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After four minutes of injury time, Manchester United have closed out a 2-1 lead against Marseille to see the Premier League leaders through to the Champions League quarter finals. It was far from easy for Sir Alex Ferguson's side, who'll be looking at the butchers bill after losing two right backs to hamstring injuries and being unable to coax Nemanja Vidic into full fitness following a calf problem. The hosts were handed a 1-0 lead very early on after marvelous work by Wayne Rooney, who had an inspired evening and was the centre of almost everything created by his side. The striker played a long-range one-two with Ryan Giggs before spotting the run of Javier Hernandez, who slipped free in the six yard box for an easy tap in just a few minutes into the match.
Marseille responded slowly, although they had several chances to level the score in the first half, most notably through Souleymane Diawara being given a free header in the centre of the area from a corner only to completely mishit it and Andre-Pierre Gignac spooning well over when put one on one with the goalkeeper. United right back John O'Shea limped off the pitch towards the end of the first half to be replaced with Rafael da Silva (who would later pick up hamstring trouble of his own), which led to a spell of pressure from the visitors as the first period came to a close.
In the second, Edwin van der Sar was called into action more often, and although he made some fine saves there was an element of poor finishing as well - Benoit Cheyrou, for example really ought to have done better when he looked to flick home a Loic Remy cross only for the goalkeeper to push wide. When they finally got their goal thanks to Wes Brown nodding into his own net, it was too little too late: Hernandez had made it two with yet another close range finish.
So, United are through to the Champions League quarter finals, joining Tottenham Hotspur as the English sides who've qualified so far, with Chelsea a good bet to follow them in as the Blues defend a 2-0 away lead against FC Copenhagen tomorrow. The draw for the quarter finals will be held on Friday.
Marseille have one back, although Manchester United's Paul Scholes will claim otherwise having hooked the ball out of the net - he's got no case at all as the ball was at least three yards over the line when he got it away. It was Wes Brown who looks to have gotten the last touch, accidentally heading a corner straight past Edwin van der Sar and handing Marseille a crucial lifeline in this match. It was a Scholes error that set up the corner, the midfielder giving the ball away 25 yards from his goal. Loic Remy's shot was deflected behind for the initial corner, which was put behind by Fabio da Silva, but the defending didn't work so well the second time around.
So, that's Javier Hernandez's second goal cancelled out, then. Can Marseille get a second? United look very very vulnerable now - they're making too many mistakes at the back and their set piece defence is something approaching abysmal. The own goal for Brown is rather thoroughly deserved, considering his performance.
Oh dear. Javier Hernandez cannot be left alone in the six yard box, and the Marseille defence has only gone and done it twice today. It's cost them dearly, too, as the striker has just slotted home a low cross from Ryan Giggs to make the score 2-0 and wrap up the tie. Substitute Antonio Valencia (who, unless I'm going crazy, appears to be limping) made the goal with a superb reverse pass to release Giggs on the right, and Hernandez was in the right place at the right time to double Manchester United's lead and seal Marseille's fate.
It was nearly very different. Edwin van der Sar was forced into a great save from Benoit Cheyrou after Marseille had ripped open the United defence and sent in a beautiful pass straight through the penalty box. Cheyrou was on hand to flick the ball goalward, and although he might have done a little bit better with his finishing, van der Sar got down very well to keep the ball out. He'll really regret that miss - it looks like it'll be the difference in the tie. Marseille, who need two goals in ten minutes, pull holding midfielder Stephane Mbia off for Jordan Ayew.
Rafael da Silva tried to play on through his hamstring problem but after putting on a brave face and trying to battle through it, he eventually gives up on hobbling around ineffectively and collapses, allowing the medical staff to stretcher him off. Fabio da Silva comes on in his place - as the announcers mentioned, it's about as 'like for like' as a substitution could possibly get. That's two hamstring injuries to right backs already, as Rafael was on for John O'Shea, and Manchester United now have no more substitutions to lose.
