Having faced Manchester United FC in the UEFA Champions League as a player, Didier Deschamps tells UEFA.com he is well aware of the task awaiting Olympique de Marseille.
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Didier Deschamps made an instant splash in management by guiding AS Monaco FC to the 2004 UEFA Champions League final, and now the former France midfielder is looking to turn heads again with his Olympique de Marseille side. Marseille finished second in Group F behind Chelsea FC and face another English obstacle in the round of 16, with Manchester United FC barring their route to the quarter-finals. Ahead of their first-leg meeting at the Stade Vélodrome on Wednesday, Deschamps spoke to UEFA.com about his side's campaign thus far and what they must do to progress.
UEFA.com: Looking back, what are your thoughts on Marseille's group phase campaign in the UEFA Champions League?
Didier Deschamps: We made a very bad start, losing to Spartak Moskva at home. I thought they would be our biggest rivals for qualification as I considered Chelsea to be certain to qualify. We lost to Spartak and lost our second game at Chelsea so it was very complicated for us. We managed to turn things around by winning our most important game in Moscow. In between, there were the two games against Žilina in which we managed to score a lot of goals and then there was the last ‘exhibition' game against Chelsea. Although there was nothing riding on it, the stadium was sold out and beating Chelsea put our qualification for the last 16 beyond any doubt.
UEFA.com: Will that game in Moscow help you going into the last 16 against Manchester United?
Deschamps: It's totally different. First of all, the quality of the opposition is very different. United are one of the hot favourites to win the Champions League and, with all due respect to Spartak, they haven't got the same experience and quality. But it will be played over two legs and it's important not to blow everything on the first game, as we know that the return leg at Old Trafford will be a tough one.
UEFA.com: What are your thoughts on United?
Deschamps: They had a long undefeated run in the Premier League and only conceded one goal in their six group games. They have great players up front but also defend really well. I don't think there will be many goals in the two games. But playing the first leg at home, and knowing the importance of away goals, we will have to do everything we can not only to score but also to keep a clean sheet.
UEFA.com: You played at Old Trafford many times during your career; what will you tell your players about this stadium?
Deschamps: That it's a really good opportunity. When you're a professional player, you want to play in stadiums like Old Trafford, San Siro, the Camp Nou and the Santiago Bernabéu because of their incredible atmospheres. The most important thing is to play freely while taking into account the quality of your opponents, but mostly it's about giving everything on the pitch and walking off with no regrets. We know that we will be up against a top-quality side.
UEFA.com: What will Marseille have to do to beat United?
Deschamps: United started the competition, along with six or seven other teams like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Inter, with the real objective of winning it. Not every team makes it each year, but United regularly make it to the semi-finals at least. We will need to be very strong at the back and marshal the attacking potential of [Wayne] Rooney, [Dimitar] Berbatov, [Ryan] Giggs, Nani and Park [Ji-Sung]. We will have to defend well because United are an English team with a lot of pace in their game. United are also a team that can defend really well too.
UEFA.com: What are your memories of appearing in the semi-finals at Old Trafford for Juventus in 1998/99?
Deschamps: Over the five years that I played for Juve, we must have met United four or five times. At that time, Italian teams were superior and we won more often than not. But that [United] team was a bit more English, with players who were used to playing in the Premier League. They were very physical and had a more direct style, whereas nowadays they have a more European style with a lot of pace as well. Back then they were lacking the defensive rigour which now makes them such a difficult team to play against.
UEFA.com: How important is it for big French clubs like Marseille to perform well in the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League?
Deschamps: This is obviously a bigger sporting issue, but with Marseille in the last 16 more people are talking about the club. If we hadn't qualified, you would probably be somewhere else talking to another team, so it gives us exposure on the international stage. If we can be successful in Europe, then of course there will be consequences at every level of the club. The Champions League is the best competition there is and it's been a long time since Marseille were in the last 16, so it's a good thing to improve the reputation of the club at an international level.