Champions League Last 16: Manchester United vs. Olympique Marseille Preview

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Champions League Last 16: Manchester United vs. Olympique Marseille Preview
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The Champions League is synonymous with footballing success now.  So much so, that it has usurped the international game in terms of importance and prescribed value.

The FIFA World Cup is, of course, still a major event, but who could have predicted only 10 years ago that a yearly tournament such as the European Champions League would become more important to fans of the game than the World Cup?

Manchester United are obviously an English team, though their team is made up of players from across the globe along their fanbase (which is one of the largest in football, or any sport for that matter).

This is perhaps why the Champions League has grabbed the hearts and minds of the world's fans, because club football at the highest level is now truly global.  With players from hundreds of different countries making up the rosters of teams throughout Europe, the game of football has reached a more international level.

Therefore, the Champions League has become just as important as the World Cup, some would even argue more important, for the reason that it involves the world's most elite footballers playing together on a more regular basis.

Manchester United have a long and reasonably successful European tradition, first winning the Champions League in 1968 (when it was still known as the European Cup) under the management of club legend Sir Matt Busby. They have gone on to record two more trophies in the competition under the guidance of current Old Trafford legend Sir Alex Ferguson in 1999 and 2008.

It is well known that Ferguson has a burning ambition to win again in Europe, and many think that this is the reason he is still in the managerial hot-seat. Though of course, beating Liverpool's record of Premier League title wins is something that must also drive him. This season, he has guided his team through to the last sixteen undefeated in group play, and, in truth, were never seriously tested by the opponents they faced.

The group stage is over now though and United face French champions Olympique Marseille in what could be a fixture that could produce a couple of European nights to remember. This tie will figure prominently in Ferguson's plans for the next couple of weeks and could well be top of his agenda— considering the importance on which he places this trophy.

Marseille have struggled this season to reproduce the form that saw them capture the French Ligue One last season, and though capable of playing a synchronised and precise game, they have labored in front of goal, with their strikers being almost routinely jeered by the home crowd this season. They did, however, beat Chelsea in their last match in the group stage.  However, it must be remembered that Chelsea had been in terrible form and are a shadow of the side that seemed so powerful last season.

United, of course, have most recently had their undefeated league run ended by Wolverhampton Wanderers in a result that stunned many across the footballing world. After shakily negotiating the tightrope of an undefeated run for so long, they slipped against a team that many expected them to dominate.  The question now being, how far can they fall?

In the following preview, both sides seasons and key players will be analysed, and conclusions will be drawn on the possibility of each sides progression to the quarter finals.

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