Manchester United Start Crucial Away Stretch With Champions League Foray To Marseille

As much of an issue as we’ve had winning away from home in the Premier League in this very un-Manchester United-like season, by comparison, we would appear to be a veritable juggernaut continentally.

Okay, that would be a stretch of the truth if you’ve seen any of those matches, but the bare fact is that we had as many wins in three Champions League group stage away matches as we’ve had in four times as many away matches in the Premier League.

We may not have been able to win at Birmingham, Wolves, or Bolton, but in trips to Valencia, Bursaspor, and Rangers, we came away unbeaten, untied, and most of all, unscored upon.

We’ll have three chances on the trot to improve our away ledger in the league, but first things first, United visit Marseille looking to replicate the achievements of their three English counterparts in the Champions League and claim a first-leg win in their round of 16 tie.

At the very least, the mission in this situation is to net an away goal to lessen the task in the second leg, and the numbers are in favor of United being able to do just that.

This is the third time in five seasons that United have faced French opposition in the round of 16, and each time, we’ve traveled to France for the first leg. And in both of the previous two trips, we nabbed the helpful away goal, winning 1-0 at Lille in February 2007 courtesy of Ryan Giggs’ controversial late free kick and earning a 1-1 draw at Lyon the next year thanks to Current Traitor’s Carlos Tevez’s 87th minute equalizer.

This season, United have had a total of 18 away matches (12 Premier League, 3 Champions League, 2 Carling Cup, 1 FA Cup), and they’ve notched a goal in 14 of those 18 matches. I don’t know about you, but I like my chances when the percentages are in the upper 70s.

On top of that, United haven’t been blanked away from home in the Champions League in their last 10 matches. The last time United were blanked away from home in Europe, excluding the defeat against Barcelona in the neutral venue of the Stadio Olimpico in May 2009, was when we played out a goalless draw against Inter in the first leg of our round of 16 that season.

After winning their first Ligue 1 title in almost two decades, Marseille stumbled out of the gate this season, dropping their first two league matches and repeating the feat in their first two Champions League group stage matches at home to Spartak Moscow and at Chelsea.

Since the early stumbles, they’ve been more like the side they were expected to be. They finished out the group stage with four wins on the trot, including a home win over Chelsea on the final matchday, to lock up second spot in Group F behind our fierce rivals, have qualified for the final of the Coupe de la Ligue, and are in the thick of a cramped-as-usual Ligue 1 title race.

Coming into today, Marseille have won their last three league matches, including a 2-1 win over St. Etienne on Saturday, and they now sit third, four points behind Lille with 14 matches remaining.

Though they’re in excellent form at the moment, we’re getting them at a good time, as they’re currently dealing with a myriad of injury issues to key players, which makes it easier to deal with the knowledge that we’ll be without Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, and Anderson for today’s match, on top of the absences we were already dealing with.

Strike Andre-Pierre Gignac has been in top form lately after a Rooney-like start to the season, scoring five in six in all competitions, but he’ll be out after injuring his groin late in the win over St. Etienne. Pint-sized playmaker Mathieu Valbuena is in a race to be fit after being sidelined for the last month, and strikers Loic Remy and Brandao are both not 100%. Valbuena started training on Sunday and has declared himself fit, but his words might well fall on deaf ears if Didier Deschamps is looking at the big picture.

Even with the absences and nicks, Marseille will pose a threat, with former Porto star Lucho Gonzalez and talented young Ghana international Andre Ayew both capable of causing serious problems. Of course, you can’t expect them to take too many risks, because the last position they’d like to find themselves in is going to Old Trafford with the tie already all but decided.

It remains to be seen whether Fergie will elect to play both Rooney and Berbatov up front or if one of the two will go it alone, but with a midfield woefully short of fit and decent options, we might well be forced into something that resembles a 4-4-2.

All five of our away goals in the group stage were scored in the second half, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to continue that trend today. Marseille, even with Rod Fanni and Stephane M’Bia both dealing with hamstring concerns, are going to do all they can to bar the door, but we certainly have the firepower to break them down in the end, even if it requires calling on our Mexican supersub to do so in the final 15-20 minutes, also known as Chicharito Time (hmm, perhaps I should trademark that before anyone else does…).

