Reds say adieu to entertainment in French draw

Amid the criticism of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side this season the wily 69-year-old Scot is too infrequently given due credit for his tactical accumen. Given the limited nature of his side – lacking the “stardust” of previous incarnations – Ferguson has very effectively built an obdurate team on the European stage. Just nine goals in the past nine Champions League outings away from home tell the story of Manchester United’s defensive approach in Europe. Eight wins in the past 10 games paint another picture altogether.

This is far from a vintage United outfit; Darron Gibson again proved that he is no Paul Scholes, and Michael Carrick is not a patch on Roy Keane, while Dimitar Berbatov once again disappeared into his shell on the ‘big’ occasion.

Yet, Ferguson’s side justifiably remains favourite to progress to a fifth Champions League quarter-final in a row after securing a goaless draw in Marseille last night. After all, United has won 17 of 20 matches at home this season.

The story of United’s stoic approach, which borders on the Mourinho-esque at times, was familiar in southern France. Deploying five in midfield behind lone-runner Berbatov, United limited Marseille to a handful of half chances in a match that rarely rose above the mundane.

The draw leaves Ferguson’s side in pole position to progress though, albeit with a warning: should Marseille secure an away goal at Old Trafford, United must score twice to progress. Real Madrid and Monaco have each knocked out Ferguson’s outfit in recent memory after goaless away draws.

“A goal away from home is important. We didn’t do that, that’s a disappointment for me,” said the United manager.

“At this stage of the competition, away goals count. But you have to say at home we have a good chance.”

“Our passing wasn’t as good as it normally is. Marseille made sure they weren’t going to lose a goal. They’re very strong defensively, a very powerful team. They didn’t pose many problems for us. Nothing really happened to be honest and I don’t think it was a good match to watch.”

Ferguson’s sole surprise selection came in Irishman Gibson, picked ahead of Scholes in an otherwise familiar away-day line-up. Wayne Rooney, again shunted to the left-wing, and Nani were deployed in support of Berbatov. Behind, Gibson was handed the sole attacking role from central midfield, with Darren Fletcher and Carrick forming a near impenetrable barrier in front of United’s back four.

The approach left little room for Marseille to work, with Didier Deschamps side hardly aided with recent injuries to key attacking players Mathieu Valbuena and André-Pierre Gignac. In truth though, Deschamps outfit was rarely more adventurous than the visitors, seemingly affraid of being caught on the break and frequently hitting aimless long balls.

Indeed, United started the brightest, with Fletcher forcing a save from Steve Mandana in the Marseille goal. It was perhaps the only serious effort on target during a cagey opening period. United’s passing, which was ragged at times, hardly helped, while the game’s pace rarely increased above a casual jog.

In a second half of few chances, former Red Gabriel Heinze nodded off the line on the hour as Nani threatened to score, while Edouard Cisse’s shot was deflected to André Ayew, who shot across goal. Rooney was then dragged down late in the match when breaking clear only for referee Felix Brych to wave away the protests.

But it would be churlish to point at officialdom even if a red card was the appropriate decision for the foul. In truth, neither side did enough to win a dull encounter.

Yet there are many positives, with Patrice Evra riding out the inevitable hostility from the local crowd. The former Monaco player has been wideley scapegoated by French officials and media for his role in France’s poor World Cup and the supposed ‘strike’.

Moreover, Chris Smalling, chosen with Rio Ferdinand still injured, against demonstrated his huge potential. The 20-year-old impressed with his defensive concentration and composure, earning praise from Ferguson for his “tremendous display”.

“You always worry, at this stage of the season, because it’s always good teams you face,” added the Scot.

“We should have one or two players back, as will they, but we can’t take anything for granted and we won’t be doing that. Monaco was 14 years ago, but with any 0-0 at this stage, you know that away goals count.

“But you have to say that Manchester United at home, we have a good chance. I don’t care if it’s 10-9.”

In truth there’s little to suggest Marseille will change its approach in Manchester. United must take the initiative though; whether Ferguson is bold – or perhaps reckless – enough to do so by deploying two strikers at Old Trafford is another question altogether.

