Analysis and Observations: Smalling, Gibson impress in cagey affair
Marseille 0-0 Manchester Utd: Defence prevails in first leg
Stage fright is very rare these days, it seems. Millions go on those generic television talent shows and make a fool out of themselves, and somehow leave thinking their dignity is intact; albeit being escorted by a burly man dressed in black. Some stage fright might have been evident in yesterday’s game at the Velodrome. It was an uninspiring affair, with neither team able to express themselves in a game perhaps most entertaining, bizarrely, in the first 10 minutes.
Here, defence prevailed over attack. Both sides were simply more functional than expected. On paper, United and Marseille possessed great attacking presence; the home side lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Brandao up front alone (this later changed when Mathieu Valbuena was brought on) with Lucho, Remy and Ayew behind. United had Dimitar Berbatov in the centre in United’s default formation in Europe, the 4-3-3, with Nani and Rooney either side. But such talents weren’t on show here – neither team offered that much going forward, and the midfield battle hardly made for a spectacle as both teams had stifled and cancelled each other out. Defenders found relative comfort in a game where chances came at a rate of almost never.
Smalling growing in stature. It’s not easy to talk down the player who has consistently played well; even if his appearances in a red shirt have been infrequent this campaign. In the absence of Rio Ferdinand, the centre-half had encountered little problems, if any at all. At times, he made daring forward runs in vain displaying the youngster’s confidence, thriving alongside Nemanja Vidic.
Deschamps has a point. “Maybe this team has a bit less fantasy than we have seen in the past,” he said before the game and perhaps he was right. Nani had old-boy Gabriel Heinze in his pocket all day, prompting the French newspaper L’Equipe to say: “…Heinze for his reunion with his dear Sir, had difficulty, especially in the first period, facing the whirling Nani.” However, nothing materialised - as said previously, both teams had defended with such stubbornness. Rooney was forlorn on the left, while Berbatov, for his great movement, drifted (literally) in an out of the game.
Gibson was the best of United’s triumvirate. Darron Gibson was perhaps more adventurous than both Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher. Playing higher, he made penetrative passes – but to no avail as United couldn’t find a way through. The introduction of Paul Scholes later saw United improve in possession; 24/25 successful in 18 minutes but by then, the game was already heading for a stalemate.
<Figure 1> Gibson’s passing – 0-72 minutes: Sir Alex Ferguson’s tactic in selecting Darron Gibson is indicated by his passing graphic. The Irish midfielder has drive and while he started attacks also, tries to get at the end of things as well as shown by the passes in the final third as opposed to the ones between Marseilles midfield and defence. His timing of his runs can be compared to Frank Lampard somewhat although his relative ineffectiveness could be explained by the two holding midfielders in front (Cisse and Kabore). Total Football App