MANCHESTER - Manchester United
sprung a surprise by fielding seven defenders at the weekend and
may be poised for another against Olympique Marseille in the
Champions League with Nani close to an early return from injury.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson had ruled him out of Tuesday's last-16
second leg as the Portuguese recovers from a gashed leg but
seemed to change his mind before the French champions head to
Old Trafford following last month's 0-0 draw in Marseille.
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"Nani has had the stitches removed and has a chance for
Tuesday," Ferguson was quoted as saying by the Manchester
Evening News on Sunday. "He's done some work on the bike, but
the problem is that he hasn't trained yet."
Marseille only needed to have looked at United's team sheet
for Saturday's FA Cup Quarter-Final against Arsenal to witness
Ferguson's ability to shock, as he named a lineup with only one
recognised midfielder which still beat the Londoners 2-0.
Grappling with a raft of injuries, and wanting to rest the
likes of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Paul
Scholes, Ferguson drafted in full backs Rafael, Fabio and John
O'Shea who performed well in midfield.
"I couldn't risk Scholes and Giggs because of Tuesday's game
against Marseille, such a vital game for the club, so Darron
Gibson had to play as the only natural midfielder," Ferguson
United were boosted by winger Antonio Valencia coming
through 45 minutes on Saturday, his first appearance since
breaking and dislocating his ankle in September.
He looked sharp enough to be a viable replacement for Nani
if the Portuguese sits out the game as had been expected
following last Sunday's injury.
The English side have the upper hand at Old Trafford where
they are undefeated this season and where they have never lost
to French opposition, although a score draw would put the
Marseille could benefit from insider knowledge as their
Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze knows Old Trafford well from
his three years at United from 2004 and he was looking forward
to returning to the site of so many good memories.
"My first big moment at Old Trafford was when the fans and
my team voted me as best player," he told UEFA's website. "To go
on to win the domestic league title with Manchester United - my
first - was unforgettable."
Premier League leaders United will be bracing themselves for
an onslaught from a Marseille side who go into the game lifted
by a 2-0 win over Stade Rennes in Ligue 1 at the weekend.
Playmaker Lucho Gonzalez, who netted the second goal against
Rennes, was at his brilliant best and France forward Loic Remy
opened the scoring.
They will be without Brazilian striker Brandao, who went
back to his native country for a week after being put under
formal investigation in an alleged rape case.
Marseille, who won the first ever Champions League title in
1993, and three-times European champions United kick off at 19:45
GMT on Tuesday.
Manchester United: 1-Edwin van der Sar; 21-Rafael; 5-Nemanja
Vidic, 12-Chris Smalling, 3-Patrice Evra; 11-Ryan Giggs, 18-Paul
Scholes, 16-Michael Carrick, 24-Darren Fletcher; 10-Wayne
Rooney, 9-Dimitar Berbatov
Olympique Marseille: 30-Steve Mandanda; 24-Rod Fanni,
17-Stephane Mbia, 21-Souleymane Diawara, 19-Gabriel Heinze;
6-Edouard Cisse, 7-Benoit Cheyrou, 8-Lucho Gonzalez; 11-Loic
Remy, 10-Andre-Pierre Gignac, 20-Andre Ayew.
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