United favourites after stale-mate in Marseille

Marseille 0 Manchester United 0

Manchester United will have no safety net at Old Trafford in three weeks' time after they ground out a goalless draw in their Champions League last-16 first leg meeting with Marseille at the Stade Velodrome.

United have failed to clinch victory from similar positions before.

However, they will still be favourites to progress against a limited Marseille outfit, even if life would have been so much better had a Darren Fletcher snap-shot been able to break the deadlock in a drab contest.

Ferguson sprang a pre-match surprise when he opted to select Darron Gibson ahead of Paul Scholes.

Presumably, the United boss was looking to utilise Gibson's extra energy in midfield, where he had already been deprived of Anderson and Park Ji-sung, two of seven first-team stars to miss the trip.

To that end, the Irishman did his job during a pretty poor first half.

However, given shooting from long-range is such a significant part of Gibson's game, it was strange that he should elect to pass rather than go for goal after an intricate move had set him up on the angle of the penalty area.

It was one of the few moments of invention as United treated what appeared to be limited opponents with caution.

Brandao went for goal with an overhead kick after taking Gabriel Heinze's cross down on his chest. However, not only was the Brazilian's effort nothing like Wayne Rooney's wonder strike, it didn't even match that of Crawley's Matt Tubbs at Old Trafford on Saturday.

After making his peace with Ferguson and United yesterday with his contrite admission of regret, Heinze engaged in a running battle with in-form Nani that he just about emerged on top from.

The Portugal winger did blaze one early effort over and he was involved in United's best chance of the half.

It was not in the way he would have wanted though as his woeful corner was only half-cleared to Fletcher.

The Scot had little time to pick his spot. But the shot was clean enough and as it left his boot, keeper Steve Mandanda initially appeared wrong-footed. Mandanda is clearly blessed with quick feet though, and was able to get back in position to make the save before the ball crossed his goal-line.

Marseille offered little evidence of how they won the French title last season.

It eventually came at the start of the second period, when Lucho Gonzalez seized on Berbatov's failure to control deep inside the United half and whipped over a curling cross for Brandao, whose firm header was directed straight at Edwin Van der Sar.

Marseille drew confidence from that effort though and pressed forward, with Andre Ayew in the thick of the action.

The Ghana international started with an attempted volley that he smashed high in the air.

Ayew then had a shot blocked before a kind bounce from Lucho's deflected effort provided a clear sight at goal.

The angle was not great though and with Brandao charging in at the far-post, Ayew seemed caught in two minds and in the end neither threatened United's goal or to pick out his team-mate.

Through all this, Scholes remained on the bench, a passive spectator, the debate in his mind about whether he could make a meaningful contribution next season doubtless continuing.

He was eventually introduced for Gibson with just 18 minutes remaining.

Scholes' willingness to get hold of the ball instantly brought some direction to United's attacks.

Berbatov fed Patrice Evra, then continued his run to collect a return pass from the full-back before firing a long-range effort over.

Berbatov almost managed to thread a pass through to Nani but Mandanda pounced.

What appeared to be a golf ball was thrown into the United area as they set themselves up to defend a Marseille corner three minutes from the end.

Uefa might take a dim view of that, although if nothing else it provided a talking point as a desperately disappointing contest petered out.

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