Man Utd 2-1 Marseille: two Hernandez tap-ins

March 15, 2011

The starting line-ups

Manchester United survived a late scare to book their place in the quarter-finals.

Sir Alex Ferguson made widespread changes from the weekend win over Arsenal. He played a 4-4-2 formation, Dimitar Berbatov was again left out, and Michael Carrick came into the midfield. John O’Shea got the nod over Rafael, but the Brazilian replaced him shortly before half time, due to injury.

Didier Deschamps pushed Gabriel Heinze into the centre of the defence, and played Taye Taiwo at left-back. Edouard Cisse and Charles Kabore were both omitted, with Benoit Cheyrou coming into the side. André-Pierre Gignac was upfront.

United went into the lead very early on – Wayne Rooney’s pass across goal found Javier Hernandez at the far post, instantly justifying Ferguson’s decision about his strikers.

Rooney left free

The goal came in the middle of an early spell of concerted United pressure, with Rooney the main reason why they started so strongly. Stephane Mbia was the man closest to Rooney, but seemed unsure of his responsibilities – was he meant to be goalside of Rooney and keeping a spare man at the back, or pushing forward and providing an extra man in midfield? Rooney was allowed to scamper between the lines, into space, and had time on the ball to pick passes. Mbia was also guilty of not tracking him for the goal.

Marseille were brave going forward. Neither United central midfielder looked to break forward, so both Cheyrou and Lucho Gonzalez were free to push on, and they combined well with the front three. It was notable how many men Marseille got into the penalty box when the ball was wide.

Marseille pressure

The away side had their chances, many of them coming because Wes Brown and Chris Smalling didn’t work well as a unit. Too many times they made the same movement towards the ball, on other occasions they didn’t clear quickly enough. Communication seemed to be a problem – simple long balls forward caused panic, and by the end of the first half Marseille had created far more chances than United – Gignac and Souleymane Diawara missed good opportunities.

Michael Carrick kept possession well - he ended with the game's highest pass completion ratio

Marseille’s wingers also looked threatening, especially Loic Remy down the right. Patrice Evra seemed concerned about Remy’s pace and stuck to him very tightly, getting drawn into unnecessary fouls too many times – he was lucky to escape without a card.

United good going forward

Still, United ocassionally looked wonderful when they had the ball. Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick played sensible balls out to the wide players, but the main quality came from the movement of the front two – Rooney dropped deep, whilst Hernandez moved out to wide positions before sprinting inside.

The one man who wasn’t particularly involved was Nani, who had rushed back to be fit for this game. The presence of the pacey Taiwo kept him quiet – Heinze would have been much more vulnerable to pace, so it was a good decision from Deschamps at left-back.

Second half

Wayne Rooney played deeper in the second half, forming a midfield five at times by dropping just ahead of Scholes and Carrick. This meant he was less of an obvious attacking threat, though he still sprayed some good passes out to the flanks.

The second half continued in broadly the same pattern as the first – Marseille had pressure, United looked nervous.


Deschamps brought on Mathieu Valbuena with a quarter of the game to go, but surprisingly removed Gignac, with Remy going upfront. This was a strange move – Gignac hadn’t had a particularly good game, but with United struggling in the air at the back, his physical presence was likely to be more of a threat than Remy’s pace (or, looking it another way, the threat of both would have been more of a threat than Remy’s pace alone). The resulting front four was packed with pace and movement, but with United defending increasingly deep, a more basic approach might have worked.

Marseille put plenty of crosses into the box - not all were successful, but United often didn't clear properly

United’s right-hand side changed in the second half. Antonio Valencia replaced Nani, and Fabio replaced Rafael because of injury. Giggs came across to that side to overload Marseille in the left-back position, and Hernandez converted Giggs’ low cross for the second.

Jordan Ayew came on for Mbia as Deschamps went for the win late on, in a ramshackle 4-2-4 system. All four attacking players wanted to come inside, though, which was strange as Marseille had looked at their most threatening when they’d put crosses into the box. Valbuena caused problems with his delivery from corners and forced Brown to put into his own net, but United held out.


Neither side overwhelmingly won the the tactical battle here. United won the game but Marseille probably created more goalscoring opportunities, and had long spells where they put United under considerable pressure. They lacked composure and ruthlessness in the final third – a little more of that, and they may have caused a shock.

United generally played well when Rooney got on the ball. His movement early on constantly threatened to unlock Marseille. Ferguson would probably have thrown on an additional central midfielder or defender late on to help United protect the lead, but the double injury problem at right-back limited the changes he could make, which caused a nervous final few minutes.

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