While Ole Gunnar Solskjaer talked on Monday about how Manchester United could “maybe surprise” the rest of the Champions League this season, the message has been even stronger in the dressing room.
He has been telling the players to have no fear of Paris Saint-Germain, and to instead only have a sense of seizing the day. Solskjaer has similarly been playing on the fact United have an infinitely greater European pedigree than the French champions.
All of this is actually all the more important – and all the more intentional from the United boss – because PSG are now widely seen as having a better team.
Solskjaer knows better than anyone the effect psychology can have on such ties, and how capricious the Champions League can be. But then so do PSG.
For all the prestige and gravitas that comes from winning the tournament, such weighty status can actually come down to moments you genuinely have no control over. Even the competition’s immortals must be grateful for instances of immense fortune.
A ball simply bouncing a different direction would have prevented PSG suffering the result they are most associated with in the competition, at Camp Nou in March 2017. But the same would be true of United and Solksjaer and their most famous match, in the same stadium in May 1999.
But therein lies something else that the Norwegian has been considering. It’s not just about fortune. It’s about then responding to it.
This is what Liverpool did in 2005. This is what Chelsea did in 2012.
This is why, despite United’s previously dysfunctional season as well as so many other super-clubs on superior form and obsessed with winning it, outright victory is privately seen by Solskjaer as a very justifiable aim. This is Manchester United.
He already has them back playing like Manchester United, but with the kind of well-timed form that Real Madrid have made such a virtue of in the Champions League of late. That has everyone in the squad primed for the prestige occasions of Europe, as happened with Liverpool in 2005, and Chelsea in 2012.
This is where Solskjaer’s “knowledge of United” – something someway mocked when he got the job – is important, and can have a tangible effect. He does know how to set the tone. He knows what nights like this mean. He’s been telling the players to feel energised by it, that unique electricity to such games.