Manchester United’s last-16 Champions League tie against Marseille is delicately poised after an uninspiring goalless draw in the first leg.
Darren Fletcher had United’s best chance but his 18-yard shot was gathered at the second attempt by the home side’s goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.
It was a rare opening in a tight game of few chances.
Marseille’s Andre Ayew dragged a shot across goal in the main threat to United at the Stade Velodrome.
There was little to separate the sides after a first leg in which both teams were more functional than flamboyant, and it was a game that could best be described as a sparring exercise ahead of what will be a decisive return leg on 15 March.
After failing to score in France, United will have to be wary of conceding an away goal at Old Trafford, although they can take confidence from a home record of 17 victories in 20 matches so far this season.
The two legs against Marseille are sandwiched either side of a run in which United will play at Wigan, Chelsea and Liverpool in the Premier League before a home tie against either Arsenal or Leyton Orient in the FA Cup.
It promises to be a defining period in United’s season and they made sure they started it without any hiccups.
In the build-up to the game against the French champions United centre-back Rio Ferdinand, who was absent because of a calf injury, tweeted that “an away goal or two would be nice” as well as a “clean sheet”.
In addition, he was also “looking for a solid, composed team performance” and, although it was hardly exciting, he got most of what he wanted.
The closest the visitors came to giving their absent centre-back a goal came early on when they were almost rewarded for a pacy and purposeful start.
A poor Nani free-kick cannoned kindly off the Marseille wall to Fletcher on the edge of the box but his shot was saved by Mandanda and gathered at the second attempt.
That was as much as either keeper had to do for the rest of the first half as Marseille settled, and discipline and defence dominated over any attacking intent and invention that either side managed.
In higher-profile games United boss Sir Alex Ferguson tends to play with a lone striker up front, and that meant Wayne Rooney was deployed on the left of midfield as Dimitar Berbatov led the line on his own for the Red Devils.
Mraseille lacked the creativity to find a way through the 4-5-1 United line-up, and when the visitors switched to 4-3-3 during forays forward, they lacked the cutting edge to open up the hosts.
United almost benefited from a mistake when Mandanda missed a Rooney cross to the far post on the hour mark, only for ex-United defender Gabriel Heinze to head away with Nani waiting to nod in.
With both teams more intent on keeping a clean sheet than engineering a goal, a slice of fortune for the home side almost made a difference.
Edouard Cisse’s shot was deflected to Ayew and he dragged his angled effort across goal and just out of the reach of team-mate Brandao.
Rooney appeared to be dragged down late on when he threatened to break clear but the referee saw nothing wrong with the challenge as the game ended in a disappointing stalemate.
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