United set for tense home tie after toothless turn by the sea

Marseilles 0 Manchester United 0

Stade Vélodrome

Everyone knew what was coming. Yesterday's L'Equipe told of the need to "fermer le jeu" (close the game) and predicted that "Marseilles jouera serré" (Marseilles will play it tight). Yes, Didier Deschamps had said 24 hours before this game, a 0-0 deadlock would suit him just fine.

That the French champions' masterplan should have worked to such perfection will send an understandable shudder of apprehension through Old Trafford today when those with long enough memories recall the dangers of a goalless first leg in Europe. Monaco in 1997 and Madrid in 2000 are two datelines lodged in Sir Alex Ferguson's memory bank as occasions when deadlock had deadly consequences.

Ferguson batted away such thoughts late last night, with the reminder that it would be Manchester United we would be watching at Old Trafford 19 days from now, though the extent to which United proved Deschamps' pre-match assertion that they do not play "fantasy football" any longer gives grounds for some concern.

Granted, United will have some of the wing presence that was denied to them by the calamity of a short-term Ryan Giggs knee injury combining in Park Ji-sung's longer-term hamstring and Antonio Valencia's ankle. But this was one of those occasions – and there have been plenty in this United European campaign – when they looked rather less than champions.

Even Ferguson had to admit that United's passing game went missing here and though he suggested that the pitch was the cause, the surface seemed quite acceptable, in all honesty. He is searching for players who can display the kind of passing game that makes United tick and, yet again, the names of Giggs and Paul Scholes are two that are most sorely missed when they don't make the teamsheet. It made sense that Ferguson opted for Darron Gibson instead of Scholes. The Irishman was selected to build an attacking threat into an otherwise defensive midfield – just as he had in his last European start, when he was so influential at Bayern Munich last year. Rio Ferdinand tweeted from his living room that he was looking for "sprinklings of silks". But Gibson couldn't deliver.

From the start, the welcome was as unedifying as Ferguson had expected, the loud hailers blaring out from the shirtless orchestrators of the Yankee Nord mosh pit long before kick-off and with howls of derision as an accompaniment for them as the United players first trod the turf. The south of France is a place Ferguson adores more than most others but this was no holiday.

A day that began with The Independent's new allegations of bribery surrounding the French club's 1993 Champions League success also brought an awareness that a Marseilles side without André-Pierre Gignac, and possessing a Mathieu Valbuena fit only for the bench, would be on the back foot.

That's just where they stayed, allowing United on to them but generally looking solid enough to repel any advances. The flair by the narrow pocket of United fans was the only kind of red that set the bitter night air alight. Nani's light flickered too. He won the free-kick that, when only half cleared, Darren Fletcher fed on for a shot, which was gathered unconvincingly. That right flank certainly looked the most promising one. Gabriel Heinze might be a a "warrior" to Ferguson's mind but he doesn't have pace and Nani's dancing feet had him sitting on his backside on the turf.

But United didn't exploit it. And while Wayne Rooney showed an appetite for the ball, drifting deep to gather and link with Patrice Evra, for whom a predictably infernal reception seemed like water off a duck's back, so did André Ayew, drifting back tirelessly from his wing position to support Heinze.

Dimitar Berbatov was also anonymous – the member of the striking partnership who was unable to heed Ferguson's demand of two weeks ago that he and Rooney start delivering away from home. He was frustrated when Stéphane Mbia tried to manhandle him while they awaited a corner.

Marseilles began to sense that the Deschamps masterplan was working and, with United not threatening, they started to display some ambition. Loïc Rémy continued to show most of their creativity and was involved in a build-up that created the game's best chance when Ayew crossed but Brandao failed to connect. Chris Smalling's anticipation was as excellent as it had been all night, sliding in to tackle after the 24-year-old had raced past Evra and sent Brandao into the right-hand channel of the box.

Deschamps was at least prepared to try a long shot by sending on Ligue 1's shortest player, Mathieu Valbuena, whose diminutive 5ft 4in stature belies his reputation as Marseilles' most potent striker. He looked lively.

Ferguson shifted to 4-4-2, pulling Rooney in from the wing, and it worked immediately. Nani created another chink of light when his flick-on from John O'Shea's cross deceived Rod Fanni but Souleymane Diawara – playing for Charlton Athletic when he last encountered Rooney – made a decisive block from Berbatov's shot. When Berbatov threaded a route through the area, goalkeeper Steve Mandanda was quick to dive to collect at Nani's feet. There was no way through. United can only rely on history not repeating itself. Before meeting Marseilles, they must face Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal. Reasons to be fearful.

Marseilles (4-2-3-1): Mandanda; Fanni, Diawara, Mbia, Heinze; Cisse (Cheyrou, 70), Kabore; Remy (Valbuena, 79), Lucho, A Ayew; Brandao. Substitutes not used Andrade, Taiwo, Hilton, J Ayew, Abriel.

Manchester United (4-3-3): Van de Sar; O'Shea, Vidic, Smalling, Evra; Gibson (Scholes, 72), Fletcher, Carrick; Nani, Berbatov, Rooney. Substitutes not used Kuszczak, Brown, Hernandez, Fabio, Rafael, Obertan.

Referee F Brych (Germany).

Manchester United: Man for man marking

Edwin van der Sar

Made some saves but none was too tough. Strong and vocal taking crosses. 6/10

John O'Shea

Beaten by Andre Ayew a few times. Less incisive than Rafael would have been. 5

Nemanja Vidic

Typically dominant in the air and on the ground. Survived a nasty elbow. 7

Chris Smalling

Another mature display from the youngster, always calm when on the ball. 7

Patrice Evra

Useful in providing width on the left, and kept on running all evening. 6

Darron Gibson

Struggled to make much of an impact on the flow of play. No shots either. 5

Darren Fletcher

Covered more ground than anyone, in wide and central areas. Delivery mixed. 6

Michael Carrick

Kept the ball well enough but did not set the tempo or create many openings. 5


United's best attacker, he was lively and inquisitive, and had a few shots. 7

Dimitar Berbatov

Up front on his own, he was mainly isolated. Made some intelligent touches. 5

Wayne Rooney

Running up and down the left flank, sometimes looked to be trying too hard. 6

Subs Scholes: Kept the ball neatly 6

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions