What: Champions League Round of 16
Who: Manchester United (0) v (0) Marseille (First leg scores in brackets)
When: Tuesday 15th March, 2011, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester, England

A Test of Resilience

March has been a tough month for United, who have suffered league defeats at Chelsea and Liverpool before a testing cup tie against Arsenal. Sir Alex Ferguson has raged at refereeing decisions and shunned the media; with the title race hotting up however, the United boss has never allowed his players’ heads to drop. Beating the Gunners was a tremendous boost, but the team’s fighting spirit will be tested again on Tuesday night by high-flying Marseille.

United never moved out of first gear in the 0-0 first leg stalemate in France last month as Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov again struggled to produce a breakthrough away from Old Trafford. But, back on home soil, the pair will be expected to provide the spark.

Falling to Bayern Munich at the quarter-final stage last season was a bitter blow and United are out to make amends. Early elimination is certainly not in the script. Ferguson has admitted that he will settle for any type of victory, though the emphasis will be on a strong defensive display.

“The name of the game is to win and I’d be quite happy if it’s 4-3 or 1-0,” he said. “We defended well in Marseille and that will be the key again. That’s going to be the main element in all of the big games now and after the disappointment of our defending at Liverpool hopefully we’ll react that way.”

Chasing the Upset

Marseille entered the tie as underdogs, but the 90 minutes at the Stade Velodrome proved they will be no pushovers. In fact, with a little more composure in the final third, Didier Deschamps’ men could be bringing a first leg lead to Manchester. With twin threats Mathieu Valbuena and Andre-Pierre Gignac back to full fitness, there is genuine belief that they can pull off a major upset.

Domestically, Marseille are in the thick of the French title race, despite a disappointing recent loss to league leaders Lille. A victory over Rennes at the weekend kept the gap at just four points ahead of a big clash with PSG on Sunday. However, for now, progressing in the Champions League is the sole objective.

The one cloud hanging over the visitors is the future of manager Deschamps, who is attracting interest from a host of big European clubs, reportedly including the likes of Juventus and Chelsea. But the former France captain recently played down talk over his future: “Frankly, my future is the last of my concerns. I am fully focused on our objectives this season. That is more than enough to keep me busy."


Recent form

Manchester United:
Chelsea 2-1 Manchester United
(01/03; Premier League)
Liverpool 3-1 Manchester United (06/03; Premier League)
Manchester United 2-0 Arsenal
(12/03; FA Cup)

Nancy 1-2 Marseille (27/02; Ligue 1)
Marseille 1-2 Lille (06/03; Ligue 1)
Rennes 0-2 Marseille (11/03; Ligue 1)

Key absences

Manchester United
: Darren Fletcher (doubt), Rio Ferdinand, Anderson, Johnny Evans

Marseille: Brandao (doubt)

Players to watch

Manchester United – Wayne Rooney: This season, Rooney has earned his fair share of negative headlines, but he finally looked like his old self against Arsenal on Saturday. Creating for others and taking his goal expertly, the England striker could be poised for an explosive end to the season. At the back, Chris Smalling has made huge strides over the past month but will need to keep his cool against Marseille’s mobile attack.

Marseille – Mathieu Valbuena: Even though the 26-year-old midfielder missed the first leg, his quality has already caught Ferguson’s eye. At just 5”4, he will not trouble Nemanja Vidic in the air; his touch and movement however make him the biggest Marseille threat. It will also be an emotional night for defender Gabriel Heinze, who returns to one of his former clubs.

Match Prediction

United underperformed in the first leg and will again have their hands full with an athletic, adventurous Marseille side. Despite this it is hard to bet against Ferguson’s men grinding out a win, with the backing of the home crowd and the confidence boost from dumping Arsenal out of the FA Cup. Though United are still searching for top form, they should have enough talent and belief to edge through to the quarter-finals.

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