Marseille have also made a change, bringing on Matthieu Valbuena for Andre-Pierre Gignac, which pushes Loic Remy to striker. It looks like it's going to be a bit of a Marseille onslaught now as United simply look to hold on in what will be a very tense finish. Oh, and Valbuena's already been booked for coming in late on Wes Brown in retaliation for a Patrive Evra tackle on Remy, which eventually ended up being much ado about nothing.
Manchester United have made their second change of the match, but this one isn't mandated by injury. Antonio Valencia, just back from that horrific broken leg incurred against Rangers, has come on for Nani, but he had to wait for an opportunity to impress with Marseille immediately on the attack. Wes Brown made an absolute meal of a routine clearance, nearly slicing the ball into his own net, and from the resultant corner Gabriel Heinze could only head wide. Do they even practice set pieces in France? Their finishing from corners has been horrific.
Anyway, when Valencia does finally get the ball in an attacking position he nearly scores after the ball pings around Steve Mandanda's box and the Ecuadorian can pounce, but only succeeded in firing against the goalkeeper's legs rather than putting the ball in the net. Meanwhile, and this is bad news for United, Rafael da Silva has pulled up with what looks like a hamstring injury. Fabio da Silva, his identical twin, is warming up to replace him, but that would be Sir Alex Ferguson's 3rd and final substitution with plenty of the game left to go.
Wayne Rooney being free in the area is the stuff of nightmares for most defenders, so when the striker wiggled free of Souleymane Diawara and found himself in space just metres from Steve Mandanda's goal, Marseille fans should ahve been expecting the worst. However, instead of shooting, the England international opted for a pass to Javier Hernandez, which ended up being cut out. If it hadn't been dealt with, a repeat of the first goal was on the cards. Rooney really ought to have shot there, he had the beating of Mandanda easily.
Hernandez isn't exactly well known for his defensive capabilities, but he launched a counterattack thanks to an excellent sliding interception the next time Marseille went forwards, picking up the ball and pinging it to Nani. That riposte is eventually wasted, and we now go back to what's turned into a very open game. The next goal will settle things, I'm thinking - who wants it more?
Marseille started the second half in total control, a far cry to the events of the previous 45 minutes where Manchester United dominated the game for the opening half hour. The home side spent the first five minutes being rather lackadaisical in possession, resulting in a sustained spell of pressure from Marseille pressure - obviously bad news for a rather depleted United defence. Wes Brown just went in on Loic Remy with a rather crunching tackle on the right, which was perfectly timed to both get the ball legally and hit the Marseille player very hard at the same time. Cunning defending there, but it could easily have gone very very wrong for the fourth-choice centre back.
United have another penalty shout up at the Marseille end, but they were never going to get anything for Patrice Evra being shouldered off the ball by Souleymane Diawara as the left back tried to burst into the penalty area, and then Javier Hernandez was set free by a cute Rooney ball only to be halted by the linesman's flag. United are clawing back into things after a promising start from their guests.
Manchester United kick off the second half defending the 1-0 lead handed to them very early by some abysmal Marseille defending, but the home side aren't entirely comfortable just yet. We've seen the visitors go forward with something approaching real menace in the latter stages of the first half - they know they need a goal to level the match and send them through to the next round. Expect even more attacking determination from Didier Deschamps' side in this half, something that may suit United as they look to hit hard on the counterattack.
The first real action of the second half saw Patrice Evra felling Loic Remy with a rather nasty foul on the winger, sliding into Remy and clipping his knee in the process. Bizarrely, no yellow card was produced. From the free kick, Andre-Pierre Gignac was within a yard of being set free on goal, but Edwin van der Sar just about beat the striker to the ball to save his side a goal.
It's 1-0 at halftime in Old Trafford, a scoreline that will suit Manchester United. They're leading Didier Deschamps' Marseille on aggregate, so if the score stays the same they're through to the next round. However, it's not all great news for Sir Alex Ferguson's side - Marseille look good for a goal at some point and if they can score and hold their hosts to a draw, they'll advance on the away goals rule.
