Backs to the wall for injury-hit Marseille
© AFP

Having lost striker Andre-Pierre Gignac to injury, Marseille will place even greater emphasis on defence when they host Manchester United in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg.

Gignac left the field in the 74th minute of Marseille's 2-1 defeat of Saint-Etienne on Saturday after sustaining an adductor muscle injury and has been ruled out for 15 days. After an unconvincing start to his Marseille career, the former Toulouse striker had scored four goals in his previous four league games and his absence forces the French champions into an unwelcome attacking re-shuffle.

Fellow forwards Loic Remy and Brandao also failed to finish the game against Saint-Etienne after picking up knocks in the second half, but both are expected to be fit for the clash at Stade Velodrome. France international midfielder Mathieu Valbuena is likely to start on the bench, meanwhile, as he continues his recovery from a knee injury.

With United strong favourites to go through, Marseille coach Didier Deschamps says his side will have to do everything they can to prevent the three-time European champions from claiming a precious away goal. "They were unbeaten in the group phase," said Deschamps, who captained OM to Champions League success in 1993.

"They're a team with huge talent up front but they're also a team that defends very, very well. I don't think there will be lots of goals. Knowing that the first leg is at our place and knowing the importance of away goals, of course we'll do everything to score but we know that it will also be important not to concede at the Velodrome."

Having begun the defence of their Ligue 1 title with back-to-back defeats, Marseille have had to dig deep to fight their way back into the title race and currently trail leaders Lille by three points. The win over Saint-Etienne was their third consecutive league success, but holding midfielder Edouard Cisse knows that victory will not be easily acquired against United, who reached the quarter-finals last season.

"A little 0-0 draw would be fine with us, objectively speaking," Cisse told the Ligue 1 website. "Obviously I'd love to win 4-0 or 5-0. It's true that we beat Chelsea (1-0) in our final group game but we were both already qualified and it was more like a friendly match. We're obviously expecting a much tougher match against United."

United are currently four points clear of Arsenal in the Premier League but they endured an uncomfortable afternoon on Saturday when they only managed to beat non-league (fifth division) Crawley Town 1-0 in the FA Cup. "There is no doubt a few players did not do themselves justice," said scathing United coach Sir Alex Ferguson. "It was disappointing. We had some players who maybe don't understand what FA Cup football is like."

Marseille are a handful at their own ground, their fantastic atmosphere and incredible support guarantees that.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

United lost Brazilian twins Rafael and Fabio da Silva to injury during the course of the game with Crawley and also had to withdraw their midfield compatriot Anderson after he sustained a hamstring problem. Former Korea Republic midfielder Park Ji-Sung, meanwhile, has been ruled out of the Marseille trip with a hamstring injury.

There was more positive news on Monday, however, when France international left-back Patrice Evra signed a new contract that ties him to the club until 2014. The former Nice and Monaco defender is likely to receive a hostile reception from the Marseille fans on what will be his first appearance in his homeland since he played a leading role in France's FIFA World Cup™ upheaval.

"Marseille are a handful at their own ground, their fantastic atmosphere and incredible support guarantees that," said Ferguson when the draw was made. "They've had a good change in fortunes in the last two or three years, after a dry spell, and I think it'll be a difficult tie."

The teams have met once before in the Champions League, sharing a win apiece in the 1999/2000 group stage.