Old Trafford being where music died in 1992, they still like a bit of Stone Roses before kick-off. This Is The One greets the team when they walk out. At home to Crystal Palace in the middle of November, it probably isn't. But on Tuesday night it is. For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Thomas Tuchel, this really is the one.
For Solskjaer, it is the next stage of the audition, a recall as actors have it. We have seen he can motivate, he can play the Manchester United
way, he can do it against the best in the Premier League
; but what about the elite of Europe?
Under even greater scrutiny, however, is Tuchel at Paris Saint-Germain
. He is walking away with Ligue 1
— 10 points clear and two games in hand — but that is to be expected.
Like Manchester City's owners, what PSG crave is supremacy in the Champions League.
The club has not progressed past the quarter-finals in the modern, 32-team format, or beyond the semi-finals since 1994-95. Winning the league is not enough at PSG any more. If Tuchel loses in the last 16, he may not make it beyond the end of the season.
To some extent, Solskjaer has won already, just by allowing Old Trafford to feel good about this tie. When the draw was made, Manchester United were a punchline — the Premier League team all of Europe would have wanted to play. No more. Solskjaer has transformed the club, realised the potential of his squad, so that signings such as Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial now play their purchase price and Marcus Rashford plays like he's wearing an England shirt.
He is not so much the people's choice to be the next United manager, as the obvious one. He still needs this, though, to be wholly secure. If United lost, certainly if they were defeated emphatically over two legs, it would raise the first questions about the gravitas of Solskjaer's regime — about whether he has more than a feelgood factor.
PSG are good, we know this, but they couldn't beat Napoli home or away in the group stage and lost to Liverpool at Anfield. And that was with their full team. They are without Neymar and Edinson Cavani and maybe Marco Verratti, too.
There will rarely be a better time to play them even if Solskjaer is correct in saying this creates an element of the unknown.
Will that be mitigation for Tuchel, then? Probably not. Like Pep Guardiola at City, there is no list of injuries so great it will elicit sympathy.
PSG are presumed to have every advantage going already. Tuchel is expected to rise above misfortune. 'Immerse me in your splendour,' as the Roses sang.
So this is the one. If Solskjaer wins on Tuesday, if he progresses across the two legs, if he takes Manchester United into the Champions League's final eight, his position will be increasingly irresistible, if it is not already.
Strangely, Manchester United's caretaker has less at stake than Tuchel, in victory or defeat.
Never mind Sarri, Hazard exit is the real concern
Eden Hazard has made his mind up. We all know what that means. If his decision was to remain at Chelsea, he could announce that now. The only reason he keeps secrets is because the club, and its fans, won't like what he has to tell them.
That doesn't mean he is definitely off to Real Madrid. He is under contract and there is a fee to negotiate; but Madrid is his choice. The fate of Maurizio Sarri, therefore, pales in significance compared to this. Chelsea's last two titles were won by Hazard's excellence; the crashing failures that followed occurred in seasons when he went missing. And now he wants to be absent, permanently.
Chelsea were once again not playing Sarri's football on Sunday. If only we knew the identity of this mysterious figure who keeps sneaking in and coaching Chelsea to all of their defeats and poor performances. Whenever Chelsea lose, Sarri distances himself and his methods from the debacle; whenever Chelsea win he claims 'his' football has saved the day.
Yet even if Sarri makes it to next season, the loss of Hazard is a game-changing blow.
The idea of Jorginho as Chelsea's regista, as it is known in Italy, is one dimensional and has been exposed. Yet the only reason it worked to even a limited extent this season is because Jorginho has one of Europe's greatest players to hit with his passes. Take Hazard away and Chelsea's attack is rather pedestrian.
Christian Pulisic is coming, and there will be others on the market as always — maybe even Gareth Bale if he could be made part of any deal with Real Madrid — but no-one in Hazard's class.
Carry on like this and Chelsea may not be in a position to offer Champions League football either.
This is shaping up as a perfect storm of problems, one that Sarri would need a whole playbook of ideas to solve. As opposed to just the one.
Give it to Jorginho does not always work, even if he can then feed Hazard. And if he cannot; where do Chelsea go?
Why are we funding no-shows?
British Athletics are unlikely to field a full men's sprint team at the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow next month. There are two requirements for participants: turn up to the British Indoor Championships in Birmingham, and achieve the qualifying time at least once since the start of the 2018 season.
Only three athletes have done this and one, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, says he has no intention of competing in Glasgow.
So Britain are one short of a team. As it stands the only sprinters qualified are Ojie Edoburun, who finished eighth in Birmingham, and Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, who did not make the final.
This is the sport, remember, that costs the nation millions each time the London Stadium has to be reconfigured for a summer meeting. Yet if the runners don't care, and attendances suggest we pretty much don't care, then who actually cares? What are we funding here?
Puel spot on with Vardy penalty call
Whoever missed the penalty for Leicester at Tottenham on Sunday, Claude Puel was going to get the blame.
Had Jamie Vardy come on but James Maddison kicked and failed to score, the same critics castigating Puel for letting Vardy take one cold would have instead been pronouncing it madness that Maddison was not stood down.
