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Page last updated at 21:34 GMT, Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Alex Ferguson urges Man Utd to enjoy 'big games' test

Uefa Champions League last 16 first leg
Venue: Stade Velodrome Date: Wednesday, 23 February Kick-off: 1945 GMT Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and online; live text commentary on BBC Sport website and mobile phones; also live on ITV1


Players are feeling the strain - Ferguson

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has urged Manchester United to relish a run of four "big games" on the road, starting with Wednesday's visit to Marseille.

After their Champions League last-16 first leg tie in France, United will travel to Wigan, Liverpool and Chelsea.

"We have an important few weeks coming up. They are fantastic matches but it's a time we should enjoy," said Ferguson.

United will be without Anderson, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, Jonny Evans and Michael Owen for their trip to France.

But Ferguson is confident whoever plays will rise to the occasion as his side attempt to progress in Europe and also maintain their four-point lead at the top of the Premier League.

"We are just starting four away games on the run, which is a challenge for us," added the Scot.

"They are big games and in that situation, the players don't let us down often," he said.

Of Wednesday's absentees, only Anderson played in the weekend's FA Cup victory over Crawley Town and the Brazilian was taken off at half-time.

Ferdinand has not played since injuring his calf before facing Wolves on 5 February, while fellow centre-back Evans has an ankle problem.

Giggs and Owen were in the squad which played Manchester City on 12 February.

But 31-year-old striker Owen is thought to have a groin injury.

Tomorrow is when the competition really starts for us

Sir Alex Ferguson

Continuing problems in the heart of United's defence mean that Chris Smalling is likely to start alongside Nemanja Vidic for the match at the Stade Velodrome.

Ferguson has also included Brazilian twins Rafael and Fabio, despite the pair both coming off with injuries during the 1-0 win over Crawley at Old Trafford.

Youngsters Joshua King and Ryan Tunnicliffe have also been selected in the squad, along with Gabriel Obertan and Bebe.

Paul Scholes is set to anchor the United midfield, as Ferguson aims to convince the 36-year-old to pen a new one-year deal at Old Trafford.

"I am more than hopeful about Paul signing another contract," the Scot said.

"His fitness isn't in question. I think Paul feels he has to play all the games.

"It is not a bad thing to be that way but at his age, that is impossible."

Marseille qualified for the knockout stages second in Group F behind Chelsea, but are set to be without striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, who was injured last weekend.

Ferguson told a media conference on Tuesday: "The Champions League this season is very open. There are a number of teams that can win it. The opportunity is there for anyone in the last 16.

"But tomorrow [Wednesday] is when the competition really starts for us."

Manchester United squad: Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Lindegaard; Vidic, O'Shea, Brown, Rafael, Fabio, Evra, Smalling; Scholes, Gibson, Nani, Carrick, Fletcher, Bebe, Obertan, Tunnicliffe; Rooney, Berbatov, Hernandez, King.

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see also
Marseille 0-0 Man Utd
23 Feb 11 |  Europe
Man Utd 1-0 Crawley
19 Feb 11 |  FA Cup
Man Utd's Park out for four weeks
15 Feb 11 |  Man Utd

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