United v PSG Combined XI – The Fans Have Their Say!
February 11, 2019
Valentine’s Day may be on the horizon, but there is only one present that football fans are demanding this month – a place in the Champions League quarter-finals. That’s right, the business end of the season is here and the club competition has cooked up some mouth-watering fixtures.
One clash that stands out from the crowd is Manchester United vs PSG, where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be looking to add to his short, but impressive CV as the Red Devil’s boss with a result on the grandest stage of them all. Despite once being a major threat in Europe, Old Trafford has experienced very little magic in the competition in recent times, reaching the quarter-finals just once in the last five years.
It won’t be an easy task for them to do so this year though, as they are coming up against a side that have tasted defeat just three times in all competitions this season. The French giants boast one of the most star-studded squads on the planet, and are 8/15 favourites with Ladbrokes to qualify, but they still crave and require a Champions League trophy to be considered amongst the elite. With the two clubs coming to blows on Tuesday 12th, we have cooked up two combined XI’s – one from a Manchester United fan’s perspective (me), the other from a writer for French Football Weekly – Taz Phalora.
What did they make of each other’s selections?
Manchester United Fan’s XI (@JoshGI97)
David De Gea
For me, the best goalkeeper on the planet right now. De Gea has been performing at the highest level for the past five years and has been United’s standout player during the club’s turbulent times. I don’t think that any other footballing side would take a different goalkeeper to the Spaniard and despite Buffon’s legendary status, he is the clear choice in goal.
View from Les Bleu: Definitely agree on De Gea. Top goalkeeper who has won many points for United over the years and pretty much every club would love to have him between the sticks. PSG are fortunate to have an excellent shot stopper in Buffon, however, De Gea is too strong.
There isn’t too much competition for the right-back spot. From United’s perspective, Diogo Dalot is still a working progress and Ashley Young isn’t a world beater. Thilo Kehrer arrived in Paris and has done well, but Meunier’s offensive aptitudes pips it for me. Modern-day fullbacks have to offer something going forward and the Belgian’s nine-goal contribution in just twenty-three games speaks volumes of his ability to do so.
View from Les Bleu: Not in agreement with this one. Meunier has shown over the last few seasons with PSG that he is good offensively, but there are doubts over his defensive ability. Thilo Kehrer is quite the opposite of the Belgian, however, can defend a lot better and has performed more effectively this season.
A great presence and an exemplary leader on the field, Silva is a figure that United are currently lacking in their own back-line. The Brazilian is often regarded as one of the 21st century’s most iconic defenders and he continues to impress in France. As club captain, he has been a pivotal figure for PSG since joining in 2012, and despite a few injury concerns, he is still a top-class defender on his day.
View from Les Bleu: It’s certainly right that Thiago Silva makes the selection. One of the best defenders around and grows old like fine wine. The other two contenders for this position, Eric Bailly or Presnel Kimpembe aren’t quite at the same level as Silva. Just yet.
Any doubts regarding Lindelof’s capabilities to make it in England have quickly been squashed. He has been the club’s most consistent centre-half this season and one of the best in the league. Through his distributional duties, the Swede helps build up United’s attacks from deep and has become key in helping Solskjaer implant a free-flowing, fluid system onto the field. With Lindelof at the heart of the defence, United look much more assured and comfortable both on, and off the ball.
View from Les Bleu: It’s great to see that we are both in agreement over this one. Lindelof has all the makings to be an elite defender and is only 24. Positioning, concentration and awareness are his strong points and he’d be a welcome addition to any side in the world.
The competition here is clearly between Bernat and Luke Shaw. Shaw started the season brightly and although he has provided himself as a consistent figure in United’s backline, he fails to set the world alight. Going forward, the Englishman needs to offer more, as he does have the potential to develop into a top-class player, but a lack of competition seems to be holding him back.
Similar to Meunier, I have opted for the more offensive option out on the left. The pacey Spaniard likes to get forward and offer support for PSG’s frontmen and he could pose Young a few issues when the two sides meet. Hopefully Shaw can kick on and finish the season like he started it, but for now, Bernat just about beats him to the starting position.
View from Les Bleu: To be honest, the left back area for both sides aren’t great. Can see why Bernat has been picked but his performances this season haven’t been great and it’s clear to see why he was the third choice left back at Bayern last season. Shaw isn’t much better, but his defending capabilities are stronger.