The fact is, Vardy had scored his last six penalties, Maddison missed his previous two. It made perfect sense for Puel to let Vardy resume his role, even if it was his first touch of the match.
Maddison was hardly fighting him for it, either, a sure sign he did not feel confident.
Leaving Vardy out of the starting line-up is bizarre, but handing him the ball at such a vital moment? Most managers would have done the same.
Justice will be done with VAR, but it could get messy
Played out at Brighton on Saturday, one of the more interesting scenarios for VAR to deal with next season.
There was a blatant penalty area handball by Burnley midfielder Jeff Hendrick that went unnoticed by referee Stuart Attwell. Burnley broke, and, with no gap in play, Brighton goalkeeper Matt Ryan brought down Ashley Barnes for a penalty.
It was a travesty. With Burnley already leading 2-0, Brighton could have pulled it back to 2-1, instead they went 3-0 down, with 16 minutes remaining. Game over.
It won't happen next season, of course. Then, with VAR in effect, the game will be pulled back to the other end, and Brighton's original penalty call upheld. And that's fine, in these circumstances. Brighton were the home team and there didn't look enough Burnley fans to start a conga, let alone a punch-up.
Yet imagine the same scenario going against Manchester United, at Old Trafford, playing Liverpool. Or at Anfield, when Manchester United visit. The home side think they've scored but it turns out it's a penalty down the opposite end to their most hated rivals. Justice should still be done; but hold on to your hats when it is.
Windsor Park works, leave it alone for 2030
There should be one maxim for the British and Irish bid to host the 2030 World Cup: no white elephants. That means no new stadiums and no needless expansions. So no venue in Northern Ireland, if 40,000 is set as the minimum capacity, as expected.
It's a shame, because the tournament should reach every corner of the United Kingdom — and with Dublin getting matches there is bound to be anger — but when Windsor Park was being redeveloped as an 18,000 capacity venue it must surely have been considered this day could come.
The time to build a larger venue was then. It didn't happen, because it wasn't needed. And it still isn't — unless common sense is sacrificed to the false lure of a handful of games, spread over three weeks, one summer.
The record crowd for a match at the old, terraced Windsor Park is 58,420 for the visit of England in 1956. At its peak, the stadium held 60,000. That changed in 2014 when redevelopment cut the capacity to 18,434. This is ample for the main tenants, Linfield, with average gates of 1,982. A 40,000 arena could create a ruinous atmosphere for the club.
As for Northern Ireland, they get near to capacity for most matches. Odd occasions might test greater demand, but they will be rare. Windsor Park has been customised perfectly now — except to host World Cup matches.
If Britain and Ireland win the right to host, it will seem inescapably as if Belfast is missing out. Yet do we think this when Lansdowne Road hosts the All Blacks, the Wallabies, or the Six Nations? For when the World Cup caravan leaves what will remain? A stadium that works, as opposed to one that does not. Few hosts boast that.
A report from UK Sport stating cuts in Olympic funding could lead to a drop in medals for Team GB was swiftly followed by another from the same body, revealing the public would be opposed to such action. Indeed they would.
The public are also opposed to cuts in health, education, transport, welfare, libraries and local facilities, while never seeming too keen on raising taxes but voting for Brexit, despite the warning it could have a negative impact on the economy.
So something has to give. Maybe it's modern pentathlon; and we'll just have to live with that.
Steve Parish, the Crystal Palace chairman, is among those in football welcoming Brexit, on the grounds it will afford greater opportunities for young British players.
Yet in January, when the club lost both Vicente Guaita and Wayne Hennessey to injury, Lucas Perri, a young Brazilian, was recruited on loan from Sao Paulo. He didn't play, of course — he was nowhere near ready. Julian Speroni, who will be 40 in May, filled in for two games instead.
Guaita and Hennessey are available again now, so that makes Perri fourth choice. And there were no young British goalkeepers capable of holding down that place at Crystal Palace?
Like much around Brexit, this is faux-patriotism. It didn't need Britain to leave the EU for young, homegrown players to be given a chance — it required will on the part of the clubs. And it wasn't there, and still isn't, if indeed it ever will be.
England's fortunes in the Caribbean have turned on the presence of a genuine fast bowler, Mark Wood.
Who would have thought banging them down in the region of 93mph could be so effective? Apart from anyone who has held a bat, at any level, ever.
Aston Villa have lost fewer games than Sheffield United this season. Unfortunately, they have won as many as Sheffield Wednesday, which is why they remain six points adrift of the play-off places.
Friday night brought another thriller: 3-0 down at home to Sheffield United in the 82nd minute, final score 3-3. Villa have scored more goals than any team in the Championship bar Norwich and West Brom — and conceded more goals than any bar bottom club Ipswich.
If they are going to go up, it would appear they will do it the same way as Fulham last season, scoring four if the other lot get three. Only Derby, of the top eight clubs, had a worse defence than Fulham, but only Wolves scored more.
Sadly, as Claudio Ranieri is discovering, that cavalier instinct does not play as well in the Premier League where, if the opposition bang in three, four of your own are somewhat harder to come by.