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UCL Preview: Manchester United vs. Marseille


Heinze: Expecting a warm welcome..!!

A certain Gabriel Heinze will make an emotional return to his old club as his current side Olympique Marseille will face Manchester United in their quest to progress to the quarter final stage for the first time since their trophy winning campaign in 1993. Heinze, who was a fan favorite at Old Trafford after joining from Paris St. Germain in 2004 had an injury marred spell with United. And Marseille are counting on his experience of playing at the “Theater of Dreams” ahead of the crunch tie against the current English premier league leaders. After playing an eventless draw at home, where both sides were missing key men due to injuries, the stage is all set for an enthralling encounter between the two sides.


Olympique Marseille:

Recent form: W L W D W

Didier Deschamps

Since playing a stalemate against United, Marseille have appeared in three league games, winning twice and losing once, against the current domestic leaders Lille. A rejuvenated side under their manager Didier Deschamps, Marseille have proved to be a tough nut to crack this time around. The holding Ligue 1 champions announced their arrival by beating Chelsea in the group stage match at the Stade Velodrome courtesy Brandao’s close range winner. The side is brimming with confidence after a convincing 2-0 win away to Rennes on Friday night where Loic Remy and Lucho Gonzalez scored. Lucho looked at his brilliant best and was a constant threat to the opposition defense. The French side also possesses a potent defense that has kept 5 consecutive clean sheets in the Champions League.

Marseille will be without their Brazilian striker Brandao who returned to Brazil after being put under investigation in an alleged rape case. Besides Brandao, Deschamps has the luxury of picking his XI from a full strength squad. Mathieu Valbuena, who missed the first leg due to injury, came on from the bench in the match against Rennes. Valbuena is certainly the “man-to-watch” in the Marseille side with UK daily ‘The Guardian’ quoted saying “Marseille’s 5ft 4in Mathieu Valbuena could be big at Manchester United”.

In the match against Rennes, Heinze was used at the center back instead of his conventional left back position because of the lack of pace he possesses and Deschamps might opt to play him in the center once again considering that Nani made a fool out of Heinze in the reverse leg. Remy, Ayew, Valbuena and Lucho are certain to start as the French side will look to play with a 4-2-3-1 formation in their bid to advance to the quarter finals.

“To hear the fans singing ‘Argentina, Argentina’ was very emotional; my family was there as well. It’s something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. United’s success is down to the person in charge, the person who keeps the club at the highest level; Sir Alex Ferguson.” -Gabriel Heinze

Manchester United:

Recent form: W L L W D

Riding high on the recent success against Arsenal in the FA Cup quarter final, the Red Devils would like to make the home advantage count in their favor. The team with the best home record in the Barclays Premier League (with West Brom being the only team to salvage some points at Old Trafford) would look to continue their impressive run at their “fortress” and progress to the next stage for a consecutive fifth year.

Sir Alex gambled in the match against Arsenal by starting with da Silva brothers on the wings and keeping veterans Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs on the bench. The gamble paid off as the twins ran havoc on the pitch with Fabio getting his name on the score sheet and Rafael contributing in both the goals. But still, Ryan Giggs and Scholes are expected to start in this match considering their invaluable experience of playing in such crunch ties. Smalling and Vidic have held the defense together aptly in the last few matches and with Rio Ferdinand still on the injury table, Smalling is certain to start again for United. The bubbly Rafael is expected to get a nod ahead of O’Shea considering the extra pace that the Brazilian offers to the side. United have been given a massive boost on the injury front with Valencia and Nani returning to training after respective injuries. Valencia came on as a second half substitute against Arsenal over the weekend and is expected to start on the bench on Tuesday. Nani has recovered from Carragher’s reckless challenge and provided Sir Alex with a much needed relief who has seen one or the other of his players suffer from injuries all through the season. The tough decision that Sir Alex has to make is between Hernandez and Berbatov. The classy Berbatov is the top scorer for United this season but has looked good only in patches. Meanwhile, Hernandez has impressed one and all with his surging runs and his goal scoring has been consistent throughout his debut season with United.

With comparatively easy fixtures to come in the premier league against Bolton and West Ham, Sir Alex can take his chances with the team selection.

“I went to watch Marseille play in Rennes — who are second in the league — on Friday night to get a better idea of how they play away from home and we’ve also seen them play at Monaco so we’ve done our homework.” – Sir Alex

Tie in numbers (courtesy UEFA official website):

  • Marseille have won only once previously in England, Mathieu Valbuena scoring the only goal in a 1-0 success at Liverpool FC in the 2007/08 group stage. Their overall record is W1, D3, L5.
  • Manchester United have never lost to a French team in European competition at Old Trafford, in 11 ties they have won eight and drawn three times.
  • The Red Devils have scored just seven goals in the tournament this season, with each goal coming from a different player (Anderson, Hernandez, Rooney, Fletcher, Obertan, Bebe and Nani).
  • United have won eight of the 12 UEFA competition ties in which they have drawn the first leg away from home, although they have won only five of the nine in which the first game finished goalless. In recent UEFA Champions League campaigns they have eliminated FC Internazionale Milano (2008/09 round of 16: 0-0 away, 2-0 home) and FC Barcelona (2007/08 semi-finals: 0-0 away, 1-0 home), although they were also knocked out by Real Madrid CF (1999/2000 quarter-finals: 0-0 away, 2-3 home) and AS Monaco FC (1997/98 quarter-finals: 0-0 away, 1-1 home).
  • Marseille, meanwhile, have won two of the three UEFA competition ties in which they have drawn the first leg at home. Those two victories both came on away goals after a scoreless opening match, OM overcoming FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in the 2006 UEFA Intertoto Cup third round (2-2 away) and Bologna FC in the 1998/99 UEFA Cup semi-finals (1-1 away).

Prediction:

In a winner-takes-it-all tie, I go with a United win. And that’s not because I am a United fan. :D

United have proven to be stingy in defense themselves and have given away just 1 goal in the entire Champions Leage campaign this year and with the home advantage in mind,The scoreline doesn’t matter because as the boss himself said “a win is a win even if it is a 4-3 or 1-0.”

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