Bruno Fernandes will captain Manchester United for the first time as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ‘depleted’ side kick off their Champions League campaign without Harry Maguire, Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood.
After a year away from European football’s top table, the Red Devils will step out in the competition for the first time since bowing out in the quarter-finals against Barcelona in April 2019.
Solskjaer’s side made it that far thanks to a jaw-dropping comeback at PSG in the previous round, with United digging deep to secure a remarkable 3-1 triumph in the French capital without a string of first-team players.
The 1999 Champions League final hero will again be without a number of players when they return to the Parc des Prices on Tuesday, with Maguire, Cavani and Greenwood particularly eye-catching absentees.
‘Yeah [those three are not with us] and we’ve lost a couple, so that’s [Eric] Bailly didn’t travel or [Jesse] Lingard didn’t travel,’ Solskjaer said.
‘We’re a little bit depleted but we have got more than enough players.
‘We hope the players won’t be away for too long. Edinson needs a few more days’ training before maybe we can think about the weekend.
‘Hopefully Harry, Eric and Mason as well but we’re not sure about that.’
— Edi Cavani Official (@ECavaniOfficial) October 19, 2020
New boy Cavani is PSG’s all-time top-scorer but his absence is understandable given he only trained with new teammates for the first time on Sunday following a period of quarantine.
Maguire said he was ‘disappointed’ to be missing the Group H opener and ‘working hard to get back fit ASAP’ – with the captain’s absence meaning influential January arrival Fernandes will wear the armband instead.
‘We hope Harry will be fit for the weekend [against Chelsea in the Premier League],’ Solskjaer said.
‘We’re not sure but we hope so and the captain sits next to me – Bruno will captain the team [on Tuesday].’
— Simon Peach (@SimonPeach) October 19, 2020
That news came as a surprise to Fernandes, who raised his eyebrows and smiled when Solskjaer announced the news at the pre-match media conference.
‘I was not expecting this,’ the Portugal midfielder said. ‘I know the same time as you.
‘For me, it’s an honour that I will be captain first of all for my teammates and of course being captain of Manchester United is an important achievement for me.
‘But I think the captain is everyone – everyone needs to help, everyone needs to be a leader in their way.
‘The leadership is different in every player, so [on Tuesday] it will not be about me but about the team.
‘Leading the team is every day – it’s in the training ground, every training, every game. I think everyone is doing their job, their own job, to lead the team in the way they think is best.’
Fernandes and his teammates will need to dig deep if they are to get a win like they managed 19 months ago at the Parc des Princes.
Solskjaer underlined his belief in precocious talent Greenwood that night by handing the 17-year-old his debut off the bench towards the end of that intense Champions League last-16 second leg.
The teenager has become a key player since then but was conspicuous by his absence from the squad at Newcastle, only to be pictured training with his teammates on Monday.
But Greenwood did not travel to Paris, where Solskjaer gave little away about his fitness but laughed off rumours that the forward and Brandon Williams were left out of the Newcastle game due to disciplinary reasons.
‘So, if that’s the case why is Brandon here? So, where’s your sources? That’s what I’m saying,’ the United boss said. ‘No [truth whatsoever].’
Asked to clarify the nature of the injury and when it happened, the United boss said: ‘Well, that’s between … I can’t declare medical stuff, can I?
‘It’s just a niggle and, as young as he is, we don’t want to take any chances with him so hopefully the weekend he’ll be fine again.’
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