Javier Hernandez (who was later booked for a foul on Gabriel Heinze) opened the scoring in the 6th minute after an early spell of pressure from United, the striker tapping home at the far post after excellent work by Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs. The hosts dominated the match until about the 35 minute mark, when right back John O'Shea was forced off the pitch with a hamstring injury. That gave Marseille some momentum, and they had a bevy of chances in the final ten minutes of the half. Wasteful/unlucky finishing robbed them of the chance to be level, but the best chance of the match for the visiting side came right after Hernandez's opener, when Andre-Pierre Gignac skied a volley while one on one with Edwin van der Sar.
Right now, United are under some pressure. If they can get a second goal - which they really should have done at some point while they were completely dominating - they're home and dry, but while the score stays 1-0, there'll always be some danger of Marseille snatching a hugely important away goal.
Well, we've seen the replays now of the Javier Hernandez penalty shout, and frankly the Mexican striker should be embarrassed that he even asked for the call there. He ran straight into the back of poor Taye Taiwo, who wasn't even looking at him, then had the indecency to fall over and demand a penalty. Very rude from the Manchester United man.
Marseille are still pressing and look like they're ending the half well, with yet another fine chance being whistled wide of the post - Loic Remy pounced on a loose ball in Edwin van der Sar's box and sent in a very fine volley that beat the keeper. Unfortunately for the visitors the ball also evaded his far post. United aren't totally toothless, though, as Chris Smalling showed by being the first to the ball from a corner, the defender heading well over when he might have done better.
It took Manchester United just five minutes to take the lead on Marseille in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League tie, as Javier Hernandez finished off a fantastic team move. Wayne Rooney was the man who started it off, swinging a stellar ball from the middle of the pitch wide to Ryan Giggs. Giggs took the ball up the left flank before hitting a low cross to the back post, exactly to the spot where an unmarked Chicharito was running. Marseille completely failed to deal with the cross and with the little pea, and United took the lead. Check out the video here:
While there's nothing truly stunning about the finish itself, the build up of the goal is nothing short of spectacular. Rooney and Giggs are world class players, the latter of whom incredibly still holds that distinction 20 years after first making his debut for the Red Devils. Their combination was absolutely brilliant, and as of this moment, United are on their way to the quarterfinals.
Marseille, still down 1-0 after Javier Hernandez's early goal for Manchester United, have been very much on the back foot for most of the match but are coming back into the match, having generated a few interesting chances in the past few minutes. The latest effort is a 25 yard blast by Benoit Cheyrou, which stung Edwin van der Sar's hands as the goalkeeper batted the ball away. It wasn't a difficult save, but the rebound could have gone anywhere. Fortunately for United, it went straight up in the air and allowed him to collect.
The visitors eventually earned a corner after applying some pressure to the Manchester right, but the ball broke straight back upfield, where it looked for all the world like Javier Hernandez was cut down off the ball inside Marseille's penalty area. There was a big shout from the home crowd for a penalty, but we haven't seen any replays just yet.
Chris Smalling gives away a free kick in a dangerous position for Manchester United after being penalised for pulling back Andre-Pierre Gignac. Smalling thought that he was going to get the call, as did the rest of the stadium, and there were some bemused faces in red shirts when the referee pointed towards Edwin van der Sar's goal. No matter, though, Lucho Gonzalez blasted the ball out of play, apparently going for the top corner rather than the more obvious cross. That was an opportunity to test United's set piece defence and was totally wasted.
Now John O'Shea has gone down with a hamstring injury after chasing a pass into the corner. His cross was absurdly bad, which was somewhat excused by the fact that he was holding his leg in some pain. O'Shea wants off the pitch and will be replaced by Rafael da Silva, who impressed against Arsenal as a midfielder last weekend. With O'Shea off, United are even shorter, and Marseille nearly make them pay with their first corner of the match, Souleymane Diawara nodding well wide when totally free eight yards from goal.
