Ole aiming for European glory

French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe may spearhead the attack against Manchester United in the absence of other senior Paris Saint-Germain attackers like Neymar and Edinson Cavani because of injury.
French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe may spearhead the attack against Manchester United in the absence of other senior Paris Saint-Germain attackers like Neymar and Edinson Cavani because of injury.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Interim boss believes Manchester United can take realistic shot at Champions League title

LONDON • Manchester United can ride their resurgence to mount a realistic challenge for the Champions League, said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who is edging closer to becoming the club's permanent manager.

United's remarkable upturn under the Norwegian, who arrived as interim boss in December, continued with a stylish 3-0 Premier League win on Saturday at Fulham - where his agent Jim Solbakken was alongside Ed Woodward, United's executive chairman, and Avram Glazer, one of the club's co-owners, in the directors' box.

United's next opponents are Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16 tomorrow, and Solskjaer suggested United can not only overcome the Parisians but are also capable of going all the way in Europe's top club competition that they last won in 2008.

While the club are yet to close the door on other possibilities such as offering the post to Tottenham's Mauricio Pochettino, defeating PSG could make Solskjaer's case to replace Jose Mourinho on a full-time basis a stronger one.

"Anything's possible, definitely," said Solskjaer regarding the PSG tie. "We are performing well and, hopefully after this round, teams and supporters can talk about us as a challenger (for the Champions League).

But he felt that talk of a United run for the English title was overblown, although the team could still have some influence over the eventual champions.

He said: "It's too far, the teams ahead. But we've got Liverpool, we've got City (still to play), so we might have a say in what's happening at the top of the table."

PSG'S PLAN D AGAINST UNITED

We have lots of Plan Bs. Without Ney, maybe without Marco, maybe without Edi. We have a Plan D. It is super difficult... But we will be ready on Tuesday.

PSG COACH THOMAS TUCHEL, on dealing with the injuries to his key players.

The 45-year-old, who has won 10 of his 11 games in charge while on loan from Molde and has taken United from sixth into fourth in the league, is being entrusted to influence United's long-term planning.

His belief in Phil Jones was a factor in the defender signing a contract extension and his playing principles was an influence in the sale of the physical Marouane Fellaini.

But it is his immediate task that could determine his future, although he may be helped by an injury to Edinson Cavani, PSG's all-time leading scorer who has netted 22 times this season.

The talismanic Brazilian Neymar is not expected back from a metatarsal injury until early April.

Cavani appeared to hurt his leg while taking the penalty three minutes before half-time that gave the hosts a 1-0 Ligue 1 win over Bordeaux on Saturday. PSG suffered their first league defeat this term, a 2-1 loss at Lyon, the previous week.

Sports daily L'Equipe reported that a scan yesterday revealed a torn thigh muscle and suggested he may also miss the March 6 return leg. Coach Thomas Tuchel admitted "the news will not be good" and he might need to resort to "Plan D".

He said: "It is too much. These are quality players for decisive matches. Not everyone can play at that level in the Champions League. We don't have a second Edi.

"We have lots of Plan Bs. Without Ney, maybe without Marco, maybe without Edi. We have a Plan D.

"It is super difficult... But we will be ready on Tuesday."

French World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe could start as a lone striker at Old Trafford, supported by Julian Draxler and Angel di Maria, who spent one underwhelming season at United after signing for a then-British record £60 million (S$105 million).

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2019, with the headline 'Ole aiming for European glory'. Print Edition | Subscribe