Being such a versatile figure, Marquinhos is a player that any manager would enjoy having at their disposal. Predominantly featuring as the defensive midfielder this season, the Brazilian screens the backline efficiently and provides the required defensive assurance to the explosive frontrunners in his side. His agility and capability to cover all areas of the field edges him over Nemanja Matic for me.
View from Les Bleu: Repositioned by Thomas Tuchel as a protector of the back four, Marquinhos has had mixed performances. Failed in his biggest test of the season away to Liverpool, whilst also watching the game go by vs Napoli. In fairness, he has improved in this role, but it definitely isn’t his favoured position and with the absence of a natural defensive midfielder, he has been forced to play here. However, this position comes more natural for Matic and knows how to be effective.
If Verratti is in the line-up, the opposition have to be prepared for a tough game, particularly when it comes to the battle in the middle of the park. Despite not being one of the most physically imposing midfielders, the Italian is a tenacious character and flourishes in pressing his opponents. On the ball, Verratti is one of the most effective playmakers in Europe and breaks the lines to find his teammates excellently. In a midfield three, he walks into this combined XI with ease.
View from Les Bleu: In total agreement with the inclusion of Verratti. PSG perform a lot better when the Italian midfielder is in the side and he’s one of the rare players to keeps hold of possession so well. He has been a joy to watch over the years especially with Thiago Motta by his side. Now at 26, must take more responsibility on and off the pitch.
Rounding off the trio is another easy pick – Pogba. The Frenchman is arguably the best CM on the planet right now and under Solskjaer, he is making that £89m price tag look like a bargain. As the LCM, the Frenchman excels in bursting forward to offer support to United’s frontmen and his eleven Premier League goals are a testament to his ability in the final third. Alongside Verratti, the two would compliment each other well and I would wish their opponents luck in trying to get the ball away from the duo.
View from Les Bleu: No doubt in my mind that Pogba should be chosen. Has exceptional talent and the ability to change the game by himself. His pace and power will make life difficult for PSG’s midfield and one thing is for certain – if Pogba turns up in the two legs, it will be increasingly difficult for PSG to win.
The hottest young player in the world right now. Mbappe continues to dazzle fans with both his explosive talent and maturity for just a 20-year-old. With 18 goals in 17 league appearances, the French prodigy continues to develop at a rapid pace and even out on the right, manages to find the back of the net in prolific fashion.
We are yet to see any defenders successfully contain Mbappe and his team are now relying on the Frenchman to find the goals in Neymar’s absence. The Parisian would find a spot in any top European team, so it is of no surprise to see him included in this eleven.
View from Les Bleu: Very hard to ignore Mbappe and his incredible stats for this season. Enjoys the big games and is also eager to make the difference. Could walk into any team in the world so his inclusion was never in doubt.
Even with the likes of Mbappe and Neymar stealing the limelight, Cavani still manages to produce 25+ goals every season. In fact, the Uruguayan is instrumental in providing for the duo, as his linkup play and movement with the ball helps create space for his fellow attackers to move into. Are you listening Romelu Lukaku? Cavani is one the greatest strikers of our generation and despite Marcus Rashford’s prolific form, he is the complete striker to possess in a front three forward line.
View from Les Bleu: It’s great to see we are in agreement over Cavani. A proven goalscorer who comes alive in the penalty area. Has an excellent record in the Champions League and is always PSG’s main threat offensively. United themselves have a good striker in Lukaku, however, he isn’t considered one of the best around and definitely needs to improve in many areas of his game.
Given Neymar’s injury, which has ruled him out of the tie, there is only one man to occupy the position out on the left. On the back of his incredible solo goal away at Fulham, it is a rather fitting time to place the Frenchman into this eleven, as he is looking back to his best under United’s caretaker manager. It’s easy to forget that the inside forward is only 23 years of age, as his cool-head in the final third makes it seem so easy for the young star.
With his national teammate on the opposite flank, this front three would be a terrifying prospect for defenders to face and with Cavani as the target man, both forwards would be granted a license to drift inside and find chances around the box.
View from Les Bleu: Both agree. I’m sure there was doubt also with this one to include Marcus Rashford but the Frenchman is picked. There aren’t many dribblers in world football as effective as Martial right now and he isn’t too far away in being considered world class.
