United have never lost to French opposition at Old Trafford.
And as the Reds attempt to navigate a safe passage through to the Champions League quarter finals their good record against the French needs to continue, in fact not losing is not good enough, United must win!
A hard fought 0-0 draw away to Marseille is not the worst result going into the second leg but it is not the best either. As a result of this of this I would imagine Sir Alex will opt to go with five in the midfield despite the temptation to go with the more attacking 4-4-2 against a Marseille outfit who at times in the first leg looked there for the taking. United must guard against the threat Marseille will pose on the break and an away goal would change everything and the defence must be solid. Dimitar Berbatov, rested in the FA Cup victory over Arsenal at the weekend should return to the starting line-up, possibly as a lone striker with Rooney and Valencia supporting him from the flanks. The return of Antonio Valencia will be a massive boost to United’s title run in and in particular to Wayne Rooney. It was obvious to all regular United watchers how important the Ecuadorian was to Rooney’s goal scoring exploits last season. With eleven assists Valencia shone in his first season, many of them going the head of Rooney who notched thirty-four goals last season. With Valencia missing for most of the season and Rooney only just getting back into his stride their reunion could mean success on all fronts for United.
As for the French a good outfit yes, they all are at this stage of the competition but United should not be afraid and I was disappointed that United didn’t make more of a fist of the first leg. I would have liked to have seen Hernandez enter the fray late on to try and snatch a winner, similar to when he made a telling cameo against Valencia at the Mestalla earlier in the campaign. However there’s no point crying over spilt milk United must now look to nullify the threats that Marseille do have.
The highly effective Andre-Pierre Gignac will be available after missing the first leg and Tuesday will see a return to Old Trafford for bullish Argentinian Gabriel Heinze. It will be interesting to see his reception tomorrow after reportedly wanting to head down the East Lancs road to Anfield before eventually being piled off to Real Madrid. However I think Heinze deserves a good reception, a highly talented player who gave everything every time he pulled on a red shirt. Whether every United fan will see it like me we’ll have to wait and see. More importantly for L’OM will be the availibility of playmaker Mathieu Valbuena, a late substitute at the Stade Velodrome he will perhaps give the French Champions the attacking impetus they lacked in the first leg. In truth though most expect Marseille to partake in a similar role to which United play in away Champions League games, contain and stifle and then break with pace and with numbers, however Marseille lack the quality that United possess within their ranks. The Reds need to be careful of course, twice in the past has the 0-0 away score come back to bite United. In 1998 United were fully expected to turn over a spirited Monaco side at Old Trafford after a goalless first leg however David Trezeguet clearly hadn’t read the script as he smashed the French side into an early lead, Ole Solskjaer equalised but the Reds went out on the away goal rule, the same was the case in 2000 when Real Madrid beat the then reigning European Champions 3-2 after a stalemate at the Bernabeu. Clearly United must be on their guard but the omens aren’t all bad, in fact the last two times United have drawn 0-0 in the first leg of a Champions League knock out they have gone through. They saw off Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan side 2-0 in 2009 and a Paul Scholes screamer won a memorable semi in 2008 1-0 against Barcelona.
Stats however are just that, stats. Manchester United’s 2011 last sixteen tie will be played out tomorrow at Old Trafford and after knocking Arsenal in the FA Cup at the weekend confidence will be high but rest assured unlike their military in both World Wars the French will not roll over making for what should be an intriguing tie under the lights.