In the lounges of Charles de Gaulle Airport, on the planes before take-off, down the corridors of Eurostar trains, could be heard the sound of replays of Marcus Rashford’s stoppage-time penalty, the voices of pundits sharing their reaction in the studio, the players celebrating in the changing room, emanating from smartphones.
If Manchester United supporters had booked a train they had little else to do in the long delays caused by staff striking due to Brexit at Gare du Nord station. Even so, the United fans leaving Paris stuck out everywhere.
But would they have been so obsessively reliving what was described by one fan as “the biggest European night since ’99”? Certainly not to the same extent. Yet one thing missing from the whirlwind of the post-match love-in was that Manchester United quite clearly got lucky against Paris Saint-Germain. Let’s admit it.
Gifted two goals by their French opponents in the first 30 minutes, then gifted a penalty by VAR for which very few of their players were appealing in stoppage time for the decisive penalty. The United players were preparing for a last throw of the dice from the corner after Diogo Dalot’s shot deflected off Presnel Kimpembe and went behind. Other than Dalot, who immediately claimed for a penalty, most of the visiting players initially appeared oblivious to the fact a handball could have been committed.
For the entire rest of the match PSG were all over United. They ended the match with 72 per cent possession but it had been higher for large swathes. They were denied by offside and the post. They conceded three of four shots on target.
It was the sort of victory conceived by Sean Dyche, rather than Sir Alex Ferguson.
But getting lucky is no bad thing. There was a large element of luck to United scoring so many decisive goals in stoppage time of matches that the term “Fergie time” was coined. People often say you make your own luck, but sometimes luck is simply luck: it pops up from nowhere, when time is seemingly up, or dished out by a referee and his video assistants.
United were unlucky, beforehand, in that they were missing ten senior players through injury. But then that was lucky, too, for the five teenagers on the bench and teenager Scott McTominay, who started in midfield.
Much has been made of McTominay’s performance, yet in reality United struggled to get any grip on midfield and spent the match completely overrun.
“It’s games like this you really make a name for yourself,” defender Luke Shaw said afterwards. “Scott has played most of the games when people have been out injured and he’s been really impressive. He’s held the midfield of the park really well and he’s done it again tonight.”
“He was all over [Marco] Verratti and we see that in training and we love it.”
Former United defender Rio Ferdinand described McTominay as “majestic”. Had United not gone through, the performance, while solid, would have been quickly forgotten.
Had Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had all of his senior players available, McTominay would not have started and all of Dalot, James Garner, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood would not have been in the squad. Had the match not ended in such dramatic fashion, they would not have met Ferguson and Eric Cantona in the changing room after the match.
Plus stoppages, Dalot played 53 minutes, Chong the last ten, Greenwood three; would they have had so long in other circumstances?
“It breeds confidence through the squad and we’re showing that in abundance, not just the senior boys, there’s younger boys who’ve come in and done a job,” Ashley Young said of what such a victory of that nature can do for the players. “They must have been nervous but they were magnificent.
“It’s nice to be part of that history. That shows the team spirit and the mentality we’ve got, that never-say-die Man United attitude.”
In the post-match euphoria the flakiness of PSG was disregarded, as well. That two years ago they threw away an even bigger lead against Barcelona, winning the first leg 4-0 in Paris then crumbling to a 6-1 defeat at the Nou Camp. That PSG have lost seven of their last 12 Champions League knockout matches.
There was selective memory regarding Solskjaer’s huge tactical mistake at the start of the game, that Eric Bailly’s woeful performance out of position at right-back for the first 36 minutes almost, until they were saved by VAR, cost United the tie.
United were hugely lucky, in many ways – but if anyone deserves a slice of luck, it’s Solskjaer.