[REPORT & RATINGS] Marseille 0-0 Man Utd: Stalemate At Stade Vélodrome
In their first leg of UEFA Champions League Round of 16, Manchester United was held to a goalless draw by Olympique de Marseille at the Stade Vélodrome.
The majority of the match was played in the middle of the pitch, and there were not many clear attempts at either end, so a draw was a fair result. The second leg will be played at Old Trafford in two weeks time, and even though United could not get a priceless away goal, they should have the advantage to advance through over Marseille.
Sir Alex Ferguson made eight changes from Saturday’s slim victory win over Crawley Town in the FA Cup, but the most surprising was Darron Gibson, who retained his place ahead of Paul Scholes. The versatile John O’Shea was making his third straight start for Ferguson, and Michael Carrick were the other two United players that kept their places to face Marseille from the Crawley match.
With little surprise, Ferguson recalled Chris Smalling to partner Nemanja Vidic in central defense as Rio Ferdinand has been ruled out for at least another week with his calf problem.
A lot of pundits may have been surprised that both Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney started the away match, but the latter of the two should provide cover on the left wing following the depletion of wingers within the current squad as Ferguson will stay with his typical 4-5-1 European formation.
United’s first shot of the match came when Berbatov did well to hold off his marker, Stéphane M’Bia, and laid the ball off to Nani on the right, but the winger’s effort went high and wide of the Marseille goal.
The Reds kept up the early pressure, but a handful of the United crosses in space of minute were defended well by the OM defenders. Both teams had decent spells of possession, but it was United with the best chance in the early going after Nani won a free-kick on the right.
The Portuguese winger tried to whip the resulting free-kick into the Marseille area, but it was knocked down into the path of Darren Fletcher, but the Scot’s low shot was way too close to Steven Mandanda, who did well to block and grab the ball. The Reds started knocking the ball around with confidence and finding pockets of space in the center of the park, but they were sloppy with their passing and unable to transition it into any chances in their offensive-third.
Marseille were starting to cause some problems for United by waiting for their misplacing of a pass, and one of them led to a half-chance when Rod Fanni surged down their left flank, but his cross missed its mark and the Reds cleared their lines. The match started opening up with both teams hitting each other with counterattacks, and it was United with the first chance.
A long ball from O’Shea allowed Nani the pace the beat his marker, but with options to his left, Nani slipped and then when regained possession, he failed to pick out any of his four United teammates that joined in the attack.
The poorly place pass allowed Marseille to sprint forward themselves, but O’Shea was more than up to the task and knock out Andre Ayew’s cross for a corner, which was also cleared with confidence. The all made its up to Brandao, and instead of getting his teammates involved he selfishly went for the spectacular overhead kick, which Edwin van der Sar had no trouble snatching up the dribbling effort.
In the 32nd minute, United attacked down the right and Nani sent in a delicious ball that bent expertly around the Marseille defenders, but Mandanda was quickly off his line to collect with Berbatov lurking.
The ball started to get bogged down in the middle of the pitch after Fletcher and Rooney were guilty of needlessly giving the ball away, which gave Marseille the best chance of the match. Loïc Remy broke free on the left-hand side and sent a measured cross into the middle of the United six-yard box, but Smalling got down well to head the ball out for a corner kick.
United had a very good shout for a penalty after some good combination play between Nani, Gibson and O’Shea on the right saw Heinze used his arm to block the full-back’s cross out for a corner.
The first half came to a close with a few half chances for both sides, but, hopefully, more concrete chances will be created by the Reds after the restart. Sir Alex decided not to make any personnel changes for the start of the second half, which started out like the first 45 minutes.
United started to get more on the ball in the attacking third, but Fletcher, like he was doing for much of the first half, gave the ball away to kill the attack off and invited Marseille forward.
Marseille were the first to warm the palms of the opposing goalkeeper when Brandao, who should have been booked a few minutes earlier for a diliberate elbow on Vidic, got his header on target, but van der Sar handled it well. United put Marseille under pressure when Rooney sent in a cross to the far stick, but Heinze did well to nip in front of Nani and head the ball clear from inside his own six.
Didier Deschamps pre-match game plan was being put into work as Marseille were pumping long diagonal balls into the box and giving their front man, usually Brandao, an opportunity to beat one of the center-backs for pace.
In the 60th minute, Berbatov did well to win the ball back just inside the United half, but Rooney looked up and saw Mandanda off his line and adventurously hit 50+ yard shot, which was easily saved by the Marseille ‘keeper.
In the matter of a minute, former United hard man, Heinze, and Ayew showed off their theatrical skills by flopping to the earth in attempt to con the referee, which the former did to win a free-kick in a dangerous area.
Marseille stepped up their pressure as Charles Kaboré long shot was blocked well, but it fell to Ayew who fizzed a left-footed cross-shot across the face of the United goal, which Brandao, who may have been in an offside position, really should have got on the end of and tapped it into the net.
Combined with the increase in tempo from the home team, United were becoming even sloppier with the ball, which was giving Marseille all the confidence in the world to get the opening goal.
Good combination play down the right for United saw O’Shea cut the ball back to Nani, but the winger’s misplaced back-heel saw Berbatov do well to come back and strike a goal bound shot that was blocked well by Mbia. Deschamps made the first change of the match bringing on Benoit Cheyrou to replace Edouard Cisse to add more flare to the Marseille attack.
That change prompted Sir Alex to take his first roll of the dice with the introduction of Paul Scholes for Gibson, which will hopefully see United keep better hold of the ball. The change saw United earn their best chance since halftime as Evra made another positive run forward, but the full-back’s little layoff was smashed well over the bar by Berbatov.
Marseille made their second change of the match with little Mathieu Valbuena came on for Remy to try to cause more problems down their right.
Nani danced paced Valbuena and played the ball to Berbatov on the right wing, but the return pass for Nani was a little off the mark and Mandanda grabbed the ball. Momentum with definitely with Marseille, but the referee, Felix Brych, missed a clear foul on Rooney, which would have surely lead to a sending off for Mbia.
The final whistle came and the two teams could not be separated as they will have to use the second leg at Old Trafford in two weeks time to determine the eventual winner.
Smalling showed that he belongs in the first team with a commanding performance at the back with an equally impressive Vidic.
E. van der Sar – 7; J. O’Shea – 6, C. Smalling – 7, N. Vidic – 7, P. Evra – 6; D. Fletcher – 5, D. Gibson – 6 (P. Scholes – 6), M. Carrick – 6, Nani – 7; W. Rooney – 5, D. Berbatov – 6
Shots (On Target): 8 (2)
Fouls Conceded (Suffered): 14 (9)
Submitted by The United Religion
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