Fergie could use Nani

MANCHESTER - Manchester United sprung a surprise by fielding seven defenders at the weekend and may be poised for another against Olympique Marseille in the Champions League with Nani close to an early return from injury.

Manager Alex Ferguson had ruled him out of today's last-16 second leg as the Portuguese recovers from a gashed leg but seemed to change his mind before the French champions head to Old Trafford following last month's 0-0 draw in Marseille.

"Nani has had the stitches removed and has a chance for today," Ferguson was quoted as saying.

Marseille only needed to have looked at United's team sheet for Saturday's FA Cup quarterfinal against Arsenal to witness Ferguson's ability to shock, as he named a line-up with only one recognised midfielder that still beat the Londoners 2-0.

Grappling with a raft of injuries, and wanting to rest the likes of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, Ferguson drafted in fullbacks Rafael, Fabio and John O'Shea who performed well in midfield.

United were boosted by winger Antonio Valencia coming through 45 minutes on Saturday, his first appearance since breaking and dislocating his ankle in September.

He looked sharp enough to be a viable replacement for Nani if the Portuguese sits out the game. The English side have the upper hand at Old Trafford where they are undefeated this season and where they have never lost to French opposition, though a score draw would put the visitors through.

Marseille could benefit from insider knowledge as their Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze knows Old Trafford well from his three years at United from 2004.

Premier League leaders United will be bracing themselves for an onslaught from a Marseille side who go into the game lifted by a 2-0 win over Stade Rennes in Ligue 1 at the weekend. Playmaker Lucho Gonzalez, who netted the second goal against Rennes, was at his brilliant best and France forward Loic Remy opened the scoring.