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PSG & their 'reality check': Why Solskjaer's response still has Man Utd looking forward

COMMENT: It was clear. Concise. And spoke volumes. "It's a reality check," so said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after seeing his Manchester United pulled apart by a classy PSG on Tuesday night.

This wasn't about the manager. He's already proven himself. For this team. For their range. He can find a way to win. And in style. But the Champions League? And in the knockout phase? This takes more. The manager needs the right tools. And this is what Solskjaer was getting at in the aftermath.

It was a message for everyone connected to United. The players. The staff. The board. And the fans. They were beaten by a superior team. A superior squad. One not just in quality. But also experience.

Gigi Buffon, Dani Alves and Thiago Silva. League titles. European titles... World Cups. Between the three over a 1,000 first team games. And didn't they make that experience count on Tuesday?

If given the chance. If forced into similar circumstances. Would United have turned to Buffon at 41 years of age? Alves at 35? Thiago Silva at 34? We know Jose Mourinho pushed United to rumble Juventus' plans to re-sign Leonardo Bonucci, at 31, after his decision to quit AC Milan. Then there were the enquiries for Andreas Granqvist, the 33 year-old skipper at Helsingborgs of Sweden. Mourinho saw a need for leadership. For experience. The type of knowhow that gets teams through the crunch moments.

For all the belief Solskjaer has brought back to this group, the confidence remains fragile - particularly at this level. As Eric Bailly admitted, "In the first half, we were fine. We conceded a goal from a set piece and took a blow to our morale. Then we conceded a second goal..."

Then there was the reminder of Mourinho's phrase, "eat the ball". The then United manager, earlier this season, referring to his midfield options and the lack of a real ball-winning terrier.

Arsene Wenger, the former Arsenal manager, pretty much gave Mourinho a nod when assessing United's performance on the night: "PSG never lost the ball and United could never win the ball back. They lost the battle there. When you play at home and cannot keep the ball, you're in trouble. The technical understanding between the two teams was huge. It got bigger as the game went on."

But this isn't about the previous manager. Solskjaer, with his reaction, made sure of that.

For the board, it was simple. If you want to match PSG, "that's the level we want to get to, and we are looking to strengthen the squad", but not at the expense of those on the pitch Tuesday night, in the same breath Solskjaer assured "then again we have so many young players to take a step up for next season".

And just as the football has been since his arrival, Solskjaer was looking forward. Telling his players to get their head up. To learn from the experience.

"Today we weren't at the level, this is a level up from what we've played against. We've had a great run, we came into this game in a great frame of mind but it was a big step up."

Even a World Cup winner can be caught out. And Paul Pogba was played off the pitch by Thomas Tuchel. The PSG coach handing the Frenchman a lesson. An entirely new challenge - man-marking him with Marquinhos.

Wenger again: "What PSG did was block Pogba with Marquinhos and when they had they ball [Julian] Draxler came in behind Pogba and that's where the chances were created."

And while this column has been critical of Pogba this season, it must be noted this was a new experience for him. He's never had a shadow like Marquinhos. Opposition never saw the need. Not at Juve. And not previously with United. But now in career best form. And with Solskjaer playing so much through him. Tuchel saw Pogba's threat and employed a solution.

But as the No6's manager later said, "This is something to learn from. That's part of learning when you're young," even when you hold a World Cup winner's medal.

And this was Solskjaer's message to everyone connected to the club. It was a "reality check". But not one to stop this team - this club - in it's tracks. In the long-term, from the board room to the dressing room, there's lessons to be heeded. But short-term. Even 2-0 down. There's a second-leg to fight for. And the players know, with this manager, anything can happen on a European night.

"Mountains are there to be climbed, you can't lay down and say this is over," says Solskjaer. "We will go there, play our game and improve from today."

The maxim from this manager being - on the pitch and in the mind - we keep moving forward. And together.

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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