Sir Alex Ferguson says that his squad’s experience will serve the club well as Manchester United challenges on three fronts this season. Leading the Premier League, into the FA Cup semi-final and with a second leg tie against Olympique de Marseille on Tuesday night, United will need all its resources in the coming weeks.
With Antonio Valencia, Nani, Michael Carrick and Michael Owen all available for the Champions League fixture at Old Trafford, Ferguson’s resources are reinforced for the tie. The Scot also told reporters on Tuesday that long-term injury victim Owen Hargreaves and winger Park Ji-Sung are each back in training and could return to the United squad within the month.
“It’s an important time, with us being involved in three tournaments,” said Ferguson, whose side must beat the French champions on Tuesday night to progress in the competition.
“But we are experienced enough to do what we’re doing at the moment – taking each game as it comes. We have faced that situation a million times. You have to get on with it. The team needs to step up and perform though, we know that.
“With Antonio back it’s a fantastic bonus for us. It’s a great step forward considering he’s been out for such a long time. It’s a great selection poser for me to have. We missed him in the run-in last season so it’s a great boost.
“Hopefully it will help us, having everyone available but we are getting players back. Ji-Sung Park is making good progress and Owen Hargreaves has started training. It doesn’t matter how many players you have injured in the past, the important thing is to have them available for the run in. If we have that, then it will increase our chances.”
Indeed, with United fighting on three fronts – and Arsenal now free to concentrate on the Premier League – Ferguson will need to carefully rotate his resources. And after fielding seven defenders against Arsenal on Saturday the Scot is expected to field a more attacking line-up against L’OM.
Ferguson could recall top goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov, alongside leading creator Nani in a much changed United line-up. With Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes certain to start, it is likely Valencia will start on the bench after seven months on the sidelines. United will be without defenders Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans for the tie, meaning another game for the ever more impressive Chris Smalling.
However, United will surely offer more adventure than in France, when both sides opted for a cautious approach. The scoreless draw in Stade Velodrome three weeks ago was marked by few chances that leaves United vulnerable to the away goal. Should Didier Deschamps side score, the Reds must respond twice to progress.
Moreover, with L’OM recovering in League 1 – the champions lie fourth four points behind Lille but recently beat Nancy and former leaders Rennes – United faces a resurgent opponent.
“I thought Marseille went for a 0-0, I must admit,” added Ferguson of the match in southern France three weeks ago.
“These games are always that way. It’s nice to have a bit of apprehension about big ties. We’ve had that many times and it won’t be any different on Tuesday. We’re playing a very experienced, powerful Marseille team and we will have to play well. I’ve watched them twice away from home, against Monaco and Rennes, and they’ve showed the qualities that we will be up against.
“Saturday’s performance was a recovery. Tuesday is a different type of match, but we need to get to a good level to win. We are experienced enough to take each game as it comes. The focus is on Marseille because they are a good team. It’s a European match, a night game, and it’s at Old Trafford – all these things work in our favour. Hopefully we get the result that we want.”
Indeed, United has a phenomenal record at Old Trafford this season despite the side’s recent travails on the road. Ferguson’s record against French opponents at Old Trafford is also very healthy, with eight wins and no defeats in 11 previous encounters against Ligue 1 sides. United beat Lille Métropole 1-0 to complete a 2-0 aggregate victory at the same stage four years again and then beat Olympique Lyonnais by the same margin a year later.
Victory would bring United’s fifth successive quarter-final appearance while L’OM is seeking a spot in the last eight
of the competition for the first time since lifting the trophy in 1993.
Meanwhile, Marseille welcomes back key playmaker Mathieu Valbuena, who damaged his left knee ligaments on 22 January, making a substitute appearance against United before suffering a relapse in training. André-Pierre Gignac played against Lille last weekend after recovering from the groin injury that ruled him out of the first leg. Lucho González is also available after suffering with a muscular problem in the past fortnight.
The match is also a first return to Old Trafford for former United left-back Gabriel Heinze, who played xxx for the Reds before leaving for Real Madrid in xxxx.
“My first big moment at Old Trafford was when the fans and my team voted me as best player,” said the Argentinian.
“To hear the fans singing ‘Argentina, Argentina’ was very emotional; my family was there as well. It’s something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. To go on to win the domestic league title with Manchester United – my first – was unforgettable. I have so many great memories that I can’t pick one out above the rest.”
His former manager Ferguson will hope that it is a disappointing night for the 32-year-old defender.
Marseille – 433 – Mandanda; Taiwo, Fanni, Diawara, Heinze; González, Cheyrou, Valbuena; Rémy, Gignac, André Ayew. Subs from: Jordan Ayew, Cheyrou, Andrade, Mango, N’Diaye, Sabo, Lowinsky, Kaboré, Abriel, Moulet Abbes, Kaboré, Cissé, Brandão, Mbia,
United – 442 – van der Sar; O’Shea, Vidic, Smalling, Evra; Nani, Scholes, Carrick, Giggs; Rooney, Berbatov. Subs from: Kuzszazk, Brown, Gibson, Bébé, Lindegaard, Fabio da Silva, Rafael da Silva, Obertan, Hernández, Tunnicliffe, King, Owen, Valencia.
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP)
Assistant referees: Roberto Alonso Fernández (ESP) & Jesús Calvo Guadamuro (ESP)
Additional assistant referees: Carlos Clos Gómez (ESP) & Antonio Rubinos Pérez (ESP)
Fourth official David Fernández Borbalán (ESP)
United – WDWLLW
Marseille – WWWDWLW