Ligue 1 Writer’s XI (@TazPhalora)
David De Gea
One of, if not the best goalkeeper in the world right now. De Gea has been United’s most consistent player over the last few seasons with his incredible shot-stopping abilities and distribution. PSG themselves have a world-class goalkeeper in Gianluigi Buffon and even at the age of 41, continues to outshine Alphonse Areola. However, it’s very difficult to leave the Spaniard out.
View from the red: Buffon continues to be one of the best goalkeepers in Europe, but nobody else comes close to De Gea. I agree that the Spaniard has been our best player in recent years and he deserves a spot in this combined XI. No questions asked.
Having signed from Bundesliga side Schalke in the summer, the German international was certainly an unknown character amongst PSG supporters, however, Kehrer’s performances this season have been excellent. Capable of playing anywhere across the back four, Thomas Tuchel has trusted the 22-year-old on the right of the defence, at the expense of Thomas Meunier. Perhaps not the most impressive going forward, Kehrer’s main strengths lie with his defensive responsibilities.
View from the red: Kehrer has definitely impressed this season and is living up to the reputation he gained in Germany. However, in the modern game, I like to see full-backs that can operate in different areas of the field. Bernat certainly does this better, as he is more comfortable moving forward with the ball, and this is the reason why the Spanish full-back just edges the German for me.
Now in his mid 30’s, Thiago Silva is still regarded as a world-class centre-back. His performances seem to improve every season and show no sign of slowing down. Arguably the best signing under the Qatari ownership of the club, O’Monstro’s remarkable reading of the game and calmness in defence has enabled PSG to have a solid defensive foundation and make it incredibly difficult for opposition teams to break down.
Silva is also a useful asset on set-pieces and is very tough to mark. As well as this, it’s very clear to see the standard of the Paris defence fall in his absence. Therefore, Tuchel will be hoping his star man can stay fit.
View from the red: Many would expect to see Silva’s name in both our combined elevens, and there is just reason to do so. The comment regarding Silva’s reading of the game showed during their group stage clash with Liverpool and he is certainly still capable at the top level. An easy choice at the heart of the defence.
It was a close call between Lindelof and Marquinhos in central defence, but the Swede just about edges it. Although he may not be the most elegant of defenders around, Lindelof is extremely difficult to get past and has rarely put a foot wrong this season. Having arrived in the summer of 2017, his adaption to the English game wasn’t as smooth as he might have anticipated but this season he has finally found his feet at the heart of United’s defence and is capable of playing in various positions on the pitch.
View from the red: It’s nice to see Lindelof receive recognition from outside of Manchester, as he really has been impressive. Many United fans are demanding the club to sign a more experienced figure to partner the Swedish international, as this would help him flourish into a world beater. Silva would undoubtedly fit the bill and it would take something special to break past these two intelligent defenders.
With both clubs not possessing an obvious choice for the left back slot, it’s going to have to be Luke Shaw. For those who have been unfortunate to have witnessed the performances of Juan Bernat this season, you will notice his defensive frailties. Never at total ease when coming up against a quick winger, Bernat has been more effective going forward and boasts two Champions League goals this season.
Shaw, however, seems a lot more reassuring defensively and is excellent at positioning himself in the right places. Very little doubt to pick Shaw.
View from the red: Shaw is certainly the better choice from a defensive perspective, but he offers very little from an offensive point of view. I may appear a little harsh and critical of the Englishman, but that’s only because he’s capable of so much more. If he can raise his game up a notch, he would break into my eleven come the end of the season.
Following PSG’s failure to recruit a central midfielder in the summer and the banning of Adrien Rabiot, Thomas Tuchel was forced into shuffling his pack and play many players out of position. Marquinhos, Dani Alves and Julien Draxler have all had playing time in the centre of midfield, however none have really succeeded in that role. The recent signing of Leandro Paredes makes it slightly easier, but it’s far too early to decide how much of an impact he will have.
Given the lack of options in this area for PSG, Matic goes into the list. The Serb may not be enjoying his best season at the club but is still an excellent midfielder on his day. His power and passing ability is very valuable to this United side, although not the most technical of midfielders.