I make no guarantees on entertainment value, but I do hope for something more watchable than Saturday’s frustration fest against Crawley Town. But even if I’m bored into a stupor, I won’t mind as long as there’s an away goal in there somewhere, and there will be.

Prediction: 1-1



  1. Oh could not resist: you minimize the importance of Xavi and Iniesta to Messi’s success. But then you bring out Messi’s stats as though they have absolutely nothing to do with the fact he enjoys having two world class players-top five in anyone’s list-(who feature heavily in the lists you compiled) as teammates. And you completely ignore the fact Ronaldo has spent the last two seasons in a disjointed Real Madrid outfit with vastly inferior teammates. Ozil and Alonso don’t hold a candle to Xavi and Iniesta and you know it! As for the midfield at Manchester United-it was better in Ronaldo’s time but it certainly was never anywhere near the quality of Barcelona’s midfield. But that didn’t stop Ronaldo scoring forty two goals in a league that is vastly superior defensively to La Liga, and then 26 goals the following season despite being injured at the start of the season and clearly unsettled with the interest from Real Madrid.

  2. and the tiresome debate rages on… Im sorry to everyone for even bringing this topic up. I knew better and should have done better. sorry fellas.

  3. Look guys. Whatever. Your patriotism for Ronaldo is admirable. If he was a better physical player, he would stay more on his feet, his fitness would be seen in the ground covered and the “football actions”. Messi has already been proven to be better physically and I merely reflected it. He rides more tackles, does more actions than Ronaldo, covers significantly more ground, wins more tackles,tracks back etc. All of this and still makes more passes IN THE FINAL THIRD and STILL has a better passing rate than Ronaldo who attempts less passes. Scores significantly more goals, in less attempts and with no penalties. Everyone has nothing to say about that. The equation is Messi is the BETTER GOALSCORER(fact) + BETTER CREATOR(stone cold proven fact) + better TEAM PLAYER (fact)+BETTER ATTACKER(fact)+BETTER DEFENDER(fact) = Ronaldo better player. And what’s the proof? His goal against Porto. His aerial ability. That’s it. That’s all you can come up with. It’s pathetic. And if technical ability, creativity, football intelligence, physicality and vision are not key aspects to measure a footballer in any role, I don’t know what is. Perhaps, shooting from furthest, heading the ball and looking strong but not acting it. As for the international football. Perhaps you guys haven’t thought it through. Both Ronaldo and Messi haven’t had the most glittering careers have they. That’s why I don’t rate it. Otherwise players like George Weah,Eric Cantona,Cryuff,Ryan Giggs and George Best are all pretenders. International football favors the most populated and organised countries, club football favors the best players. Btw, if anyone can tell me what other significant thing Ronaldo has done besides scoring goals(with his head and both feet), please let me know.

  4. Colver- “vision, creativity and intelligence, all boil to the same thing”

    Perhaps not the most ridiculous but one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve read in this debate. Vision,is about being able to have a better view. It’s directly related to eyes. That is, being able to see an opportunity. The common trait is with players who look up whilst in possession eg Alves once said Messi doesn’t look at the ball when playing. Creativity, is about creating chances. It’s not the same as vision because with vision you can see a player in space, whilst you’re under pressure and pass the ball say sideways. I’ve seen Scholes do that. It doesn’t create any chance. That’s why you see I’ve included assists under that category. Intelligence. Being smart. Playing football with the mind. A defender like Rio is one who applies intelligence in his defending. He outwits, as opposed to outmuscles the forward. That’s why he commits less fouls. As you can see all my categories can be used to measure any type of player. Whereas you have things like pace, aerial ability and shooting. Pace means very little to a goalkeeper but vision, intelligence and creativity do, aerial ability is not the first box you tick for a winger, and shooting to a defender is more of a bonus than a strong point. In fact all of Ronaldo’s apparently strong points are on the scoring part. Nothing else. Btw he doesn’t have more variety in shooting.

  5. @Jay wire: He bagged the contract to be brand ambassador for Armani underwears 😛

    Messi will never be able to do that… 😆
    Just kidding… :mrgreen:

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