Fergie has a few injury problems going into tomorrow’s Champions League encounter with Olympique Marseille, but has announced that Carrick and Nani are fit to play a part in proceedings. Manchester United ended a dreadful run of results with a sterling win over arch-rivals Arsenal at the weekend in F.A Cup, and should take great confidence in the manner in which it was achieved. Deschamps however will have taken heart from their first game against the reds; and having noted Chelsea’s and Liverpool’s success when taking the game to United, will want to reinforce the message to his players that an away goal (and perhaps victory) is not beyond them with the attacking threat that his side pose.
Tactics: Man United should come from wide
Probable United Starting Lineup
United have been unlucky with injuries to key wide players this season, (Valencia, Park, Giggs and Nani have been injured at some point) which has contributed significantly to the team’s lack of consistency. However, Nani is fit again and Valencia came on for the second half against Arsenal and played splendidly considering his lengthy recovery, meaning that at least one of the two players will start the game. Giggs should be the preferred choice on the left, and it will be vital to the outcome of the game as to how United utilise the ball from the wide positions given that the 4-2-3-1 match-up will elicit a crowded middle. Fergie will likely task his wide men to stay high and wide, especially given the relative weakness of Marseille’s fullbacks Heinze and Fanni.
Rafael contributed fantastically well against Arsenal on the right side of midfield and may well the preferred choice if Nani and Valencia are not fully fit to start; however, at right back I would envisage Fergie choosing between the more experienced Brown and O’Shea given the importance of the fixture, and also because they will be more likely to handle the threat of returning playmaker, Valbuena, who enjoys pulling the strings from deep, pulling defenders out of position.
Brown has started 3 of the last 4 games and has done well, but if Scholes and Berbatov return to the starting line up as expected, O’Shea will probably revert back to his preferred position. This column has discussed the importance of the return to form of the Irishman of late, especially given his improvement in attacking scenarios, his distribution and ability to time his overlapping runs.
United Team passes v Marseille (click to enlarge)
Chalkboards via Total Football
What was very notable from the first leg in France was United’s lack of cohesiveness in the final third and their inability to structure their attacking approach (see image above). Marseille harried and pressed very high up the field well (making 25 defensive interceptions) meaning that United struggled on the counter attack which limited their goal-scoring threat (they had just two shots on target in 90 mins). With Marseille unlikely to adopt a similarly high pressing game (pressing United once in and around the half-way line), and instead seek to punish United on the counter-attack, it will be even more important to make the attacking pressure count, utilising possession in an astute manner. Wayne Rooney, who played in what was effectively a central midfield role against Arsenal, deputised very well for the injured Fletcher but Fergie may well instruct him to play closer to Berbatov if both start the game. As we can see from his passing statistics from the first game, Rooney’s positioning was largely erratic, and keeping tactical discipline on big European nights such as these will be vital. Fergie may well be tempted to include Gibson alongside Carrick and Scholes, which would mean a more defined role for Rooney.
Rooney: 38/44 passes (click to enlarge)
Chalkboards via Total Football
Deschamps may well be tempted to tweak his domestic formation to include both Cisse and Kabore in the holding roles as he did in the first leg, meaning that Valbuena, Ayew, Gignac and Remy will be fighting for only three births. Remy was useful in the first leg, not so much for his work with the ball but his movement off it; he constantly sought to evade Evra, coming inside and pulling the centre halves out of position. If he starts his clever interchanges with the wily Valbuena will be key to the away side’s attacking intent. Valbuena will perhaps adopt a ‘central winger’ position, working both the left and right channels and supporting Gignac centrally. The manager’s other dilemma is at left-back where he may well choose the more dynamic and attack-minded Taiwo and shuffle Heinze across to centre half. Taiwo’s ability to get beyond the midfield could be a key asset for Marseille on the counter.
Lucho may drop deeper than usual to join Cisse and Kabore in the centre of midfield as Deschamps will be wary of conceding too much control of the ball to a United side renowned for taking the game to the opposition. It will be the triumvirate’s job to utilise Remy and Valbuena out wide as soon as possible on the counter attack, then taking it in turns to support the attack from deep. Kabore was quietly influential in the first leg, showing a nice array of passing (attempting 68 passes in total), getting the ball out wide early and crucially, intercepting the ball high up the pitch (see image).
Kabore Interceptions (click to enlarge)
Chalkboards via Total Football
United should control possession though they must remain tight at the back given Marseille’s pace on the counter attack, and with Valbuena likely to get on the ball early to influence the game. Taking the game to Marseille in a more targeted approach than that seen in the first leg will be essential, meaning that getting the ball high and wide (and utilising the fullbacks in support) should be the priority.
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo. A disciplinarian and making his debut in the Champions League this season. He refereed the Barcelona home defeat to Hercules.
Prediction: 2-0 to the reds, Berbatov and Vidic.
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