A Chicharito double was enough to send Manchester United through to the Champions League quarter-finals, after they saw off Marseille 2-1 in an engaging battle at Old Trafford.
With an opening that defied Didier Deschamps’ claim that the United side lacked the ‘fantasy’ of old, the hosts burst out of the blocks with Chicharito tapping in a Wayne Rooney cross in the first five minutes.
This start flattered to deceive though, with Marseille missing a hatful of guilt-edged chances before Chicharito scored his second tap-in of the evening.
A Wes Brown own goal gave the hosts a nervy ending but Sir Alex Ferguson’s side eventually held on to secure a 2-1 aggregate victory following the stalemate at the Stade Velodrome a fortnight ago.
The hosts set out their stall early on, both dominant and enterprising in possession, with Rooney showing a handful of decent touches that showed no signs of the striker abandoning his recent fine form.
And it took no time at all for this early inspiration to materialise into something a little more substantial. Collecting the ball in the middle of the park, Rooney sprayed a pass out to the left and continued his run into the Marseille area. Ryan Giggs dropped the ball back into Rooney on the left-hand side of the area and as he drilled it across the six–yard box, Chicharito was at hand, with all the time and space in the world, to side foot home.
The visitor’s reply was almost as swift as United’s opener. Andre Ayew’s lofted ball caught both Chris Smalling and Wes Brown napping, but with the ball sitting up rather nicely for Andre-Pierre Gignac, the striker opted for precision rather than power, got it all wrong and placed the ball woefully high and wide.
This inadequacy of technique was demonstrative of the French side in general, with two glaring individual errors almost allowing Manchester United to double their lead.
Firstly Souleymane Diawara miscontrolled to allow Rooney to pick up the ball just in front of the Marseille back four, though after he clipped the ball forward, Hernandez could only guide his header into Steve Mandanda’s hands.
Taking his turn, Mandanda then sliced his goal kick straight to Nani 40-yards out from goal. The Portuguese winger fed Rooney on the overlap down the right but his cutback failed to find a red shirt.
With the game violently lurching end-to-end, John O’Shea left the field after tweaking his hamstring during a raid down the right. With the defender missing from action, Marseille almost capitalised on their temporary numerical superiority when Taye Taiwo received the ball from a short corner and fed a delicious ball into the United box.
With the ball placed perfectly onto his head, Diawara continued what seemed to be the theme of the first half for the visitors, and after distorting his body shape, sent his header well wide with the goal gaping.
As Marseille began to threaten, with Bruno Cheyrou testing Edwin Van der Sar from range, deja vu almost struck at the other end. Rooney, relentless in his work up top, found himself in some space on the left and his drilled ball into the box looked like producing a carbon copy of the first goal until Hernandez went down under the challenge of Taiwo, only for the ref to dismiss the goalscorer’s claims of a push.
Soon pressing again for the equaliser, Marseille went close after Loic Remy strode onto a limp Smalling clearance yet was unlucky to see his fiercely struck volley take the paint of Van der Sar’s crossbar.
As the referee blew for half-time, both teams looked ready to regroup – run ragged by a vibrant first half tempo – with Manchester United evidently the happier to go in at the interval a goal up after a few hairy moments.
Without showing the potency the hosts displayed in the first half, Marseille began the second the brightest. Deschamps’ side saw plenty of the ball but failed to breach the United back four as the hosts ran close to snatching a second two times after runs from deep by Chicharito and Giggs were thwarted by an offside call and Mandada’s sharpness at playing sweeper.
As the hour mark approached the game showed no sign of dropping its see-sawing nature. Rooney turned majestically inside the box but opted to pass rather than shoot and saw his lay-off blocked, before Remy nonchalantly beat Giggs on the edge of the other box and wastefully sent a cross beyond all targets in the area.
Brown then nearly ended up with egg on his face as his wild attempted clearance of a cross from deep failed to connect and the ball skimmed just past Remy, who was lurking at the far post, but in no way anticipated Brown’s air shot.
Marseille continued to crank up the pressure but with both teams making a few changes, the game stumbled into a bit of a disjointed lull.
However, one sub, the returning Antonio Valencia, took little time to make his impact on the game and at that, effectively end the tie. Ghosting in from the right, the Ecuadorian winger slid an excellent reverse pass into the path of Giggs who fed Chicharito for his second, unmissable tap-in of the evening.
The goal took the wind out of Marseille’s sails for all of two minutes. Knowing that only two goals would be enough to send them through, the French side sent men forward in abundance. When they forced a corner it looked as if the host of red shirts would clear the ball with ease, but Brown, under pressure from Gabriel Heinze, proceeded to head the ball over his own line.
With only a goal required to complete a remarkable turnaround, Marseille failed to threaten the hosts allowing Manchester United to use their vast experience at this level to kill off the game and ensure their sixth successive Champions League quarter-final appearance.