Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel was without two of his famous front three ahead of a daunting trip. But the astute German boss proved he's not reliant on big money signings, leading his side to a 2-0 away win.
The demands of the Paris Saint-Germain job are such that the real test of Thomas Tuchel only began in the middle of February, nine months after he agreed to take on the role. Since the Qatari money rolled in, the Champions League has been all-consuming for PSG.
With that in mind, the dual losses of Edinson Cavani and Neymar in the build up to Tuesday's trip to Old Trafford couldn't have come at a much worse time.
"We have lots of Plan Bs. Without 'Ney', maybe without Marco (Verratti), maybe without 'Edi'. We have a Plan D," said Tuchel ahead of the game.
Flexibilty the focus for PSG
For all their wealth, PSG have no direct replacements for the missing men, meaning the tactical brain Tuchel developed in the Bundesliga grew in importance. His teamsheet contained few big surprises, though Verratti made it, but the seamless shifting shape of the men in white would prove too much for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team.
After weathering a brief early storm, PSG took the sting out of their in-form opponents. Marquinhos, usually considered a center half, flitted between his natural position and a holding midfield role as play demanded, nipping moves in the bud and cutting off the supply to United's pacy front three.
Early on, Plan D may well have stood for defensive, with the visitors happy to contain and Kylian Mbappe, the remaning member of the attacking trident, looking a little isolated in an unfamiliar central role. Slowly but surely though Tuchel's men started to gain control, with one of his compatriots coming to the fore.
Julian Draxler, whose time at PSG hasn't always been happy, was another playing away from the part of the pitch where he made his name. Tucked in more centrally, just ahead of Verratti, Draxler started to find pockets of space behind Nemanja Matic, whose lack of mobility Tuchel looked to have targeted. It was from such a position that the former Schalke midfielder cushioned a first-time pass in to Mbappe, who saw his shot saved by David de Gea on the half-hour mark.
Solid rather than spectacular
The sides went in deadlocked at the break but it was the Parisians who took control as Tuchel sensed blood, letting his team off the leash at just the right time. First Presnel Kimpembe, who had twice looked on the verge of a second yellow but was left on the pitch by both coach and referee, volleyed home from a corner before Mbappe turned in Angel di Maria's left-wing cross. Plan D, it turned out, stood for destruction.
Undoubtedly, the injury-induced losses of Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard before the second period began, hindered the hosts both in attack and in pressing. But PSG's third German, Thilo Kehrer, was rarely troubled by Martial or his replacement Alexis Sanchez. Veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was also untroubled, his gloves can rarely have been cleaner in any of his 164 appearances in Europe.
A side who, for many years, has been dismissed as flighty, delivered a performance of steel and professionalism overseen by their German boss. In doing so, PSG became the first team to shut United out since November, a run spanning 17 games.
There is of course a caveat. PSG's reputation for freezing in second legs means there's plenty of work to do in Paris on March 6. Rumors in France suggest Neymar may yet return for that one and Tuchel would surely be grateful to once again call on the man he dubbed an "artist" upon his arrival in the French capital.
But Tuchel proved that if they don't have the paintbrush, his side can use the chisel and the scalpel. Getting all his craftsmen working together could see him make the sort of progress his predecessors couldn't.