Champions League report: Manchester United 2 Marseilles 1
Manchester United's realism in front of goal proved to be too much for a Marseilles side which, despite a well-organized if not inspired performance, didn't manage to stop the irrepressible Javier Hernandez, who scored twice.
United begin this match, which has a place in the quarter finals at stake, as a team which still has a chance of winning three major trophies, with the Champions League being the most important of them all. The English Premier league leaders have been plagued by injuries and other problems recently, with both Vidic and Ferdinand sidelined tonight. Marseilles on the other hand begin the match more or less up to scratch in terms of available players and manager Didier Deschamps is confident. That said, so is United manger Alex Ferguson. This is an English-French affair after all, and it's the return match of a two-leg fixture, with the match in Marseilles resulting in a goalless draw, so everything's up for grabs tonight.
The match is preceded by one minute's silence for the victims of the ongoing events in Japan, and then it's off we go with Marseilles doing a good job of keeping possession for most of the first four minutes in the hostile cauldron of Old Trafford, which is hot enough to melt a Camembert cheese in seconds.
All that to no avail however, because after just five minutes United carve a static Marseilles defense wide open with a fluid and almost nonchalant move involving Rooney, Giggs, a pinpoint center, and Javier Hernandez, who sweeps the ball calmly into the net from close range. What awful marking by Marseilles and Deschamps must be furious, but Ferguson, I see, isn't complaining for once. United 1, Marseilles zilch.
Credit to Marseilles though. They pick themselves up and dust themselves off immediately, and just a few minutes later Gignac has a clear shot at goal but seems to have preferred for some reason to place it 10.7 miles above the bar.
After 20 minutes however United are in charge and it's obvious that Rooney is enjoying himself. His work rate is impressive, as is his passing. United are playing nice neat and tippy-tappy football around the Marseilles penalty area but it all comes to....nothing whatsoever. And who put the sleeping pills in Marseilles' pre-match drink? Someone needs to wake them up and tell them they are a goal down.
Hernandez picks up a yellow card for bulldozing uselessly into Marseilles defender Heinze. That's not the most intelligent thing he's ever done and he now risks a red card if he commits a second bookable offence. The odds are now on that he'll be substituted by Ferguson as soon as practically possible just in case.
Oh what a super corner by Marseilles! A lesson in simplicity. The ball goes directly to Taiwo whose perfect centre is met in front of the goal by Diawara, who somehow manages to head over from around five yards. It probably would have been easier to score, and he may well regret this miss bitterly.
Just a couple of minutes later, after another wasted Marseilles corner, a rapid counter-attack by United sees Giggs (again) centering to Hernandez (again) who crumples to the ground after a challenge by a Marseilles defender with the crowd baying for a penalty. Referee Carlos Caballo says no with a disdainful wave of the hand.
Despite that scare though, Marseilles have really bucked their ideas up this last 15 minutes. They have created a couple of chances and they give the impression that they are not going to go down without a fight.
And that's how things are at half-time. United are threatening on breakaways but Marseilles are working patiently and diligently to try and make up the deficit. The second half looks promising.
Marseilles begin the second half as they finished the first, with superior possesion, although some misplaced passes indicate that some of their players are not used to communicating in an extremely crowd-noisy environment like Old Trafford.
Then - and out of the blue as usual - United almost score from a seemingly inocuous move which suddenly becomes highly dangerous with a beautifully vicious, unexpected and incisive ball by Rooney to Giggs, who is robbed at the last moment in front of goal by the quick-thinking advance by Marseilles goalkeeper Mandanda.
Moreover, Rooney is looking more and more dangerous, and his dangerous dribble just one minute later is thwarted just before he can pass to an unmarked, yes you guessed, Hernandez. United pull Nani off shortly afterwards to be replaced by Valencia in what seems to be a consolidating move.
Sorry to keep going on about Rooney, but he is just as active and dangerous as he was in the first half and I am beginning to think that this isn't Manchester United versus Marseilles, but Wayne Rooney versus Marseilles. That said, the occasional Marseilles attacks are proving difficult to cope with by United's rearranged defense, although I wish they'd pressure and confront the United players more directly when United get possession. It's almost as if they are in awe of them.
Seventy-five minutes gone and both sides have used almost all their substitutes, with United looking to pack midfield to preserve their advantage and Marseilles looking to....well...that doesn't seem too sure. Maybe they should start throwing caution to the wind, because if the score stays the same they can say goodbye to the Champions League.
No sooner do I say that than United make it 2-0! We're at 82 minutes and Giggs slips effortlessly down the right-side channel and slides in a wonderfully accurate pass to - yes, again - Javier Hernandez, who is not known for missing that kind of opportunity. What a super match he's had, it must be said, and yes, I was wrong to predict earlier that he would be substituted.
Then, just when it's all over, it isn't. United defender Wes Brown meets an incoming corner from Marseilles in a packed six-yard area and heads it directly into his own goal, thus generously offering seven minutes including overtime for Marseilles to get back on even terms and take the match to extra time. Will they pull it off?
No. They won't. Hernand..sorry, Rooney...sorry, Manchester United 2, Marseilles 1.