Marseille are hugely fortunate not to be down by more than one at Old Trafford. The French team seem insistent on giving Manchester United the game on a platter - first a poor backpass from Souleymane Diawara sets up a possible chance, which Javier Hernandez eventually nodded into Steve Mandanda's hands. The goalkeeper's clearance was horrendous, going straight to Nani to set up a three on three. The Portuguese drew the Marseille defence one way and sent Wayne Rooney the other with a neat reverse pass, but the cutback from Rooney found a black shirt rather than the winger and the visiting side were about to clear. That's a huge let-off for them.
At the other end of the pitch, Lucho Gonzalez found himself in space 25 yards from goal, and with plenty of time to set up a shot he scuffed the ball and set it softly swerving wide. That's two reasonable chances for Marseille which have been completely and totally wasted, although this one wasn't nearly as bad as Andre-Pierre Gignac's miss in the first ten minutes.
Manchester United have dominated the early stages of the football match, out-possessing Marseille by almost two to one in the first fifteen minutes, and are now on their fourth corner of the match. They look breathtaking on the attack (or perhaps Marseille look asleep on the defensive end), and the movement of Javier Hernandez, Nani, and Ryan Giggs is just too much for the visitors to cope with. They'll be up by two before too long if this keeps up.
Of course, when Marseille have the ball, things look less rosy for United. Paul Scholes put in a tackle on Benoit Cheyrou that would have been a straight red had the midfielder not missed the ball completely, and the Wes Brown Chris Smalling centre back pairing is something short of convincing. Patrice Evra should probably have been shown a yellow card for an earlier foul on Lucho Gonzalez, and Hernandez has just earned a booking for clattering Gabriel Heinze, sending the defender flying. 'Just a free kick', says ex-Chelsea assistant Ray Wilkins. Ok then, Ray.
The 1-0 lead given to Manchester United by Javier Hernandez's tap-in was nearly squandered instantly by the home side as Andre-Pierre Gignac was found inside the United penalty area with an exquisite chipped pass. Left one on one with Edwin van der Sar, the striker should have scored without a problem, but his feet got mixed up and he could only volley sidefooted about 20 yards over the crossbar. Remember that if the game should end 1-1, Marseille will go through on the away goals rule.
Meanwhile Wayne Rooney is having an absolutely magnificent game so far. He's been the author of about six absolutely brilliant passes, the last of which would have released Chris Smalling to go free on goal (from open play, no less) if the defender hadn't had the feet of... well, a defender. Rooney's really been the difference between these sides so far, and if he keeps playing like this and Marseille fail to adjust, they're in for a hammering.
Manchester United had the first corner after a chipped long pass from Wayne Rooney found Ryan Giggs, but it was easily claimed by Steve Mandanda and cleared upfield. It was a warning, though, one that Marseille failed to heed - mere seconds later Wayne Rooney again had the ball and again Giggs was free on the left. Another chipped pass released the veteran, and Rooney then went on a lung-busting run to power in the the penalty box for the return.
Giggs found the striker with a simple pass, and Rooney was left free to advance into the area and fizz a low cross across the six-yard box. Mandanda was nowhere near the ball and the defenders failed to cut it out despite having an opportunity to come in on the slide, and Javier Hernandez was on hand to tap home at the far post. That's 1-0 to United, the first goal of the tie, and it also ensures that this match cannot go to extra time. Very, very bad start for the visiting side.
The Champions League knockout tie between Manchester United and Marseille has kicked off at Old Trafford, after a moment of silence for victims of the Japanese earthquake. Marseille in black have gotten us going, and the ball is immediately given back to goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, who punts it upfield and right back down United's throat. Eventually, the ball ends up with Edwin van der Sar, who much more sensibly plays it short and allows United to maintain possession until John O'Shea touches the ball.
So far we're averaging one punt from Mandanda a minute, which isn't really going to make for exciting viewing. It seems as though Marseille are happy to simply get the ball as far away from the goal as possible and hit United on the break, while their hosts are building through the back, albeit not particularly well. It was the hosts who had the first vaguely threatening moment, when a long pass from Ryan Giggs opened up play for Javier Hernandez, Wayne Rooney and Nani to attack, but the cross from the latter was eventually cut out.
Didier Dechamps opts for the middle ground in his Marselle team to face Manchester United at Old Trafford, knowing that a score draw or a win will take him through to the next round. Benoit Cheyrou starts in midfield instead of the more defensively minded Edouard Cisse or Charles Kabore, and there's no room in the starting eleven for the kamikaze option of Matthieu Valbuena. Cheyrou is the compromise choice, an effective box to box player who'll be able to help Stephane Mbia on defence while not behing completely useless going forwards.
The rest of the team lines up more or less as expected, a 4-5-1/4-3-3 hybrid with Loic Remy and Andre Ayew out wide and Lucho Gonzalez as a central attacking player, while Andre-Pierre Gignac leads the line. Gabirel Heinze starts in central defence rather than at full-back, where he surprisingly won't have to deal with Dimitar Berbatov. This is a relatively weak Manchester United side hit hard by injury (although the prospect of dealing with both Nani and Antonio Valencia late in the game has to be scary for the Marseille defence), and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the visitors come away with something here.
Manchester United's selection has just been announced, and in addition to confirming a number of notable absences, there are two "surprise" inclusions. Forgive the punctuation, because Nani and Javier Hernández are not huge surprises, but under the circumstances, their inclusions are still noteworthy.
Nani is making his first appearance since suffering (what can only be termed as) a wound at the boot of Jamie Carragher nine days ago at Anfield. He gets the call at right wing over Antonio Valencia, who makes the bench.
Javier Hernández seems to be firming up a true rotation at forward for Alex Ferguson. Dimitar Berbatov, despite leading the Premier League in goals, is on the bench, just as he was for recent matches against Arsenal and Chelsea.
But the main news from United's selection is the omissions. We knew Rio Ferdinand would be out. Nemanja Vidic's exclusion broke before the lineups. Also gone is Darren Fletcher, who would have been an automatic inclusion in midfield.
Manchester United, Starting XI: Van der Sar / O'Shead, Smalling, Brown, Evra / Nani, Scholes, Carrick, Giggs / Rooney Hernández
Bench: Kuszazck, Rafael da Silva, Fabio da Silva, Gibson, Obertan, Valencia, Berbatov
Between the headline of this post and the information laid out in this one, our regular readers are probably starting to think there's some kind of editorial bias against Manchester United here. And to that I say: Just because this site is run by a Chelsea fan, an Arsenal fan, a Wigan fan, a couple of Tottenham Hotspur fans, a couple of Aston Villa fans, and one neutral doesn't mean that's true. Come on, United fans. You've all seen Paul Scholes tackle. He's really, really bad at it. And I assume you've seen Mathieu Valbuena play. He's like 5'3". He makes Messi look like Godzilla. Paul Scholes could breathe on him and he'd go flying.Scholes is going to get sent off for hacking him down.This is going to happen. I'm sorry.
The best part is that Valbuena won't be starting for Marseille. He'll come in around the 60th minute, at which point Ferguson will have been contemplating subbing Scholes off. As Darron Gibson walks up to the fourth official, Scholes will chop at Valbuena, two-footed, from behind. Just two minutes after Valbuena came into the game. Without Scholes on the pitch, United puts all ten men behind the ball and holds off Marseille, sealing a 0-0 result after 90 minutes that sends us to extra time.
Come on, literally none of you will be shocked if this happens.
News surrounding Manchester United center half Nemanja Vidic's fitness has deteriorated since word of him picking up a knock leaked after Saturday's match against Arsenal. Now comes two reports from reliable sources that United's captain is out of today's UEFA Champions League match with Marseille, his calf injury set to keep him out of Alex Ferguson's team:
What are the effects? Potentially huge. With Rio Ferdinand already out, Vidic's absence leaves United with a center half pairing of Wes Brown and Chris Smalling. The last time that duo started, United lost 3-1 at Liverpool.
It's as if a bicycle with one flat tire just saw the tube pop on the other. Now Alex Ferguson is like David in American Flyers, left to carry his crippled machine across the finish line just to quality for the race's next stage. The good news, if you believe in the universal truth of movie analogies: David went on to win the The Hell of the West, though he almost lost his brother along the way.
