Paul Pogba’s time in the Champions League knockout phase is all but over after just 90 minutes of deeply frustrating football against Paris Saint Germain.
The Frenchman’s two-goal display at Fulham over the weekend laid down the perfect marker for a game which he would have been relishing more than any other since Jose Mourinho was sacked.
But PSG manager Thomas Tuchel and his players made sure the World Cup winner did not relish this occasion at all. He was identified by the visiting boss as Man United’s biggest threat and indeed treated as such through an indefatigable, exhausting, truly unyielding man-marking job by Marquinhos, a defender by trade turned midfielder.
The Brazilian did not let him out of his sight. It was a performance reminiscent of what Jose Mourinho instructed Ander Herrera to do against Eden Hazard back in April 2016, when United recorded a 2-0 win over their own against Chelsea.
Marquinhos’ game by numbers vs. Man Utd:
100% take-ons completed
56/62 passes completed
4 accurate long balls
Best player on the pitch. 🇧🇷👊 pic.twitter.com/VISpZ12JN2
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) February 12, 2019
There was one moment when Pogba did break free in the first half, driving down the left hand side and then past Presnel Kimpembe in the box, only to see his centre for Jesse Lingard go too close to Gianluigi Buffon. It was a glimmer of what Pogba could do.
But normal service was to resume. After about 30 minutes United lost their way, their pressing deflating, their passing patterns suddenly muddled. And all the time, Marquinhos was there, getting closer, getting more annoying. Pogba’s uncharacteristic elbow on the midfielder earned him a yellow card. Not long later there was a dangerous studs-up challenge for the ball from the 25-year-old which very nearly connected with Dani Alves. If it had, he may have been off before half time.
By this point, the game – and indeed the tie – was over. United could no longer press PSG from the front in the way they needed to, and the French champions had the quality to control things.
And still Marquinhos was there, sticking nice and close to Pogba, running him down alleys, closing in on him with two or three other white shirts.
Big reality check for United. PSG had another gear in the second half. Looked like the occasion got to players – especially Pogba. Lacked the patience/execution needed at this level.
First defeat for Ole in his 12th game. How he reacts to this defeat is very important. pic.twitter.com/q87wXf6nQQ
— United Peoples TV (@UnitedPeoplesTV) February 12, 2019
The objective conditions of the game were frustrating by default. United were heading out. PSG were dominating the ball. The trolls were dusting off their anti-United material.
For Pogba, though, the anger was different. It was an anger stemming from the death-by-a-thousand cuts method. The anger which brews inside you, waiting to explode.
And so, when Pogba chased a lost cause down the left – the clock now on 89 minutes, Old Trafford emptying quickly, PSG fans getting louder and louder – was it such a surprise to see him produce another loose and wild studs-up challenge? This time it connected, with Pogba going in at speed, and he duly received his marching orders.
For all his majestic brilliance, Pogba could not deal with the man-marking job of Marquinhos. He lost his cool. And so did United.