Sir Alex ferguson last night admitted that the goalless draw which left his side walking a tightrope in Europe was a "worry", though he brushed away the memory of past eliminations in similar circumstances as events too far in the past to be concerned about.
After Marseilles' masterplan worked to perfection, Ferguson said: "You always worry at this stage of the season because you are not playing any bad teams. It's always good teams." He also admitted that Marseilles were "very strong, very powerful" and with the French champions strengthened by returning players in 19 days' time, an identical repeat of the two-leg eliminations to Monaco and Real Madrid, 14 and 11 years ago respectively is a possibility.
"That was 10 years ago, or something," Ferguson said. "At this stage away goals count [but] you would have to say it's Manchester United at home, so we have a good chance. What we want to do is win the game. I don't care if it's 10-9." Ferguson acknowleged that the probable full fitness of the diminutive Mathieu Valbuena, a late substitute here, could be significant against a United side who have still lost only twice in 23 games away in Europe. "Valbuena will be back in the side and he is one of their best players. But we should have two or three players back ourselves. We can't take anything for granted in football." The French side's manager Didier Deschamps insisted last night that United remain favourites.
Ferguson said Stéphane M'Bia's 87th-minute challenge on Wayne Rooney deserved a red card, though he had not seen a more obvious and serious infringement – the elbow in the face on Nemanja Vidic by the striker Brandao which warranted a red. He also said the quality of a "poor" Stade Vélodrome pitch had affected United's attempts to play a passing game. But Ferguson, whose decision to start with Darron Gibson as the offensive central midfielder rather than Paul Scholes did not pay off, admitted disappointment with his side's creative game.
"Our passing is usually much better than that," he said. "It's unusual to get bad pitches like that but that's not the real reason [ for our performance] I think. You have to give credit to Marseilles for working the ball well and not giving us time on the ball. They did well. But our own pitch will be much better. Not a lot happened in the match to be honest. It wasn't a good match to watch."
Ferguson will also have Ryan Giggs and possibly Antonio Valencia back for the return tie, which means he will not have to deploy Rooney on the left again. Rooney worked hard in the role but United looked more balanced when they reverted to a 4-4-2, with the Englishman through the middle, and were at their most potent as the game came to a conclusion.
"Wayne did what we wanted him to do, the way we normally set up with either Giggs or Nani, or Valencia, gives us natural width. He worked hard as he always does," said the United manager, who pinpointed the work rate of André Ayew as critical to deterring the threat of Nani, who was again United's best performer.
Patrice Evra also braved a hostile response from the Marseilles fans to put in a good display. "I think his whole family were here," Ferguson joked of Evra. "We expected that, so did Patrice, his temperament was fantastic, he wasn't affected by it, so I've no complaints about that."
The game came on a day in which France's only European title was called into question by claims that Marseilles had tried to bribe Rangers' Mark Hateley in 1993, a revelation Uefa today tells The Independent it will not investigate.
Ferguson's appetite for success remains undimmed at a time when he has declared that the pressure of being a manager "is not healthy". The 69-year-old told the US-based satellite radio broadcaster Sirius XM yesterday that merely remaining in tournaments meant nothing. "What is success?" Ferguson asked. "You could have a team who finishes in the top three or four every season and get to the final of a cup competition but don't go on and win it. I don't think that is failure. [But] that is [only] relative success."