Melvine Malard, Manchester United v PSG, UWCL

European football came to Leigh Sports Village for the first time on Tuesday as Manchester United made their Champions League bow against PSG. A second half display of character and grit saw Marc Skinner’s team fight back after an abject first half. Tabitha Chawinga had opened the scoring for the visitors, but Melvine Malard’s 70th minute header earned the hosts a draw.

“I felt there was a little bit of trepidation in the first half, but in the second half we felt we believed” Skinner said. “We were adapting and evolving to defend against a new system. We had to pay respect. In the second half, when we knew how they would play, we unleashed the players to do the business.”

Skinner made two changes from the side that shared the spoils with Arsenal on Friday night. Jayde Riviere and Lisa Naalsund were handed their first starts of the season, the former taking up an unconventional role in the right of the front three. It was a surprise to see Geyse drop to the bench after impressive recent showings although her manager later revealed she had suffered a dead leg.

That Skinner was playing it safe, perhaps understandably, was clear to see. The nature of these first legs means you have to keep it tight to ensure you have a chance in the second leg. However, his choice to play Riviere out of position left both her and United overtly confused in the first half.

The hosts were unable to get a foothold in the opening period as Riviere and Hannah Blundell’s struggling partnership down the right was exploited. The initial moments were a flurry of activity in front of United’s goal. But for a combination of brilliant defending and goalkeeping, they would have found themselves behind. In the second minute, Millie Turner cleared off the line from the sprightly Chawinga before Mary Earps made a superb stop to keep out Sandy Baltimore.

 

Mary Earps, Manchester United v PSG, UWCL

 

The hosts could not hold onto the ball as they faced down wave after wave of PSG attack, orchestrated by the brilliant Grace Geyoro in the middle. Earps denied Baltimore again with an outstretched leg at the near post.

The visitors’ momentum was halted temporarily when Oriane Jean-François tangled with Lucía García, visibly twisting her knee as she fell to the turf. It was instantly clear she would be unable to continue. In response, Jocelyn Prêcheur brought on Australia’ Clare Hunt for her PSG and UWCL debut

The French side picked up where they left off initially and had their best chance of the half with United riding their luck. Baltimore’s effort was saved alertly by Earps and Lieke Martens somehow headed the rebound wide of an open goal. The hosts did have a couple of bright moments, most notably when Lucía García pounced on a defensive error, but Constance Picaud was off her line quickly to smother the danger. United returned to the dressing room at the break having somehow managed to keep it level but visibly frustrated at the pressure they had been under.

Skinner had seen enough. He is not a conservative coach, and United are not a conservative side. It would be much better to defend from the front than invite the pressure that they had endured. Geyse came on for the struggling Riviere, heading to the central forward position, while Lucía García moved out to the right, and it had an immediate impact.

The hosts were galvanised and began to impress themselves on the PSG box with Geyse at the heart of everything. The Brazilian has been United’s brightest player so far this season, brilliant in the build-up although the lack of end product may become a worry. She and Leah Galton both had chances that fell by the wayside.

However, their more attacking focus did leave them more exposed to the counterattack and it was through this route that PSG struck. With United pushing forward, the visitors turned over possession. A simple ball over the top from Baltimore played Chawinga through to lob the hesitant Earps.

 

Tabitha Chawinga, Manchester United v PSG, UWCL

 

The breakthrough initially shook Skinner’s side but another attacking change turned the momentum back in their favour. Melvine Malard and Hinata Miyazawa were introduced for Lisa Naalsund and Lucía García and added immediate forward potency.

With 20 minutes to play, United found their equaliser. Katie Zelem’s corner was headed back across goal by Turner. Malard rose high under pressure to send it home as the over 4,000 inside Leigh roared.

The hosts remained on top as the game headed towards the final whistle. Turner had a thumping header saved by Picaud, Ella Toone turned a shot over the bar and Malard headed Hinata Miyazawa’s cross wide from an unmarked position. In the end, they had to settle for a draw.

A confident Skinner was buoyed by his side’s second half display as focus turns to the return in Paris next week.

“I believe we can do it anywhere – so I believe we can do it in Paris,” he said. “We need to be as physical as we were tonight. We need to match that and play our football. If we do that, I think we’ll have a very good chance.”

Parc des Princes is an intimidating place to visit and will pose a very different challenge for his team. The first goal to remain in the tie has been achieved. The second will be another challenge for this history-setting Manchester United side to overcome.

 

 

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