Manchester United and Bayern Munich will look to build on the clean sheets obtained during their Round of 16 first legs and secure quarter final berths at the expense of Olympique de Marseille and Inter Milan in Tuesday night’s Champions League games writes Back Page Football contributor Ger McCarthy.
Round of 16, Second leg
Old Trafford, Manchester
Manchester United vs. Olympique de Marseille (0-0 from first leg)
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side will look to build on a recent upturn in domestic form and see off Olympique de Marseille at Old Trafford in the Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday night. The sides played out a dull scoreless draw in the first leg on February 23rd and United will be hoping to secure their name in Friday’s quarter finals draw having never lost to French opponents on their home ground in European competition. The Premier League side’s European form has been patchy this term despite enjoying one of the best defensive records in the competition as United have won only one home group game and drawn twice with Rangers and Valencia.
The Old Trafford club booked an FA Cup semi-final date with Manchester City following a welcome win over Premier League title rivals Arsenal at the weekend. Consecutive league defeats to Chelsea and Liverpool might have begun to derail United’s season but Wayne Rooney netted in their 2-0 FA Cup quarter final victory and the England international striker’s return to form could not be better timed despite tabloid allegations of another fall out with manager Sir Alex Ferguson over the weekend. Rio Ferdinand looks unlikely to recover from a long term back injury so Nemanja Vidic ‘s importance in the heart of Manchester United’s back four takes on greater significance. Edwin van der Sar is enjoying a terrific final season between the sticks before hanging up his gloves and the Dutchman pulled off some important saves in the victory over Arsenal on Saturday evening. The return of Antonio Valencia proved another welcome fillip at the weekend for United and the former Wigan player may well see some game time due to Nani’s possible absence.
Olympique de Marseille warmed up for their Champions League trip to Manchester with a 2-0 victory over former Ligue 1 pace-setters Stade Rennes at the weekend. Goals in either half from Loic Remy and Lucho Gonzalez helped L’OM close the gap to just four points on current leaders Lille at the summit of the standings. It was an important result for Didier Deschamps’ side having lost at home to Lille the previous week, although that was their first league defeat since the 5th of December 2010. Too many drawn games this term (nine times) looked to have scuppered the Stade Velodrome club’s title aspirations but a good run in the Champions League has helped reinvigorate Marseille’s domestic hopes with nine rounds of fixtures remaining.
The return of Andre-Pierre Gignanc and Mathieu Valbeuna has boosted Marseille’s hopes of causing an upset on Tuesday evening. Striker Gignac was sorely missed in the first leg stalemate at the Velodrome while Valbuena’s silky skills in the centre of the park should help L’OM create some chances. The sceptre of conceding an away goal is certain to weigh on the mind of Sir Alex Ferguson in deciding his starting XI. Judging by United’s experimental defensive line-up in Saturday’s FA Cup win over Arsenal, the Scotsman would be happy to grind out any kind of narrow victory as long as United make it through to the last eight.
The experience and guile of club stalwarts Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs will no doubt be called upon once again as Manchester United continue their pursuit of three trophies and look for a place in the last eight of the Champions League for the fifth successive year. Barring a surprise performance from a Marseille side who haven’t been quarter-finalists since winning the trophy in 1992/1993 expect Sir Alex Ferguson and his team to be tuned into Friday’s draw.
Round of 16, Second leg
Allianz Arena, Munich
Bayern Munich vs. Inter Milan (1-0 from first leg)
Mario Gomez’s last minute winner in the San Siro earned Bayern Munich revenge for their previous season’s Champions League final defeat to Inter and allowed the Bundesliga club to place one tentative foot in the door of qualification for the last eight of this year’s tournament. Munich have undergone a couple of chaotic weeks since that victory on Italian soil with manager Louis Van Gaal apparently sacked and then re-hired in a bizarre couple of days for the former Bundesliga Champions. Now the former Dutch international Coach is due to step down from his post in the summer once the current Bundesliga season has reached its conclusion.
Bayern put their managerial circus behind them and registered a comprehensive 6-0 hammering of Hamburg to move into fourth place in the standings last weekend. The win marked an end to three consecutive domestic defeats thanks to Arjen Robben netting a hat-trick with Franck Ribéry and Thomas Muller and an own goal completing Munich’s total over a hapless Hamburg side. With Borussia Dortmund enjoying a massive lead at the top of the table Bayern’s best hope of major honours in 2011 looks to be the Champions League. Robben’s goal-scoring form is notable with the Dutch winger netting 9 times in 11 games since returning from a long-term injury.
Inter face the unenviable statistic of becoming the first club to overturn a Champions League first leg defeat and progress to the next stage of the competition since the 1996 season when Ajax turned the tables on Panathinaikos. The Nerazzurri’s Serie A title aspirations suffered a major blow away to Brescia at the weekend with a Caracciolo effort in the 84th minute cancelling out Samuel Eto’o’s opener. Worse still Inter had to rely on an injury-time penalty save from Julio Cesar to secure a draw but the gap to bitter city rivals AC Milan now stands at five suggesting a protracted battle for the title with only nine rounds of fixtures remaining.
Leonardo leads his side into the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night knowing Inter must breach a Munich defence that has only conceded 6 goals in the Champions League this season. The Italians will need to produce a much improved performance and score away from home to have any hope of progressing. Bayern Munich has endured a difficult couple of weeks both on and off the pitch. The 6-0 win over Hamburg was a welcome result if only to deflect attention away from managerial issues.
If Arjen Robben can reproduce his recent domestic form the Bundesliga club should have enough firepower to qualify for the quarter finals at the expense of last season’s winners.