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Nani Back As United Meet Marseille In Crunch Champions League Clash

To say that Manchester United have a right to be in the Champions League quarterfinals might be going a bit too far, but a Champions League quarterfinal draw without United in the hat is an oddity and a rarity.

United are the only side to have reached at least the quarterfinals in each of the previous four seasons, and we’ve hit that mark in 11 of the last 14, so there’s tradition to uphold as we face Marseille tonight at Old Trafford.

The tie is finely balanced after a drab goalless draw in the first leg at the Stade Velodrome three weeks ago, but United come into tonight as firm favorites, and for good reason. Not only is Old Trafford a veritable fortress when it comes to occasions like this one, but United also have the edge in experience, and there’s also an edge in quality, especially with both Nani and Antonio Valencia set to be in the mix at some stage of the proceedings.

That edge in quality wasn’t very evident in Marseille, but we should expect to see much more from United, who come in off the heels of a quality performance and a quality result in Saturday’s 2-0 FA Cup quarterfinal win over Arsenal.

Stringing together such performances has been an issue this season, but to be able to come into a match of this importance with positive momentum and, better yet, a couple of our most important players back in the fold and another starting to find his scoring touch at the right time, you can’t help but feel confident that this could be the point of the season where it all starts to click.

Sure, there has to be some caution with our approach tonight, given that an away goal for Marseille at any point could put United in a perilous position.

All the same, with that in mind, it’s reasonable to expect United to come out and show attacking intent from the start. When we faced Lille and Lyon in this situation, having notched an away goal in the first leg helped ease some of the pressure to be dominant in attack in the second leg. But without even one such vital strike to our credit in this situation, we need to test Marseille early and often, because the sooner we’re a couple of goals to the good, the sooner we can breathe a little.

It remains to be seen whether or not Nani will be in the starting lineup, but he is set to take part tonight after making a quick recovery from the nasty gash to his leg that saw him make an early exit at Liverpool and miss the Arsenal match. Frankly, given the success that came Saturday from the move of Fabio and Rafael to the wings, there are a lot worse ideas than going with the same pairing from the start and bringing on Nani and Valencia at the restart, but I’d be surprised to see that happen.

Whatever the pairing on the flanks is tonight, there’s no question about Wayne Rooney’s inclusion, as he’s found the back of the net three times in his last four games. It would appear that Dimitar Berbatov would be set to partner him up front after Javier Hernandez earned the start and played all 90 minutes against Arsenal, and if he does, it would only be appropriate for tonight to be the night the streaky Bulgarian breaks a run of seven matches without a goal.

The one major injury concern tonight is Nemanja Vidic, who suffered a calf injury in the win over Arsenal, and after being unable to train yesterday, is considered a serious doubt for tonight. I have my doubts as to whether he’ll let a little ol’ calf knock keep him out of an important match, but if it does, that means we’ll see either Wes Brown or John O’Shea partner Chris Smalling in the center of defense tonight. I could see Brown having trouble with the pace that Marseille’s attackers offer, but on the bright side, he put in a decent performance against Arsenal, and there’s no substitute for the experience that he has at this level.

There are certainly a lot of questions about what we’ll see tonight, but we can only hope that it’s enough to send us through to the quarterfinals yet again. We’re due for a dominant home performance in the Champions League, and tonight could be the night. I look for us to seize the advantage in the first half, and with Marseille needing to chase the game, that’ll open up the opportunity for us to really salt the game away when our fresh attackers come on in the second half.

Prediction: Manchester United 3-1 Marseille