Match Preview: Manchester United vs. Olympique de Marseille


By Sleepy

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

Credit: This11

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.

Manchester United Passing vs Marseille

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 Passing vs Marseille

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 vs. Manchester United

Kabore Interceptions (click to enlarge)

Chalkboards via Total Football

In Summary

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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  1. Avatar
    Sudheesh Marar on

    Very Interesting preview Nik,I just got a feeling that Fergie might go for a high tempo start just like the way he did against Bayern last season at OT,although little bit worried about Scholes and Carrick getting outnumbered by their midfield trio, so it will be important for Rooney to track back like the way he did against Arsenal,as for the result, i am going for a 3-0 win for us,just having a feeling that this might be one of those special european nights at OT, hopefully i will be proved right 🙂 Cheers

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    Can’t believe Carrick and Scholes will play together.

    We need someone to play high-tempo in midfield, press their defenders when we lose the ball, etc.

    That’s why I don’t think it’d be wise to pick the two (Scholes & Carrick) and surrender all that territory.

    If Fletch is fit, he’ll have the nod over Carrick, or possibly Scholes.

    Valbuena’s running will be a problem and so will Gonzalez, who might be picked up by Carrick in front of the back four.

    Yet, between Scholes and Carrick, I’d rather go for Scholes’s creativity over Carrick’s worth in protecting the back four.

    Giggs will just have to tuck in and help the midfield.

    I also feel Rafael will be picked over O’Shea owing to his energy & speed about the place.

    Although I won’t be surprised if O’Shea is there instead, as he is the more experienced defender and is better at defending and attacking set-pieces.

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    I can quite easily see Gibson joining Carrick and Scholes if Rooney isnt asked to play the same role he did v Arsenal. Another option is of course Rooney left with TV or Nani right.

    The other major dilemma for Fergie is right back where he now has 3 fantastic options now that Wes seems to be fully match fit and back in favour. He could go with any and with great cause, but feel he will go with most in form, which surprising to say, is John O’Shea…..

    Agree with Sudheesh, in that United will take the game to the opposition – as long as we are more astute in our approach we should be able to trouble their back four.

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    Wow! Well written.
    Simply brilliant.
    News…according to reports VIDIC MIGHT BE OUT OF THE MARSILLE TIE. That is sad. Although, I think Sir Alex will get Vidic ready for the game. It is a crucial game and we need him and I’m sure SAF realises that. Again, if you consider Smalling and Brown, they can do a job as well. But I don’t think Brown will play. If at all Vidic doesn’t start, I expect John O’Shea to partner Smalling in the center of defense. Also, we must get our formation right. I disagree with your formation a little bit, I think BERBATOV should start because he deserves to. According to me, this is United’s best formation:

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    I’m not sure I could disagree about the team we’re going to pick more unless I was deliberately being obtuse. I have gone for this…

    With the pace that Marseille offer out wide I think that Rafael is an essential selection, especially given his excellent performance against Arsenal at the weekend.

    I have gone for Fabio for similar reasons – he was outstanding on Saturday and to drop him would send all the wrong messages. He’s put himself right into the first team picture.

    This, combined with the fact that Fergie just doesn’t trust Berba with these games (even though I’d start Berba) means that I’d like to see Rooney, Nani and Fabio. A little fantasy perhaps but deserved. The other sensible choice would be Giggs.

    I also think Gibson did enough to retain his place in the midfield.

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    Hi Ben

    I think O’Shea and Giggs was a no-brainer, though Hernandez was a slight surprise for me… and the Carrick-Scholes combination this week has elicited some quite woefully naive and reactionary ‘analysis’ this week.

    Though we were nowhere near our fluid best, the two central midfielders were outstanding, not needing Rooney for the majority of the game…..

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