View from the red: On his day, Matic offers United an assured presence on the field and keeps the play ticking along nicely. The Serbian’s game has drastically improved under Solskjaer, but the start of the season was met with below-par performances. Personally, I’m a big fan of Marquinhos and at the age of twenty-four, he’s still a star in the making. The modern game requires your holding midfielder to be supple and mobile, attributes that put the Brazilian over Matic for me.
Almost every football fan would love to have Verratti in their side. An excellent passer of the ball and tough to manoeuvre despite his small size are the main qualities that the Italian has. The all-rounded midfielder continues to thrive in the PSG midfield as the style of play implemented is suited to him.
One minor blip in Verratti’s game is perhaps his shyness in front of goal. This would explain why he hasn’t scored a Ligue 1 goal since May 2017. On his day, one of the best midfielders around, so Verratti is included.
View from the red: Another name that fans will find it hard to dispute. The Italian is a personal favourite of mine and he could slot into any midfield across Europe. An easy selection in this midfield, even with Ander Herrera’s recent heroics – very often do you find an all-rounder like Verratti.
Pogba’s renaissance under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been nothing short of phenomenal. Often criticized for his poor work rate and capacity to perform in big games, the Frenchman has been a completely different player since the departure of Jose Mourinho – scoring eight goals in eleven appearances is the evidence. As well as his goal scoring touch, he has rediscovered his understanding with Marcus Rashford and the two are such a huge offensive threat.
His talent is clear for everyone to see, however for probably the first time since his return to Old Trafford, Pogba is enjoying his football once again and his level of performances are increasing.
View from the red: The plaudits keep coming for the Frenchman and long may it continue. So long as Pogba performs at this level, United should be on course to finish in the top four. His star quality is evident for all to see, but it’s time for fans to see these sort of performances in the Champions League itself. Should the midfielder run riot against PSG, he will be in contention for the club’s player of the year.
In only his third professional year as a footballer, Mbappe is now considered one of the best in the modern era. The golden boy is ranked first in the Ligue 1 goal scoring charts with 18 goals and already has three Champions League goals to his name this season. His incredible acceleration makes it extremely difficult for defenders to handle him and his shooting accuracy has improved from last season.
With the absence of Neymar over the two legs, many PSG supporters will be hoping that Mbappe can step up and potentially fire the French side into the next round. The injury to the Brazilian star is huge for PSG but also more so for Mbappe – whom he had created a sublime understanding with.
View from the red: It’s impossible to disagree with Mbappe’s selection. The World Cup winner continues to shine in a side that is filled with star names and figures. At just 20 years of age, he has the world at his feet and there looks to be no stopping his path to greatness.
Often criticised for his lack of technical ability, Cavani, just like many other top strikers in the world, knows how to score goals. Last year, the Uruguayan became PSG’s record goal scorer and registered an impressive 28 league goals. This season, Cavani hasn’t been able to score as many as previous seasons but has scored 16 in Ligue 1 – which is quite impressive for any striker.
His movement, work rate and finishing in front of goal will worry the United defence who will almost certainly find it tough to contain him. Meanwhile, it’s very hard to make an argument to include Romelu Lukaku in the list. A good forward on his day but this season, has been very disappointing. Give Cavani half a chance, and he will punish you.
View from the red: Rashford is certainly impressing as United’s no.9, but I’m also with the selection of Cavani. He’s definitely underrated by a large proportion of supporters and he’s been a key figure behind PSG’s success down the years. Goals, build-up play and movement, the Uruguayan certainly knows how to lead the frontline efficiently.
It was tough to decide between Rashford and Martial as both players are two of the Premier League’s best. But the burden on Martial’s back has been lifted and just like his countryman Pogba, he has started to play his best football. His good work this season has been rewarded by signing a new contract and this is news that the United faithful had been waiting for. For a left winger to have 10 goals this season is impressive and even more so that he’s not always in the matchday squad. A clinical finisher in the penalty area and his expert ball carrying skills are the main reasons why he’s included in the list.
View from the red: There is often a debate between Rashford and Martial, but when it comes to playing out wide, the Frenchman should prevail every time. When 1v1 against an opposing fullback, there is no stopping Martial, who loves to continuously have a go at beating his man. He has been phenomenal this season and is back enjoying his football again.
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As an experienced sports writer, Josh has been published across various different platforms, writing about his beloved club Manchester United and other footballing topics. He also covers a range of other sports, specialising in UFC and Formula One.