Match Facts
Marseille – 433 – Mandana; Kabore, Diawara, Fanni, Heinze; Edouard Cisse (Cheyrou 70), M’bia, Gonzalez; Brandao, Remy (Valbuena 79), Ayew.

United – 451 – Van der Sar; O’Shea, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Gibson (Scholes 72), Fletcher, Rooney; Berbatov.

Attendance – 58,000
Man of the Match – Smalling

Possession: Marseille 39% – 61% United
Attempts: 9 – 7
On Target: 6 – 5
Corners: 5 – 2
Fouls: 6 – 12

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  1. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadforfucksake says

    there was a lot of carrick orchestrated aimless faffing back four passing about from shite us so i can believe it

  2. says

    Maybe the bigger picture, Smalling looks as though he is going to be a class act (perhaps world class?). Not so good, seems Rooney is never going to be a …great … player & pretty obviously Berba is not too.
    Less big picture. Nani ought to slaughter Heinze at OT.

  3. triggs says

    Does the defence really have to play that deep? They’re not that slow and it just leaves the midfield (who are limited anyway) too much to do. Last night Fletch, Carrick and Gibson were playing long passes that they could not complete and the front three had absoultely no chance of doing anything with.

  4. herbie simms says

    I was just loooking at Arsenal’s remaining schedule and they have mostly home games remaining against teams at the bottom of the league. If I was Arsene Wenger, I would be confident of winning the league. United really have their work cut out as the majority of their remaining games are away and they are the best drawing team away fom home. Draws away now will hurt them,they really need to win these away games, starting against Wigan!

  5. triggs says

    Yeah nice one Herbs, except Arsenal have already lost 3 games at home (the highest in the top 7) and Fabegas and Walcott are now both injured. Plus they’ve got two extra cup fixtures to fit in to their schedule as well as trip to Camp Nou to get bummed.

  6. odbpowell says

    Barca have never won an away leg in the knockout round of the Champions League under Pep Guardiola. We should be used to these kind of turgid away performances by now. Even when we had Ronnie we played like we did last night. A little more guile and we’d have won.

  7. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Blog Commenter said:
    Can’t believe we had 61% posse

    Vidic passes to Smalling passes to VDS passes to Vidic passes to Carrick passes to Fletcher passes to Smalling passes to Vidic passes to Fletcher passes to Smalling passes to O’Shea passes to Carrick passes to VDS passes to Smalling passes to VDS passes to Vidic passes to VDS kicks the fuckin thing up field, ball is headed back to Carrick who passes to Fletcher passes to Vidic passes to Smalling passes to VDS…

    • GazNo77 says

      Yep, fair point. In my head I always assume that 60%+ possession means dominance, but I wouldn’t describe us as dominant last night.

  8. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    I refuse to blame Berbatov for that shit last night… a few times he was even like Rooney, chasing back in midfield looking for the ball… we spent most of our possession in our own half, passing the ball among our defenders… when ever it went to the midfield, they either did fuck all useful with it, or just lost it completely… in the end our defense resorted to long balls that weren’t good enough and just came straight back.

    Berbatov had a nothing game, because he had nothing to work with.

  9. SKW says

    How many nothing games does Berba get to have before we acknowledge he is not United quality, in that he is not consistent, not a game-winner?

  10. eddieTheRed says

    In fairness, I don’t think Marseille will get away with the level of physicality at Old Trafford they showed against us last night; the referee was lame and let them away with a lot of niggling fouls; Nani spent the whole evening involved in a wrestling match; it had nothing to do with football!

    I’m not trying to paper over the cracks in our awful midfield but it’ll be a different story at OT.

  11. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Blog Commenter said:
    How many nothing games does Berba get to have before we acknowledge he is not United quality, in that he is not consistent, not a game-winner?

    How many games will we have to put up with Carrick, Fletcher, Gibson as the best midfield we’ve got?…

    Don’t ask stupid questions.

