Three-time European Cup winners Manchester United travelled to the Stade Veladrome Wednesday in first-leg action from the UEFA Champions League knockout stage, squaring up against the successful French outfit Marseille.
For no legitimate reason, Reds manager Alex Ferguson opted for Darron Gibson in midfield in lieu of Paul Scholes.
Essentially, he was playing for a nil-nil from the onset; a blatant tactical mistake in two-legged ties that favor away goals.
The first half started and ended in the same fashion: Neither side getting a sniff of a goal, with the majority of possession going sideways or backwards.
Nani was the only dangerous player on the pitch. John O'Shea aimlessly hoofed long-balls forward—inevitably turnovers. Rooney predictably had no joy on the left of midfield. Carrick and Gibson neither hustled nor passed well in United's core. Berbatov did what he could up front (spoiler: not much).
The second half began as the first one ended and finished just as it began: Shots were few and far-between, in addition to being often catapulted into near-Earth-orbit.
Marseille had their best chance thus far on sixty minutes, but a few shanked shots eliminated any real possibility of scoring.
The game was crying out for an impact substitute. Scholes, Hernandez or both were basically required on principle. Mercifully Ferguson introduced the Englishman 70 minutes late into the match, replacing the always-lamentable Gibson.
Why the gaffer chose to start with a weaker midfield than he was afforded will likely be prevaricated upon in post-match interviews—looking forward to that.
Immediately, Scholes began retrieving from the backline and building from the back. Then my stream skipped and it was a Marseille goal-kick.
United controlled the remaining 15 minutes of the match during a period that contained their best attacking moves of the match.
Too little, too late. The match ends 0-0, but at least all my under-bets hit.
With a five-man midfield, there was no reason whatsoever to be even more pusillanimous by not putting Scholes in it.
As close as this match was, you'd think Marseille only need to nick a single goal at Old Trafford to seize the biggest upset of the round.
A few things are certain for the return fixture: Marseille will sit back and try to contain United in hopes of getting a lucky away-goal.
United will stack five in the midfield again in hopes to suppress the away side tallying.
The French club would be happy to take the tie into penalties at Old Trafford.
In other words, don't expect a cracking return leg!
van der Sar: 6: Little to do; did little.
O'Shea: 6: Should never make vertical passes over the top into nothingness; otherwise helped contain a tepid Marseille attack.
Smalling: 7: Learning from Vidic as evidenced by his flying headers. Good, strong match again—second in a row! Rooney should be jealous.
Vidic: 8: Completely untroubled.
Evra: 6.5: Big game for the Frenchman who is reviled in France because of his antics during the World Cup. The fact that any scorn is reserved for people other than Raymond Domenech is very bemusing. Regardless, Patty was up for the match.
Fletcher: 6.5: Required, but not especially effective.
Carrick: 6: Also required, if only because United don't have a better player in their squad for the role. Unambitious. Should be sold in the summer if there's any justice in the world.
Gibson: 5: Had one or two good ideas. Unfortunately, that's not enough in 70 minutes of the most meaningful football you'll play. Slow. Unimaginative. Second-rate.
Nani: 6: Lively in the first half. Always seems to wait too long to pass. Decision-making askew, but everyone knows that by now.
Rooney: 5: Did bugger-all. Ineffective on the left side, duh. Just pass the ball with your left foot once; just once. Should be weened into a central-attacking midfielder really, but now is not the time.
Berbatov: 5.5: Better in the first half. Lost focus in the second. Held onto the ball importantly, at times, but never really got his swagger. Won some defensive headers.
I apologize to Marseille fans. I was watching a foreign feed and couldn't get a grasp on who was who in blue. It's amatuerish to post only player ratings for one team. Feel free to flame me.
Post-match pundits said it was a good result for United. I think they're on crack. Ferguson admits disappointment in post-match interview. Intimates wishing they'd scored one. Maybe next time he'll start his only creative center-midfielder if he wants to get a goal. He also should have introduced Hernandez late.
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