Wait. Where was I? Oh, yes. United and Marseille.
With a suspect defense, the onus will be on the midfield to protect the back line, making Darren Fletcher's potential absence a huge miss. Michael Carrick will have to have a great day not only winning the ball from the likes of Lucho Gonzalez, Mathieu Valbuena and Andre-Pierre Gignac, but his accurate passing will be needed to promote a possession game United may use to protect their defense.
Going into his UEFA Champions League match against Manchester United, Marseille manager Didier Deschamps has a variety of ways he can set up his midfield to best counter United and achieve his team's goals. The problem is, we don't really know what his team's goals are. It's possible that Deschamps will be playing for another 0-0, and will opt to play two defensive midfielders. It's possible that he's very ambitious, and that one defensive midfielder will do. It's possible that he doesn't really know, and that he will come up with a compromise of some sort. Regardless of what happens, whatever selections Deschamps makes are likely to tell us what his plans for the match are.
First of all, there are two things we know. First of all, Lucho Gonzalez will start. Second of all, at least one defensive midfielder will start. In the first match, Deschamps opted for two holders, playing Edouard Cisse and Charles Kabore. In that game, Stephane Mbia played in central defense, which is something that figures to change in the second leg of the tie. It's possible that Gabriel Heinze could be relegated to the bench, but if this weekend's successful match against Rennes is any indication, Marseille look good with Heinze at center back, Taye Taiwo out wide, and Mbia as a defensive midfielder.
So, we've figured out two-thirds of the selection in midfield. That's two-thirds of the work done, right? Wrong. We knew that Deschamps would play one holder and Gonzalez, the real meat of the discussion is in the final spot. Cisse, Kabore, Benoit Cheryou, and Mathieu Valbuena are all in play. These players are all very different.
The first possible selection is playing another holder next to Mbia, either Cisse or Kabore. This would indicate a defensive strategy and suggest that Marseille will play on the counter-attack and is content with a 0-0 draw and extra time. Trying to hold United scoreless at Old Trafford is likely playing with fire, but a lot of people would argue that doing anything other than playing with two holding midfielders at Old Trafford is also playing with fire.
Deschamps has a compromise option, and that is Cheryou. He's a very good box to box player who is most noted for his fitness and energy. Against Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, this could be a good choice. He's basically the perfect middle ground between Cisse/Kabore and the nuclear eff you option.
Of course, that nuclear eff you option is Mathieu Valbuena. He's obviously one of Marseille's best players, but it's a pretty big gamble to play him in the same midfield with Gonzalez at Old Trafford. Deschamps would certainly run the risk of Giggs, Scholes, and Michael Carrick passing between each other flawlessly for 90 minutes and United holding two-thirds of the possession. However, if Alex Ferguson does indeed select a midfield of Giggs, Scholes, and Carrick, Valbuena has a very good chance to be influential when United lose the ball.
There's no right or wrong answer to who Deschamps should select to play in his midfield, but whoever he picks will tell us exactly how he's thinking about the game.
Marseille made a number of significant changes on Friday against Stade Rennes, adjustments Didier Deschamps may have made with Tuesday's UEFA Champions League match against Manchester United in mind. Stephan Mbia moved out of central defense and into his natural midfield position. Gabriel Heinze moved in from left full back, a position where he could be exploited by Nani or Antonio Valencia. The quicker, more athletic and better attacking Taye Taiwo took his place, with Andre Ayew starting in front of him as Andre-Pierre Gignac moved to the middle. The changes paid off, Marseille defeating Rennes 2-0, declaring themselves ready for Old Trafford.
Manchester United made even more changes this weekend, but rather than those adjustments portending Alex Ferguson's approach against l'OM. his choices against Arsenal were made to protect the team he hopes to play on Tuesday. None of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes or Antonio Valencia saw more than a half. Each could start the second leg. Both Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher sat out, as did Dimitar Berbatov and the injured Rio Ferdinand. In all, more then half the XI Ferguson could choose on Tuesday were exempt from the full 90 Saturday against Arsenal.
