United began a run of 4 crucial away matches with a trip to french champions Marseille in the last 16 of the Champions League. On the back of a relatively unconvincing victory over Crawley, and a plethora of injuries including Anderson, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs meant a much changed United line up was expected. With a champions league away record containing only 1 defeat in 10, Ferguson opted for his tried and tested 451 formation with Rooney operating as a wide player and Berbatov through the middle on his own. Marseille themselves had injuries to key players, with both star striker Gignac and playmaker Valbuena suffering from knocks, thus making a close affair likely.
With a place in the quarter final at stake, both sides began the game very cautiously, with United only looking threatening down the right hand side with Nani who was giving old boy Gabriel Heinze a torrid time. However, a frustrating midfield performance which saw United fail to penetrate and involve our forward players meant for a fairly turgid first half, with chances for both sides at an absolute premium. Once again United were relying upon their water tight defence to keep the somewhat disappointing Marseille attack at bay, with Chris Smalling once again massively impressing whilst deputising for the injured Rio Ferdinand.
In a game crying out for some quality, United appeared to have it on the bench in Paul Scholes, yet as has been systematic of United in Europe recently Ferguson appeared happy to contain the game and settle for a 0 – 0. Marseille themselves were content with not conceding the potentially critical away goal, and inevitably the second half continued much in the same fashion as the 1st had. Again, United absorbed the fleeting Marseille pressure, whilst appearing painfully impotent in attack themselves as Rooney and Berbatov’s frustration visibly grew. The 72nd minute introduction of Scholes was too little too late, and both sides settled for what was a very forgettable 0-0 final score, the first goalless draw of the round.
Although United’s approach in Europe is successful in getting ‘results’, it has come at a price as watching United play away from home in Europe has now become a real chore. Yes our home form will likely get us through to the latter stages of the competition, but playing in such a negative fashion is a recipe for disaster, and could prove our undoing in the long run. What was also painfully clear yet again was Rooney’s inability to play out wide, he works hard for the team, but he is totally redundant as an attacking force for which obviously frustrates him and effects his game. If Fergie is determined to keep playing this formation in Europe, an attacking midfielder with the ability to score and create goals is a must buy in summer, as our workman like midfield is simply not up to the task of unpicking opposition defences. United now face 2 games in 4 days, as we travel to the DW to face Wigan, before our crunch clash against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.