  12. Zombie Cucumber says

    Two teams playing not-to-lose = zzzzzzz. It’s like the opening rounds of the World Cup. Strategically sensible, but hard to sit through.

    I’m OK with a draw, but not nil-nil. We’re tough at OT, but the margin for error just got smaller. Breath deep, everyone.

  13. Dinkinflicker says

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    I refuse to blame Berbatov for that shit last night… a few times he was even like Rooney, chasing back in midfield looking for the ball… we spent most of our possession in our own half, passing the ball among our defenders… when ever it went to the midfield, they either did fuck all useful with it, or just lost it completely… in the end our defense resorted to long balls that weren’t good enough and just came straight back.

    Berbatov had a nothing game, because he had nothing to work with.

    Spot on Alf. There was a moment in the second half that summed it up perfectly. Ball played out to Berba on the right wing, killer first touch, beats the first man, nice lay off to Fletcher on the edge of the area, makes the run for the return pass which would have seen him in a position to get a strike in goal or play someone in, but Fletchers first time lay off was played blindly to one of their lot. Fucking disgraceful this back of shit we have in Midfield now.

  14. herbie simms says

    Well said Alfonso. Defenders passing the ball around to each other then passing it back to the goalkeeper all night long. Nani holding on to the ball too long and midfielders just a bunch of dreamers. I cannot not see how a manager can sit off and watch this crap week after week and then praise his team for a good performance. SAF continues to say this is a good team. Iam convinced he is now too old for this job, he has lost it.

  15. Brown says

    Manchester united Boring, boring , boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring.
    YOu call that team an attacking team and that brand of football attacking footabll? Boring thats what i call it.
    Excuses, excuses, excuses thats all i hear.Manutd has struggled to break down the smallest sides in the premier league, champions league, F.A cup.
    Players need to be sold, players need to be retired, new players brought in.
    How long will it take the team to gel? how long will we keep signing average players while the not so great teams like tottenham sign great player at small amounts and sell them for a fortune.How did we miss out on Modric, Bale? how many more young talents will we still miss out on in future.
    How soon will the will the academy start producing quality players once again? When will they get their chance? Arsenal, chelski have started integrating their kids. Something really needs to be done.

  16. says

    Alf is completely correct. That complete pile of insipid horseshit that they tried to call football was embarrassing, depressing and completely unacceptable. Each time we went forward with the ball to feet we looked dangerous.

    But the fact is we went forward with the ball to feet too few times. Our midfield aren’t good enough to beat a man and then play the ball – they want to just play the easy ball all the time, which means the only out balls are long ones, which invariably our forwards – who are significantly better with the ball to feet – lose and the second ball is almost always lost because our midfield sit so deep. Our opposition play the ball around, and do the same because we’re such a tight unit.

    Stalemate ensues.

    This is the same that happened against Crawley, and will happen against Wigan, Chelski, and the Scouse scum. Season’s over.

  17. herbie simms says

    The problems come down to the manager. If you listen or read past coments made by Fergie and some of the players, they talk about their teammates during training sessions. I will speak in reference to Anderson. The things he does in training is unbelievable but when it comes to actually playing in a real game, you see nothing of that. Same for Bebe and others. It appears these players are lacking in self-confidence. What SAF sees in training is the reason why he says there is no need to buy players because he already has great players. But on the field of play, we rarely see how great these players really are and this has to be a real concern to Fergie. Anderson is not a new player, he has been there long enough to show what he really can do. It is the manager’s job to instill the confidence in his players and if they continue to look like crap, get rid of them like other managers do. How many games this season has United really played some great football? Its because of the slip-ups of the other teams why we are at the top. They will raise their game against Chelsea and Liverpool but look like crap against lowly Wigan. This is unacceptable.

  18. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadforfucksake says

    loads of times this season fergie has been so embarrassed by our performances hes had to actually admit after the game we were shite rather than make some excuse, villa away, the last two games, almost every away game etc.

    he blames rooney and berbatov for it tho

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