None of which tells us how United will play on Tuesday. That's the fun of previewing these Red Devil matches: You never know how Alex Ferguson is going to play. This weekend, he seemed to start 4-4-2 but the formation played as a 4-5-1, with Wayne Rooney playing a central midfield role. At Stade Vélodrome, United also played 4-5-1 but with Rooney on the left. The squad can also be deployed as a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. As such, it's a fools errand to try and predict Ferguson's choices, as evidenced by the da Silva twins getting starts in midfield this weekend.
Complicating matters for those pondering United (like Deschamps), none of those formations are informative of approach. Manchester United can play off the counter with a lone striker, but they're also capable of playing a possession game. Likewise, their tactics are flexible in their 4-3-3, and against Chelsea their 4-4-2 led to possession football, where that formation often sees the Red Devils making direct movements down their flanks (mostly the right). United will adapt to what Marseille gives them, part of the reason they were able to attack Heinze early in the first leg. It's a tactical flexibility that underscores their long-term success.
Deschamps will come out in a 4-3-3 but will have made another important change from the first leg. Brandão is out of the team, dealing with off-the-pitch issues. That moves Andre-Pierre Gignac, who missed the first leg, in from the left wing. Ayew will get another start up top, and with Loic Rémy on the opposite flank, Marseille will be able to stress John O'Shea and Patrick Evra. That will gives Gignac a chance to win one-on-one battles against Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling.
Should Gignac versus Smalling develop into an advantage for Deschamps, l'OM will get help exploiting it with the return to health of Mathieu Valbuena. Marseille's midfield dynamo was not fully fit for the first leg and was only able to contribute off the bench. It's unclear whether he will start at Old Trafford, but if he does, Valbuena's speed and close control of the ball will give the slower but stronger Darren Fletcher (doubtful) and Michael Carrick problems. It could also men early fouls and cards for Paul Scholes, depending on who starts.
Even with those subtle, individual advantages Marseille holds, you can't help but wonder what Alex Ferguson is capable of given two weeks to digest what he saw in France. L'OM is unlikely to drastically change their approach, which makes them a sitting duck for a highly adaptable team like United. Yet the same could have said for Bayern Munich last year, and FCB was able to leave Old Trafford having advanced to the semifinals. The Bavarians were aided by a 2-1 win at the Allainz two weeks before (whereas Marseille is drawn, 0-0, coming into this one), but it's not difficult to see a similar turn this year.
Then, Rafael da Silva left the home team down a man, creating an opening for Bayern. This year, Marseille has players capable of snatching a victory, should they need but one goal late in this one.
For Marseille, Brandão is out. He's only scored once in 19 league matches for l'OM, but there's a reason why he's a near-automatic influsion, when healthy. His physicality staples the opposition center half to their deep, central positions, making life a little easier for Remy, Gignac, and Lucho. Valbuena and Gignac are carrying knocks, but neither injury will limit Deschamps.
For Manchester United, Darren Fletcher is doubtful, as is Nemanja Vidic, who aggravated a calf injury on Monday. With Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans out, we could again see Wes Brown and Chris Smalling in central defense. Park Ji-Sung, Anderson, Michael Owen are other misses for United. The good news: Nani is expected to return.
Manchester United, Starting XI: van der Sar / Evra, Brown, Smalling, O'Shea / Giggs, Scholes, Rooney, Carrick, Valencia / Berbatov; Subs: Kuszczak, Rafael, Fabio, Fletcher, Gibson, Nani, Hernández
Marseille, Starting XI: Mandanda / Taiwo, Heinze, Diawara, Fanni / Mbia, Valbuena, Lucho / A. Ayew, Gignac, Remy; Subs: Elinton, Hilton; Kaboré, Cissé, Abriel, Cheyrou, J. Ayew
Manchester United 1, Marseille 0, Wayne Rooney or Dimitar Berbatov scoring early.
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