Olympique de Marseille failed to find a way through Manchester United FC's resolute defence as two former UEFA Champions League winners cancelled each other out in a tactical contest in southern France.
With both teams missing key men through injury, this eagerly-anticipated contest struggled to live up to the pre-match hype, although there were positives for both sides ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford on 15 March. Despite the absence of striker André-Pierre Gignac, Marseille posed frequent problems through their lively wingers André Ayew and Loïc Rémy yet rarely tested Edwin van der Sar. Sir Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, will have been pleased with the way Chris Smalling performed in the absence of Rio Ferdinand, the young defender impressively neutralising the threat of Brandão.
Competing in a UEFA Champions League knockout tie for the first time since 1993, the year they won the trophy, the Ligue 1 titleholders were quickly on the attack, Ayew surging down the left inside the first minute and crossing for Rémy who shot wildly into the stands. Yet the visitors, who had won nine of their last ten European away games, soon steadied the ship and began posing a threat of their own through Nani.
The Portuguese winger twice got in behind former United defender Gabriel Heinze before drawing a foul from Stéphane Mbia on the edge of the box on nine minutes. From the resulting free-kick Darren Fletcher drew a sharp, low save from Steve Mandanda after Nani's centre had only been half-cleared.
Nani's frequent incursions seemed to concern the Mediterranean outfit and they began to play with more caution, Ayew dropping deeper to protect Heinze as Edouard Cissé and Charles Kaboré patrolled in front of the centre-backs. With United also struggling to find their rhythm, the goalkeepers were spectators for much of the first half. Van der Sar did, however, need to react swiftly to prevent Ayew's inswinging corner creeping inside his near post four minutes before the break.
OM were chasing a fifth straight win in this season's competition, having beaten another English side Chelsea FC in their last outing, and they began asking more serious questions of United in the second period. After Brandão had looped a header into Van der Sar's arms, Ayew almost sent Lucho González clear with a superb diagonal pass from the left that was fractionally over-hit. There was suddenly real verve about the hosts and they went close again on 62 minutes, Ayew's cross-shot flashing in front of an unmarked Brandão at the far post.
They got no reward for their efforts, however, and as Didier Deschamps' charges began to tire it was United who finished on top. Souleymane Diawara needed to make a superb block to keep out Dimitar Berbatov's goalbound effort, and Mandanda was also alert on 82 minutes, sprinting off his line to smother the ball at Nani's feet. Ultimately, though, both defences proved too strong, the goalless stalemate ensuring the tie remains wide open.