So Manchester United face French club Marseille in the Champions League last sixteen. It could have been worse even though this will not be an easy tie but it’s certainly a winnable one which should see United safely into the quarter finals. Marseille are currently lying in fifth position in the French League having lost 4 times and qualified from their European group in second place having lost their first two matches before coming back with four straight wins.
Sir Alex Ferguson has no illusions about the task ahead saying that “Marseille are a handful at their own ground, their fantastic atmosphere and incredible support guarantees that. They’ve had a good change in fortunes in the last two or three years after a dry spell and think it’ll be a difficult tie.” Ferguson continued “Former Chelsea midfielder Didier Deschamps is the coach there and they’ve got one of our old players in Gabriel Heinze so it’ll be nice to see him.”
The dates have also been reasonably kind for United. The Marseille leg on Wednesday February 23 will be followed by the away fixture at Wigan while the home tie on Tuesday March 15 comes a few days before Bolton visit Old Trafford.
United last faced Marseille in 1999-2000 with Ferguson recalling “I remember the games well. We won 2-1 at Old Trafford, but lost 1-0 over there” The United team in the 2-1 win was Van Der Gouw, Irwin, Stam, Berg (Sheringham 77), Neville, Beckham, Butt, Scholes, Solskjaer (Fortune 72), Cole (Clegg 86), Yorke.
As for the rest of the last16 draw, the Sir Alex commented “Quite a lot of people predicted Arsenal against Barcelona and that’s the most interesting tie. Chelsea go to Copenhagen and should get through that one. It’ll be interesting to see Milan and Spurs and also Inter and Bayern Munich – a repeat of last season’s final. So there are some nice ties there and hopefully we can navigate ours.”
My own wish was for Arsenal to avoid Barcelona who will be strong favourites to go through. If the Gunners end up being eliminated from Europe in early March it will hand them a big advantage in the title race as it did Chelsea last season after getting knocked out by Inter. While we were battling Bayern Munich in the Champions League, the Blues had a full week to concentrate on our top of the table clash a few days later. The three points Chelsea took from that game proved to be decisive for them taking the title from United by the narrowest of margins.
Marseille is of course where the great Eric Cantona spent his early years raising the question as to whether he will be there on the night to spur United on. I suggest that it may be a pretty good bet.
If not Marseille, who would you have preferred to face?