Sir Alex Ferguson has owned up to harbouring a certain nervousness about entertaining Marseille at Old Trafford but trusts his team will thrive on this element of fear. "It's nice to have a bit of apprehension about big European ties," said Manchester United's manager. "We're playing an experienced, powerful Marseille and we'll have to play well. We're going to have to get to a good level to win."
After United drew the first leg 0-0 in France, Ferguson is wary of Didier Deschamps's side utilising the away-goals rule to their advantage in Tuesday's decider. "I must admit I thought they went for a 0-0 in the first game and I think Marseille will sit back and try and hit us on the counterattack," he said. "There are different ways of playing counterattack in modern football but I don't know much about Didier Deschamps as a tactician; it's the first time I've come up against him as a coach."
Which is not to say United have neglected to do their homework on the one-time Chelsea midfielder's team. "I've watched Marseille twice away from home, against Monaco and Rennes, and they showed the qualities we will be up against," said Ferguson. "We have to recognise their power and experience."
Despite still being on course for a treble and having just knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup, United have sometimes looked less than the sum of their parts this season. "The team needs to step up," Ferguson said. "The team needs to perform to win the league. With being involved in three tournaments it's an important time and the key is to have everyone available. It would be nice to get that; it doesn't matter how many players you have had injured in the past, the important thing is to have them all available for the run-in. If we have that then it will increase our chances."
United's manager seems to possess a reasonable chance of being granted this wish. If Antonio Valencia's return from serious injury ahead of schedule represents one bonus, Park Ji-sung is also close to full fitness while Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans should reappear following the international break. There is even the prospect, albeit tentative, of Owen Hargreaves partaking in some action before May is out. "Hargreaves started training this morning," Ferguson said. "Hopefully, you never know, we could have him available by the end of the season."
Valencia could even begin against Marseille following his reintroduction as a substitute against Arsenal. "To get 45 minutes from Antonio was a fantastic bonus," said Ferguson. "A fantastic step forward considering he's been out for so long. The question is whether I can play him from the start or, as I did on Saturday, as a substitute. It's a great selection poser for me and good to have. Antonio's availability is a great boost to us. He and Wayne Rooney are both young and have great energies."
Indeed the medical bulletins proved so relentlessly upbeat that United's manager was able not only to confirm the fitness for Champions League action of Nani and Michael Carrick but emphasise the problem which caused Nemanja Vidic to miss training on Monday was not serious. "There's a good chance Nani will play against Marseille. He trained on Sunday with Michael Carrick," he said. "Both will be involved and hopefully Vidic will be OK too. He's had a knock but he's tough."
Ferguson has long believed that this, the "business end" of the season, is the time when the tough get going and he duly dismissed suggestions that a potential fixture backlog including an FA Cup semi- final derby against Mancheter City could prompt burn-out among his squad.
"We won't be withdrawing from competitions so we have to get on with it," he said. "You have to face that situation with fixtures a million times. It happens, there's nothing you can do about it, we're just glad to be there."
So much so that staying in treble contention remains the overriding priority. This entails confronting a succession of imposing obstacles one at a time.
"We're experienced enough to do what we're doing at the moment, taking each game as it comes," said Ferguson. "The focus is on Marseille at the moment. They're a good team but, with these European games at Old Trafford on a midweek night there's a terrific atmosphere. Hopefully that will help us."