However, despite some confidence, it would also be fair to say that a tight and tough encounter would be expected from a Marseille side that have been impressive under the leadership of Didier Deschamps.
United were rocked by the news that Nemanja Vidic had sustained a calf injury that meant he was out of action until Saturday’s match against Bolton, but were also buoyed by the announcement that Nani had recovered faster than expected from the injury he sustained against Liverpool, and as such would be featuring in the game.
For such an influential player for the majority of the season to be back for a pivotal game would have raised spirits. As a result, a tight game is what we got, with the game flowing, and with Marseille providing many threatening moments in a tense affair that led to United going through to the quarter final stage of the Champion’s league for the fifth successive year. So from all this, here are five things that can be taken away from the game:
Javier Hernandez is a Goal Poacher
I recognise that the term “Goal Poacher” is often attributed to players who are written off as simply “tapping in” all their goals, and indeed some people may well say that is exactly what Hernandez did, but his goals tonight were about so much more than that. To say his movement was anything short of exceptional would be considered dismissive.
His contribution to the team was evident for all to see and his positioning for the goals was superb, reacting quicker than everyone else to beat the defenders and make the job of scoring as easy possible. For example, his second goal of the night, we could see he made sure to hold his line and reacted quickly to run in before the defenders in front of him, ultimately timing his run just as Giggs had been let in from Valencia’s smart pass allowing an easy cross for the finish. This instinctive finishing would naturally draw comparisons to other United strikers to have such an impact, the likes of Solskjaer and Van Nistelrooy spring to mind.
But we must also point out the attitude to contribute in other areas to the team, getting involved in attacking play, complimenting Rooney nicely as well as being willing to track back regularly to win the ball. A tireless effort all around, and one would assume a real asset for the future.
There is a Lack of Leadership in the Back Four
Naturally, the loss of Vidic, as well as the continued absence of Rio Ferdinand will have been a cause for concern among the United faithful, particularly as the last time Wes Brown and Chris Smalling were at the heart of the defence, the results were less than satisfactory.
Tonight, it would be fair to say, was a somewhat stronger showing from the back four, but one problem that seemed to reoccur, was the lack of a leading voice and a commanding presence. Indeed, Smalling once again put in a self-assured performance, but for someone so young it would be fair to say he will not have developed a sense of authority and leadership like the more experienced Vidic and Ferdinand will have, which would have left it to Wes Brown to provide some sort of stability to the partnership.
However, there seemed to be a lack of communication at times, often leading to some misunderstandings but all in all not enough to carry many ramifications on this occasion. However, it did provide moments of anxiety and probably contributed to the threat that Marseille posed, particularly with the likes of the in-form Gignac up front. Certainly, it provided moments of agitation as the game drew to a close, with a soft goal being conceded from a corner, allowing Marseille some hope of causing an upset and knocking United out on away goals.
Continued on page two.