Man United stumble into Marseille injury crisis

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PARIS - Manchester United's season could hardly be described as vintage yet they remain on course for a treble and their latest slice of luck means they meet an injury-hit Olympique Marseille in the Champions League.

The Premier League leaders have rarely hit top form this term, as proved when an albeit largely second string toiled to beat minor league Crawley Town 1-0 in an edgy FA Cup Fifth Round tie on Saturday.

French champions Marseille are their next obstacle in the last-16 first-leg clash at the Stade Velodrome on Wednesday when striker Andre-Pierre Gignac (pictured) will be missing after injuring his groin in Saturday's 2-1 win over St Etienne.

Fellow forwards Brandao and Loic Remy suffered twisted ankles but coach Didier Deschamps hopes they can be fit to play United who continue to struggle for fluency.

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Crawley almost equalised on Saturday when hitting the bar in stoppage-time and they needed Wayne Rooney's stunning overhead kick to seal a 2-1 win over Manchester City in their last Premier League game.

Rooney's poor general form underlines how United have stuttered but as manager Sir Alex Ferguson is always happy to point out, his team tend to hit their stride in the last third of the season.

"I have been to watch games at Marseille quite a few times and the atmosphere supporters create at their ground is terrific," Ferguson told reporters.

"It won't be easy going over there but I think we have a good chance of qualifying."

RELISHING TEST

Brazilian trio Anderson and the Da Silva twins suffered minor injuries against Crawley and could be doubtful for Wednesday when Ferguson is likely to make a raft of changes. Rio Ferdinand and Park Ji-sung are set to miss out through injury but Michael Owen hopes to be fit.

Patrice Evra will also relish the trip to the south of France, the ex-Monaco defender having signed a contract extension with United that will run until the end of the 2013/14 season.

It will also be Evra's first match back in his native France after his part in France's doomed World Cup campaign in South Africa last year.

He was stripped of the captaincy and banned for five matches after the French team imploded in a dismal first-round exit and has not been selected for his country since.

Evra, though, has established himself as one of the world's top left-backs since moving from Monaco in 2006 and Ferguson has no doubts he will handle the abuse expected from fans of his old rivals.

"Patrice is unquestionably one of the world's best left backs," said Ferguson.

"He has developed into a key character in the dressing room and it is great that he has committed himself to the club. His experience and skill will be increasingly important to us."

Marseille's Deschamps is refusing to worry about his side's injuries and is just relishing the test against the three-times winners.

"We are not playing for our season in the match against Manchester United," the former Chelsea player said.

"The most important thing for the club is to be in the Champions League at the end of a season but we are now in the last 16 and we are not there every year."

The 1993 European champions have just won three matches in a row in Ligue 1 for the first time this term and lie only three points behind leaders Lille.

The return leg at Old Trafford is on March 15.

Probable teams

Olympique Marseille: 30-Steve Mandanda; 12-Charles Kabore, 21-Souleymane Diawara, 19-Gabriel Heinze, 3-Taye Taiwo; 8-Lucho Gonzalez, 6-Edouard Cisse, 7-Benoit Cheyrou; 20-Andre Ayew, 11-Loic Remy, 9-Brandao

Manchester United: 1-Edwin van der Sar; 22-John O'Shea, 15-Nemanja Vidic, 12-Chris Smalling, 3-Patrice Evra; 24-Darren Fletcher, 18-Paul Scholes, 16-Michael Carrick, 17-Nani; 10-Wayne Rooney, 9-Dimitar Berbatov

Referee: Felix Brych (Germany)