the final night of this wild group-phase section. Fail and they will be out. Rather abruptly, it has all become extremely nervy.
Those were the broad brushstrokes on an occasion when PSG not only kept their hopes of progress alive but also remained in control of their destiny. The beaten finalists from last season now need a draw at home to Istanbul Basaksehir to make sure, although they could squeak through with a defeat.
The detail from a United perspective took in a glaring miss by the out-of-sorts Anthony Martial for 2-1 when it seemed easier to score and a 70th‑minute sending-off for Fred that he had flirted with aggressively all evening. The Brazilian had been spared a straight red card on 21 minutes after he pressed his forehead into that of Leandro Paredes and then thrust it at him while he stamped on the same opponent before the end of the first half. On this occasion it was Paredes who was booked for going into the challenge with a degree of force.
It was a mystery not only how Fred avoided a dismissal for the misuse of his head but why Ole Gunnar Solskjær did not substitute him at half-time. The United manager played with fire and he would be burned, although Fred did get the ball before he caught Ander Herrera for his second yellow card. The former United midfielder’s reaction was theatrical. The darker arts were a theme of the evening.
PSG might have won this game before they actually did. After Neymar’s early opener, they subjected the United goal to a storm. But, at the same time, it took United’s profligacy to light up their route to victory. After Martial’s horror miss, the former PSG striker Edinson Cavani floated a chip over Keylor Navas and against the crossbar. On the rebound, Bruno Fernandes teed up Martial only for Marquinhos to leap into a saving block. Martial cannot buy a break at the moment.
Marquinhos scored the crucial second goal for PSG, which they had advertised, but they failed to defend as a collective all evening, offering spaces and hope to United. Solskjær’s team nearly got a second equaliser through Paul Pogba, who entered as a substitute, and Fernandes before the final twist saw PSG punish United on the counterattack – a reversal of the pattern for much of the game.
Kylian Mbappé dragged wide when he had to score – he is without a Champions League goal since last December – before Neymar showed him how, finishing after a cut-back from the substitute Rafinha. How costly does United’s shock defeat in Istanbul last month look now?
PSG took charge at the outset here, with Neymar slamming home from a tight-ish angle after an Mbappé shot had ricocheted off Victor Lindelöf. And they might have scored again before the tie was 20 minutes old.
Alessandro Florenzi extended David de Gea from range after a terrible clearance by Fred; Neymar stretched but could not reach a Florenzi cross and the forward then worked De Gea with a hooked volley. The big chance came when Mbappé led a break and combined with Neymar only to fail to play in Moise Kean.
Fred’s escape came after the referee was advised to review his confrontation with Paredes on the pitchside monitor. From PSG’s point of view it began badly when he ran towards the wrong touchline and, incredibly, he would be satisfied that a yellow card was sufficient punishment. It made no sense. Neither did Fred’s decision to stretch into a challenge on Paredes in the 37th minute. Risky did not begin to cover it.
By that point, United were level but it did not reflect the balance of the first half. Although Marcus Rashford looked threatening, there was a lack of direction and poor final choices from his team. The goal was marked by a huge deflection, Rashford’s shot going in off Danilo after Navas had denied Martial.
United recalibrated at the interval and they were in the ascendancy for the first time at the beginning of the second period. Cavani released Rashford with a glorious flick and when he crossed, Martial lifted high. Cavani was then unlucky. How he would have loved to hurt PSG after his acrimonious departure at the end of last season.
Tempers bubbled throughout. Neymar complained about being stamped on by Scott McTominay at the end of the first half while Martial bloodied Marquinhos in an aerial challenge. The referee struggled for control.
Back came PSG. Marquinhos headed off the top of the crossbar and De Gea saved brilliantly from the substitute Mitchel Bakker, before Marquinhos made his mark.
It was the scruffiest of goals, Herrera’s wild shot being turned across goal by Abdou Diallo for the centre-half to bundle home. PSG only saw the beauty in it.