The final games in the Champions League Round of 16 managed to produce just a single goal between them as Manchester United drew a blank away to Marseille and Bayern Munich earned a valuable away win at Inter Milan writes Ger McCarthy.
Round of 16, First leg
Stade Velodrome, Marseille
Olympique de Marseille 0 Manchester United 0
The electric atmosphere in the Stade Velodrome formed an exciting backdrop as Marseille kicked off the first leg of their Round of 16 clash with Manchester United at a frantic pace. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side took time to settle with Berbatov and Rooney gaining little ground on a well-drilled French back four.
The home fans cheered every successful tackle but one over-zealous challenge from M’Bia on Nani handed United an early opportunity. The Portuguese winger’s dead-ball effort rebounded off the wall to a waiting Darren Fletcher on the edge of the box and Mandanda did well to smother the Scottish international’s first time effort. It would prove the only effort on target of a dull first half.
Marseille struggled to create any chances early on and were clearly missing the influence of the injured striker Gignac up front. The Premier League leaders continued to press with Darren Gibson (surprisingly selected ahead of the more experienced Scholes) prompting a succession of attacks yet some wasteful passing from the Irish international and Michael Carrick meant for some frustrating remonstrations from Sir Alex Ferguson on the sideline. A tepid first half inched along without a clear shot on target (apart from Fletcher’s snap-shot) and both sides continually floundered in the final third of the pitch.
Stray passes, lamentable crossing and a general lack of composure near either penalty box made for an utterly forgettable opening 45 minutes. None of United’s midfielders imposed themselves on the game resulting in limited supply to lone striker Dimitar Berbatov.
Nani was Manchester United’s most creative attacking outlet on the night but was carefully marshalled by former Old Trafford favourite Gabriel Heinze at left back. Not one additional clear-cut chance was created before the half time whistle eventually shrilled although Ayew did curl a corner-kick goalwards to bring Van der Sar quickly off his line to avert the danger.
The pattern of the second period changed little until a break into the box from Patrice Evra briefly raised the travelling supporters’ hopes. Marseille weathered United’s attacks however and the combination of Gonzalez, Remy and Brandao began to click resulting in a long range Brandao effort forcing Van der Sar into a smart save. The Dutch keeper’ had to be quickly off his line to deny Gonzalez a minute later as the home side’s new found confidence flowed and had the United defence working overtime to keep the score at 0-0.
Roared on by a vociferous home support Didier Deschamps’ side created their best opportunity on the hour mark when the lively Ayew shot across the 6 yard box and Brandao just failed to connect for what would have been a certain opening goal. If United were guilty of being lethargic in the first half then their second half performance could best be described as woeful. Not until the 70th minute when Berbatov’s goal bound shot was deflected away for a corner did the English side even look like scoring.
Remy saw an effort bravely blocked by Vidic before Paul Scholes made an appearance from the subs bench in place of Darren Gibson. The change made little difference to an already miss-firing Man. Utd midfield but the visitors did create one half-chance in the dying minutes. Nani and Berbatov combined on the edge of the area but Mandanda was down quickly at the feet of Nani to prevent a shot on goal.
Marseille: Mandanda, Fanni, M’bia Etoundi, Diawara, Heinze, Cisse, Kabore, Remy, Gonzalez, Andre Ayew, Brandao, Andrade, Taiwo, Hilton, Cheyrou, Ayew, Abriel, Valbuena.
Man Utd: Van der Sar, O’Shea, Smalling, Vidic, Evra, Gibson, Carrick, Fletcher, Nani, Berbatov, Rooney, Kuszczak, Brown, Hernandez, Scholes, Da Silva, Da Silva, Obertan.
A 0-0 score away from home in the first leg of a Champions League Round of 16 tie would normally be seen as a positive result for the likes of Manchester United. Yet the current Premier League pace-setters lifeless performance against an ordinary at best Marseille side suggest a tricky second leg in prospect at Old Trafford.
While United rarely looked like conceding at the Velodrome – thanks to the solidity of Vidic and Smalling at centre-back – the concession of an away goal in the second leg could make for an uncomfortable night. André-Pierre Gignac’s return from injury will galvanise a Marseille attack but the French side will realise they will need to up their game considerably to overcome United on their home patch.
Echoes of 1998 and Manchester United’s exit at the hands of Monaco following a first-leg draw in the principality should weigh heavy on the United’s player’s minds heading into a second leg the English club will need to find a way of penetrating the Marseille rearguard to progress.
Round of 16, First leg
Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
Inter Milan 0 Bayern Munich 1
Bayern Munich gained revenge for their defeat in the final of last season’s Champions League at the hands of Inter thanks to a 1-0 victory in the San Siro last night. The Bundesliga side took a huge step towards knocking out the reigning champions following an error by Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar in the dying embers of a previously scoreless encounter. Mario Gomez pounced to force the ball over the line and Bayern now take a 1-0 away goal lead back to Germany for the second leg.
Munich always looked the more likely to score throughout an evenly fought tie with Arjen Robben rattling an upright and Franck Ribery chipping onto the crossbar before Gomez’s late, late winner. The other highlight of a high quality encounter was the battle between Samuel Eto’o and Munich goalkeeper Thomas Kraft with the young German repeatedly denying the Cameroonian striker.
Kraft’s confident performance emboldened his side and with Robben proving a constant threat Bayern were good value for their narrow win. Cambiasso wasted a golden opportunity in front of an open goal after Kraft had initially parried yet another Eto’o effort but a tie which looked to be heading towards a 0-0 draw was altered in the final minute.
Robben raced clear and unleashed a ferocious effort that Julio Cesar could only palm into the path of the in-rushing Gomez who made no mistake to earn Bayern Munich a precious 1-0 lead heading into the second leg.
Despite good results since Leonardo took over from previous manager Rafa Benitez Inter lacked the killer punch at home to Munich tonight and face an uphill task to make it through to the quarter finals of a competition they won last season under the tutelage of Jose Mourinho.
Leonardo got it right tactics wise, but an inability to put the ball in the net cost Inter dearly as Munich capitalised on a goalkeeping error in the final minutes to steal a 1-0 away win. Van Gaal’s side produced a typical efficient German-like performance and are favourites to go through with a home leg to come in two weeks.
Inter should not be ruled out just yet but with home advantage and a packed stadium Bayern will more than likely now progress to the quarter finals. Whether Leonardo is around to guide Inter in next season’s Champions League remains to be seen.
Inter: Cesar, Maicon, Ranocchia, Lucio, Chivu; Zanetti, Cambiasso, Motta; Sneijder, Stankovic; Eto’o
Bayern Munich: Kraft; Lahm, Tymoshchuk, Badstuber, Pranjic, Schweinsteiger, Gustavo, Robben, Mueller, Ribery, Gomez.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled ‘Off Centre Circle’ about a lifetime spent playing amateur football in Ireland. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.