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Old 23rd February 2011, 11:55   #1
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Default United lack 'fantasy', says Deschamps

Manchester United lack 'fantasy', says Marseille's Didier Deschamps

• French coach still believes English team are dangerous
• Emotion at Stade Vélodrome is 'unique' says Ferguson

* Daniel Taylor in Marseille
*, Tuesday 22 February 2011 21.19 GMT

Didier Deschamps was not intending to be at all derogatory when he was asked to share the results of his near-forensic analysis of Manchester United, but the Marseille coach was emboldened enough not to restrict himself to the usual platitudes. "Maybe this team has a bit less fantasy than we have seen in the past," said a man who has made it his business to watch every minute of every match involving Sir Alex Ferguson's team since the Champions League draw was made.

A fair assessment, you might say, considering that the last time United came to this part of south-east France they were treble-winners with a midfield quartet – David Beckham, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs – that invites nostalgic reminiscences. The modern-day United, as Deschamps acknowledged, simply do not have the same wow factor, particularly with Giggs joining their list of absentees on the flight from Manchester.

That, however, is not to say the current team are a noticeably less efficient model. Ferguson recently bemoaned their performances away from home in the Premier League but these are intrepid travellers in Europe, with 10 wins and three draws from the last 15 foreign excursions. As Ferguson noted: "They don't often let us down in these big games."

An accurate measure of Ferguson's often conservative ploys in Europe can be gauged from the fact Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov have started only three of those games together, United's manager often concluding it can be too risky to play two forwards. His team conceded only one goal in the six group games to get this far and, for Deschamps, that makes them every bit as formidable as the 1999 side.

"I have heard a lot about their style of play, but the thing is it's not always the nicest-looking team that wins titles. In 1993, with Marseille, we didn't have the nicest team but we won a lot of trophies, including the European Cup."

This seems to be United's way this season, even though Ferguson reiterated in an interview with L'Equipe this week that he felt his team deserved more praise. "People don't stop criticising us," he said. "We're not playing well, apparently. Me? I hold on to the fact that at home we've often been fantastic. At home we've dropped only two points all season. OK, away from home it's a different matter."

Those words came before the prosaic 1-0 win over Crawley Town, a performance that left the United manager raging at his players. Now, though, they have the chance to record their 150th win in European competition and, despite an extensive injury list of their own, they can be encouraged by the number of drop-outs for Marseille, most notably the striker André-Pierre Gignac.

"They're a very physical, powerful team," Ferguson said. "Marseille isn't the easiest place to get a result. There is an atmosphere, an emotion at the Stade Vélodrome that is unique. I've often been to matches here and the fans have a genuine power over their players."

The Premier League leaders must also make do without Rio Ferdinand, still unfit after missing the last three matches, while Michael Owen and Jonny Evans have not made the trip either, joining an injury list already featuring Anderson, Park Ji-sung, Owen Hargreaves and Antonio Valencia.

Ferguson had encouraging news about Anderson, who has been told by a specialist in Portugal that his knee injury is not as bad as first feared and that he may be fit again within two to three weeks. Ferdinand is hoping to be available for the trip to Chelsea next Tuesday and there was also a positive update on the fitness of Valencia, who has been out since suffering a badly broken ankle in the opening match of this season's Champions League against Rangers in September.

Ferguson has earmarked United's FA Cup quarter-final at home to Arsenal or Leyton Orient next month for Valencia's comeback after the winger returned to training last week. "Antonio is training very well now," United's manager said. "He is involved on the contact side and the signs are very encouraging. We expect him to be ready by the Arsenal cup tie."

Giggs may be back for the game at Wigan Athletic this weekend. United's longest-serving player has a knee injury, meaning Rooney may be deployed in a wide-left role against Ligue 1's third-placed team.

That means Scholes is the only United player here to have played in the 1999 match and Ferguson said he was "more than hopeful" the 36-year-old would follow Giggs by signing a new one-year contract.

"The important thing for Paul is that he feels that he's got to play all the games and, of course, that's impossible. But he can still play a big part next season."
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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