VAR will be used for the first time in the Champions League tonight. The whole kit and caboodle is set up in the back of a Transit van in the Old Trafford car park, which will send a cold shiver down the spine of anyone who sat through ITV early-evening light-entertainment show The Premiership back in the day. Uefa refereeing bigwig Hugh Dallas is interviewed in the truck by BT Sport, brandishing a leaflet which explains using words and pretty pictures that the VAR team will “constantly check for clear and obvious errors related to the following four match-changing situations: goals, incidents in the penalty area, red cards, and mistaken identity.” So there you have it. Incidentally, the feed cut out and the screen went to black exactly 16.3 seconds into the interview. Hopefully that’s not a harbinger of things to come.
Pennant watch. So what will Ashley Young and Thiago Silva be swapping when they shake hands before kick off? Manchester United’s commemorative flag is painstakingly embroidered, right down to a ® next to the crest, surely an unnecessary legal safeguard on what is essentially a bespoke gift to another football club. A quality item, though don’t be pulling at that loose thread at the bottom of the Champions League logo, or the whole thing might unravel. (Unless that’s another ®, in which case pick away.)
PSG’s pennant isn’t quite as sumptuous. A crisper, clearer design perhaps, but without the grandeur of United’s effort. Let’s hope the tassels don’t get dragged through that sticky patch to the right.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer makes five changes to the Manchester United team named at Fulham on Saturday. In come Ashley Young, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford; they replace Diogo Dalot, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku.
Thomas Tuchel makes six changes to the PSG XI selected for the scrap against Bordeaux in Ligue 1 at the weekend. Edinson Cavani and Thomas Meunier picked up injuries; they’re replaced by Thilo Kehrer and Kylian Mbappe. Meanwhile Stanley N’Soki, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Christopher Nkunku and Moussa Diaby make way for Marquinhos, Angel Di Maria, Juan Bernat and Julian Draxler.
Manchester United: de Gea, Young, Bailly, Lindelof, Shaw, Matic, Herrera, Pogba, Lingard, Martial, Rashford.
Paris Saint-Germain: Buffon, Silva, Kimpembe, Kehrer, Marquinos, Verratti, Mbappe, Di Maria, Alves, Bernat, Draxler.
The world was a different place back on December 17. Jose Mourinho was still manager of Manchester United, for another 24 hours anyway, and when the draw for the Champions League Round of 16 was made, it looked all over for the three-time winners. They’d been paired with Paris St Germain, going great guns while United were misfiring badly. A humbling looked a very real possibility.
But a couple of months on, everything has changed. Ole Gunnar Solsjkær has restored United’s self-belief in spectacular style, winning 11 of his first 12 games as interim boss. Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial are purring. PSG meanwhile are in the midst of an injury crisis. Edinson Cavani isn’t expected to shake off a hip problem, Thomas Meunier is concussed, and Neymar is out with a broken metatarsal. And their form suddenly isn’t all that: they’ve recently lost their first league game of the season, to Lyon, and required extra time to get past third-tier Villefranche-Beaujolais in the cup.
United will raise a glass to all that; they’re now favourites to seize the initiative in this tie tonight. Still, they won’t be counting chickens. They’ve only won once at Old Trafford in Europe this season, scraping 1-0 past Young Boys, drawing 0-0 with Valencia and losing 1-0 to Juventus. And they were beaten at home at this stage last year by Sevilla. They’ll be hoping the all-new Ole football brings that sticky run to an end. But PSG have their own worries, having tumbled out at this stage in the last two seasons, thrashed by Real Madrid last year, humiliated by Barcelona’s greatest-ever comeback in 2017. With their squad stretched, plenty rests on young Kylian Mbappe’s shoulders tonight.
So here we go, then, the business end of the Champions League. It’s deliciously poised, with traditional giants hosting one of the tournament favourites. It’s another big European night at Old Trafford. It’s on!
Kick off: 8pm GMT.